Special Restaurants to Eat on a Budget: A Guide by Barbara

A journey through the city of Moscow in search of atypical, delicious and inexpensive food.

Special Restaurants to Eat on a Budget: A Guide by Barbara

Photo by Barbara Biglieri

Today I want to share with you my culinary experience in Moscow. I do not want to talk about the many popular and fashionable cafès and restaurants that you can find everywhere in the Russian capital. I do want you to get acquainted with unusual, cheap, little places that I tried in Moscow. When I travel or move to a new place I like to go around and discover new places where to taste different type of food. Especially in a new country, I believe it to be a way to know more about that place’s culture and even sometimes to meet interesting people. I would never go or recommend you to go to those tourist places where you pay a lot and the quality of food is scarse. They are the so called “lack mirrors”. I would rather eat in small and not fancy cafès where it seems that some old granny personally cooked all the dishes. I like the atmosphere of restaurants where you can taste homemade delicatessen. These places are usually known to locals, from office workers to students and residents of the area. Sometimes finding the restaurant sign is not easy, and it may seem that we enter into a private house.

 I think food is a very important part of the culture of a country. Being Italian, I love food very much; it is a constant part in our life. We live the food as a way of being together, and as a symbol of our culture. And I think that every state and population has its own typical food. In Russia this is true only in part. There is of course Russian cuisine, but the choice is much greater if we consider the ex Soviet Union and all the ex Republics which are now independent. The best thing is that in Moscow we can find any type of restaurant and canteen. For instance Georgian, Armenian, Uzbek and Azerbaijani cuisines are among the most common.

Given that we are students and we have no money, I have found several cheap and delicious restaurants and cafès in Moscow where to eat on a budget and be very much satysfied. Not only by the food but by the entire experience.

I like to set out on these small adventures and try different food. Sometimes I go alone, other times I have a companion and in this case we can taste more options from the menu. Of course I have not always been lucky and I also got bad experiences but here I want to list for you only the places that have positively surprised me. My choice is based on the quality of food and the cost of it. What matters is the value for money. Also important in my judgement is the ambiance, which does not have to be neither refined nor elegant but real, warm and with character. Some were recommended to me by friends, others I stumbled upon by accident and some I selected from articles and online reviews. I will prove to the readers that it is possible even in the centre of Moscow to eat cheaply and tasty. Here are the five establishments I decided to suggest to you. Enjoy your meal!

The first restaurant I want to mention is called Klim and it is famous for its blinis, a typical Russian dish. Here you can find any kind of these popular very thin Russian pancakes, sweet and savoury. They are traditionally made from buckwheat flour, but nowadays we can also find them made from wheat. A portion of three pieces usually costs around 90 rubles, depending on the topping. You can have blinis with butter, jam or varenie (a whole-fruit preserve), smetana (the famous Russian sour cream), honey, tvorog (cottage cheese), caviar, cooked ground meat or salmon. Here the pancakes are prepared on the spot directly in front of the visitors in an old open kitchen. The place is a small room furnished with wooden benches and tables. On the counter there is a big samovar, containing hot water for the tea. On the walls behind there are the typical Russian bubliki and sushki, traditional desserts, a kind of circle-shaped cookies tied together by a string and hung on the wall. On a prominent shelf are religious icons, a simbol in the Orthodox religion that serves to protect the place and the business. Notice that you can not only eat pancakes, but the menu is rich of other typical Russian dishes such as soups, salads, potatoes, rice, chicken and pelmeni (Russian dumplings).  If I have to find a fault with this place is that the temperature is a bit cold inside. But all in all I definitely recommend you to go and eat here, you will not be disappointed.

A surprising place is the Canteen No. 57. Around Moscow there are many stolovayas, typical Russian canteens where to eat on a budget fresh home-cooked food. But this one is special as it is located inside the GUM. On the third floor of the most famous shopping mall, the State Department Store facing the Red Square. Many Muscovites have never been here because they believe it to be a costly place for tourists. This is usually the case but among luxurious cafès and restaurants this is a hidden gem, which reminds of the USSR old times. There is a buffet where you can order all the typical Soviet dishes from cutlets to borsch, salad with herring and meatballs. Everything is delicious and they have vegetarian options as well. They also prepare desserts that I strongly advice you to taste. If you do not want to eat you can just order a coffee, that can be made with vegetable milk at a price of 200 rubles. The place is clean and tidy and the staff very courteous, which is not always a feature of canteens.

An absolutely unusual and special place is the refectory of the Vysoko-Petrovsky Monastery. Have you ever eaten inside a monastery? This is unbelievably beautiful. Once you enter through the first building you find yourself in a court. All the different churches and buildings are an example of beautiful architecture. It may be a bit tricky to find the refectory so it is better to ask where it is. Once you locate the building and open its doors you will find yourself in a big basement room full of decorations and paitings everywhere. It seems to be inside a scene from the Holy Scripture or inside a painting itself. The vaults in the seiling and the walls are painted with Orthodox images. There is a buffet open from 10.00 to 18.00 with the main traditional Russian homemade dishes prepared every day with prayer. The menu contains only Lenten food, which is perfect for vegetarians like me. You can eat a complete lunch for about 300 R. The woman working behind the food display-case was very kind and explained every dish to me. They also bake bread and sweets fresh every day in the monastery bakery. The place is really magical, it is heated so at every time of the year people can sit and refresh their strength. The food is tasty but the atmosphere is priceless.

Another delicious food everyone must taste at least once is the popular chebureki, a deep-fried turnover with a filling that can vary from meat or potatoes, to cheese and onions, or apple and jam. It is actually a national dish of Crimean Tatar cuisine. There are many restaurants where to eat this typical food but deserving a mention is the Cheburechnaya USSR. It is a chain with many branches in the city and personally I went to the one on Arbat. When I entered I thought I went back in time to the Soviet Union. Not only the name of the cafè but everything reminds of that period of time in the past. Hanging on the walls there are old photos and posters of Russian advertisements, Soviet movies and famous actors. There is even a museum-corner with old appliances such as a sewing machine, an iron scale, a telephone, and some old books and biscuits boxes. One cheburek costs 150 R and it is quite big. It is better to go with a friend because if you order three of them the fourth is offered. The menu is wide and has other typical canteen food.

The last but not the least is Paros Cafè, probably my favourite one. It is located near Baumanskaya metro station, not far from my faculty on Basmannaya Street. If you do not know about it you will not find the entrance. The door is kind of hidden in the dark and from the outside it looks closed or like a private home. It is thanks to a friend that I discovered it. But evidently people know it because it was full. The inside is very small, probably there are only six or seven tables. Every dish is completely homemade and absolutely delicious. There are soups, salads, rice, fish cutlets, chicken, meat, fish and more. Every portion is small and super cheap, so usually you order more than one dish. And it is advisable to eat it with a nice glass of house wine. It is actually an Armenian cafè, a very old one run by an Armenian woman. She is the owner and together with her cute tiny little dog they are the mascots of the place. The space is like a lived home. There are many photos and postcards on the walls and a great number of trinkets, books, ornaments and souvenirs on the shelves collected over the years and donated my happy clients. Even some famous Russian artists came here during its long activity time. It is a meeting point and a point of reference for the area. The lady is funny and enjoys talking and telling the story of her life and cafè. We even took a picture together. This place has definitely a soul.