Comprehensively exhausted after my nighttrain from Odesa-Lviv, sharing a tiny cabin with 3 snoring Ukranians (OK, I snore too), I stumbled out onto the rather cold platform at Lviv, 08.30am. It was pouring with rain. I scrambled around for 30 minutes, found the train station hotel which was priced respectively, but then turned out you could only check in at midday when I already had other arrangements. Sticking a finger in the air to test the wind, I decided it best to walk slowly into town since my bag was light.
I headed down beautiful streets, tho marred by the disillusionment rain can bring when you actually have to walk in it, past grand churches and cathedrals, sprawling markets, antiquated cars. I managed to find a hostel and decided to pop in to ask how much it would be to rent a room for a couple hours (No, not that kind of establishment), so that I could shake off the tiredness from the train. A sleepy looking scruffian appeared from what seemed to be a cellar, informing me they had an apartment in town that could be mine for only 20 Euro's. I weighed up the pros and cons and decided to take it since mine and Jan's Airbnb wasn't supposed to be ready until 2pm. The man mentioned that he would be back and headed down the stairs again. Just that moment Jan texted to say the lady had written and it was ok to check in now. I shouted a couple of times down the damp trail of darkness but he never responded so I took to flight, and managed to round a corner before he had a chance to resurface.
The streets of Lviv are gorgeous. Old architecture, beautiful squares, trees, old trams. I shuffled my way along to our Airbnb and managed to check in. A short power-nap later I was ready to head out and discover what this city had to offer.
After a couple of hours of walking around, Jan turned up and we had a beer to catch up. The next week flew past in a blur of tiredness, hangovers and exploration. In the midst of all that chaos we managed to find some phenomenal places for both food and beverages. Below is a list, if you are so inclined to care.
It's difficult to fault this restaurant. Popular. Superb service. Brilliant food.
We headed here on a recommendation from quite a few separate poeple, and ended up going back at least 3 times. The soups were divine, especially the Beef soup that I had (pictured above) that had hints of cinnamon and spices coming through. The server was one of the best informed people I have encountered in a restaurant, he was extremely polite but not overly aggressive. His recommendations were always welcome since he knew what was best. The drinks, ambiance, was perfect for a brunch to clear the cobwebs off the night before.
Chaikhana Samarkanda ($$)
My first time tasting Uzbek food, and it was altogether splendid. After having walked through the gorgeous cemetery in Lviv, my feet were barking and my stomach growling. I happened to remember reading about this spot and stopped for a second to check where it was on my phone. Lo and behold it was literally across the street. Fate had me in his firm grip, and my choice had been made for me.
I descended into the belly of the beast, ordered their highly recommended lamb dish, struggled to upload some photos to Instagram due to the cellar-wifi-killer, and sipped on my beer. A huge plate of succulent lamb spiced with some herbs and berries I had never encountered before was just the right ticket. I scarfed it down in record time, paid my bill and carried my pregnant belly up to ground level and slowly lumbered into town.
Billed as a "Gastropub", we ended up here twice. Once by happenstance, the other forced to by the mighty hands of nature after a noahs-ark like downpour. The good thing is the food is great. Their craft beers were a bit hit and miss, but the pizza was excellent as where the chicken wings. I had some teriyaki skewers the second time which ended up being rather dry and boring, so stick to the pizza's and you can't go wrong.
Downright insanely slow service, honestly sometimes they will be staring straight at you while you wave and then go back to their phones before heading inside for a toilet break. It took sometimes 10-15 minutes to get anyone to come to our table. Lest we chase you away with these petty complaints, ignore the vitriol and head there for a calming sit outside (if weather permits) and enjoy the peace and quiet of the dead-end street.
Ramen. We had to try it.
First off, every country has their own peculiar spin or style of ramen, the Eastern Europeans seemingly love lettuce and other vegetables like broccoli in theirs, which isn't always a success. We ordered the Chashu Ramen, hold the corn (and throw it into a dark dungeon somewhere).
Down to the food, this chashu pork was up there with some of the best i've tried outside Japan. Utterly faultless, texture and flavour just utterly mesmerising. The egg too was perfectly cooked, perfectly prepared and the soy-marinate was not too strong or sweet. The broth itself had some staying power but was a little lacking in deep flavours, but the main culprit were the noodles. Home-made but with the texture of spaghetti thats both al dente and over-cooked at the same time. A bizarre experience.
