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The Parisians may be the more experienced lovers, the Londoners better dressed, and the Romans famed for their dolce vita. Yet hardly any other city in the world boasts a day-to-day way of life where food and drink play such an important role as in Vienna.

Viennese social contacts have always been nurtured in culinary contexts, to greater or lesser extents. Even Viennese politics has been a springboard for gastronomical traditions. Just think of the many famous dishes that are now regarded as “Viennese cuisine”, but actually originated in allied and enemy states of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The legendary Vienna Schnitzel is from Milan, the goulash from Hungary, the apple strudel from Turkey and the divine cakes and pastries from Bohemia. Indeed, it has to be said that even Emperor Franz Josef’s favorite Tafelspitz — the tender epitome of boiled beef refinement in Vienna — has its roots in Italy.

There are typical Viennese dishes to suit every pocket and one can choose from an absolutely enormous spectrum of eateries. They start from street-side booths dishing up fast and inexpensive snacks, including the favorite hot sausage — be it the classic wiener, the coarser Burenwurst, the relatively spicy Käsekrainer, or Leberkäse, a kind of spam. Then there are the Viennese answers to international fast food chains, the schnitzel outlets, and finally the highly acclaimed gourmet establishments. “Steirereck” has for years experimented with traditional recipes, raising what were formerly “pauper’s dishes” to the higher echelons of world cookery.

Yet the nerve center of classical Viennese cuisine is the Gasthaus — the good, homely inn. These places have made a remarkable comeback in recent years, for instance “Eckel” in the 19th district, the wonderful belle époque “Zum Schwarzen Kameel”, “Huth”, “3 Hacken” and the original, pioneering “Zum Weissen Rauchfangkehrer”. Viennese hospitality and tradition are celebrated, accompanied by wide-ranging contemporary cuisine with seasonal ingredients, local products and sophisticated wine culture.

Nothing Beats a Good Old Pub

Yet Vienna’s “staple” establishment is the Beisl, the small corner pub where you will typically be offered a “Seidl” (0.3l beer) or “Achterl” (0.125l wine) to drink, and goulash or Beuscherl (offal casserole) to eat. The term Beisl originates from Yiddish and translates approximately as “small house”. Although they are a kind of democratic institution and are universally loved, most of them have disappeared over the last 20 years. Those that have remained have taken on almost cult status, with the likes of “Gustl Bauer”, “Herkner” and “Zum Scherer” now counting among the city’s most frequented places.

Vienna’s schnitzel mecca, “Figlmüller” boasts the largest and thinnest schnitzels in town as well as three locations to choose from. You simply cannot get enough of these schnitzels, and regulars are joined by celebrities and business executives savoring the traditional fare. However ,“Plachuttas Gasthaus zur Oper”, a crossover between a traditional Viennese restaurant and an upmarket brasserie is definitely turning up the heat on the competition. At “GmoaKeller” behind the Konzerthaus you are spoiled for choice with a virtually endless menu of original dishes and many old-Viennese specialties. And those preferring to escape the urban jungle a little can head to Vienna’s green suburbs and shady inn gardens, for instance to “Grünspan” (a former vintner’s house in Ottakring),or “Prilisauer” in Penzing, a typical old-Viennese inn that nurtures tradition and dishes up outstanding cuisine. There is also ”Pfarrwirt“ in Heiligenstadt which was leased by businessman Hans Schmid as part of the acquisition of the neighboring “Mayer am Pfarrplatz”. This medieval building complete with delightful baroque hall is now a contemporary restaurant.

Many newer Beisls have also established themselves in the last decade, taken over by young, ambitious chefs on the lookout for modern, sophisticated Viennese cuisine, who nevertheless remain loyal to their roots. Good examples include the tremendously popular “Grünauer”, the classic “Schnattl” close to the Theater in der Josefstadt, the unique “Meixner“ in the 10th district and “Freyenstein”, a Gasthaus in one of the city’s outer districts, where master chef Meinrad Neunkirchner presents a fascinating, modern twist on Gasthaus cuisine in the form of a four-course menu. At new arrival, “Hohensinn”, former Korso sous chef Josef Hohensinn is elevating classic Viennese offal dishes to gourmet standards. You could even say that putting a fresh spin on the Beisl format was the trend of recent years. Examples include the sober and pared down “Zum Weissen Tiger” in the second district, the authentically restored legendary “Blauensteiner, Zur Stadt Paris“ in the eighth district, and Woracziczky in the fifth which is somewhere in between.

Strength in Numbers: the Grätzels

In recent years, the bar and restaurant scene has witnessed a boom, and just like in other cities a phenomenon has evolved which the Viennese refer to as Grätzels — sub-districts or groupings of establishments. On account of their composition and flair, they have attracted patrons with individual tastes.

