Like Parisians who sip wine on sidewalk patios during pleasant weather and Americans who seek out comfort food when the weather gets chilly, visitors to and locals living in Kiev, Ukraine are immersed in a burgeoning cafe culture, which has grown exponentially over the last couple of years. Not very long ago, it was hard to come by a place to linger over a latte or bowl of borscht, but cafes today welcome people on nearly every street corner for only a fraction of the price of what is found in Paris, New York and dozens of other popular cities.
1. The Blue Cup
Cozy, warm and decorated with abstract animal prints, The Blue Cup’s inviting atmosphere practically begs patrons to have long, leisurely conversations over hearty bowls of soup and order several cups of coffee before moving on. Known locally for its generous coffee menu, patrons have their choice of everything from a classic cappuccino to a lavender latte—and the flat white is one of the best in the city.
The Blue Cup has figured out the perfect recipe for comfort food. The quiches and creamy soups are particularly good. And don’t forget to leave room for dessert: the tarts are overflowing with filling and have a thin, crunchy layer of fresh dough holding them together. In the summer, take advantage of the outdoor seating The Blue Cup sets up outside its front door.
2. Lyubimy Dyadya
It’s very possible to walk right past this cafe, which almost disappears into the landscape amongst the market vendors hawking produce and meat on the street out front. But stepping inside, guests are wrapped up in a cozy atmosphere outfitted with bookshelves stacked with colorful tomes, overstuffed chairs and a back dining room brimming with plants and caged birds. Pulling a chair up to a table at Lyubimy Dyadya feels like sitting down with the family, which makes sense since the name translates to “beloved uncle.”
The menu is a great mix of European dishes plus influences from Morocco, the Mediterranean, Israel and beyond. Though open all day, Lyubimy Dyadya is particularly popular for breakfast (served 8 a.m.-noon Monday-Friday) and brunch (served 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday). Get a protein fix with one of the cafe’s well-flavored egg dishes: the morning salad with quinoa and poached egg features a great mix of fresh veggies and herbs with a slightly sweet kick from dried cranberries and the shakshuka (two eggs served in a spicy tomato sauce with tahini and fresh cilantro) is among the best plates on the menu. Regardless of what you choose to eat for a main course, you should order a serving of pita bread, which is worth a stop at Lyubimy Dyadya in and of itself.
Druzi first opened its doors on the popular Andriivsky descent right next to one of the city’s popular youth hostels, so there’s always been a bit of an international vibe bounce between its walls. However, Druzi (which means “friends” in Ukrainian) has become so popular that it just opened its third location, and each cafe is easily accessible, true to its come-as-you-are atmosphere and stacked with books, table games and conversation pieces.
The menu features local favorites like varenyky (the Ukrainian version of dumplings) and colorful, creative dishes such as Dutch pancakes with tropical fruit topping, burgers (both meat-friendly and vegetarian options) and open-faced sandwiches and salads splashed with seasonal vegetables. On a cold day, opt for the cheese soup. On a hot day, the grapefruit mint smoothie will refresh.
4. One Love
This chic cafe and coffee bar (pictured at top) has three locations in Kiev, the best-known of which is on the sixth floor of the Pinchuk Art Center. Outfitted in modern décor, it is a hot spot for co-working locals and live events open to the public. First and foremost, One Love is known for its extensive selection of coffee, including Chemex, Kalita, Aeropress and V60 pour-over options, and a well-trained staff who excel at the perfect pour. Beyond caffeinated beverages, One Love’s drink menu is filled with fresh juices, teas, spirits and wines.
Breakfast is served all day—the couscous with pear and honey and cheese pancakes are particularly delicious—and there is also an ample array of appetizers, quiches and salads. Don’t forget to order dessert; with a list of sweet treats almost as long as the rest of the food menu, there’s something for everyone.
Perhaps the best vegetarian cafe in all of Kiev, Imbir is known for its relaxing atmosphere. The cuisine served here is based on vedic cooking, which is food meant to nourish the body, soul and mind, and many items on the menu can be prepared as vegan. Though many dishes skew toward Indian flavors—samosas with spinach and paneer, curry vegetables with coconut milk—many others do not. The potato and zucchini pancakes served with sour cream are a traditional Ukrainian dish, and the variety of salads are typical of many cafes. Top off a meal with one of the fresh berry teas.
Lined with bookshelves packed with literature on philosophy, psychology and spirituality (most of it in Ukrainian and Russian), Imbir’s vibe definitely moves beyond the menu. Patrons sit in overstuffed chairs, and gentle lighting makes the cafe feel more like a friendly dining room than restaurant. In the back, there is a small area where organic products, aromatic oils and other similar items are on sale.
JoAnna Haugen is a full-time freelance writer and American expat who currently calls Kyiv, Ukraine home.