An owner of a Moscow restaurant chain said once that food is not important in a Russian restaurant because the Russians do not come to eat. They come to have fun. In the course of history people in Russia have developed a tradition to use restaurants as a place for meeting up with friends and socializing, for relaxing after a hard day, for dancing and singing, for showing off or getting drunk. Of course, somewhere in between they order food and eat. So you've got the idea already - the atmosphere of the place is essential, food not so much.
Yekaterinburg being a large city (3d capital of Russia, as the locals put it) has many lovely cafes and restaurants. You can see that the owners spend enormous efforts and money on interior design to make the place cosy and special because the customers appreciate ambience. Don't forget to visit a restroom, even if you don't really need to, sometimes it can be a masterpiece itself! This is, by the way, another reason why eating out in Yekaterinburg is more expensive than in many European cities. Before I realised this mentality difference, good European restaurants had been a disappointment to me because they had looked like regular student canteens although with delicious food. In Yekaterinburg you can be disappointed vice versa - grand interior may imply plain meal, especially if we talk about international cuisine. Irish, Italian, Mediterranean and other exotic cooking is relatively new to us and nobody knows how it should taste in reality. So made-in-Russia-pizza is usually something far away from real Italian pizza, let alone Mexican-Russian burritos or Russian sushi. Japanese cuisine has lately been a fad all over Russia but in the Urals far away from the sea we only have frozen fish thus it can hardly be sushi (some local cooks manage to stuff Japanese rolls with our favourite mayo!)
All said above leaves you one but a very good option - when in the Urals, choose cafes and restaurants with Russian cuisine, firstly you have nothing to compare it with, secondly it's really tasty. Here's a list of central places in Yekaterinburg with ambience as good as menu and no intentions to rip you off (all have English menu):
Uralskie Pelmeni, Lenina 69/1 It used to be a posh Soviet restaurant - favourite place of Boris Yeltsin. Now it's a budget cafe with traditional Ural pelmeni (meat ravioli) and other Russian dishes. Good for foreigners as it has a buffet on the ground floor. Just get a tray and take what you fancy.
Stolle, Gorkogo 7a; Lunacharskogo 82; 8 Marta 123; www.stolle.ru (in English) Cafe-pie network started in St. Petersburg, now bakes pirogi (pies) in Moscow and in three places in Yekaterinburg. Their meat, fish and sweet pirogi are always fresh, delicious and very filling. Friendly service, cosy atmoshere for very good prices.
Mama's House, Lenina 26; www.mammas.ru The cafe has a very central location and is popular with young people because it's opened 24 hours. Mama offers everything from pizzas to Russian solyanka soup and German strudels. Menu is only in Russian so go with a dictionary. Every table is supplied with sticky paper and pencils to write your messages and stick them all over the place.
Pozharka, Malysheva 44; Lunacharskogo 128 www.cbr-group.ru/pojarka Pozharka is a beer-restaurant designed as a fire station with a full-sized fire-truck inside used as a bar. Cuisine is mainly Russian with Soviet odour. You can order a huge beer pitcher and listen to live music every weekend.
Podkova, Lenina 28/2 www.podkowa.ru Podkova means a horse shoe. It's a restaurant with traditional Russian cuisine, designed as a Ural merchant house of the 19th century. Pricey but once in a life time everyone should try blini with caviar and a so exotic sturgeon!
Dacha, Lenina 20 a This restaurant has the ambience of a Russian dacha (country house) and Russian cuisine. Marked in Lonely Planet Guide, however it's not very popular with the locals (probably they prefer their real dachas instead) so the place is always half empty, which can be a good point too.
Restoran CCCP, Pervomayskaya 27 www.cccp-r.ru A typical Soviet restaurant for nostalgic Russians and curious foreign tourists. At the entrance you will confront a Russian bear (a stuffed bear). The toilet design is particularly interesting, at least in a ladies' room for all I know. At weekends you can enjoy live Soviet music and Disco of the 80's which is not really an enjoyment, frankly speaking, unless you are totally drunk.
Ratskeller, 8 Marta St. 8b. www.ratskeller.ru The German restaurant is a foreigners-friendly place to sit & eat located in the downtown area. They hold German movie nights with friends from the Consulate General of Germany. You can enjoy a football (soccer) game on a big screen with your friends, and, of course, wonderful & delicious German food and the world-famous German beer! English menu. English-speaking staff.
Additionally there are many cheap Uzbekh cafes all over Yekaterinburg with tasty Asian food. Uzbechkas, as we call them here, are very popular with those who reject diets. Among the most beloved in the city are Nigora on Kuybysheva 55 and the Uzbekh cafe on Meteogorka (weather station hill)
And the last very important question I'm often asked: what do the figures next to dishes in the Russian menu mean? For example, Blini with strawberry jam 150/50 200p
150/50 means dish weight in grams where blini weigh 150grams and strawberry jam - 50 grams, so that you can imagine the size of the portion and decide whether it's a too small or large portion. 200p is a price in roubles.
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