It’s easy to drive down Santa Monica Boulevard or the Sunset Strip and pigeonhole West Hollywood as a neighborhood. And sure, queer culture and next-level nightlife is a crucial (and historic) part of this city. But drive further east and those dance clubs and valet lines give way to tiny bakeries, groceries, and cafes that make up the city's substantial Russian and Ukrainian community. And at the heart of it all sits Traktir.
This Eastern European restaurant is emblematic of a part of West Hollywood that predates the founding of the city itself. It’s also simply a fantastic place to eat—a local cornerstone with delicious homestyle food, a quirky waitstaff, and no shortage of vodka shots.
You could describe a meal at Traktir as “one giant hug,” but that’s selling it short. A meal here is a giant hug, plus three weighted blankets, five scalp massages, and a Casper body pillow, all at once. Save for a dill-y cucumber and feta salad, every dish that’ll hit your table will probably involve meat, potatoes, sour cream, or some combination of all three. Our advice: embrace the embrace. Pillowy, potato-filled vareniki are topped with a layer of fried onions, while chicken blintzes come smothered in mushroom sauce and sprinkled with shaved cheese. Beef stroganoff arrives looking like a creamy centerpiece built for a royal banquet. If you’re in the mood for light and dainty food put together with tweezers, there’s plenty of that nearby. The fact that Traktir has committed to exactly the opposite is what makes dinner here refreshing.
You can absolutely come to Traktir by yourself—we often do on chilly nights when our preferred blanket is a warm bowl of borscht—but if it’s your inaugural visit, bring friends. The portions here are generous and intended to be shared by tables of people who know each other. Most nights extended families crowd into the stained-glass-decorated space and pass giant platters of meat-filled dumplings, stuffed cabbage, and marinated chicken kebabs. A table of eight is considered intimate dining. Smiling waiters arrive with house-infused horseradish vodka shots before they bring out water. There will probably be a light sing-along to a Moldovan music video on one of the TVs. The experience speaks for itself and that’ll get just about anybody through the door. It’s the food, however, that’ll keep them coming back. Well, that and the vodka shots.
That’s right, infused vodka. We’re not talking about the cheap flavored vodka you drank in college out of a Camelback. Traktir’s house-infused spirits are an essential part of a meal here (you’ll spot a few glasses on every table). These shots aren’t meant to be chugged, but slowly sipped to allow the flavor to mingle with each dish. There are five flavors to choose from—horseradish, pepper-garlic, black currant, raspberry, and cranberry—and you should absolutely do the sinus-clearing horseradish. Or, if you really want to make it a night, go for the five shot sampler for $25.
A beautiful bowl of soup. Colored a deep purplish-red, this sweet, tangy beet-based soup is the best starting point for any meal at Traktir, regardless of the temperature outside. We say that because you can either get served hot or cold. And both are delicious.
Greens are hard to come by at a place like Traktir, which is why this salad’s a smart order. Chopped tomatoes and cucumbers are tossed with feta, dill, and a bright house vinaigrette—crunchy and fresh, consider it a nice breather before the heavier dishes arrive.
There are two dumpling styles to choose from at Traktir, the large, potato-filled Vareniki and these cute little babies. Order both if you’re with a big group, but if you only have room for one, the sweet chicken-pork-lamb-filled pelmeni take the cake. The sour cream on the side gives a punch of tanginess, plus it’s fun to pop them in your mouth like cherry tomatoes.
This glorious dish sits at the summit of Mt. Traktir. Thick, spongey crepes are stuffed with sweet ground chicken, then buried in rich mushroom sauce and blanketed with shredded white cheese for good measure. It makes every cream of mushroom-based casserole you ate as a kid look like a cucumber smoothie, which is why even though it’s technically an appetizer, you can treat it as an entree.
There are a few handsome chicken dishes on Traktir’s menu (like the tabaka, a pan-seared pressed cornish hen), but this is the best of the bunch. Chunks of thigh meat are marinated in a blend of house spices, giving it a sweet, smoky flavor, then seared to golden perfection. The result is a kebob so moist and tender that chewing basically feels optional.
No longer the Hamburger Helper dish your mom made when she didn’t want to cook, the beef stroganoff at Traktir is given the royal treatment. Slices of beef are cooked to tenderness in a rich sour cream sauce, with a mountain range of soft, buttery mashed potatoes on the side. It’s simple, comforting, and the one big entree that’s a non-negotiable order.