Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry in Kyiv!

Food: one of the basic requirements for sustaining life.  Yet finding it when you're traveling can be a challenge.  It's intimidating to venture into restaurants when you're new to a country, especially if you don't speak the language.  And it takes practice to enjoy eating alone.  It's no wonder that, when faced with the prospect of taking on both of those challenges at the same time, you'd rather skip the eating thing altogether.

But if you do that when you're in a new place, you miss out on a major portion of the experience of being there!  Half of the fun of traveling is trying new foods in all their local glory, or passing judgment on the new place's attempt to recreate your hometown favorites.  But you have to get yourself through the door and to a table first.

Don't worry, I've got your back.  I find its easier when I've got recommendations from someone I know.  I've already helped you find the best BBQ in Montgomery and best cannoli in Boston.  You can plan a pub crawl or an ice cream crawl in Boston, or a city-wide noms tour of deliciousness in Portland or Charlottetown, PEI.  So tracking down some tasty options in Kyiv?  Piece of paska!

PUBS: They're everywhere!  Huzzah Ukraine!

Quite possibly my favorite little pub in Kyiv: Tyrol.  This gem is on the road between the main train station and Universitet metro, and is tucked just a bit below street level.  They brew their own beer and serve it Guinness-style with nitrous, which makes for some glorious smooth foam.  Try the red beer, that's my favorite.  They also make delicious food (GREEK SALAD, you cannot go wrong!  the black bread is also really really good) and it is super inexpensive.  You can hang out by the bar, which has TVs and a definite sports-bar vibe, or go to the back room where the walls are lined with shelves of books and other German/Austria knickknacks.  The waitresses don't speak a ton of English, but they do speak Russian.  They're very friendly and you'll get sorted out no matter what.

Porter Pub is a chain and I was told that each location has a different atmosphere.  Therefore, I can only speak to the Porter Pub at Kontraktova Ploscha, which was hopping with a hilarious 80's cover band on the Saturday night I visited.  They had a decent beer selection as well as cider, but we didn't stay long enough for food.  When you're on a pub crawl, you keep crawling.

Another fun little place in Podil is a pub called Plan B.  The name alone makes it awesome, but it also regularly has live music, is located below street level, and has an excellent beer and cider selection.

Not too far from St Sofia's is a very chill pub with a case of name confusion.  In Ukrainian, the spelling says "Cooper."  But they translate the English to "Copper."  Either way, Cooper/Copper Pub has a main room with lots of wooden tables, including one table tucked away behind saloon-style swinging wooden doors.  As seems to be the trend, the pub is below street level.  Sometimes they've got live music and there's a jolly expat regular nicknamed Frenchie who dances with everyone.  The drinks are poured strong and you must order appetizers because they're greasy and cheesy and garlicky and delicious.

Andrew's Descent (Russian: Andreevsky Spusk; Ukrainian: Andreevsky uzviz ... I do not enjoy transliterating Cyrillic into Roman!!) is one of the most popular tourist streets in Kyiv.  This is partly because it's got a gorgeous church at the top, and partly because it's a cool cobbled street, and partly because Mikhail Bulgakov's house is there, but probably mostly because it is always lined with dozens of street vendor stands selling souvenirs.  You can get kitschy T-shirts and rolls of toilet paper with Putin's face on them, or beautiful hand-embroidered traditional shirts and painted trays.  And conveniently located midway down the Spusk is a microbrewery!  It's called Solomyanska Brovarnya.  When you need a shopping break, pop in there for some good local beer and decent local food.  The best thing is that you can take the beer with you to go ... they'll give you a bottle that's about a liter (I think), for 40 hrivna.  That's about $2 US.

PIZZA: it's a thing in Kyiv, and there are many tasty options!

Right across the street from Universitet Metro is a really good pizza place called Rusticana.  When the weather's nice, they have tables set up on the sidewalk outside, or you can sit in the spacious main room.  The pizza is thin-crust and delicious, and gets served pretty quickly.  They've also got good salads, some wine and beer selection, and great prices.

According to a friend, who heard from his friends who are Italian and therefore should know these things, the most authentic pizza in Kyiv can be found at Pizzeria Napoli.  And they do make a damn good pizza.  I'm a fan of the four cheese; my spice-oriented friends love the diavola.  Also the caprese salad is delicious.  Also the tiramisu.  But this place is extremely popular, so you need to make a reservation before you arrive.

A third option is Cuanto Cuesto, located a block or two north of the train station.  They go for the white-tablecloth-atmosphere like Pizzeria Napoli, but really they're more like Rusticana with good, simple thin-crust pizza and salad options.

GEORGIAN: If you've never tried Georgian food before, you are completely missing out.  Especially if you like CHEESE.  And dumplings!  And meat grilled on skewers!

Quite possibly the most fantastic Georgian food in Kyiv can be found at Shoti, conveniently located basically next door to Pizzeria Napoli (because they're owned by the same guy).  It's also the most expensive Georgian food in Kyiv, but it's worth it.  The khachapuri was amazing, the other fried cheese appetizer was amazing, the khinkali was amazing, and every single entree we ordered (sorry, I don't even remember the names of each one) was also amazing.

For slightly cheaper but still completely delicious Georgian, you've got two other options: Nikala in Podil, and Chachapuri just down the road from Universitet metro.  Nikala is dark and less busy than Chachapuri, where you absolutely have to have a reservation to have a seat, but they've both got great food!  Anybody that makes khachapuri well wins gold stars in my book.  Chachapuri's waiters speak decent English, and they've also got an awesome doorman with a sweet beard and a huge fuzzy hat and traditional-style long coat and boots.  You can't miss him!

