What to eat in Vienna – and where to find it

A guide to popular Viennese food

Knowing what to eat in Vienna is simple and hard at the same time. Wienerschnitzel and Sachertorte are world famous Viennese culinary highlights. But what else is worth eating in Vienna? This guide of the most popular Viennese food will have your mouth watering even before setting foot in the city.

Wiener Schnitzel from veal.
The real deal Wiener Schitzel.

Most Viennese food has their origin in the culinary highlights of the former nations of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. You’ll find a hint of Bavaria and the Alps mixed in with a healthy portion of Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, and Italy. Further inspiration was found in Croatia, Galicia, Styria, and Slovenia.

Whether it’s braised, boiled, stewed, or fried – Viennese food is almost always comfort food. Vegetables and salads are but an afterthought to meat, potatoes, bread, and other carbohydrates.

Various surveys have confirmed that the Wiener Schnitzel, the breaded veal escalope (or the less expensive Wiener Schnitzel from pork), is Austria’s favourite dish by far.

After living in Austria for eight years and regularly visiting the capital, this list will give you a good idea of what to eat in Vienna. It also comes with recommendations of where to go looking for the most authentic Viennese food.

Viennese breakfast

If you’re not having breakfast where you stay, getting a Viennese breakfast from one of the many local cafes or bakeries is a good and budget-friendly way to start your day.

Breakfast in Vienna typically consists of a Kaisersemmel (most common Austrian bread roll resembling an emperor’s crown) and one other kind of bread roll. Cheese, ham, a boiled egg, jam, and butter accompany the bread. A coffee, most likely a Wiener Melange, and orange juice round the breakfast off.

It’s also not uncommon for the Viennese, especially kids, to have cakes and pastries for breakfast. The Schokocroissant (a croissant with chocolate inside) and Krapfen (a doughnutlike pastry typically filled with apricot jam or vanilla custard) are big favourites. It’s also perfectly acceptable to have a piece of Gugelhupf, the sponge cake “with a hole in the middle”, for breakfast in Vienna. Don’t act surprised if you see it again on the afternoon coffee table!

Where to find good breakfast in Vienna

We loved the Viennese breakfast served by the Café-Konditorei Aida in the Mariahilferstraße.  The food is prepared by chefs in long white hats and served by waiters in pink and white outfits. The Viennese breakfast (big enough for M and I to share one) cost €5,50, a Vanillekrapfen €1,50 and an Aida Melange €3,90.

There are at least 30 Aidas scattered around the city, so you’ll be sure to find one near you. You can also look out for any other café-konditorei which will have freshly baked breakfast goodies and coffee for those who want their breakfast in Vienna on the go.

Café-Konditorei Aida
Cafe-Konditorei Aida in the Mariahilferstraße.

Fancier (and ultimately more expensive) Viennese breakfasts can be found in one of the city’s renowned coffee houses. If you have the time to sit and savour your surroundings, it may be worth paying a little extra. Good examples are Café Museum and Café Florianihof.

Breakfast from around the world can be enjoyed at the Haas & Haas tea house behind St. Stephen’s Cathedral. More than 30 types of breakfast are on the menu here.

The Joma specializes in egg dishes of every conceivable variety, while you’ll even find “beuschel” (offal) at Meierei in Stadtpark.

For more inspiration, why not check out the Viennese breakfast guide on Good Morning Vienna.

Viennese food for lunch or dinner

Wiener schnitzel

The world-famous Wiener Schnitzel is a tender flat veal cutlet, coated in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs, and pan-fried in butter and oil to a perfect golden brown. It typically comes with potato salad but is also served with boiled parsley potatoes or a side salad.

Glacis Beisl Wiener Schnitzel
The Wiener schnitzel from Glacis Beisl.

The term Wiener schnitzel is protected by geographical indication under EU law. That means, if it’s not made with veal, it’s not a real Wiener schnitzel. However, the less pricey but equally delicious pork schnitzel may be called Wiener schnitzel from pork or “schnitzel nach Wiener Art” (Wiener-style schnitzel).

While there are endless debates among the city’s residents as to which restaurant or pub makes the best schnitzel in Vienna, one thing is clear – there are plenty of candidates to choose from! Figlmüller is well-known, but you can also try Plachutta, Schnitzelwirt, or Pürstner. We can personally recommend Glacis Beisl, Müllerbeisl, and Kantine m101.

Price: A Wiener Schnitzel generally costs between €16 and €22, while a pork schnitzel will set you back between €8 and €13.

Tafelspitz

Tafelspitz is slow-boiled beef which is more of an acquired taste than schnitzel. But hey, if it was Emperor Franz Joseph’s favourite dish, who are we to argue? It is said that Tafelspitz was invented by chefs who didn’t know when the guests would arrive. They left the beef to boil in a flavoursome broth until such time. The longer it boils, the more tender it becomes.