We went back another day to try the beef one and the broth was better, fattier, deeper but the meat itself was chewy. Everything else was about the same as the Chashu bowl. Still, a medium-good bowl of Ramen trumps a lot of other things in my books.
Meat & Burger ($$)
Come for the burger, skip the fries.
A strange burger shop pairing WINE with burgers?? Oh well, heard it all now. Their menu is a drop-down list of all sorts of combinations of patty, dressing, accompaniments, tagged with wine's that are supposed to endow extra terrestrial tastebuds into action. I went for a regular burger, fries and the suggested wine. Obviously the wine did nothing to compliment or detract from the meal, because burgers and fries are naturally salty and completely smash your palate before you could discover the nuances of dirt in the land the grapes were squeezed out from. All in all the burger was good, but the fries were some of the saltiest things I have eaten ever, like EVER, ANYWHERE... Even India.
Where to drink
The craft beer King of Lviv, with it's ginormous bar perched on the main square, this spot is a perfect place to watch life go by. The beers are decent, the place is very touristy but the service is good and the location cannot be beaten.
This is purely a day-time drinking spot, there are better places to hide after the sun sets.
Kryivka (Slava Ukraina!)
This spot literally kisses the pavement of the main square, and yet it's underground caverns expose you to a completely different world. Be sure to knock on the door and shout SLAVA UKRAINA when the guard peeks through his peephole. Do not refuse his free shot of honey vodka, and then head down to the sprawling basement that used to hold meetings for the resistance. The beer here is almost always tepid, but the food is traditional and the music can be decent.
This place is all about the experience. It can tie the line between cheesy and gimmicky quite closely, but if you just go with it you'll have fun.
Пив паб "Залізяка"
The closest we found to a dive bar, this spot just around the corner from Dublin Bar seemed to be where the hipsters and rockers hung out. They also have some tables outside along the back wall which offered full sunshine and beautiful viewing all day long. Everyone who worked here was exceptionally friendly and the beers were cold and cheap.
A couple of nights they had young students playing live music which was a mix-bag to say it mildly, tho its nice to see someone is encouraging a scene at least.
Coffee Juices (KABA COKN)
The myth, the legend, the BOSS.
Passing this place a couple times after moving Airbnb's we were first stunned by the facade, a sort of 80's kitch western bar with amazing promise. On stepping in we were greeted warmly by this wonderful lady who didn't stop talking or laughing for 20 minutes despite knowing full well we didn't understand her at all. Her exhuberance and laugh made us feel right at home, and from then on we popped in every day at least to say hi on the way to town.
A guilty pleasure, not really somewhere most of my friends would like. But some will....
No clue what the name of place means in English, but they have lots of great beers on tap. The main reason people come here tho is their excellent pizza thats served until late into the night.
They have literally NO chairs anywhere to sit on which is peculiar, but the pizza is worth the trip and the beers fill the void.
Not for the faint of heart.
We ended our night at Drunk Cherry and asked an approaching couple if there were any other bars in the viscinity they could recommend. They pointed vaguely towards the corner and said "Turn right, left side, open late". After conferring a little we decided to check it out. Standing in front was a group of tourists who started talking to us and said "Put your hands in the statues pockets". Jan decided to go first, and whinced at the feel of a stone cold nob protruding from the depths. We decided it better to head in and grab a beer. I decided to head downstairs first to the toilet so I didn't look inside the bar. On my way out after finishing my duties I felt the snap of a whip go across my back. It hurt quite a lot. I turned around and noticed a woman dressed in S-M gear wanting seconds. I ran upstairs to find Jan already at a table with the tourists we met outside. We all sat down and witnessed the insanity that is Masoch. I won't go into details, but it's a "PG13" version of what must go down (pun intended) in such bars the world over.
I'm glad I got away with just a whipping on my back, others were less fortunate.
If you do make it to Lviv, then by all means head to the Lychakiv Cemetery and spend a good portion of your morning walking its beautiful/tragic aisles.
All these recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively.