Tasting on České Budějovice
What drew me to České Budějovice in the first place was the original Budweiser brewery. But the city is so much more than that. Spending four days there was a good call: I loved exploring the local cuisine in the many ways it was available. And Hotel Bohemia was an excellent home base: located on the north end of city center, it was an easy walk from all kinds of tasty establishments.
The currency in Czech Republic is the koruna (Kč), and at the time of writing, the exchange rate was about 24 Kč to US$1. All businesses are listed from most budget-friendly to least within each category.
- Coffee & drinks
- Desserts & ice cream
- Grocery stores & farmer’s markets
Coffee & drinks
Fellow Couchsurfing member Karolína took me for a walk by the Malše River along the west and south sides of city center, and we stopped into Staré Časy to try their yeast beer, which they sell for 17 Kč for 0.3L. We didn’t see any waitstaff for a good five to ten minutes, so she had to walk inside the bar to find someone and place our order. The beer tasted all right, but the tables outside were quite smoky since they were so close together. At least there was a view of the river and the bridge.
Karolína recommended Café Datel, and it didn’t disappoint.
The first time I walked in was around noon on a rainy Saturday. I stared at the chalkboard menu on the wall as a barista walked up to me and asked what I’d like in perfect English.
I ordered the Aeropress-filtered Ethiopian coffee (60 Kč), which came in a little carafe and with a glass of water and small almond cookie. The morning before I left, I stopped in and ordered a flat white (65 Kč) to enjoy on the walk to the train station.
It seems like one of the pricier places in town to get coffee, but it was easy to get to and highly visible during my walks.
Desserts & ice cream
Couchsurfer Viktor introduced me and Karolína to U Kláštera. He initially warned me that I might not like it because older Czech people frequent the place, but that’s exactly the sort of local joint I like to visit. Since it was a warm afternoon, I ordered a coffee with vanilla ice cream (45 Kč). As an American, I wished that the ice cream quantity was larger. I thought that the coffee would be iced, but it came hot. The contrast between the two was interesting though.
They also had many Czech pastries available, including špička (13 Kč, “tusk”), which is a chocolate-covered chocolate cake and custard filling with a soft cookie as its base. The coconut layered cake (15 Kč) was a bit too sweet for my taste, and the větrník (caramel covered whipped cream pastry) was also a bit too heavy. Good thing Viktor let me sample them before I decided on my favorite, the špička!
Grocery stores & farmer’s markets
On my first night, I stocked up my kitchenette with groceries from the only major grocery store in city center, Tesco. For just over 400 Kč, I not only got enough ingredients to cook several meals, but I also had a bottle of Budweiser. I even bought a bottle of local white wine with which to cook mushrooms (and to drink a bit).
Piaristické Náměstí Farmer’s Market
The local farmer’s market sets up in Piaristické Náměstí on Thursdays and Saturdays from 06:00-11:00, and of course, I went both mornings even when it was pouring rain on Saturday.
I couldn’t believe how certain things were priced: 10 Kč for a bunch of lacinto kale, 58 Kč for a basket of strawberries, foraged chanterelles for 35 Kč/100g, red chard and spinach for 15 Kč each, and locally-grown apples for 25 Kč/kg. You can also get traditional Czech pastries there (10 Kč each), including kolaches and plum tarts.
U Dobráka is an adorable little grocery store that stocks only local goods. It also ended up becoming my go-to for getting real Czech kolaches.
On my first visit, I got foraged mushrooms (a popular Czech hobby), sheep’s milk yogurt, fresh farm cheese, apple strudel (19 Kč), key lime “cupcake” (10 Kč), blueberry and cream cheese kolaches (9 Kč), and a cheese and ground meat pastry. You can bet I put that white wine from Tesco to good use on those mushrooms. My favorite pastry out of this batch was the blueberry and cream cheese kolaches.
The second time I went was before I left the city for a day trip to see my family in Český Krumlov. I picked up some poppy seed and cream cheese kolaches (9 Kč) and another kind of kolache where there’s still cream cheese, but it’s not spread on top of the filling (5 Kč). Instead, it was part of a mosaic of flavors alongside poppy seeds and raspberries.
My family enjoyed them so much! I was ecstatic to have been able to share some authentic Czech kolaches with them.
I even returned a third time the morning before I caught my train to Germany so that I could have some topfenstrudel (19 Kč), orange and cream cheese kolache (9 Kč), and raspberry and cream cheese kolache (9 Kč) for my travels. Can you tell I’m a fan?
When I first arrived at České Budějovice, I found Pomáda Bageterie for a quick lunch. It’s not a Czech restaurant: rather, it’s more of a high-end fast food place that focuses on burgers, hot dogs, and panini and baguette sandwiches. The English menu is on the wall behind the counter. I was a bit disappointed that they didn’t have any milkshakes given the decor.