Typical Viennese Tafelspitz. ©WienTourismus / Robert Osmark
Typical Viennese Tafelspitz. ©WienTourismus / Robert Osmark

Tafelspitz is served with an array of side dishes such as apple and horseradish, chive sauce, green beans with dill, creamed spinach, or boiled potato pieces fried in butter or lard.

So, if you’re wondering what to eat in Vienna after trying the schnitzel, Tafelspitz is a good second option. Plachutta Wollzeile is certainly a good place to find decent Tafelspitz in Vienna. Or the Wiener Rathauskeller, Restaurant Ofenloch, and Gasthaus Pöschl.

Viennese cakes & desserts

Sachertorte

The Sachertorte is the most eaten cake in Vienna and Austria in general. While the original recipe remains the secret of the Hotel Sacher and its Café Sacher, it doesn’t mean the Sachertorte in other Viennese cafés aren’t good.

So, what is this Sachertorte that you must eat in Vienna? Basically, it’s two layers of chocolate cake with apricot jam in the middle and a chocolate glaze on top. You can find a recipe and read more about the history of the Sachertorte here.

Original Sachertorte from Vienna.
The original Sachertorte.

My honest opinion of the original Sachertorte? A bit dry and dense, even with a generous helping of whipped cream. In fact, I’ve yet to find a Sachertorte in Vienna and Austria that will make me go back for more. This is entirely due to my South African background. (We love our cakes moist and light  😆 )

If Sachertorte is on your list of food to eat in Vienna, by all means, try the original at Café Sacher. The old-world charm of the grand Viennese café with the mirrors and portraits against the walls and waiters in black and white uniforms is an experience in itself.

However, it’s an experience that doesn’t come cheap. A piece of the world-famous cake crowned with a Sacher chocolate medallion will set you back €7,10. Budget another €5,70 for a Sacher melange to wash it down with.

Gugelhupf to Kardinalschnitten

Fortunately, the reputation of Austrian cakes and desserts don’t rest solely on the shoulders of the (perhaps a little bit overrated) Sachertorte and/or the Café Sacher.

The fantastic creations to come out of Vienna’s bakeries and patisseries are in a league of their own. All over town, display windows are laden with fineries such as Gugelhupf (bundt cake with raisins or chocolate) and specialties like Nussstrudel (nut strudel), and Mohnkipferl (poppy seed cookies).

Window Konditorei Sluka
Something to stop you dead in your tracks in the shop window of Conditorei Sluka.

Topfenkolatschen are quark-filled pastries, while Kardinalschnitten are a sponge and coffee cream. More cakes to try besides the Sachertorte are Esterházy torte, Klimttorte, Schokotorte, Dobostorte, and Topfentorte. The Klimttorte is baked by Conditorei Sluka and served in many cafés including Café Klimt.

Klimttorte Vienna

 If you’re in Vienna for the Christmas markets, look out for cookies in all shapes and sizes. Vanillekipferl and Lebkuchen are big favourites.

Viennese cafés with imperial grandeur we can personally recommend include Demel, Gerstner K. u. K. Hofzuckerbäcker, and Conditorei Sluka. A little less fancy (and cheaper) but excellently located on St Michael’s Square is Café Klimt.

Cheap places to eat in Vienna

Wiener Wurstelstand or sausage stand

There’s no need to resort to American fast food restaurants if you’re in search of a cheap meal or snack on-the-go in Vienna. Not if there’s a traditional sausage stand nearby. They are an institution and the best places to eat in Vienna for:

  • Käsekrainer – pork sausage stuffed with cheese.  This is our absolute favourite Austrian sausage.

    Austrian Käsekrainer.
    Käsekrainer – the juiciest and tastiest Austrian sausage.
  • Burenwurst – coarse boiled sausage which tastes and looks a little bit like what we call a Russian in South Africa.
  • Leberkäse – like a giant slice of fried/baked polony.
  • Frankfurters – oddly, the name the Viennese use for what the rest of the world call Wiener sausages.
  • Debriziner – smoked sausages with paprika.
  • Bosna – the Austrian of a hot dog. It can be any of the above sausages stuffed in a hot dog bun with onions and a curry powder sauce. This is a favourite among the party crowd in the midnight hours.
  • Currywurst – fried sausage cut up in pieces and drowned in curry ketchup, with more curry powder sprinkled over.

The Vienna city center boasts the greatest concentration of sausage stands. In recent years, a large number of kebab stands have also sprung up.

Open sandwiches

Belegte Brötchen or open sandwiches is another classic traditional Viennese take-away. Maybe it’s because we don’t get them in Tyrol, but they’ve been my best Viennese food find so far. I can go back for more every day!

A fellow South-African whose son lives in Vienna put us on the trail of Trzesniewski.

 

Sadly, we didn’t get around to trying the open sandwiches at Schwarzen Kameel. The line of people waiting for one of the 20 different varieties in their display cabinet can apparently get very long around midday.

Or try one of the fabulous sandwiches at Schwarzen Kameel: their display cabinet offers 20 different varieties, and the line of people waiting can get very long around midday.

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