Warsaw’s culinary explosion is well under way. The Polish capital’s foodscape encompasses everything from Communist-era milk bars that have survived into the 21st century to trendy cafés to the pinnacle of haute cuisine in Poland. Including quirky well-decorated venues, this list not only shines a spotlight on the best restaurants in town, but highlights how some chefs and proprietors are shaking up the local gastronomy. These are ten local restaurants in Warsaw you need to visit.
It often comes as a surprise to tourists that just metres from the walls of Warsaw’s Old Town, you can eat a full lunch with a drink for under 10 złotych ($2.90/£2.08)! Welcome to the Bar Pod Barbakanem with its distinctive orange walled exterior and good affordable Polish food. This place can get busy in summer months, but it is worth it. It’s a really good place to understand what a Milk Bar is all about.
The guys behind MOMU.gastrobar have keenly observed the popular trend of street food and decided to apply their own twist by serving it indoors. MOMU.gastrobar is a cosmopolitan bistro that combines an eatery with a bar. The menus are interestingly published in consecutive chapters, each one focusing on a particular street food tradition within a different region of the world. For example, currently in Chapter 4, MOMU is transporting diners to the streets of the Middle East, where they can try the Mo’Mezze (hummus, tabbouleh, Israeli chopped salad, guacamole, tapenade, Korycinski cheese and flatbread). In the evenings, the place continues to flourish as it focuses on cocktail mixology.
Marta Gessler’s restaurant is located at the heart of the Centre of Contemporary Art in Ujazdowski Castle, near the largest park in Warsaw, Łazienki Park. The restaurant is blessed with a picturesque summer terrace, allowing diners to drink in the views of Warsaw. So inspired by its surroundings, Qchnia Artystyczna is driven by creativity and modernity – always keen to keep track of the current culinary trends – so the food is consistently innovative, as well as aesthetically pleasing. The highlights on the menu recently featured baked salmon with teriyaki sauce, spinach, coconut milk, lemongrass, and a hint of chili pepper. A sweet interpretation of the Polish dish pierogi – dumplings with blueberries, vanilla cream, and powdered sugar – was also featured.
If you mention the words “Zakład Mięsny” to Polish people, they will tell you “Oh, it’s a butcher shop,” which is exactly what the term means. However, this bar mirrors only part of the real meaning of its name, and is housed in what is an old-school Polish building in the city’s up and coming Praga neighbourhood. What you get when you enter the corner door of Zakład Mięsny is a surprisingly quirky venue that showcases contemporary Poland more than most places in the city. The place has an actual butcher’s counter at the rear, 12 beers on tap (always changing), and a peculiar seating arrangement where you can eat and drink in a dentist’s chair, a high stool, a builder’s bench, or a cozy sofa. The bar also has daily promotions like Tatar (raw beef with egg and vegetables), vodka promos, and pizza. This is more than its title of “Butcher’s Shop” suggests, and is yet more proof of the trendy revival in Praga. It feels like another world here. As a bonus, the bar has fast WiFi, friendly staff, and, of course, no television.
Krowarzywa is a vegan restaurant, and is curiously enough one of the best places to have a burger in Warsaw. The small selection of burgers on the menu are complemented by a variety of fillings like tofu, mushrooms, and buckwheat. The burgers are tasty and always made from fresh top-quality ingredients. The restaurant is ideal for vegetarians and vegans (the place even has vegan mayo), but the tasty burgers will please even the most obstinate meat eaters. There is also a new special burger offered every week, so customers will never get bored. The restaurant also serves a great variety of healthy smoothies made with fresh fruit and vegetables. There are two venues in the city, but most locals head to the location on Hoza Street.
Another superb Warsaw venue with a historic feel about it is the Bar Mleczny Prasowy, which dates back to 1954. It’s located on the main Marszałkowska street in a grey, unassuming building, and it serves up a delightful range of pierogi in a very typical “Milk Bar” atmosphere. Inside is a bigger interior than most Milk Bars as Bar Mleczny Prasowy needs to satisfy the hordes of customers on weekdays, particularly during the 12-2 pm peak times. Enjoy one of the most affordable places in central Warsaw to eat with pierogi from 6 złotych, soup from 3 złotych, and kompot for 2 złotych.
Nolita is an exquisite fine dining destination in Warsaw that attracts locals more than tourists. Located in the central Śródmieście district, it specializes in beautiful Modern European dishes. The refined, monochrome interior features an open plan kitchen, which lets guests see skilled Chef Jacek Grochowina at work with his team. Excellent wine is also served here, so it isn’t surprising to learn that Nolita gets busy; book in advance! Note: Nolita closes for three hours between 3pm and 6pm on the weekdays, so be sure to schedule your meals accordingly.
It doesn’t get much more iconic than this. Not only will you be in the “Cafe of Culture,” but you will be eating on the ground floor of Warsaw’s most famous building: the Palace of Culture and Science. Despite being in such a prominent location, Cafe Kulturalna attracts a good mix of working locals and business people. It is also a handy stop for those waiting to catch a train to another part of Poland, as the central train station is just five minutes away. The coffee selection is fairly standard, but the venue focuses on great lunches, salads, soups, and pastas.
Stary Dom translates into English as “old house,” and living up to its name, Stay Dom is a restaurant with a long culinary tradition. The old-fashioned interiors are filled with beautiful wooden furniture, lamps, candles, cloths, and paintings. The menu includes traditional Polish dishes, such as broth with homemade noodles, zurek soup made with mushrooms, and golonka (pork knuckle). Hearty main courses include the lamb shank with seasonal vegetables and a potato purée, and the oven-roasted duck with potato purée and red cabbage. Stary Dom also offers a special menu for children and a large variety of desserts like pistachio and meringue cake.
Bar Bambino is yet another iconic milk bar in Warsaw that is frequented by locals and always seems to be busy. Mleczny bars (milk bars) are still popular among Polish people and are symbols of the Communist era – whereby they existed to provide cheap meals subsidized by the government. Bar Bambino also attracts intrepid tourists who are in search of an authentic experience of Communist-era Poland. The newly renovated venue is set within an unpretentious interior, where visitors are served affordable Polish dishes, such as pierogi (Polish dumplings), bigos (Hunter’s Stew), and barszcz (beetroot soup).