If you happened to read my post when I was in Prague in 2013, you know that I faced some dietary challenges then and the other four times I had been there. Being a vegetarian in a country that prides itself in pork knuckles (or pig’s knees, as it’s sometimes translated on menu boards) is not for the faint of heart.
I always found enough to eat, though meals focused on Greek salad, some grilled veggies and an occasional couscous.
But things have changed. To be more accurate, things have been slowly changing and this year, I discovered that. Vegetarian restaurants seem to be everywhere, and some of them are so popular — even with meat-eaters — that reservations are a must.
Take Lehká Hlava, a small place down a cobblestone alley, that “aims to satisfy your senses and clear your mind,” according to its menu introduction. Clear Head, as its name translates, definitely satisfies an craving for comfort food — and healthy stuff, at that.
Appetizers include “tofoi gras,” a pâté from smoked tofu and cashew nuts, with cranberries and toasted bread, or the “Small Clear Head,” (left) with a whole selection of starters like hummus, pumpkin spread, sun-dried tomato and peanut pesto, pâté of smoked tofu, green olives and bread.
For main dishes, the “Big Clear Head,” (top of page), is for two (with big appetites) and includes cheddar quesadilla with jalapeňos, grilled vegetable skewers with smoked tofu, served with potatoes au gratin, seitan gyros, small spring salad with honey-lemon dressing, BBQ sauce, tzatziki and pita bread. The gyros has the spices and seasonings just right so it’s hard to believe it’s not meat.
Another favorite (left) — probably the best of the best — is grilled goat cheese with walnuts, served on potatoes au gratin and steamed spinach leaves, lamb ́s lettuce with pesto of basil, but a close second is the quesadilla with baked eggplant, vegetables, cheese brie and eidam, sour cream, sundried tomatoes pesto and lettuce. In addition, homemade lemonades include cranberry and rosemary and a list of others.
Sister restaurant is Maitrea, tucked behind Tyne Church, just off Old Town Square but comparatively deserted. Tops from them (left) is “Svíčková,” the traditional heavy meat and gravy dish every mother thinks her daughter should learn to make before she marries. But this one has vegetarian “meat” slices with the texture and flavor of the real thing. Over it is a vegetable cream sauce, seasoned with allspice and all the right ingredients and served with wholemeal dumplings, lime, whipped cream and cranberries. I know, I know — it sounds strange, but even this non-gravy-eater mopped up the plate with her remaining dumpling.
In New Town is Estrella, only two years old and still without a website. Such touches as a free “tasting” appetizer and a slightly more extensive wine list add to the appeal. Again, a favorite there was a quesadilla (left), crispy outside and full of cheese, black beans and sun-dried tomatoes. Sadly, both times I ate there, I was too full for the carrot cake Trip Advisor reviewers rave about.
One other stop was Lo-Veg, a vegan restaurant on the steep road up to Prague Castle. It’s probably not fair to make comparisons because the kitchen there has to be much more creative to make up for a lack of dairy and eggs, but I had their version of Svíčková (in gallery below). The flavor was fine, but the texture was clearly not even pretending to have once been a cow. The color, too, was not like most versions of the real thing I have seen — a little too bright and yellowish. However, their RAW cake made up for any shortcomings on the main course.
And did I mention these dinners are very inexpensive? (Czech food is in general, but this seems even more so.) A dinner for three with a 2-person appetizer we couldn’t finish, a salad two guests shared, three main course meals (quesadilla, “shrimp” curry, with, yes, shrimps than looked and tasted authentic, and grilled goat cheese, spinach, eggplant, tomatoes, and chive dip, served burger-style in a freshly baked focaccia) plus two beers and four wines was 1,110 Kč, less than $50. At those prices and with so many options in these newer places, who would choose to eat a pig’s knee?