In Vienna, dining out is a local pastime. Besides Austrian and French cuisine, you'll find restaurants serving Serbian, Slovenian, Slovakian, Hungarian, and Czech food, along with Asian, Italian, and Russian.
Vienna's so-called "Bermuda Triangle" is a concentration of restaurants and bars a short walk north of Stephansplatz. Schwedenplatz, Rotenturmstrasse, Hohermarkt, and Marcus Aurelius Strasse border this restaurant district.
Meals & Dining Customs
Although Viennese meals are traditionally big and hearty, innovative chefs throughout the city now turn out lighter versions of the old classics. Even so, the Viennese love to eat, often as many as six times a day. Breakfast usually consists of bread with butter, jam, or cheese, along with milk and coffee. Around 10am is gabelfrühstück (snack breakfast), when diners usually savor some type of meat, perhaps little finger sausages. Lunch at midday is normally a filling meal, and the afternoon jause consists of coffee, open-face sandwiches, and the luscious pastries that the Viennese make so well. Dinners can also be hearty, although many locals prefer a light evening meal.
Because Vienna cherishes its theaters, concert halls, and opera houses, many locals choose to dine after a performance. Après-théâtre is all the rage in this city, and many restaurants and cafes stay open late to cater to cultural buffs.
Unlike those in other western European capitals, many of Vienna's restaurants observe Sunday closings (marked by SONNTAG RUHETAG signs). Also beware of summer holiday closings, when chefs would rather rush to nearby lake resorts than cook for Vienna's tourist hordes. Sometimes restaurants announce vacation closings only a week or two before shutting down.
Coffeehouses & Cafes
Café Central, Herrengasse 14 (tel. 01/5333764; U-Bahn: Herrengasse), stands in the center of Vienna across from the Hofburg and the Spanish Riding School. This grand cafe offers a glimpse into 19th-century Viennese life -- it was once the center of Austria's literati. Even Lenin is said to have met his colleagues here. The Central offers a variety of Viennese coffees, a vast selection of pastries and desserts, and Viennese and provincial dishes. It's a delightful spot for lunch. The cafe is open Monday to Saturday from 7:30am to 10pm, Sunday 10am to 10pm.
The windows of the venerated 1888 Café Demel, Kohlmarkt 14 (tel. 01/5351717; U-Bahn: Herrengasse; Bus: 1A or 2A), are filled with fanciful spun-sugar creations of characters from folk legends. Inside you'll find a splendidly baroque landmark where dozens of pastries are available daily, including the Pralinen, Senegal, truffle, Sand, and Maximilian tortes, as well as Gugelhupfs (cream-filled horns). Demel also serves a mammoth variety of tea sandwiches made with smoked salmon, egg salad, caviar, or shrimp. If you want to be traditional, ask for a Demel-Coffee, which is filtered coffee served with milk, cream, or whipped cream. It's open daily from 10am to 7pm.
Café Diglas, Wollzeile 10 (tel. 01/5125765; www.diglas.at; U-Bahn: Stubentor), evokes prewar Vienna better than many of its competitors, thanks to a decor that retains some of the accessories from 1934, when it first opened. The cafe prides itself on its long association with composer Franz Léhar. It offers everything in the way of run-of-the-mill caffeine fixes, as well as more elaborate, liqueur-enriched concoctions like the Biedermeier (with apricot schnapps and cream). If you're hungry, ask for a menu (foremost among the platters is an excellent Wiener schnitzel). The cafe is open daily from 7am to 11pm.
Café Dommayer, Auhofstrasse 2 (tel. 01/8775465; U-Bahn: Schönbrunn), boasts a reputation for courtliness that goes back to 1787. In 1844, Johann Strauss, Jr., made his musical debut here; and beginning in 1924, the site became known as the place in Vienna for tea dancing. During clement weather, a garden with seats for 300 opens in back. The rest of the year, the venue is restricted to a high-ceilinged, black-and-white, old-world room. Every Saturday from 2 to 4pm, a pianist and violinist perform; and every third Saturday, an all-woman orchestra plays mostly Strauss. Most patrons come for coffee, tea, and pastries, but if you have a more substantial appetite, try the platters of food, including Wiener schnitzel, Rostbraten, and fish. It's open daily from 7am to 10pm.
Even the Viennese debate the age of Café Frauenhuber, Himmelpfortgasse 6 (tel. 01/5125353; U-Bahn: Stephansplatz). But regardless of whether 1788 or 1824 is correct, it has a justifiable claim to being the oldest continuously operating coffeehouse in the city. The old-time decor is a bit battered and more than a bit smoke-stained. Wiener schnitzel, served with potato salad and greens, is a good bet, as are any of the ice cream dishes and pastries. It's open daily Monday to Saturday 8am to 11pm.