The legendary “Bermuda Triangle” — where trendy bars and pubs literally shot up in the historic district between the synagogue and the ancient St. Rupert’s Church in the early 1980s — was a pioneer of this genre in Vienna, as were the uncountable pubs and cafés in the narrow Bäckerstrasse. The picturesque Biedermeier ensembles in Spittelberg (7th district) have also witnessed a new lease of life, the dynamism of which has spread to the neighboring streets. The same has happened with the “Schlossquadrat” at Margaretenplatz, at establishments around the university and right behind on the campus of the Altes AKH (former general hospital) and in particular at the Naschmarkt. This market located at Wienzeile, once regarded as conservative, has in the last few years become the ultimate rendezvous for Vienna’s young, hedonistic population of international taste — particularly on Saturdays.

Morning is the time to browse and taste, while the surrounding bars and restaurants remain busy into the night hours. The Naschmarkt and the neighboring Freihausviertel are among Vienna’s most lively districts. This development has also caught on around other beautiful Viennese markets such as the Brunnenmarkt, Karmelitermarkt and Rochusmarkt. Although smaller in area, they are equally vibrant and enjoyable.

A new hotspot has sprung up around Schwedenplatz in the first district and the nearby Danube Canal. The area on the edge of the city center, primarily taken up by transport links – trams, cars and subway stations – offers a number of pleasant new culinary destinations. The “Badeschiff”, a converted barge on the canal that combines a restaurant, bar and open air swimming pool, has been popular for some years already but took critics by surprise in 2010 when it put master chef Christian Petz in the galley. Badeschiff is now synonymous with creative cuisine at affordable prices. In summer 2010, “Motto am Fluss” opened just next to the “Badeschiff” in the flamboyantly designed new Wien City boat terminal. The 1950s-style restaurant and bar, trendy café with a large sun deck and delicatessen laden with delights to take home soon struck a chord with the public. As have new arrivals on the other side of the canal – like Haya Molcho’s “Neni im Zweiten” in Jean Nouvel’s new high-rise hotel, with charcoal-grilled specialties, and “Le Loft” on the 18th floor of the same building, the hotel’s restaurant with a breathtaking panoramic view and classic French cuisine under the aegis of star chef Antoine Westermann. This epicurean renaissance has since spread to nearby Praterstrasse. Previously something of a culinary backwater, the street is now home to Mochi, which is without doubt the hippest Japanese restaurant in the entire city. Anyone looking to check out this chic and understated eatery should brace themselves for a wait of several weeks before they can get a reservation. But the impressive bar and fire red Robata grill are definitely worth the wait.

Ethno: the International Flavor of Vienna

The unprecedented boom in ethnic cuisine also reflects international trends. Taste-buds from all over the globe are catered for, from Mongolian and African to Tibetan. What has really taken the Viennese by storm, however, is Mediterranean cuisine and Asian diversity.

First class gastronomy can be found at “Fabios” where South Tyrol’s local hero Fabio Giacobello creates Mediterranean specialties in a stylish mahogany setting, seriously appealing to guests’ tastes. . “Da Moritz”, run by the Huth family, interprets (among other dishes) pizza in a slightly newer and more creative way, and is one of Vienna’s very best Trattorias. New restaurant Amarantis successfully blends an intriguing combination of neo-Mediterranean lightness with down-to-earth Viennese cuisine, while white drapes between the tables conjure up a distinctively creative and Elysian atmosphere.

Contemporary Chinese restaurants “Goldene Zeiten“ and “ON“ are places where creative Shanghai cuisine and Austrian wine come together. “Yohm” boasts an exciting fusion of Asian culinary tradition in a cool design setting, while “Nirvana” adds a bit of Indian to the blend, and in the “Indochine 21” restaurant just opposite the Museum of Applied Arts (MAK) you travel foodwise to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. And, in the tiny designer “Kim kocht” restaurant, the essence of Asian spices is explored in a frequently experimental and fascinating way.

More than just a Bite to Eat: Culture meets Cuisine

Museums, theaters and other cultural venues have witnessed a surge in culinary innovation, resulting in a varied and opulent restaurant scene. In the “Österreicher im MAK”, chef Helmut Österreicher presents a successful combination of traditional and modern Viennese cuisine.One of the city’s popular culinary haunts, “Vestibül”, occupies the former imperial entrance wing of the Burgtheater. Master chef Christian Domschitz’s gourmet menu features new and playful interpretations of Viennese classics. Mussel dinners are the order of the day once a week at the venerable Museum of Natural History (except in summer) and in spring you can dine on asparagus there. In the basement of the old stock exchange building you can breakfast and take in the flair of Vienna’s finest florist at “Hansen”, and even the Gloriette in the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace has been transformed into a designer café. The fact that the Opera House has its own café – albeit a fairly recent addition – almost goes without saying.

