Warsaw is a city of neighborhoods. And while tourists may justifiably stick to the major draws of the city (the reconstructed old town, the Palace of Culture, Nowy Świat street, and the beautiful Łazienki Park), venturing into Warsaw’s lesser known districts provides many rewards, particularly with food and drink.
This series will explore my three favorite neighborhoods of Warsaw (Stary Mokotów, Saska Kępa, and Praga Północ) through cuisine and beverage. Warsaw has blossomed in the recent years as a foodie destination and these three neighborhoods provide an authentic, local-like experience to an ever-changing landscape.
Nearly surrounded by parks, Stary Mokotów is a compact neighborhood south of the center and flanked by the major streets Puławska, Wołoska, and Batorego with aleja Niepodległości dividing it nearly in half. However, for all practical purposes, Park Morskie Oko marks the boundary to the east while aleja Niepodległości to the west and provides the framework for a great local style walking tour for some fantastic food and drinks.
Start the morning off with one of the best Flat Whites in the city at Café Relaks.
Hipsters, students, and everyone in between gather at this Polish film poster adorned café for superbly crafted espresso and coffee drinks. In the morning, you can grab a croissant and, in the afternoon, the desserts are incredibly popular. In fact, the place is nearly always packed and buzzing, but the service is incredibly friendly and a spot usually opens up in time for you to sit and “relaks” with your favorite beverage.
Iluzjon Cafe and Bar
Wander east and enjoy the tree-lined streets and calm environment that much of Warsaw lacks. Some impressive houses usually sit behind some high fences or walls, but they are certainly nice to walk past and admire. If you make it to aleja Niepodległości, head north to the small but lovely park skwer Antoniego Słonimskiego where the funky Iluzjon Kino takes residence. Built in the 1950s, the theater continues to show independent and retro films, although most will not have subtitles in English. Regardless, it is a beautiful building and worth a visit.
Here, you will find the attached Iluzjon Cafe and Bar which offers up some impressive vegetarian and vegan food. Combined with a good selection of bottled beer, a few choice cocktails, and glasses of wine, the cafe is a great spot to spend an afternoon either inside its comfortable, retro-style dining area or outside on their expansive patio.
The cafe also has some great coffee and teas. If you get there a little later, enjoy a vegan dessert with their Iluzjon tea: a black and mint fusion with a selection of spices, herbs, and citrus offerings that you add to fit your taste.
Kubek w Kubek
If you missed lunch or want a light dinner (or breakfast for that matter), you cannot go wrong with Kubek w Kubek. The original of two restaurants in the city, this location is very cozy and the service is excellent. The menu is simple but fairly extensive with some traditional Polish options as well as some pan-European dishes. A small but thoughtful selection of wine and beer complement the food nicely. Personally, I have enjoyed the breakfast most, particularly the eggs benedict, but all the food here is of high quality.
As it gets later, take a moment to enjoy a cocktail at one of Warsaw’s “oldest” cocktail bars. Bar Wieczorny was one of the first bars on the scene to put together a menu of craft cocktails. Today, you will find many cocktail bars and speakeasy-style bars around the city, but this one is special in its friendly, personalized style and the fact that it almost a speakeasy because it is just in such a residential area! Grab one of the their specialties or do like I do: go for something classic like a Pisco Sour which the bartenders will happily mix up for you in no time.
One of my favorite bars in the city, Regeneracja looks like it may have once been a 1970s strip club (in fact, there is a dancing pole in the basement). Nevertheless, the social vibe here is infectious. The bartenders and staff are always having a good time and come here enough, you will definitely observe the local scene that includes some notable characters.
The place offers some nice beers on tap as well as a good selection of bottled beer. The cocktails may not live up to other pure cocktail bars, but they definitely hold their own and the wine is cheap but not “hangover by default” cheap. Regeneracja does offer food until late, but I can’t say I have eaten here enough to warrant a recommendation. For me, this is a pure drinking spot and one that will not let you down.
Bonus: just east of Park Morskie Oko
Although these two places are technically not in Stary Mokotów, both are worth mentioning and close to one another just off of Belwederska near the southern end of Łazienki Park.
Cute, cozy, and incredibly friendly, Mônsieur Léon is easy to miss. Tucked into a small neighborhood between Belwederska and Łazienki, this tiny (and I mean, like 3-tables tiny) French restaurant offers up an ever changing selection of simple French fare. With a nice selection of wines by the bottle and glass, you may feel you have stepped just slightly into Provence (try to ignore the horrible 1950s buildings nearby). In the summer, the outside tables are a delightful place to sit and enjoy an afternoon lunch or late dinner while in winter, you literally rub shoulder to shoulder with all the patrons but the quaintness, service, and food make up for it.
DZIK Zabawy i Kultury
Step into DZIK and you never know what you are going to find. Set in an old house with some of the best wallpaper in Warsaw, the eclectic venue shifts from a lunch and dinner restaurant throughout most of the day to an a performance venue and club at night. On any given day, you may find yourself in the middle of a swing dance lesson, an open mic poetry session, or come late enough, a pumping techno party. With two floors, an outdoor patio, and a back yard, this place can accommodate a diverse crowd. The food is Polish first but does have quite a selection of European-inspired dishes that are carefully prepared and nicely presented. Beer on tap is standard as is the wine selection but with an atmosphere as funky as this, what else do you need?