Finding Chaikhana is no trouble at all: just come out of the Mayakovskaya station, turn away from the Kremlin, and head right down the street. You’ll see Chaikhana’s colorful edifice on the left-hand side of the street.
Chaikhana is a fairly upscale restaurant chain with a cool Central Asian theme. The Mayakovskaya location is open 24 hours a day (as amply advertised on the restaurant’s exterior). It has rustic pots and pans all over the intricately decorated walls and, as you walk in the door, your senses are at once bombarded and tantalized with the smells emanating from huge bags of spices. I hate to call it a place with a gimmick, as it really does have character without being cheesy, but it reminded me of some higher end ‘bar and grill’ places in the states that have similar overarching themes and/or related kitsch. They have a full bar with pretty expensive drinks and (interestingly) offer hookah for 800 to 900 rubles, which is quite reasonable for Moscow.
My friend Julian and I were seated in these huge cushy armchairs at a table that was converted from an old sowing machine. Suffice it to say, it was pretty cool, not to mention the fact that there was a huge TV next to our table that was showing the “plains” episode from the great BBC series Planet Earth. The waiter came to our table, saw that we had English menus and he assured us that we could order in English and he would understand us.
Chaikhana is a little pricy. I had a single beef kabob with pickled onions and a side of mashed potatoes for 270 rubles. Though I will say, it was absolutely delicious. Meat and potatoes is one of my favorite combos and they pulled it off impressively. A slice of the well-seasoned, juicy beef with a piece of onion dipped in the mashed potatoes had me reeling with delight. Yet the portions were a bit small for the price. However, for a meal that cost less than 300 rubles, it attested to a restaurant of considerable quality. Everything we saw going by our table looked (and smelled) really good.
But to put price in perspective: Julian ordered a vegetarian meal of potatoes and onions, a plate of grilled veggies and a bottle of water and he spent well over 600 rubles. One reason for this is because water tends to be one of the more expensive drink options in Moscow. Many places will have a few water options on the menu similar to wine menus, with domestic and import options. If you just order “a water” you will usually receive whatever the most expensive option is. In Julian’s case, it was a $4, 1/3 liter bottle from a French company.
There are also plenty of appetizing appetizers, sauces, cocktails, and the hookah, so not running up a huge bill takes some amount of restraint.
Chaikhona is a really neat place with friendly, flexible, speedy service, great food, and a cool atmosphere. However, it’s not an everyday option; it’s the kind of place to which you treat yourself just once or twice or at least exercise restraint in your ordering.
For groups and faculty-led tours, this can be a great option, but you’d want to reserve a place ahead of time and pre-order a set menu to keep the service fast and your costs under control.