Call me crazy, but I judge how good the food was on a trip, by how well my pants fit after I leave. Can’t button ’em? I had a great trip. I’ve returned thinner than when I left? I need to try harder next time.
When I found out I would be going to Austria, I truly had no idea what to expect. Aside from the typical Sound of Music and seeing gorgeous mountains (hello dreams being made), I had no real idea of what exactly is Austrian. I found out very quickly that food and café culture is huge to the Austrians, and that enjoying a good meal with a strong coffee is the key to a happy life. I spent 6 days sipping lattes, eating strudels, chowing down on schnitzel, and drowning myself in potato salads. I never went hungry on my stay, and found the food to be that warm hug you need after a blustery day. Always filling, delicious, and soulful, the food was a definite highlight of the trip, and I returned home needing to wear leggings for a few days until my pants fit again!
Follow along for what I consider to be some of the best spots to grab grub in Austria, and what makes each of them so special and unique.
If you ever read a blog post about what to see and what to do in Vienna and Figlmuller is not listed…RUN. This place is a standard for the city, and has been serving up delicious schnitzel since 1905. In essence, schnitzel is a piece of veal (or sometimes chicken) that is pounded out thin as paper, battered, and fried. Often served with a potato salad and spring greens, this meal is rustic, yet is sticks to your bones good. The saltiness of the schnitzel is cut by the sweetness of the potato salad (which is, from what I can tell, a mixture of potatoes, spring greens, oil, and Dijon), and is paired perfectly with a local radler beer, which cleanses your palate for another bite of salty, umami schnitzel. Now let’s talk about size, because no matter what anybody says, size DOES matter. This plate is huge. Gargantuan. Enormous. To give you a little perspective, when I held my hand out over my plate and stretched all of my fingers as far as they could go, the piece of schnitzel was still bigger than my hand. Come to Figlmuller with a belly empty from walking around all day, and saddle up for one wild culinary ride. Reservations here are preferable, but a line forms outside the restaurant, and can get really long very quickly. I did not have a reservation, so I waited in line for 45 minutes, but man was it worth it.
Augustiner brau – Kloster Mulln
Located in Salzburg, Aisgustiner brau has an interesting story and an interesting set up. This brewery is known as the brew house run by monks, Augustinians to be exact, and that the monks have been whipping up the finest beer in Salzburg since 1621. Considered the largest beer garden in all of Austria, here you can grab a pint, a giant pretzel, and some Austrian desserts, and hang out in one of the 4 indoor beer halls or the outdoor beer garden and sip to your heart’s content. Confused on how this place works? It’s easy! Simply walk inside, grab a stein from the wall, rinse it out in the warm bath near the registers, and have the bar keep fill it to the brim. Wander up and down the hallways and find some excellent bar food (think schnitzel, chips, etc), then sidle up to a table to people watch. You will see families enjoying a night out in Salzburg next to kids who just finished exams and are enjoying their new found freedoms. With a little something for everybody, this place is a must try on any Salzburg trip.
Guys, this place is EPIC! Tiny, unpretentious, and tucked away so that instagrammers and tourists have to work to find it, this place is solid gold, baby. What looks like a run of the mill shop from the outside, Schachtelwirt is a gastronomic party inside. Choose from a short list of items on their menu, such as savory pork dumplings with warm, homemade sauerkraut on top, or my favorite, the large, delicate pierogis with cool sour cream and crispy onions on top, and sit back and enjoy an organic beer while your food is made fresh. The menu changes every Tuesday, which only amplifies how creative and in love with serving the best of the best this team is. Served in cardboard takeaway boxes, the food will arrive hot and fresh to your table, ready for you to fully faceplant into the dish. The team here is excellent as well. Kind, inviting, helpful, and so passionate about their cool little restaurant, they will even help you make your choice based on what you like and your cravings of the day. No reservations needed, just walk on up to the register and place your order for the best lunch in Vienna. My only regret here? I couldn’t come back for a second time.
