Ah, beautiful Graz. A city that’s worth falling in love with for so many reasons, but it’s the Graz restaurants that will have you falling hard and fast. Here, I round up my favourites, covering simple and fresh food, as well as fancy and cool eats. But also: they show the soul of the city.
Graz. I think if I had to be a city I’d choose to be Graz. Pretty yet punchy, wearing traditional white Austrian churches with coppery domed spires yet casually throwing new design features in like bejewelled confetti. The glass bubbles of the Friendly Alien. The sparkling Murinsel amid the swirling Mur river.
And then there’d be the confidence boost of the awards: UNESCO city of design. European Capital of Culture 2003. Austria’s Capital of Culinary Delights.
Yet all with barely a tourist in view.
The most glamorous expression of the culinary delights title takes place at the Long table of Graz each year, when 700 diners sip local Styrian wine and taste buttered alpine salmon and spleen as twilight settles over the old town.
But even if you’ve missed tickets for that – or just happen to be in town on another day, there are plenty of ways to discover the culinary delights of Graz.
Here’s a collection of Graz restaurants to fall in love with.
And what is so good about them is that they help to tell the story of the city and its surrounding swoopingly high mountains.
They are grand, they are casual, they are café cool (did I mention yet that they love a bit of design?)
And they are all there for the taking.
Let’s get started with Ducks Coffee Shop. Yes, yes, I know that if you haven’t travelled to Austria for a while, you’re probably desperate to get into the traditional side of the cuisine.
All schnitzel and strudel and sachertorte.
But Ducks Coffee Shop is fun! It’s inventive! It’s bright, it’s airy, it’s creative, and, well, it serves pretty good food too.
And, like the café, I wanted to get your attention. This is the rest of Graz, its modern energy, its creative fuel.
Flavours to look out for: Iced tiger tea and Olivia’s Green Mango Smoothie.
Paying attention? Now let’s move on to the rest.
Now this is the restaurant for first dates, even if (especially if?) that first date happens to be with the city of Graz itself.
High on the Schlossberg, within stumbling distance of the landmark clocktower, Aiola Upstairs allows diners to see the city of Graz beneath them, twinkling and sparkling as the sun goes down.
Or up, actually, since it also serves breakfast (with prosecco), as well as lunch and dinner.
The food here is good but it is the location that steals the show.
Look out for the handmade gnocchi and the soups.
For the perfect introduction to Styrian food in Graz, head to Der Steirer near the Tegetthoff Brücke (bridge).
Embracing the trend to call all small dishes tapas, Der Steirer serves up Styrian tapas beneath a warm yet cool trendy décor with wooden wine crates, vaulted ceilings and suspended wine bottles.
Here’s where you can find a real introduction to Austrian food. The ‘Emperor’s recommendation’ is Tafelspitz, which is prime boiled beef with bouillon and sliced pancakes or meat strudel served with pan fried potatoes, creamy spinach, chives cream and apple-horseradish. In the tapas section you can’t miss the strudel with pears and marzipan.
Forget about the food, this is a place to shop and be seen in. Perched at the top of Graz’s oldest department store, Kastner & Öhler, (the gilded and manicured doors opened in 1837) the café and restaurant also offers superb views across the terracotta rooftops of the centre of the city. Zip up to the sixth floor and order cocktails and cool like there’s no tomorrow.
Great for coffee and strudel, the Freiblick Tagescafe menu also offers burgers and other more substantial dishes.
This high vaulted restaurant notches up five centuries worth of food beneath renovated beams that spill into a courtyard. Expect hearty, traditional fare at Krebsenkeller, like hunks of pork shoulder and various forms of schnitzel but also the occasional new foray into crab and saffron.
Once a grand art deco hotel, the Wiesler has reinvented itself as hipster with a capital H. Bare brick walls mingle with chandeliers and hotel rooms say “you can smoke here if you like but you’ll soon be joined by ten angry firemen.”
The Speisesaal is a treat for breakfast or dinner, with its riverside location, fascinating design and fresh, wholesome flavours.
Look out for the Soul Brunch, tagged as a Sunday with a lot of soul at the (turn)tables.
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While I didn’t get to dine at Restaurant Eckstein in person, I did check out the food from the brilliant (and young!) chef Michi Hebenstreit at the Long Table of Graz and at a cooking class held at Kitchen 12.
I’d highly recommend the organic char, pumpkin soup and Styrian pork braised and roasted with crispy Vulcano ham and chanterelles.
Sometimes, you can’t beat a museum restaurant or café. They’ve come so far from the dreary stale scones and tea offerings found (ahem) in some parts of the British Isles.
The bulbous, glassy swelling of the Friendly Alien marks the Kunsthaus or art museum on the distinctly cool side of the river. The Kunsthaus Café has a hipster vibe and serves food to eat inside or take away.
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Slip a bit of bright light and eco-consciousness into your dining at the Parks Bio Fairtrade Coffee Shop. It’s a little on the small side to call it a restaurant but serves much more flavour than the coffee shop description would lead you to believe.
Part eco-conscious delicatessen and supermarket, part chic café, Das Dekagramm is a great place to stop and spend a few hours, no matter your age.
Sip rosehip tea and educate yourself with one of their zero waste workshops.
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Soak up some of the creative gloom of Vienna’s famous coffee houses at the Grand Café Kaiserfeld. While you’re there, pay homage to local boy turned movie star and Governor of California, one Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Try the potato strudel with herb sauce and salad or the trout, if you can. However, the menu changes regularly so visit with an empty stomach and an open mind.
Dressed in polished wood and glistening gold, there’s no way of getting around this. Herein lies a glorified sweet shop. One with quite a lot of glory, though, dating back to 1569 and still claiming the title of the oldest functioning bakery in Graz.
It’s signature sugary sweet is the Sissi-Busserl, a kind of chocolate drizzled macaroon named after a former Empress of Austria, but you’ll also find plenty of standard loaves and the odd vanilla croissant.
Apart from anything else, Hofbäckerei Edegger-Tax is the place to go if you need to buy fancy treats for your boss at the office for when you get back.
Surrounded by spellbinding green-fielded and mountain countryside, it comes as no surprise that Graz has hearty farmers markets too.
Kaiser Josef Platz near the Opera House is open Monday to Saturday, with Saturday being the most popular with locals.
Lendplatz is in the “wrong” side of town and is nestled in the banks of the river Mur. You’ll find crusty farmhouse loaves, meats, fruit, vegetables and more here.
While it’s fun to wander through the aisles, looking at the plump pumpkins and juicy apples, they also make good spots to stop for morning coffee and fresh fruit and to stock up your suitcase with the signature green pumpkin oil.