Housed in the deluxe Hotel Imperial, Café Imperial, Kärntner Ring 16 (tel. 01/50110389; www.starwood.com; U-Bahn: Karlsplatz), was a favorite of Gustav Mahler and a host of other celebrities. The "Imperial Toast" is a small meal in itself: white bread with veal, chicken, and leaf spinach topped with a gratin, baked in an oven, and served with hollandaise sauce. A daily breakfast/brunch buffet for 40€ ($64) is served Habsburg-style daily 7am to 11pm. It's said to be the only hotel buffet breakfast in Vienna that comes with champagne. The cafe is open daily from 7am to 11pm.
One of the Ring's great coffeehouses, Café Landtmann, Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring 4 (tel. 01/241000; tram: 1, 2, or D), has a history dating to the 1880s and has long drawn a mix of politicians, journalists, and actors. It was also Freud's favorite. The original chandeliers and the prewar chairs have been refurbished. We highly suggest spending an hour or so here, perusing the newspapers, sipping coffee, or planning the day's itinerary. The cafe is open daily from 7:30am to midnight (lunch is served 11:30am to 3pm and dinner is served 5 to 11pm).
Part of the success of Café Sperl, Gumpendorferstrasse 11 (tel. 01/5864158; www.cafesperl.at; U-Bahn: Karlsplatz), derives from the fact that the Gilded Age panels and accessories that were installed in 1880 are still in place. These details also contributed to Sperl's designation in 1998 as "Austria's best coffeehouse of the year." If you opt for a black coffee, you'll be in good company. Platters include salads; toast; baked noodles with ham, mushrooms, and cream sauce; omelets; steaks; and Wiener schnitzels. The staff evokes a bemused kind of courtliness; but in a concession to modern tastes, a billiard table and some dartboards are on the premises. It's open Monday to Saturday 7am to 11pm and Sunday 11am to 8pm (closed Sun July-Aug).
Café Tirolerhof, Fürichgasse 8 (tel. 01/5127833; U-Bahn: Stephansplatz or Karlsplatz), which has been under the same management for decades, makes for a convenient sightseeing break, particularly from a tour of the nearby Hofburg complex. One coffee specialty is the Maria Theresia, a large cup of mocha flavored with apricot liqueur and topped with whipped cream. If coffee sounds too hot, try the tasty milkshakes. You can also order a Viennese breakfast of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, two Viennese rolls, butter, jam, and honey. Open Monday to Saturday 7:30am to 10pm.
Thirty kinds of tea are served at Demmers Teehaus, Mölker Bastei 5 (tel. 01/5335995; www.demmer.at; U-Bahn: Schottentor), along with dozens of pastries, cakes, toasts, and English sandwiches. Demmer's is managed by the previously recommended restaurant, Buffet Trzésniewski; however, the teahouse offers you a chance to sit down, relax, and enjoy your drink or snack. It's open Monday to Friday from 9am to 6pm.
Gulaschmuseum -- If your kids think ordering hamburgers in a foreign country is adventurous eating, this is a great place to introduce them to goulash -- it comes in at least 15 delicious varieties. Few youngsters will turn down the homemade apfelstrudel.
A Veggie Tale
The president of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Ingrid E. Newkirk, informed us that she fared well in Vienna kitchens, long known as a bastion of animal fats. She reported that at the ubiquitous McDonald's, she could always order a veggie burger (a GemuseMac), and even some Gemuse Nuggets. She claimed that most restaurants will go out of their way to please if you simply say what you want. She had particular praise for Firenze Enoteca, citing the superb pastas, "exquisite" white-bean soup, and a fresh asparagus starter.
Picnics & Street Food
Picnickers will find that Vienna is among the best-stocked cities in Europe for food supplies. The best -- and least expensive -- place is the Naschmarkt, an open-air market that's only a 5-minute stroll from Karlsplatz (the nearest U-Bahn stop). Here you'll find hundreds of stalls selling fresh produce, breads, meats, cheeses, flowers, tea, and more. Fast-food counters and other stands peddle ready-made foods such as grilled chicken, Austrian and German sausages, sandwiches, and even beer. The market is open Monday to Friday from 6am to 6:30pm, Saturday from 6am to 1pm. You can also buy your picnic at one of Vienna's many delis, such as Konditorei Oberlaa, Neuer Markt 16 (tel. 01/513-29360; www.oberlaa-wien.at).
With your picnic basket in hand, head for Stadtpark or the Volksgarten, both on the famous Ring. Even better, if the weather is right, plan an excursion into the Vienna Woods.
On street corners throughout Vienna, you'll find one of the city's most popular snack spots, the Würstelstand. These small stands sell beer and soda, plus frankfurters, bratwurst, curry wurst, and other Austrian sausages, usually served on a roll mit senf (with mustard). Try the käsekrainer, a fat frankfurter with tasty bits of cheese. Conveniently located stands are on Seilergasse (just off Stephansplatz) and Kupferschmiedgasse (just off Kärntnerstrasse).