Oh, you’re not familiar with Viennese café culture? Let me tell you that it is the epitome of European joie de vivre. Step into Café Centrale, one of the most opulent cafes in Vienna, and enjoy an afternoon just lazing around and watching people as they walk by. While other cafes around the city sit you at a table and hand you a menu of their desserts their chef can make, this place puts them on full display. Grab a table at Café Centrale, and take a walk around the 180-degree dessert display at the front of the café. You will see bright oranges and yellows from mango pastries, glossy purples for fig and rum, delicately created chocolate swirls that sit atop perfectly sliced chocolate cake. Pick desserts to your heart’s content, tell your waiter the number, and she will bring you a fresh slice right to your seat. Each dessert more decadent than the last, everything I tried here was beyond delicious. Chocolate was smooth and creamy, while fruity cakes tasted like juice had been squeezed from the fruits that very morning. I loved sitting at Café Centrale after a long day of sight-seeing, letting my feet rest, and sipping on a latte while taking tiny bites of my cake. This place will transport you to another time when food and architecture alike were opulent, grand, and attention to detail meant everything.
When I am out sightseeing all day, the last thing I am thinking about is a fancy meal in which I have to be on my best behavior, and surrounded by people dressed in the best their suitcases could hold. I would rather grab something on the go, sitting on a curb to scarf down a quick fix before seeing the next item on my itinerary. Balkan Grill does just that. A small hole in the wall located in an alley in a quiet corner of Salzburg, Balkan Grill serves up currywurst, soda, and nothing else. A long, thin hotdog is served in a steamed bun, topped with a combination of onions, curry powder, parsley, mustard, and ketchup. 5 combos of ingredients are available, and don’t even try to request a special order, this place knows how to make hotdogs, so let them do just that. A single woman makes every hotdog, arranges it on a wonderfully soft, fluffy bun, and tops it with the most toppings I have ever seen on top of a hot dog (don’t worry, she wraps it in paper so you have a chance to enjoy everything and they don’t end up on the street). We decided to step out of the small corridor and ate while watching traffic go by. Sipping a Diet Coke while eating a hot dog in the sun is something I didn’t know I needed in my life until that moment.
Admittedly, my husband discovered this place the day after I left Vienna. But when he found out I was writing this food guide, he told me I HAD to include it in the list. If there is anything that binds us together, it is our love of food when we travel, so I trust his reviews on this without a single question. Serving up only the finest in Vienna beef hotdogs, this place has a slew of characters on their menu, with anything for even the pickiest of eaters. Hotdogs like the Wisconsin topped with cheese and bacon, a traditional Coney dog with chili and mustard, to the well-loved Texas hotdog with a spicy twist are some of the top recommendations for this place, all of which were tasted, reviewed, and given the thumbs up by my husband. Another bonus about this place? The owner is the nicest guy you will ever meet, and loves to help tourists take advantage of the time they have in the city, often offering up tips, tricks, and recommendations to make your trip better. My thoughts? Go here for your first lunch, and chat him up to get intel for your trip!
If you are a total sweet tooth like me, then do I ever have a treat for you. Furst is often considered the best of the best when it comes to dessert bars in Austria. Small and unassuming from the outside, the pastel pink lured me inside to browse their dessert selection, and take refuge from the hot, midday sun. When I stepped inside, I was met by a long glass case, proudly displaying beautifully beaming chocolates, perfectly puffed cakes and their décor, and sweetly swirled strudels and confections. Taking a full 5 minutes to make my pastry selection, I opted for a flaky pastry with a crème filling, while my husband got a light, spongy strawberry cream cake. Settling in to our desserts with a latte in hand, we rested our feet and sank into a sugary bliss in which each bite was more decadent than the last. An attentive waitstaff and perfectly trained baking team, Furst is one of those places that really reminds you that you are in Europe, and that it is time to slow down, and just enjoy yourself for once.
Whether you love a high-end dining experience or a quick bite to eat on the go, Austria has so many options for just about anybody visiting. You will never go hungry in this country, and the food you experience will be some of the most decadent you ever try. It will transport you to a time when food made you feel good on the inside, and left your belly full and satisfied.