I will update this post with my experiences at non-fast food restaurants in Russia. There are of course plenty more frequented by AIFS students, (Mama Roma, O’Hooligan’s), but I’ve decided to review only the ones at which I have personally eaten. Many students are overwhelmed by Russian-language menus and less-than-stellar table service, and are intimidated out of St. Petersburg’s sit-down restaurants. This need not be!
This is actually a chain, but a surprisingly good one by Russian or even American standards. Their specialty is Russian cuisine, specifically meat pies. The two restaurants I’ve visited are more like cafes, with counter service but also with nice decor and seating areas. I highly recommend the rabbit and mushroom pie.
I have to admit, I had rock-bottom expectations for a Latin restaurant/basement bar in St. Petersburg, but I was pleasantly surprised. The cuisine and decor are pan-Latin and South American, although most of the menu items are recognizable to anyone who’s been to a Tex-Mex place in the States. Every guest gets a free shot, and prepare to be impressed by the quality of the appetizers and entrees (unfortunately the desserts are the standbys you get in any other sit-down restaurant in the city). I recommend the nachos and taquitos. However, like many other downtown basement bars, seating is limited here (avoid busy hours) and it can get very hot and smoky when crowded. Still, this is the place to go if you need your Latin food fix.
This is a Georgian restaurant with a light, minimalist interior (so…not exactly authentic in terms of Georgianness) and has great views of the Fontanky canal. I recommend ordering several dishes (the entrees are rather small, with the exception of the appropriately enormous khachapuri adjaruli) to share. It is more expensive than the many other Caucasian restaurants around the city, so I would save it for a special occasion. But I do give it extra Georgian points for including a free bread basket with the meal, a rarity in Russia.
An English “pub,” complete with a brick-lined interior, engravings of London, and affordable beer. It is somewhat small and can be smoky when crowded, but I recommend it if you’re out with friends.
This is one of the better sushi chains you can find in St. Petersburg. We actually had a hard time getting in, because the restaurants tend to be smaller and fill up quickly with couples, groups, and reservations. If you happen to walk in when it’s not crowded, the food is well worth it and sometimes there are even 2 for 1 sushi deals.
An Italian basement bar with a menu that changes daily, featuring mostly pasta and thin-crust pizza. It is cheaper than most downtown ethnic restaurants, and had a better selection of authentic Italian food than other restaurants in Russia.
This is a pan-Asian restaurant and is actually one of few establishments in Russia that I can see actually doing well in an American city. It has funky interior design, is not too expensive, and makes really good food. I recommend the Thai fried rice with either chicken or shrimp. It is the only good Asian food I’ve had since leaving London. Unfortunately the menu is only in Russian, and it can be difficult to decipher the Russian transliterations of Asian dishes and ingredients.
I went to this restaurant for a friend’s 21st birthday party, and we (a group of 15-20 people) had a great time. It isn’t a far walk from IMOP, but if you’re taking the metro it is literally right across the street from Politechnicheskaya. The interior is light, open, and has a kind of ballroom/banquet-hall feel. I remember it was owned by Armenians–in any case, they do have a good selection of dishes from the Caucasus, and the khachapuri (cheese-bread) was a favorite. Around dinner time they also hire live musicians, who looked quite intimidating but were surprisingly good.
It is almost impossible to miss Cafe Singer, located on the top floor of Nevsky Prospekt’s famous international bookstore, Dom Knigi (House of Books). The interior is absolutely beautiful, one of the best surviving examples of St. Petersburg Art Nouveau (many others were destroyed durign the Seige of Leningrad). The cafe also overlooks the Kazan Cathedral, which is perfectly lit at sunset. You definitely pay for the atmosphere as everything (pastries, beverages, small appetizer-type plates) is overpriced, but I think it’s worth at least one visit.
This Georgian basement bar is somewhat cheaper than Aragvi, and I found it had a better (by which I mean, more Georgian) wine menu. It has a nice atmosphere and they are good about accommodating larger groups.
Located right outside Palace Square (ie, very close to the Hermitage), I think this is the first sit-down place I went to in St. Petersburg. Food is somewhat expensive, but beer is about as good and cheap as it will get in the city, this being the restaurant/headquarters of Russia’s famous Baltika Brewery. The place is huge and easily accommodates large groups.
This is about as [consciously] hipster as Russia is going to get. Each menu is a handmade scrapbook/”photo album,” and the walls are crowded with books, old maps, and antique decorations. The menu is in English, and I think all the waitstaff (with unbearably cute vintage aprons) are more or less fluent. It’s more on the expensive side (about 500 rubles per person for dinner), so I think it would be better for a date than going out with friends, although their breakfast options look more affordable. If you can’t afford dessert, you might get lucky and be given a complimentary bag of homemade assorted cookies. From the dinner menu, I recommend the shrimp with coconut sauce. As a smaller downtown restaurant, it’s difficult to walk in without reservations.
Of what I experienced in St. Petersburg, this restaurant wins the prize for Best Georgian: affordable and authentic. While Aragvi is overall a classier dining experience, Khvanchkara Café is a true Georgian family business, with the parents cooking in back while their adult children wait tables. The décor was straight out of a typical Tbilisi restaurant and the wait staff would occasionally break out the folk dance to their favorite Georgian songs. The khinkali were the best I had this semester—big, perfectly seasoned, not gristly—and most importantly, you can order them by the piece instead of being overcharged for a set portion. They also get points for carrying Georgian beverages, like Natakhtari beer/sodas, saperavi wine, etc.