Friday, February 22, 2008

The Burgers of Prague

I try to do a fresh burger survey every year -- here's a newer one.

"Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely." Auguste Rodin
Where can you experience the best hamburger in Prague? A juicy question. But perhaps a waste of time.

The question, I mean.

Who can seriously answer that? A lot of good burgers are served up in this town. But who has tried them all?

The Prague Post has had an article the past couple of years on Prague's best burgers. I had sampled the offerings at a few of the places mentioned. But so many good burgers were not included in that competition.

So, I have my own list.

What follows are not necessarily the best burgers of Prague. I will not even say the list is objective.

It is, in fact, only a list of all the hamburgers I've eaten over the last year. I've put them in the order that I like them:

Czech Inn Hostel: (NOTE: Unfortunately, the Czech Inn has stopped serving burgers) Call me crazy. Call me unconventional. I put this one at the top. This home-style hamburger is the one your mother would make (if she made really good hamburgers).

It was not flashy. It was not gourmet. It was just right and hit the spot. The patty is large, a little crumbly, like Mom's, with just the right amount of fat and salt. The bun is big, dusted with flour, and doesn't fall apart.

It came with lettuce, tomatoes, and a square of melted American-style cheese. There was no bacon. A fried egg on top was an option. It came with a hefty amount of fries and mayonnaise on side for 150 CZK.

My only quibbles? The Heinz ketchup was served in large packets instead of a bottle. And on one visit, the fries were not cooked in the freshest oil.

The Czech Inn is an upscale hostel, a few tram stops outside the center. Its pub has a very nice look, with great, artistic plaster work on the walls and ceilings.

There is also an English-language trivia/quiz night every Monday at 8pm. Big fun.

Potrafena Husa on Vinohradska: This hamburger was close to perfect. The high-quality meat had a great smoky flavor from the grill.

It had bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion. All the toppings are thoughtfully cut to fit under the bun. You rarely see this kind of attention to detail.

The bun was very good bread and toasted. The fries were great.

I had only small issues with this burger. One was that the ground beef was actually too lean. It was on the dry side after cooking.

Because of this, I order it rare, but it always comes at least medium.

Then, there's the price. It is now 312 CZK, up from 290 CZK when I last wrote about. Ouch!

The cost does take some of the pleasure out of it for me.

This place, which serves Czech and American-style dishes, is often full of Czech urban professionals and expats. It appears they are willing to pay any price.

Fraktal: This burger is a favorite of many, and it has been one of mine. The burger patty itself was thick, round, and nicely charred on the outside.

The ground beef sat on a sturdy, poppy and sesame seed roll. There was generous amounts of bacon and cheese.

The burger came with lettuce, red onion, sliced sweet pickles, a mayo-based sauce, and a side of fries and mustard. I also got a bottle of Heinz ketchup.

I had the small, 125 gram version for 175 CZK. The larger 200 gram version was 195 CZK.

Small criticisms here: the tomatoes were sliced wedges -- not exactly the best shape if you want to throw them on the burger. The fries were large and good, but needed salt.

The dark, subterranean space is not my favorite place for a meal. The floor often smells of beer and it can fill with cigarette smoke.

I do like to sit at one of the few tables outside in the summer, if one is available.

El Barrio de Ángel: I'd give this burger the award for the best ground beef. It traveled all the way from Argentina. There was a wonderful flavor, made even more delicious by flame grilling.

The patty was well-seasoned, with a perfect amount of salt. The low fat content makes it very dense and even a bit dry in the middle, like Potrefena Husa's.

Still, juices dripped on the plate -- the chef brushes the burger a lot on the grill.

It came out with lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayo already on it. It was well-constructed.

My Argentine friend, Max, the Beer Philosopher, told me that this is the standard way burgers are served in his country. I'm not a big mayo-on-the-burger fan so I wished I'd had some choice in the matter.

Fries came on a separate plate. The cost is 149 CZK, which seems fair, considering the quality.

The biggest problem was the bun. Although nicely toasted, it was a flaky little thing that was dwarfed by the big, thick patty.


It appeared to come from a supermarket. It fell apart. This fine beef deserved better.

Ultramarin: I'm glad I went back to try this burger again recently.

It also had bad bun issues only a few months ago. But it has gotten an upgrade and moved higher on my list.

They call it the "Elvis King burger." It came with Irish bacon, sweet onion jam, fried onion, and a grilled mushroom cap. I really liked the onions.

The burger was served with housemade french fries with the skins on. They were very greasy and cooked to an orange-brown color. I liked them, despite the large amount of excess oil.

Mayo came on the side, and bottled Heinz ketchup was also available.

It costs 220 CZK. That's up from 175 CZK when I had it with the bad bun in November 2007.

Cafe Bar Wigwam: This is the hamburger I eat most often. I am a regular at this place.

The "Classic Burger" is usually nothing too special. It has a bad, supermarket bun. They use decent beef, usually cooked to well-done.

There's lettuce, tomato, good bacon, red onions, melted cheese, and tons of mayo on top.

What do I like about this one? It is 115 CZK with fries included. The best bargain of the bunch.

There is also a strangely endearing aspect to this hamburger, at least for me. It seems it is never made the same way twice, week after week.

The shape and size of the patty is always changing. Sometimes it is a wide and flat. Sometimes it is a small lump. The toppings vary from time to time.

It's never great, and only rarely bad. These weekly changes keep me from getting bored with it.

Mozaika: I know this burger is much loved, and this is one of my favorite restaurants.

Still, I really haven't loved the Mozaika burger. It was the least conventional, but I didn't downgrade it for that reason.

It came on a big, spinach bread bun, with baked mushrooms, sweet onions, mayo, tomatoes, and lettuce.

The beef patty was quite large. It is heavily seasoned and very good. However, the toppings just didn't work for me.

Both times, I've had it, they mixed together into something of a mess inside the bun. They fell out of the bottom after a few bites.

It was very messy and hard to eat with your hands. The bread itself didn't hold together so well, either.

It came with fries or a small salad and goes for 199 CZK.

Hergetova Cihelna: This was the most expensive hamburger I've eaten in Prague.

In summer, you might consider that you are paying for the view of the Charles Bridge from the terrace. In the winter, you're just paying for the burger.

The beef patty was big and char-grilled. On the side were pickles, onions, tomatoes, coleslaw, ketchup, and mayo. The sesame seed bun was big, and perfectly toasted. The bacon was great. The fries were thick and crunchy.

But.

The tomatoes were cut into awkward-sized chunks rather than slices. The slaw had way too much mayo. The meat was very fatty, and had an odd, rubbery quality.

It tasted good, but the texture bothered me.

And I was really bothered by the price: 395 CZK. Wow! I won't be doing that again.

T.G.I.Friday's: If you want a real American-style hamburger, what better place than an American restaurant chain? Well, to be honest, there are better places.

I had the WORLD FAMOUS FRIDAY'S® BURGER. I went for the smaller 150 gram version for 160 CZK. The larger 250 gram burger is 210 CZK. Neither come with any side item like french fries.

The large, thin patty had a nice, but familiar flame-broiled flavor. It came on a large, sesame seed bun, pre-loaded with great, thick bacon, American cheese, lettuce, pickles, tomato, and onion.

After a few bites, I realized why the flavor was familiar. It tasted almost exactly like Burger King's Whopper. I do like Whoppers, But if I want one, I'd rather go to BK and pay less (there's a rumor they are coming to Prague).


The only difference between the two in my mind was that the WFFB had better bacon and didn't come with mayo like BK's.

The faults of the Friday's burger? Too much melted cheese that overwhelmed at times. Also a bun that was big enough, but was too soft and barely held together.

I had it with onion rings for 35 CZK, which were almost completely flavorless. I loved their chocolate milkshake, but it was 85 CZK.

One other thing worth mentioning. I would never go to the T.G.I. Friday's on Na Příkopě, only to the one at Anděl. The prices are drastically different.


At Na Příkopě, there was only burger size on the menu (they didn't give the weight), and it went for 290 CZK. The ribs are 380 CZK there, but only 240 CZK at Anděl (though 50 grams less).

U Dědka: There was nothing very wrong with the hamburger at U Dedka. It was just my least favorite.

The meat was a big, round lump with melted cheese and bacon on top.

The burger came with toppings on the side: sliced, white onions, pickles, jalapenos, lettuce, annoying tomato wedges, liquidy coleslaw, mayo, and ketchup.

The ground beef ball was too rare for me.

Also, the meat had a very distinctive and different taste. I really couldn't make out what kind of seasoning was the source of this flavor (or if it was definitely from a seasoning). I didn't like it. Also, the bun was not toasted.

It was 140 CZK, but unlike many of the others, it did not come with fries.

And those are all I've tried. And not a single McBurger in the past year (though I did have a fine Angry Whopper in Munich).

Since some of these hamburgers were eaten many months ago, I must mention this caveat: There may have been changes since my visit.

If you know of some good burgers or would rank them differently, I'd love to see your Burgers of Prague list.

And some day, I'd like to take a look at the Burghers of Calais.

26 comments:

skip said...

How about the TGI Fridays burgers? I heard some good things about them, also Cuketka mentioned in one of his reviews, that he particularly enjoyed their cheesburger.

VoY said...

Oh c'mon man, don't tell me you are missing on Jama's great burgers? They even have delicious burger specials each tuesday!

Brewsta said...

Skip, you are psychic. I was in such a burger mood after writing this, I went to Friday's. I was especially in the mood for a chocolate shake. I've added it to the list. Maybe I should update this post every time I try a new burger.

Voy -- sorry to say this, but I had a Jama burger 3-4 years ago on the special night and did not like it at all. This was after I'd heard some good comments about it. A friend ordered one shortly after me when we ate there and was similarly unhappy. So, I was in no hurry to try it again. Perhaps it has changed in recent years. I just can't say.

Pivní Filosof said...

"Where can you experience the best hamburger in Prague? A juicy question. But perhaps a waste of time."
That is a wise statement and it can be applied to pretty much everything.
I really liked the fact that you order the burgers according to your taste. People might or might not agree, but there is no point in arguing.

Mark said...

I think Fraktal is going downhill in terms of burgers ... the bun is often stale and the meat has a funny spice in it. I used to order it quite frequently -- now I usually eat before I go out and just drink the beer. I agree with your take on Mozaika -- great restaurant, weird burger. What's up with prices in Prague restaurants?? Burgers clocking in at over $20 are simply not worth the price (it is just a burger, after all ... ) According to the recent rate of exchange, the Hergetova Cihelna burger is something like $25 bucks now -- and that would not include any drinks. Burgers for two with fries, drinks, and a tip would come to around $70 by my calculation. No way ...

Chris said...

Hi. Thanks for your comments on the Czech Inn burger. My wife reads your blog all the time and told me about this post. I am the owner/operator of Czech Inn and just wanted to say thanks for mentioning us. It was a nice surprise!

Doris said...

Thanks also from Chris' mother-in-law! I read your blog a lot so I can be up on where to eat when I visit Prague, and it's very helpful. I had the burger and fries at the Czech Inn last time I was there. The burger was as good as you described and the fries were just perfect!

Pivní Filosof said...

Mark,
Unlike in the US and many other countries, real burgers are a relatively new thing here.
Where you come from, you can sure find them at pretty much every corner, here only, at some upmarket restaurants or expat places, where you will also pay more for anything for the simple privilege of having service and menus in English.
Maybe some day the corner hospoda will start offering real burgers and their price will drop.

The Lone Beader said...

Thanks for this post!! I am a burger connaissseur!! I might have to print this out and bring it to Prague with me! And, 395 CZK is a lot for a burger! That is like $23 USD! That is a lot. I could pay that much for a burger and 2-3 beers plus a tip here in America.