I ordered the barbecue burger (65 Kč) since bacon was listed as an ingredient, but it turned out to be similar to Canadian bacon. Oh, well: the burger wasn’t bad! It also had fried onions in it, which I was pleasantly surprised by.
I made a failed attempt to order Moravian roast pork with potato dumplings and spinach (98 Kč for full portion or 78 Kč for half portion) at U Černého Konička. They had already run out, and it wasn’t even noon. But by happy accident, I ended up at Malý Pivovar, a hotel affiliated with Budweiser Budvar Brewery. At first, I wasn’t sure where the restaurant was when I walked into the hotel lobby, so I had thought to give up, but two Czech women walked in for lunch, so I followed and found a beautiful dining area to the left of the front desk.
They didn’t have an English translation of their daily menu for lunch, but Google Translate helped immensely. I enjoyed a small Kroužkovaný lager (0.2L for 15 Kč), which was slightly sour. Their soup of the day was hovězí vývar s játrovými knedlíčky (33 Kč, clear beef soup with liver dumplings), and I had the roasted pork neck with mushrooms, potatoes, and onions (95 Kč). Everything tasted perfect, and the service was attentive even though I didn’t speak any Czech other than the menu items.
After I left, I realized that the pub next door Pivnice Budvarka serves the exact same menu as the hotel, so if you want a more rustic atmosphere, go to the pub instead.
A Couchsurfer who lives in Český Krumlov recommended cave restaurant Panský Šenk, which is located on the same block as Hotel Bohemia. (Cave restaurants are not actually in caves: they just require that you walk downstairs to reach the dining area.) I passed by it so many times, but I didn’t go in until my penultimate night in town. Why? I don’t have a great answer, but I wish I had eaten at least two meals there.
For beverages, I really enjoyed two bottles of Prag Cider (35 Kč each for apple and honey flavors). They were more sweet than dry but not too sweet. I also dared to try currant must (30 Kč), which tasted like lightly-flavored grape juice.
My appetizer was kulajda (45 Kč, creamy dill soup with egg, potatoes, and wild mushrooms). Finally, a mushroom soup from foraged mushrooms! I loved how comforting it was on a rainy day.
I asked the waiter to tell me which of the fireplace grill options were more traditional: South Bohemian carp; pork steak with mustard, garlic, and marjoram; pork with creamy wild mushroom sauce; pork knuckle with horseradish, mustard, pickles, and toasted bread; and marinated pork ribs with sauce of your choice and toasted bread. They were out of the last two options, so I got the South Bohemian carp with cumin, garlic, and slices of bacon (180 Kč). Sitting by the fireplace is great if you want to watch the cooking of grilled dishes.
For dessert, I tried the warm apple strudel (40 Kč). Yum, a great finish to an amazing meal.
There is no rating for this place on Foursquare, but I’m so glad I came. The waiter I had spoke enough English for us to communicate, but I had to repeat myself slower at times to make myself understood. They did sneak in an extra charge of 20Kč for bread, but I was fine with it even though I wish they brought it out with my soup.
I had lukewarm feelings about it because the waitstaff wasn’t that attentive: I was forced to grab my own menu since no one bothered to bring me one in a timely fashion. Karolína theorizes that it’s because the restaurant is already so popular that they don’t think they need to take good care of the diners. The place does inspire some awe, however. The interior looks like some kind of modern Gothic cathedral to beer.
I initially wanted to try the cryo beer, but it’s intended for six people. So I went with the Kroužkovaný lager again (24 Kč for 0.3L). The beer was slightly sour as I remembered it from Malý Pivovar.
When my waiter finally returned with my beer, I put in the rest of my order all at once to avoid more awkward pauses in the flow of the meal: traditional garlic soup with cheese (42 Kč), medium rare beef tenderloin in green pepper sauce with jacket potato and herb quark (439 Kč), and homemade dark lager beer ice cream with raspberry sauce (69 Kč). The soup was very cheesy, which arguably made it better than the one we had in Český Krumlov. Although it was advertised as a restaurant specialty, the tenderloin was just filet mignon with a baked potato and cream; the green pepper sauce was actually a green peppercorn sauce (lost in translation, I guess).
The beer ice cream was pretty icy, and the raspberry sauce is definitely made with fresh berries. In fact, the sauce tasted better than the ice cream!
I really don’t like how people can smoke in restaurants: this guy who sat down at the table next to mine after I finished my main course really sabotaged my experience. You know it’s bad when you can smell it even when you’re not inhaling.
The secret to paying quickly is to have money on the table when the waitstaff come to take your empty dessert plate away. My waiter’s grasp on basic arithmetic needed work when he was giving me change, but at least there were no surprise charges like at Panský Šenk.