Cafe Retro / Кафе Ретро
Большой проспект, 62. (See Map)
Lunch for ~$5
From the intersection of the 8th and 9th Lines in St. Petersburg, if you walk southwest down Bolshoi Prospekt you’ll find across from the old fire station a tiny eatery called Cafe Retro. Visiting for lunch, I had a hard time figuring out exactly what was “retro” about it – it appeared pretty modern, and the seating area included a number of cushioned booths that were probably not the norm in years past. In any case this cafe boasts an extensive menu of local items that frankly are priced on the higher end of things. But if you get there during midday and go for the lunch special, you can easily fill your belly without breaking the bank.
Boasting little more than its name in big red block letters on the facade above the entrance, the cafe itself is not overly conspicuous. As is the case with a number of eating establishments in St. Petersburg, most of the efforts have been put into the interior. The cozy seating options are arranged in unusually dim lighting, it might just be enough to entice you to lay down for a quick afternoon nap. (I wouldn’t recommend this.)
I first came in and told the guy behind the bar that I wanted to take a look at the menu. Noticing after a few minutes that most of the options seemed out of the price range of this project, I closed the menu and headed for the door. The server, to his credit, sensed price might be the issue and suggested I try the lunch special for only 150 rubles. I was persuaded in part because he suggested it in a way that indicated he wasn’t trying to be forceful, and I also appreciated the fact that he took enough pride in his restaurant that he made the effort to convince me to stay. In most of these scenarios, servers have just allowed me to leave.
Tasty. The cucumber/tomato salad was perfect for a hot summer day, with just the right amount of dill peppered in. The soup, in a brown beef broth with potatoes, onions, and cabbage, was the highlight of the meal and was great for dipping the bread in. The chicken and potato dish, covered in a light orange sauce, was fine although a little dry and a little bland. And I’ll be honest and say that on this almost 40-degree day I didn’t really taste the compote, as I gulped it down in less time than it took for me to say “Raschitaite menya.”
If you’re looking for a cheap place for dinner, I can’t say that Cafe Retro will fit into your budget unless you get extremely creative and/or aren’t that hungry. But if you make it during the lunch hours, you’ll find an affordable and reasonably tasty lunch option that definitely won’t leave you hungry. It’s a great deal and probably the best “business lunch” I’ve had in the city so far.
For groups and faculty-led tours, Cafe Retro is probably too small and too unremarkable in terms of the tourist value of the menu and atmosphere. However, if your group is small (probably 15 max) and if you are in the area in time for the business lunch, the price and service will likely meet your needs.