Neigborhood Gem: Café Katja

Why we love this Lower East Side Austrian joint

Last month, Tasting Table asked readers for their favorite neighborhood gems. Now we're introducing the winning picks.

What exactly makes the beef goulash ($20) so good, then even better, and then the best with each bite at the Lower East Side's Café Katja?

It's all in the onions–50 percent onions, if you must know.

Schnitzel | Welcome to Café Katja

Owner Andrew Chase explains: "In shorthand, it's a beef stew made with equal parts beef shin meat and onions by volume. We add a little bit of garlic, lots of sweet paprika and some hot paprika, and finally some vinegar to sharpen everything up. Everything gets puréed into this thick, beautiful and concentrated meat sauce without using any fat or oil, and then we add a big pile of soft buttered spätzle on the side to make up for that."

Liverwurst | Chef James Fry with herring salad

It's dishes like this that make this beloved downtown spot so eminently easy to return to again and again.

The place is popular enough to allow Chase and his partner, chef Erwin Schröttner, to expand their restaurant twice in the six-and-a-half years since they opened. What started out as a slim space with a few seats and a severely limited kitchen has expanded to three connected storefronts with 70ish seats and a kitchen that is finally, literally, cooking with gas.

Naomi Le | Bottoms up

The addition of kitchen fire power has allowed the duo to bring on classic Austrian dishes like wiener schnitzel ($23) that they have long wanted to add to the menu, along with a smattering of more vegetable-focused dishes.  

The feel and the food take the homiest best of Austria's traditions without hitting you over the head with them.

Chase jokes of the restaurant's name, "Our goal was to open a little bar with some Austrian food, but we were never going to call it Café Lederhosen."

Our other favorite Lower East Side Neighborhood Gems: Sorella, Cocoron, Vanessa's Dumpling House and Katz's Delicatessen