The no.1 pizza
and steak house
Popino has been around since 1988. Originally it was "only" a pizza restaurant, but after operating for a few years the owner decided to include more gourmet-style dishes, decent wine and similar items in its menu.
Not that the pizzas wouldn't be good. As I'm not an expert on all things culinary I can't comment on how close to "the real thing" they are, but they beat the stuff served at Finnish fast food pizzerias hands down. But at twice the price, they should. There are some 20 different varieties to choose from, along with a good selection of salads to start with.
Popino also offers a nice lunch on workdays, which varies between pizzas, pastas, steaks and soups. Again, it costs a bit more than in a regular diner, but the price is met by great taste and hefty portions. Not surprisingly, the restaurant is incredibly popular during lunch hours. As a tip I'd recommend entering the establishment 10 minutes prior to the official opening time (the doors are open) to beat the rush. Most of the seats will be taken 15 minutes after the place opens.
The real reason why I support Popino with my friends and cow orkers are the salmon, chicken and steak dishes. By international standards they might not be the best this planet has to offer, but I have yet to find a menu and kitchen that matches this one in Hämeenlinna - not that there were many challengers in such a small town anyway. A word of warning: the portions range from large to all-you-can-eat-in-one-plate, so go easy on the salad and the Schiacciatine bread so you can at least theoretically save room for dessert. My personal recommendation off the steak list would be the pepper-seasoned fillet of beef with cognac/cheese sauce and potato croquettes. It's to die for.
A small pasta menu is also available, but having not tried any of it yet I will have to add information on it later.
In terms of interior design, I would describe Popino as "cozy". Instead of limiting themselves to an Italian atmosphere, the owners have decorated the restaurant with souvenirs from numerous countries around the Mediterranean, South America and elsewhere. The place has its own distinct look, starting from the miniature cannon that greets the diners on the door.
In addition to the 80 regular seats and the 20-seat terrace which is open in summertime, a separate rentable cabinet section with 20 seats is available. On all the occasions I have enjoyed Popino's food - at least once per month for the last year - the service has always been fast and friendly. Getting your check might take a while during the lunch hour rush, though.
So, if you happen to find yourself in Hämeenlinna and feel hungry, I warmly recommend Popino. It might not quite be worth travelling to from the other side of the world, but you'll have a hard time finding a better dining spot in this city. Even the prices are right, especially considering the quality and size of the servings. Pizzas go for around 8.5€, while the most expensive steaks come close to 17€, not counting the wine and dessert of course. Trust me, in the Finnish price range it's worth every cent.
Finding the restaurant might be a bit tricky, because it is "hidden" between some buildings and the entrance is easy to miss. From the central marketplace
of Hämeenlinna, walk towards the east
corner near the church
and take a right. You should spot a rather large plaque
with "Popino" on it (duh) in the end of the dead end
street, on top of some stairs
. Descend the stairway halfway down and go through the small gate
on the left. Ta-dah! You're there.