The Ultimate Warsaw Pierogi Test
The deal is simple: you come to Poland and MUST try pierogi. We live here and, in fact, rarely eat them out. Check this yourselves: ask a random Polish person where to get the best pierogi in town and they will all tell you ‘grandma’s’! Not very helpful, is it? So still bearing in mind that there’s no place like home for this classic Polish fare, we decided to spend the weekend having ruskie, z mięsem, z kapustą i grzybami and a bunch of other, more ‘experimental’ fillings of pierogi to give you the definite answer to the question: where the best pierogi are served in Warsaw?
(just below, we will describe quite carefully how we decided to rate pierogi. If you don’t care about all the magic we did to provide the most objective results, CLICK HERE to jump straight to the ranks;)
There were five of us: a tasting panel composed of our guides, office staff and our partners, which provided for a good mix of people with different eating habits, palate sensitivities not to mention sexes (there were both men and women in our team).
We divided our quest in two parts: the search for best traditional pierogi and the best modern pierogi. We only took under consideration fillings made from Polish ingredients so no feta-and-dried-tomatoes in our test. In ‘Traditional’ category we tested three types of pierogi in each place: ruskie/ruthenian, with sauerkraut and mushrooms and with meat. In ‘Modern’ category we tested one type of pierogi in each place.
We decided to take a half-scientific approach to our test and drafted a semi-professional evaluation card. We hope it doesn’t result in 50% accurate results.
What we took under consideration was:
FILLING (22 points max): Nearly half of the points here were awarded for what we simply called ‘taste’. We decided to be totally subjective about it and do not debate over individual judgments. The remaining 12 points could have been gained for ‘saltiness’ (too much, too little), ‘seasoning’, ‘proportion of filling vs. dough’ and ‘quality of ingredients used’.
DOUGH (14 points max): 5 points goes to ‘taste’ and the remaining 9 to ‘form’ (you can seal pierogi in million ways, some are plain, others superfancy!), ‘texture’ (you don’t want your dough to be like chewing gum), ‘thickness’.
PRESENTATION (3 points max): it’s just pierogi, but why not make them look spectacular on the plate?
RUSKIE FACTOR (+1 or -1 point): when referring to ‘ruskie’ in English, many restaurants would call them “Russian”, which is wrong (read why!). We decided to appreciate correct translations with an extra point and punish Russophiles (nothing personal, Russia, it’s just that “ruskie” don’t have much to do with you) with a negative one.
*In part 2 of our test, we take a look at non-classic pierogi fillings and restaurants serving them don’t have ruskie on their menu. In their case, we decided to use a different category:
SUCCESSFUL EXPERIMENT FACTOR: an extra point is added for pierogi we crave to eat again, minus one goes to those that we’d rather see off the menu.
Altogether, there were 600 points to be won in the ‘Traditional’ category for each place serving pierogi (40 points for each type of dumplings, so 120 for three types multiplied by 5 testers equals 600. Simple.) and 200 points in ‘Modern’ category (40 points maximum from each of 5 memebers of the jury).
So, who’s the best? …drumroll…
05. PIEROGARNIA NA BEDNARSKIEJ
229 points total
average for pierogi types: ruskie – 14.8/40, sauerkraut+mushrooms – 14.6/40, meat – 16.4/40
Ruskie Factor result: -1 (failed)
The place is half-legendary. It’s been recommended by generations (ok, let’s be honest – probably just one generation, ours, studying somewhere between 2000 and 2010:) of students remembering this pierogi-centered diner as a Mecca of hearty, fresh-made dumplings. The time has come, though, to take a bite of the reality sandwich (well, reality pieróg, in fact) and truth is we choked a bit. Both the food and the service reminded us strongly of the infamous Polish ‘Hospital Meals‘ fanpage. Some of pierogi we got had mysterious, tasteless pink spots on them, some where regular-sized, others were more like pyzy. The taste of filling was bland, it either lacked spices or had full allspice berries in it, the dough was chewy and too thick. Overall, it was very much the expectation vs reality experience.
Pierogarnia na Bednarskiej, ul. Bednarska 28/30
04. BAMBINO MILK BAR
305 points total
average for pierogi types: ruskie – 20.4/40, sauerkraut+mushrooms – 19.2/40, meat – 21.4/40
Ruskie Factor result: 0 (no English menu is a safe bet:)
Milk bars nearly specialize in pierogi and Bambino is considered one of the best in Warsaw. How did it do in our test? Well, we were hoping for more. The dumplings at Bambino seem factory made (or at least the ladies in the kitchen are using a special sealing machine). Pierogi definitely need a hand-made feel, unless you buy them frozen from a supermarket. In the taste department we weren’t impressed either: the meat-filled dumplings were decent, with a pleasant broth aroma but ruskie need definitely more spiciness and the filling should be much more firm. We could taste flour in the dough and we found it a little too thick. But what totally ruins the pierogi experience in Bambino is how they are served: bathing in grease and water, occassionally adorned with a mysterious lump of lard (yuck!). All in all, if you’re around, give it a go but the best pierogi in Warsaw are somewhere else.
