As in any major city, the selection of restaurants and pubs in Prague can be overwhelming, even to someone who has been living here for a dog's year! Fortunately, I have a pretty good nose for the city's better drinking and dining establishments. I'm happy to share my discoveries with you here.
Na struze 7, Prague 1
This cosy little pub is quickly becoming a Prague expat haven. Enjoy a good chat with friendly staff and regulars while knocking back some reasonably priced beers (bottled wheat beer is a paltry 15 Kc). Catch a football (in both the UK and US senses of the word) match or, depending on the barman's whims, movies, videos, extreme sports… UZ's satellite has got it all.
On top of that, the pub stocks an excellent selection of music – though the musical stylings of Francis, a human jukebox of one-hit-wonders and the pub's Cliff Claven, can drown the stereo out at times. A great place to start, spend, and/or wind down the night.
Skroupovo namesti 5, Prague 3
A Zizkov staple, an absolute must if you happen to be in the vicinity of the TV tower. In fact, it's worth going out of your way for a drink and a meal in this pub.
U Sadu is actually more of a complex than a pub, with its centrepiece being the main room on the ground floor: if you enter the room to the right of the entrance, you'll find yourself in what looks like a still life that I would call Junk Shop Explosion: Freeze-Frame. Socialist-era relics from traffic signs and public notices through vacuum cleaners and meat grinders to helmets and gas masks line the walls and hang from the ceilings.
If you can't find a seat here, don't worry, just go downstairs, where you will find a younger crowd enjoying their beverages around large wood tables and playing darts, billiards or foosball. In the summer months, you can take your drink out to the beer garden, or quaff it on one of the benches in the quaint little square that is Skroupovo namesti.
U Sadu even has substance that exceeds its style: traditional (i.e. fast, occasionally surly) service keeps the half-litres of draft Gambrinus and Pilsner Urquell coming and the kitchen offers an eclectic selection of tasty international and Czech dishes. There are also monthly specials and lunchtime deals.
What makes this place stand head and shoulders above every pub in Prague is its incredible pickled hermelin (nakladany hermelin – a kind of camembert cheese in oil and herbs). It will destroy your breath, but that's definitely a sacrifice worth making. At mealtimes, during Zizkov pub crawls, or for the long haul, U Sadu is perfect for any occasion at any time of the day.
Restaurace Florian (also known as U Hasicu – At the Fireman's)
Rimska 45, Prague 2
This modest average-sized restaurant serves up massive portions of what is, in my opinion, the Prague's best Czech cuisine. While the vegetarian meals are somewhat of a disappointment (though plentiful), meat-lovers will be overjoyed, if not overwhelmed, by what Florian has to offer them.
As an introductory meal I highly recommend the “Medley Plate of the Lord Mayor” (Pestry talir pana starosty), which consists of smoked meat, roast pork, a klobassa sausage, sauerkraut, potato dumplings, Carlsbad dumplings (Karlovarske knedliky – a dark dumpling speckled with light dough), and small potato pancakes (bramboracky).
Czech grandmothers are notorious for overcooking and overfeeding their loved ones – as you slow down towards the end of a Florian meal, you can almost hear the voice of a benevolent, though slightly insane, babicka vehemently urging you to “Jist! Jist!” – “Eat! Eat!”
Just be sure to time your visit to U Hasicu properly – the place is mad busy at mealtimes (11:00 – 1 3:00, 5:00 – 8:00), and the tastier lunch specials tend to get sold out quite quickly. Ideal for filling your belly before a big night out.
Opatovicka 24, Prague 1
An extremely popular eatery south of Narodni Trida with a bustling front area, a slightly more chilled out back room, and a gallery downstairs. As it tends to be rather crowded during most of the day, service can be slow, but the menu's exotic offerings are often worth the wait. The portions are adequate, but what makes this place a real winner is its interesting selection of creative and tasty vegetarian dishes.
A good place to bring a date.
U dvou kocek
Uhelny trh 10, Prague 1
A fine typical Czech pub and restaurant, complete with old-school Czech stonefaced service that delivers beer so fast that you may find yourself gladly exceeding your limit (tip: when you want to indicate that you've had enough, place a beer mat on top of your current beer).
The right side is primarily for drinking; if you want a meal, then you're allowed to take a booth or a table in the left room. U dvou kocek's claim to fame is the quality of its Pilsner Urquell draft beer – the Pilsen brewer itself has awarded the restaurant with a quality assurance certificate.
The fare is hearty, typical Czech cuisine: lots of meat, thick sauces, dumplings, potatoes, and cabbage. An excellent starting point for a Prague pub crawl.