Meals and Mealtimes
At traditional Russian restaurants, the main meal of the day is served in midafternoon and consists of a starter, soup, and a main course. Russian soups, which are excellent, include borscht, shchi (cabbage soup), and solyanka, a spicy, thick stew made with vegetables and meat or fish. Delicious and filling main courses include Siberian pelmeni (tender dumplings, usually filled with minced pork and beef, and sometimes also lamb) or beef Stroganoff. If you're looking for Russian delicacies, try the excellent smoked salmon, blini with caviar, or the famous kotlety po-Kievski (chicken Kiev), a garlic-and-butter-filled chicken breast encased in a crispy crust. Consider ordering a shot of vodka or a glass of local beer to accompany your meal.
Restaurants are typically open from noon until midnight, and late at night many nightclubs serve good food. There are also several 24-hour restaurants in both cities. During the week, many restaurants are nearly empty, but there's no hard and fast rule about this—an ordinary Wednesday can find even an off-the-beaten-path eatery packed, because more and more Russians eat out regularly.
Unless otherwise noted, the restaurants listed are open daily for lunch and dinner.
Restaurants are now required by law to list their prices in rubles. There are some restaurants that cater to tourists that still list their prices in "conditional units" (YE in Cyrillic), which are pegged to an exchange rate of their own devising (usually the dollar or euro). They’re required to also list the ruble equivalent, as payment can only be accepted in rubles. Many restaurants accept credit cards, though you should always double-check with the staff, even if the restaurant has a sign indicating that it accepts cards.
Reservations and Dress
For the trendiest restaurants, it's a good idea to book in advance, particularly for groups of four or more. Regardless of where you are, it's a good idea to make a reservation if you can. In some places, it's expected. We only mention reservations specifically when they’re essential (there's no other way you'll ever get a table) or when they’re not accepted. We mention dress only when men are required to wear a jacket or a jacket and tie. In general, reservations are a good idea in popular restaurants.
Wines, Beer, and Spirits
Drinks are normally ordered by milliliters (50, 100, or 200) or by the bottle. In upscale establishments you'll often find an impressive wine list with imported wine and foreign liquors. Most hotel restaurants and smaller restaurants have some imported wines, as well as cheaper wines from Moldova and Eastern Europe. Even the less-expensive restaurants can serve a bewildering array of vodkas and other spirits. Make any non-restaurant alcohol purchases from a proper shop, as wine and spirits counterfeiting is a problem. In Moscow, you won't be able to buy any alcohol after 10 pm, so it’s best to make your purchases in advance. In the past few years, sales of beer have really taken off. Perhaps the most famous national brand is Baltika, which produces numbered beers—0 being the lightest, and 9 being difficult to distinguish from rocket fuel. But there are dozens of other companies producing ales, lagers, porters, and flavored and unfiltered beers, making it a drink that's become almost as ubiquitous as vodka.
Note that public intoxication is strictly punished. It's okay to become inebriated within an establishment as long as you don't fall over or become aggressive. However, if you walk along the streets in a drunken state, you'll be a target for police document checks and could possibly be arrested for public drunkenness. It’s also technically illegal to drink alcoholic beverages on the street or in the metro. Although many people do this, you risk being fined by police.