Bar mleczny Bambino, ul. Hoża 19
03. GOŚCINIEC POLSKIE PIEROGI
331 points total
average for pierogi types: ruskie – 23.2/40, sauerkraut+mushrooms – 18.6/40, meat – 24.4/40
Ruskie Factor result: -1 (failed)
Gościniec is a small place conveniently located just off the walls of the Old Town and it has pierogi in its name. That’s a responsibility! And, long story short, the place lives up to the expectations. The dumplings are served on simple brown plates, which gives a nice contrast to the pale white dough, the staff is a bit clumsy but helpful and the atmosphere is overall very homey. Their meat pierogi, even though a little too salty, are made with good quality product, you can feel and see the fibres, the dough could be more carefully sealed but has a perfect thickness. The only misunderstanding is the sauerkraut and mushrooms filling: as one of our testers put it, “you’d never think the fermentation process could be reversed”. We all agreed it was suspiciously tasteless. To add insult to injury, they don’t use actual forest mushrooms but champignons in the filling.
Gościniec Polskie Pierogi, ul. Podwale 19
02. KAMANDA LWOWSKA
396 points total
average for pierogi types: ruskie – 25.8/40, sauerkraut+mushrooms – 28.6/40, meat – 24.8/40
Ruskie Factor result: -1 (failed)
We really, really liked the pierogi at Kamanda Lwowska. We could feel the quality of ingredients used, many of us really enjoyed the complexity of the sauerkraut+mushrooms filling with notes of smoked plum or perhaps red wine, we couldn’t resist not finishing up all the caramelized onions and fried bacon that topped up our dumplings (however we weren’t that enthusiastic about the idea of adding sour cream to ruskie pierogi). The restaurant lost some points on two things: we could feel small lumps of flour in the dough and finally, what was that just next to our homey, rustic pierogi?! Slices of orange and grapefruit?! Having your meat-filled dumplings with a hint of fresh orange juice might be a curious idea but we’d rather leave this way of decorating the plates back in the 1990s. Other than the exotic presentation, pierogi at Kamanda Lwowska were a very strong player in our test. Mind you though, they were also the most expensive.
Kamanda Lwowska, ul. Foksal 10
452 points total
average for pierogi types: ruskie – 27.4/40, sauerkraut+mushrooms – 32/40, meat – 31/40
Ruskie Factor result: -1 (failed)
We have no idea what happened here. Zapiecek, the find-me-on-every-corner-of-tourist-areas pierogi chain was added to our test because, let’s admit it, we had to make sure their pierogi suck. So as you understand, expectations were low. We don’t know if that helped the dumplings there rank higher in our hunt for the best fare in Warsaw but here they are, on top of our list.
Ok, Zapiecek is not the best suited place for a date but once you get used to the hectic waitresses and constant hum of conversations you may even start enjoying the lively inn atmosphere of the place and a bit kitch but well planned decor of the interiors.
The pierogi at Zapiecek are really good. Seriously. The dough was just as it should be: not too thick, firm but delicate, nicely sealed. The fillings were well seasoned, the proportion of dough vs filling alomst perfect and the cracklings served with meat pierogi were best we had. The only disappointment were ruskie that, to some of us, tasted of something burnt.
Congratulations, surprising winner!
Zapiecek, many locations, we visited ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście 55
05. DAWNE SMAKI
107 points total
average from each tester: 21.4/40
Wow Factor result: -1 (failed)
Pierogi tested: deep fried pierogi with veal filling served with home-made plum jam and a touch of chilli.
The last position in our test is taken by a restaurant claiming to ‘evoke your childhood memories’. They failed, to put it delicately. Otherwise, had our earliest memories of pierogi been like what we got there, we wouldn’t probably even want to think of them now. Dawne Smaki is located in a popular high street of Warsaw and lures tourists with a promise of the atmosphere of Polish tradition (which is supposed to be represented by your grandma’s cupboard randomly equipped with some antique kitchen utensils and a mix of 1920s through 1990s Polish hits playing). You shouldn’t judge Polish pierogi by what you get there, though. What we tasted was deep fried dough filled with runny and supersalty minced meat. None of us could feel the promised ‘touch of chilli’. The plum jam was served atop of one pieróg so it seemed like ‘the winner takes it all’ approach: once it was eaten, the others had to bare without the side. The whole presentation was rather pathetic (half a cherry tomato, a leaf of endive and another of parsley) given the price of 36 PLN (8.5 €) per portion. The only thing we appreciated was frying pierogi with cinnamon.
General opinon about the place: if you’re looking for good pierogi, keep looking.
Dawne Smaki, ul. Nowy Świat 49
04. DOM WÓDKI
158 points total
average from each tester: 31.6/40
Wow Factor result: 0 (meh)
Pierogi tested: duck meat filling with onion, cherries and roasted hazelnuts, walnuts and pistacchio.
