Budapest.travel’s quick Budapest dining guide
Hungarian cuisine and hospitality are world-famous. However, Hungarian catering trade has its flaws – if you are a tourist in Budapest, you have to be careful, since aside the quality restaurants there are a few which can disappoint you. Read our guide, and you will surely enjoy a great meal, without having to pay four times the normal price. (As a general rule, menu cards showing the prices have to be displayed at the restaurant entrance. The card has to include prices of all dishes. Overcharging is rare, still, it sometimes happens in the inner city, especially around the Váci utca area.) The restaurants and cafés recommended by budapest.travel are not only 100% reliable, but also tested for quality.
Kárpátia Restaurant offers good gypsy music, stylish décor and tasty Hungarian dishes at city centre
Hungarian kitchen belongs to the ’heavier’ type of cuisines. It is not exactly vegetarian, although we have quite a few vegetable dishes as well. The giant, copious portions contain many spices (mosty red paprika from Kalocsa or Szeged), the dishes are often hot, all of them having a unique character of flavour. Using fat for cooking is still in custom, sour cream (tejföl), green paprika, onions and lots of other vegetables are also widely used.
If you go to a traditional Hungarian restaurant, do it with an empty stomach, if possible.(If you do not like, or cannot take heavy, spicy dishes, be careful when choosing, and order smaller portions. Noone will be offended if you leave half of the dish on the table.) If you are offered pálinka (traditional Hungarian spirit) before, during, or after the meal, don’t be afraid of drinking it. As the Hungarians say, ’pálinka strikes through the fat’, meaning it helps you digest your food as well as getting you into a happy mood.
Rich soups, like goulasch or fish soup, even fit as main dishes, if eaten with lots of bread. Should you stay hungry, try Hungarian-style pastry (túrós csusza – with cottage cheese). As dessert, go for a nice pancake or a somlói galuska (sponge cake). After all these, rest and listen to some quality gypsy music – you will not be able to get up anyways.
Kéhli Restaurant at Óbuda (old-Buda) has the great atmosphere a Hungarian restaurant can offerWe also go there time to time to enjoy gipsy-music, great gulyás and the singing owner on the table
Some typical dishes of Hungarian cuisine:
Goulasch soup (Gulyás leves)
This soup (and not a stew) is the most famous Hungarian dish. It is a dense paprika-based soup with blocks of beef and lots of vegetables. To make it more ’truly Hungarian’, try putting some Er?s Pista in it (a chilli-like mix made of hot red paprika).
Fish soup (Halászlé)
Like goulasch, it also contains paprika, cooked together with fish chopped into pieces. There are many ways to prepare it, the ’bajai’ variant, for example, has special pastry in it. It is also delicious if hot, with lots of bread.
Újházi style chicken soup (Újházi tyúkhúsleves)
Clear chicken soup with lots of vegetables and chicken. Light and meaty soup.
Chicken stew with paprika (Paprikás csirke)
Copious, sour cream-paprika based chicken stew, often made with mushrooms. Served with typical Hungarian pastry. Very delicious.
Veal stew (Borjúpörkölt)
Base of the goulasch soup, only here, less water is used. A paprika and onion style stew, served usually with galuska (typical Hungarian pastry). Copious dish.
Pasta with cottage cheese and fried bacon (Túrós csusza, pörccel)
Heavy pastry, usually eaten by the hungry Hungarians after fish soup. On the pastry they put cottage cheese (túró) and crispy bacon.
Pancakes - spicy or sweet (Palacsinta)
Very thin, round pastry from eggs and flour, fried quickly, then filled with cottage cheese, jam or nuts, served with vanilla or chocolate sauce. The famous Gundel pancakes are filled with nuts, with chocolate sauce, the top of the pancakes is flambéed (set on fire).
Somlói sponge cake (Somlói galuska)
Chocolate and vanilla filled sponge cake with cream – the uglier it looks, the more delicious it is.