Vienna’s up-and-coming creative artists meet up at the Kunsthallencafé. A motley mix of promenading locals and tourists can be found in the century-old Palmenhaus (Palmery) of the Burggarten, where a spacious brasserie has been accommodated beneath the steel and glass structure following extensive renovation work. And just everybody who wants to be somebody meets in one of the designer, ethno or young gastronomy restaurants at MuseumsQuartier or at “Aux Gazelles” on the corner of Rahlgasse/Mariahilfer Strasse which combines Moroccan culinary lifestyle with an adjoining Hammam steam bath. Vienna’s museum restaurant scene went one better in summer 2011 with the opening of Artner in der Hermesvilla. The Hermesvilla, a romantic, classicist villa in the grounds of the Lainz game preserve, was presented by Emperor Josef to his wife Empress Elisabeth as a gift. The restaurant inside can only be reached on foot (about a ten minute walk through the park), and closes before nightfall. The house specialty is a modern take on the traditional game platter, which in this case uses cured meats sourced from the preserve itself.

Ringing the Changes: Wine Taverns & Coffeehouses

The surge in innovation in Vienna’s pubs and restaurants that now spoils you for culinary choice would maybe lead you to believe that at least the traditional oases of tranquility — the Heuriger (wine taverns) and coffeehouses — were still the same as ever. To some extent this is the case. The taverns located in the picturesque vineyards and suburban cellar lanes still seat guests on rustic benches, and serve up a good honest glass of wine from their own vines and something substantial to eat for little money. At coffeehouses, guests are still politely addressed with academic titles and can delight in a vast selection of coffees whilst savoring their cakes and strudel in the timeless atmosphere of these unique places.

Yet time has not stood as still as it would seem. An increasing number of wine taverns not only set great store by top class vintages, but also pay attention to glass culture. This is accompanied by individual and, in some cases, lighter fare at the buffet. Weingut Wieninger’s Fritz Wieninger is one of Vienna’s outstanding winegrowers. His top vintages are sought-after all over the world. He has even gone as far as to hire a top chef for his tavern. And Hans Peter Göbel has not only given his Heuriger a contemporary look, but also holds tasting events and specialty weeks. For Michael Edlmoser and Richard Zahel, two star producers from the city’s southern reaches, the border between wine tavern and upscale restaurant is fairly fluid.

At the coffeehouse, of course, such changes have to be approached with extreme caution. Preservation of tradition and association with the “good old days” still define this institution, as do excellent coffee, immaculate service and divine cakes and pastries. Yet new ideas embracing time-honored tradition are also emerging. At Café Schottenring and Café Restaurant Residenz at Schönbrunn you can get to grips with the art of making, filling and rolling wafer-thin flaky pastry in an apple strudel seminar, or learn all about espresso et al at a coffee seminar.

Given all these treats old and new in Vienna, you could be forgiven for thinking there were nothing to grumble (or raunzen as the Viennese would say) about. Yet you would be mistaken. After all, sooner or later your stomach will be full, but still so many places left to try out: A true reason for grumbling!

Addresses

Amarantis, Babenbergerstrasse 5, 1010 Vienna, www.amarantis.at

Artner in der Hermesvilla, Hermesvilla, Lainzer Tiergarten, 1130 Vienna, www.artner.co.at

Aux Gazelles, Rahlgasse 5, 1060 Vienna, www.auxgazelles.at

Badeschiff Wien, Danube Canal (between Urania and Schwedenplatz), 1010 Vienna, www.badeschiff.at

Gustl Bauer, Drahtgasse 2, 1010 Vienna, www.gustl-bauer.at.tc

Blauensteiner, Josefstädterstraße 4, 1080 Vienna, www.gastwirtschaft-blauensteiner.at

Café Gloriette, Gloriette, Schönbrunner Schlosspark, 1130 Vienna, www.gloriette-cafe.at

Café Oper Wien, Opernring 2/Karajanplatz, 1010 Vienna, www.cafeoperwien.at

Café Restaurant Residenz, Schloss Schönbrunn, 1130 Vienna, www.cafe-wien.at

Café Schottenring, Schottenring 19, 1010 Vienna, www.cafe-schottenring.at

Café Weimar, Währinger Strasse 68, 1090 Vienna, www.cafeweimar.at

Christ Weingut & Heuriger, Amtsstrasse 10-14, 1210 Vienna, www.weingut-christ.at

Da Moritz, Schellinggasse 6, 1010 Vienna, www.damoritz.at

Do & Co (Haas-Haus), Stephansplatz 12, 1010 Vienna, www.doco.com

Eckel, Sieveringer Strasse 46, 1190 Vienna, www.restauranteckel.at

Edlmoser Weinbau & Heuriger, Maurer Lange Gasse 123, 1230 Vienna, www.edlmoser.at