Dom Wódki is a great place with ambitions: probably the only one in Warsaw offering classic Polish dishes in a fine dining atmosphere. No surprise the place was awarded the ‘fork and spoon’ designation from the Michelin Guide. We opted for some slightly unusual choice of pierogi there and, no doubt about it, that was an unusual food experience. We actually had quite a long debate afterwards if rustic Polish dumplings deserve such haute cuisine treatment (‘yes’ prevailed) as the presentation is equally important as the flavours at Dom Wódki. The filling itself was the least impressive: some of us found its smell not very inviting, but the addition of caramelized onions and sweet-sour cherries added an interesting balance to the flavour. We didn’t think that was enough to call the whole dish the next big thing, though. All in all, we liked the pierogi but feel we were impressed more by how they were served rather than their taste.
03. VARSO VIE
160 points total
average from each tester: 32/40
Wow Factor result: 1 (wow!)
Pierogi tested: deep fried pierogi with goose meat filling with rowanberry jam and marjoram sauce.
Varso Vie is another restaurant where you can hope for a Polish classic and not necessarily expect folksy waitresses dancing polka around you, which we appreciate. And by the way, polka is a Czech dance. We popped in to try their goose meat pierogi and were more than happy to be having them! So what does it take to get the bronze pierogi medal? The idea seems super simple: high quality ingredients, carefully balanced flavours and original, yet not too fancy way of serving. We loved the taste of meat, the sour bitterness of rowanberry (perhaps it was a bit too bitter) but it was the marjoram sauce that made that dish and blew our minds: rich, savoury, full of umami, together with perfectly seasoned meat it was the dark star on the plate. We wouldn’t be ourselves if we didn’t find a little flaw in the dish: we probably would much enjoy the dumplings boiled, rather than fried.
Final thought: excellent taste, great value for money.
Varso Vie, pl. Konstytucji 2
02. OPASŁY TOM
164 points total
average from each tester: 32.8/40
Wow Factor result: 1 (wow!)
Pierogi tested: buckwheat and bryndza (sheep milk cheese) filling with summer savory, butter and parmesan cheese.
Only 0.8 point ahead of Varso Vie, second on the podium come pierogi from Opasły Tom designed by head chef Agata Wojda. Speaking of Michelin inspectors’ appreciation, it’s another restaurant on our list to be awarded with the ‘fork and spoon’. The dumplings we had stole our hearts (and palates) even though it’s hard to say if they were Polish or Italian. In fact, we feel it was one of the best examples of fusion cuisine we’ve recently come accross making the pierogi we had half-ravioli. Delicate sourness of buckwheat and bryndza cheese corresponded beautifully with mildness of the butter and we were delighted with the fact that a ciabatta was served along to soak up all the sauce. We probably wouldn’t mind changing proportions in the filling in favour of the sheep milk cheese but even as they are, the pierogi at Opasły Tom are a masterpiece.
Hint: choose a table in the first room: you’ll miss the insight into kitchen but will also save yourself from the smell of other orders.
01. MAŁA POLANA SMAKÓW
186 points total
average from each tester: 37.2/40
Wow Factor result: 1 (wow! But really, woooow!)
Pierogi tested: smoked cottage cheese filling with dried prunes and fermented gherkins, served in tomato broth.
Oh my. We never thought you could make so much of pierogi. But before we get overexcited with the winning dumplings, Andrzej Polan, head chef of Mała Polana Smaków needs a word of introduction, too. He’s a self-taught, renowned chef and this is his first signature restaurant. He loves what he does and you can feel it: the passion for flavours, care for ingredients is what you see only reading the menu. And then you try something. Boooom!
The pierogi come in a deep plate, on top of caramelized onions, with dill and sprouts, and thin slices of radish to add colour. A moment later the waiters pour delicious, intense tomato broth on them and you can start enjoing probably the best pierogi you’re going to have in your life. Seriously, they were the only ones to get an honest 10/10 rating for taste from all the five of us. Everything is in its right place here: sour, sweet, smoky notes, the saltiness of the broth and delicate dough. A masterpiece close to perfection! The only points the manti-shaped dumplings lost were for the dough thickness which was a little uneven but you won’t probably even notice that. Exactly as you won’t notice the pierogi disappearing: we had an odd one left and literally had to draw lots to pick the person who would eat it. And here’s the lucky winner:
Can you see that smile?:)
On the downside, ventilation at Mała Polana Smaków is very far from perfect and the pierogi are expensive (42 PLN / 10 € per portion). But if you’re not on a tight budget, don’t think twice. It’s a ticket to culinary heaven.
Mała Polana Smaków, ul. Belwederska 13
Note: we rated pierogi currently in menus of the restaurants. They may naturally change but we believe the quality will remain the same.
Note 2: if you haven’t had enough yet, you can see a detailed rating board of our test here.