Here are my top 5 characterful and affordable Krakow restaurants, based on 20 years visiting the city (and most of these have been there during all this time):
1. Hawelka – read more about this one in my book Polska Dotty. On the main market square, and since a few years includes an outside terrace. But it excels inside: a large square room, sweeping Matejko style pictures on the walls, elegant tables and chairs. Polish food, but with a variety of influences. Try Pierogi Ruskie (ravioli filled with white cheese), or Kotlet Hawelka (the House pork cutlet, huge but delicate), not forgetting the mushroom soup served in a breaded urn! Superb service whenever we’ve been.
2. Da Pietro – again, wonderful terrace on main market square, but also atmospheric cellar downstairs (the building is 14th century). Very decent quality Italian. Try the carpaccio to start. Pizzas very light and crispy. Service can be patchy, but all in all a reliable Italian out of the overwhelming choice in Krakow, and an A1 position to watch life on the square as you munch.
3. Taco Mexicano – Poselska street. We’ve been meeting our Polish friends here for years. Good value, tasty Mexican fare: fajitas, enchiladas, burritos and the like. They used to accompany these with salad in very garlicky sauce, which worked well, though last time I went this wasn’t on offer. Functional but cool decor, dimly lit – Taco Mexicano ticks all the boxes for a cheap and cheerful Mexican. I believe there are sister restaurants dotted around the city.
4. Pimiento – Stolarska street. Recent discovery for me, this one. Not only succulent Argentinian steak, but an idyllic courtyard at the back second to none. Foliage, large canvas parasols, comfortable chairs, all tightly enclosed. At once atmospheric and relaxing.
5. Ariel – Szeroka street. The most well known restaurant in the Jewish quarter of the city, Kazimierz. Enjoy all the well-known Jewish dishes – chicken soup, chopped liver/herring, cholent – surrounded by Jewish paraphernalia. Listen to live Klezmer music. Watch life go by on Szeroka, Kazimierz’s equivalent to Krakow’s main square.
Wildcard: the Rooster bar on Szczepanska street will work well during Euro 2012: burgers, burritos and the like, all served up by statuesque Polish girls in orange hotpants, whilst TVs show football on every wall. The top floor is an attractive terrace, perfect for summer. Confess this is a somewhat sentimental choice: I remember when this used to be the chicken bar, a rather shabby joint serving staple but succulent chicken with chips – perfect for penurious students.