Mark said...

Beer Philosopher,

That's true. I guess I'm despairing more on the prices of everything these days. Even Brewsta's prices from last year are now badly out of date as restaurant prices continue to rocket. I just walked past the Rybi trh in the Ungelt yesterday and noticed that the menu has several main courses now over 1,000 Kc ... that place was never cheap, but at 1,000 Kc an entree, plus appetizers, drinks and dessert could well put you over 5,000 Kc for a meal ... (nearly $300) ... that's crazy.

Mark said...

I meant a meal for two ... but even a meal for one would be pretty pricey ... and the food there is hit or miss anyway (as it is in many many places in town).

Brewsta said...

Yes, prices are crazy. I was surprised to look see that Ultramarin's burger had gone from 175 CZK to 220 CZK (I found an old receipt with the lower price).

And the Cihelna burger went from 295 CZK to 395 CZK.

And sausages on Wenceslas Square were 30 CZK last year. Now they are 60 CZK. Talk about inflation!!!

To the Czech Inn folks: Keep up the good burgers. Nice to have you in the neighborhood.

skip said...

Hi Brewsta, I am really sorry for that :) But thanks for update! I think that maybe the reason, why people generally like Friday's burgers despite your personall experience, is that we have no Burger King in CZ and we miss it. It may sound strange to anybody from the States. But to be honest, when I go to Germany by train and miss the connection in Dresden, there's always a sweet reward - BK at the Dresden trainstation. I love when I can sit there and have the double cheese with bacon, I think it's really not bad for that price, it's not bad at all. I'm looking forward to the first BK
in Prague hoping that the time will come. It would really help to raise the general level of "burger culture" here, since McDonald is a synonym for any burger for most of the Czech peaople.

Anonymous said...

The Bohemian Bagel walk-up food stand at IP Pavlova has a decent burger, kinda small (like a slider) but good flavor and cheddar cheese- and I think is is 80kc!

Jay said...

Has anyone tried the burgers at Gate Restaurant in Karlin? I'm curious to see if those are any good.

Anonymous said...

I've tried the burger at the Gate and it wasn't anything special. It was very undercooked. If you work/live in the area it might be worth trying, but I wouldn't make a special trip.

hungryhippo said...

try a burger with egg at Czech inn awesome, only went to try cheeseburger after your blog but the cook confinced me to have an egg on it, truly awesome.

Anonymous said...

Hm, Czech Inn has a trivia contest, huh? AND the best burger? What are the odds?!?!?

So you take ads now? ;)

Brewsta said...

Just for the record -- I discovered the burger when I played the Quiz Night at the Czech Inn.

I do have Google Ads on the blog -- but I don't control which ads come up. Google picks the ad content through software that reads a blogs content and finds related ads.

I noticed that an ad for the Czech Inn comes up sometimes. I'd assume because I posted about it. But my post came first.

My Google ads usually earn me pennies a day. So, I have not yet sold my soul for an advertisement. But if someone wants to make me an offer... ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hi, I've just moved to Prague from the Middle East and have been using all the "best burger in Prague" lists I can find to learn my way around here. I must say this list has been the most helpful; The CzechInn burger kicks serious prdel; very friendly place too (though make sure you bring cash as they charge a premium for credit cards). It's the middle of a (hot) summer now and the free cold water pitchers (both with lemon and without!) are great.

I recently tried the Amigos (formerly Kojak's: www.amigos.cz) burger and was very impressed too. Very reasonably priced as well at 140 Kc for 150g.

As someone else mentioned above, I'm not sure what all the fuss about the Fraktal burger is. There is indeed a "funny taste" to it; some sort of spice that really shouldn't be there. It's not bad other than that, but it's a long way to go from Wenceslas Square...

Thanks again for the list, I wouldn't have found The CzechInn without it and I'll certainly be back there despite the extra distance involved.

Brewsta said...