LOCAL: My favorite local foods are pelmeny and vareniki.  They're both variants of dumplings; pelmeny tend to be small and round and vareniki are larger and more oblong.  They can be stuffed with meat, mushrooms, or other savories which of course must be eaten with loads and loads of smetana (NOT THE SAME AS SOUR CREAM).  Or they can be full of fruit and eaten with cream ... aka dessert!

A good local chain with lots of pelmeny and vareniki options is Varenichnaya Katyusha.  It's inexpensive too, with a funky 1950's diner style decor that also involves lots of old books on shelves and checkered table cloths.

Kozatska Gramota is an interesting dining experience.  We were greeted on the street by a lady in colorful traditional Cossack dress, who welcomed us into the restaurant with a shot of some kind of liquor.  The decor was really cool, with lots of bright colors and woven wooden furniture and paintings depicting Cossack life.  It touts itself as a Cossack restaurant ... I don't exactly know what that means for specific food dishes, but they had vareniki and it was delicious.  And on the way out, the lady accosted us again for another shot for the road (or for the horse, as the Ukrainian phrase goes).

One more awesome, cheap, and super fast place to get pierogi (the Russian variety, which is like a savory pie, rather than the Polish variety, which is basically like vareniki) is a chain called Nikolai.  They keep a variety of periogi ready so when you walk in, you order, they cut a slice, and you're all set!  It's a great place for an afternoon snack or for a small meal if you're not feeling particularly hungry and don't want to face down a massive amount of amazing Georgian food.

BURGERS: also a thing, like pizza and sushi!  I wasn't expecting it at all, but all the places I tried did an excellent job!  Any beef-loving American will be perfectly satisfied.

True Burger has not only nailed the burgers (which were huge), but they also make absolutely the best fries in Kyiv.  It was rather odd to pair a burger and fries with a fruity cocktail, but they had an extensive menu of options, so we had to give it a try.  It's a laid back little place with nice wooden furniture and stacks of checkered blankets by the door that you can grab and take with you to your seat if it's a little chilly outside.

Podil of course has a burger spot or two as well.  3B Cafe is pretty good, and they have a decent beer and cider selection, which just works better with a burger than a cocktail does.  The atmosphere is an odd mix of relaxed bar and ritzy club .... there are squishy big pillows on the benches along the walls, and some patrons were really, really dressed up, but the burgers are served on heavy pieces of slate and the fries come in paper cones.  Not sure what they're going for, but it's an ok place!

There are food trucks all over Kyiv that also make some kick-ass food.  We had some really good burgers from a truck called Road Food, which was parked outside Sports Palace before a 30 Seconds to Mars Concert.  You might get scolded by a policeman for sitting on the sidewalk drinking beer, but I don't really know where else you are supposed to go to take in a meal purchased from a food truck?

One last fun and unique choice that I'll throw into this category, even though they don't serve burgers, is Dogs and Tails.  Gourmet hot dogs and fancy cocktails ... what a combo!  They have a modern, spartan-style decor with very strange dog paintings on the walls to go along with the theme of the restaurant name.  The food was really good and the drinks were excellent.  You'll have to wander into a courtyard to find the place, but it's light with lots of windows and not remotely sketchy, even at night.

CAFES: plenty of local chains, but also plenty of street-side vendors!

There are little trucks and vans and buses and carts shaped like pink snails that sell coffee, and they can be found everywhere around the city, from outside the metro stations to along the walking paths in the parks overlooking the river.  All of them appear to do brisk business too!

If you want to sit down and enjoy a nice cafe atmosphere, find one of the Lviv Handmade Chocolate locations.  There's one near Universitet Metro and one at the bottom of the Spusk, and probably others that I didn't encounter.  The cafes are very nice, but can get very crowded on weekends.  They serve a variety of drinks and desserts to be consumed in the cafe, and you can also buy chocolate goodies like truffles, bars, clusters, etc.  I'm not a huge fan of adding cardamom to hot chocolate, as I discovered, but the chili spice is very tasty!

In a previous life, I absolutely loved Kafe Xaus, which is all over the city.  They used to have an amazing French hot chocolate that was so thick, you had to use a spoon to eat it rather than drink it.  But that was about ten years ago .... Kafe Xaus now is like Starbucks.  I was disappointed.  But they're quick and easy and on every street corner.

OTHER: a few more options that don't fall into a category we've already covered!

Baguette Cafe is on the Spusk, so if you need some sustenance while souvenir shopping and you don't want to hit the brewery, this place is quite good.  It's a little fancier, but the food was good and the jasmine tea is amazing.

If you love whiskey, you HAVE to go to Whiskey Corner.  I have never seen so many bottles of whiskey in my life.  It's a more upscale place, which is reflected in the food options (and prices), and they have a nice outdoor patio.  The staff speaks Russian, Ukrainian, and very good English, which came in handy trying to explain some of the dishes.  Be careful who you take with you to this place ... some of my friends accidentally spent over $100 in one night sampling the different whiskeys, and with Ukrainian prices, that is one heck of a bill!!

I will warn you, it's incredibly easy to gain 10 pounds in a week because of all the delicious food choices around Kyiv.  I think I ate my weight in xachapuri and pelmeny alone!  And every bite was worth it!

Here's a map.  Or check out the list I made on Trover, which has many of these places and more!


  1. Hi, thank you for sharing. Kyiv is really worth visiting. I'm going to visit Ukraine next month. I've already got a tour here http://touristclub.kiev.ua/. So with your post I know where to go and to eat.

    1. I hope you love it! Ukraine is wonderful, and the food is delicious. :)