Fabios, Tuchlauben 6, 1010 Vienna, www.fabios.at

Figlmüller, Wollzeile 5 + Bäckerstraße 6, 1010 Vienna; Grinzingerstraße 55, 1190 Wien, www.figlmueller.at

Freyenstein, Thimiggasse 11, 1180 Vienna, www.freyenstein.at

GmoaKeller, Heumarkt 25, 1030 Vienna, www.gmoakeller.at

Göbel Weinbau & Heuriger, Stammersdorfer Kellergasse 151, 1210 Vienna, tel. +43-1-294 84 20

Goldene Zeiten, Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Platz 5, 1010 Vienna, www.goldenezeiten.at

Grünauer, Hermanngasse 32, 1070 Vienna, tel. +43-1-526 40 80

Grünspan, Ottakringerstrasse 266, 1160 Vienna, www.gruenspan.at

Hansen, Wipplingerstrasse 34, 1010 Vienna, www.hansen.co.at

Hohensinn, Fuhrmannsgasse 9, 1080 Vienna, www.restaurant-hohensinn.at

Huth, Schellinggasse 5, 1010 Vienna, www.zum-huth.at

Indochine 21, Stubenring 18, 1010 Vienna, www.indochine.at

Kim kocht, Lustkandlgasse 4, 1090 Vienna, www.kimkocht.at

Kunsthallen-Café, Treitlstrasse 2, 1040 Vienna, www.kunsthallencafe.at

Le Loft, Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom, Praterstrasse 1, 1020 Vienna, www.sofitel.com

Meixner’s Gastwirtschaft, Buchengasse 64, 1100 Vienna, www.meixners-gastwirtschaft.at

Mochi, Praterstrasse 15, 1020 Vienna, www.mochi.at

Motto am Fluss, Franz-Josefs-Kai (Schwedenplatz), 1010 Vienna, www.motto.at/mottoamfluss

MuseumsQuartier, Museumsplatz 1, 1070 Vienna, www.mqw.at

Neni im Zweiten, Praterstrasse 1, 1020 Vienna, www.neni.at

Nirvana, Rotenturmstrasse 16-18, 1010 Vienna, www.restaurant-nirvana.at

Novelli, Bräunerstrasse 11, 1010 Vienna, www.novellli.at

Österreicher im MAK, Stubenring 5, 1010 Vienna, www.oesterreicherimmak.at

ON, Wehrgasse 8, 1050 Vienna, www.restaurant-on.at

Palmenhaus, Burggarten, 1010 Vienna, www.palmenhaus.at

Pfarrwirt, Pfarrplatz 5, 1190 Vienna, www.pfarrplatz.at

Plachuttas Gasthaus zur Oper, Walfischgasse 5-7, 1010 Vienna, www.plachutta.at

Prilisauer, Linzer Strasse 423, 1140 Vienna, www.prilisauer.at

Schlossquadrat (Gergely’s & Silberwirt), Schlossgasse 21, 1050 Vienna, www.schlossquadr.at

Schnattl, Lange Gasse 40, 1080 Vienna, www.schnattl.com

Steirereck im Stadtpark, Am Heumarkt 2a, 1030 Vienna, www.steirereck.at

Vestibül, Burgtheater, Dr. Karl Lueger-Ring 2, 1010 Vienna, www.vestibuel.at

Wieninger Weingut & Heuriger, Stammersdorfer Strasse 78, 1210 Vienna,

www.heuriger-wieninger.at

Woracziczky, Spengergasse 52, 1050 Vienna, www.woracziczky.at

Yohm, Petersplatz 3, 1010 Vienna, www.yohm.at

Zahel Weinbau & Heuriger, Maurer Hauptplatz 9, 1230 Vienna, www.zahel.at

Zu den 3 Hacken, Singerstraße 28, 1010 Vienna, www.zuden3hacken.at

Zum Herkner, Dornbacher Strasse 123, 1170 Vienna, tel. +43-1-485 43 86

Zum Scherer, Judenplatz 7, 1010 Vienna, tel. +43-1-533 51 64

Zum Schwarzen Kameel, Bognergasse 5, 1010 Vienna, www.kameel.at

Zum Weissen Rauchfangkehrer, Weihburggasse 4, 1010 Vienna, www.weisser-rauchfangkehrer.at

Zum Weissen Tiger, Schmelzgasse 9, 1020 Vienna, www.zumweissentiger.com

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