Thanks. I hope to do an update and add more to this list. Had a decent, though not cheap burger at Jama. Had a cheap, not bad, but small one at Bohemia Bagel Express. Must try Amigos.

Anonymous said...

Hi Brewsta (this is the Amigos recommending guy),

One place not mentioned in your list either is Mon Ami, the "Balkan" restaurant in Zizkov.

To quote the Prague Post (http://www.praguepost.com/articles/2006/10/18/ground-around.php):

-----------------
Mon Ami

Roháčova 20, Prague 3–Žižkov

Tel. 222 780 808

Pljeskavica is a traditional Balkan-style burger. Less artfully prepared, it involves a mix of beef and lamb. The latter adds an earthy underscore to ground beef. So, even without dressing, it's a fantastic burger. And the bun, glutenous and tacky, holds up well.

----------------

And yes, it is VERY big and very tasty. But if you don't speak Czech / Serbo-Croatian, a bit difficult to find on the menu, but not impossible. It's not listed as a "hamburger" in any event (the place bills itself is a "pizzeria"!!!).

They have ridiculously cheap lunch specials (under 100 crowns for homemade soup AND a large BBQ chicken skewer when I was there last) so that's the time to go.

Bon app.

Brewsta said...

I've been to Mon Ami. I've had the pljeskavica. It was good (though I prefer the cevapcici).

Call me a purist, but I just can't see pljeskavica as a hamburger. The lamb, the giant patty and nonstandard bun, the lack of classic toppings, the Balkan association - I see the similarities, but it just doesn't speak to me in the burger sense.

Plus, I ate there with a Serb friend. When I asked for ketchup, he almost lost his mind.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, I just had to leave a follow-up comment about Amigos. I went there a couple of days back to have their burger (again).

Whoa; what happened? The burger that I had fond memories of just a few weeks back was now not "ground" beef. The burger was cut in half this time and was very thick; indeed with thick tomato, onion and loads of lettuce, it was too thick for me to eat holding in my hands; my mouth simply isn't that big. I had to -- HORRORS!!! -- get out ye olde knifee ande forke as chaos ensued and the whole thing fell apart (and I thought of the merciless fun I have made of non-American diners over the years for doing just this).

And do you know what happened when I did that? I couldn't cut the "meat" part of the burger with my knife for some reason. Upon closer inspection, it appeared that this was simply a (not-great) piece of steak that had had the stuffing beaten out of it with a mallet or something and then served in a bun. The taste was not bad (and I'm a big steak sandwich fan normally), but given that it was impossible eat as a proper burger and the really weird gristly texture, I'd have to say I'm a lot more circumspect this time around. Hey, Amigos, please sort this out; I enjoyed it the first time around!!!

Anonymous said...

NEW BURGER PLACE!!!

Stumbled upon a new place on my way home yesterday; "bila vrana" at Jagellonska 10 in Prague 3 (metro Jiriho z Podebrad; phone +420737070005). They've obviously dropped a bit of dosh on the decor (unusual in this particular area) and they have steak (and burgers) as some of their menu features. So, obviously, I checked it out.

Their hamburger is under 160 crowns (slightly more with bacon & / or cheese) and comes with steak fries. I hope you like Czech mustard (I personally love it) because it comes with a fair bit of it unbidden on the bun, as well as lots and lots of (quarter-cut -- why???) tomatoes, lettuce and sliced onion. It also is one of the few in this town that has been unadulterated by strange herbs and spices. I genuinely enjoyed this.

In fact, my only complaint about the burger is that there is too much meat (I can't believe I just said that). The bun fairly quickly split into a couple of pieces. But wow, what great taste.

The service was very -- VERY -- overworked. Reasonably friendly in Czech and well-meaning, but clearly the 2 waiters were overburdened with a full dining room during the evening rush. It was over 90 minutes start to finish for burger, multiple pints, dessert & the bill.

In this town, very good food always wins out over slow service; I'll certainly be back, probably often.

Anonymous said...

What about Banditos?