If you want to drink quality wines, go for the bottled ones - draught wines are of low quality at some places. Much to the surprise of many foreigners, good Hungarian wines are near world-quality again. Our most famous red wines are from Villány, Eger, Szekszárd, or Mátraalja, but we also have excellent white wines from the Balaton-uplands, Budapest (Etyek), Somló, and of course Tokaj regions - perfect for a nice dinner occasion.
True Hungarian spirit! Distilled from different fruits, this 40% spirit can only be found in good, or excellent quality. Kosher plum, or ágyas (with sun-dried fruits inside) types are especially delicious. There is also honey pálinka (very good), and törköly, which is equal to grappa.
Traditional, century-old Hungarian herbal liquor, originally a medicine made according to the secret recipe of the Zwack family. It improves both digestion and mood. Its round bottle and the cross make Unicum easily recogniseable.Beers
Hungarian beers, especially lager types like Dreher, Borsodi or Soproni Ászok are excellent, but the rest are delicious as well. There are many places that also offer home-brewed beer, plus the biggest international beer brands can all be found in Budapest.
THE HUNGARIAN RESTAURANT
Going to a Hungarian restaurant means being able to choose from a diverse selection of dishes, however, you should be careful. Although all restaurants on the budapest.travel website are reliable, you can check out other places as well. If possible, avoid the surroundings of Váci utca: some stories include 10 or 100 times overcharge and lots of disappointment. It is best to go to reviewed restaurants in the inner city. Try restaurants like Kárpátia (beautiful, although a bit dull, with great musicians), Alföldi (no music, food is great), or 100 Éves Étterem (small, but very old). If you are looking for oly tourists, go to Mátyás Pince. The small restaurants of Óbuda are worthy of their fame: between large blocks of flats, in small streets you can find the best Hungarian restaurants such as the Kéhli (owner dances drunk), Krúdy, or Új Sipos restaurant. Postakocsi, also found here, is a bit more elegant. Good restaurants are also in the Castle, for example the Alabárdos, or the nearby Márványmenyasszony. Between the hills of Buda, there is the restaurant with the best ’bajai’ fish soup in the city, Bajai halászcsárda. A small, but unique place is Kispipa, a restaurant we also like to visit frequently. Full list of trusted restaurants can be found here.
Gypsy music is a with a dinner and pálinka. When the leading violinist (usually in a blue waistcoat) comes to your table, it is correct to give him 500-1000 HUF. If you give him more, he will invite the whole band to the table. In this case, do not hold yourself back: request a folk song, and feast in a real Hungarian way.
First class restaurants
Budapest has few of these, but those few offer quality high-end gastronomical pleasures. The restaurants of the perhaps most exclusive two five-star hotels are Páva (Four Seasons Gresham Palace), and Baraka (Andrássy). Arcade is magnificent, but if you are in for French cuisine, we also recommend the cosy atmosphere of La Fontaine. Arany Kaviár has the specialities of Russian cuisine, Képíró, on the other hand, offers real fusion kitchen. Gundel is probably the most famous Hungarian restaurant, although it has become something of a cliché by today. Papageno, in the inner city, can be a good choice. And if you are in the inner city, but want to go for something more cosmopolitan, visit restaurant TG. Full list available here.
Cheap restaurants (not only) for young people
Budapest has lots of cheap, but quality restaurants, unfortunately there are lots of mediocre ones as well. If you would like to eat at a place where young chefs prepare tasty and copious meals, drop by Dupla, or the Ellátó. Large but reasonably priced portions are available at Pozsonyi kisvendégl?, but you can also try the 24/7 Turkish restaurants of 3 Testvér (three brothers). Here is the full list.
If you want to go international in Budapest, despite the diversity, there are only a few good restaurants. For Italian, go to Via Luna, La Fontaine and Chez Daniel for French. Chinese food is the best at …. , while the inner-city Iguana offers the best Mexican dishes. Should you want Japanese, try Wasabi, or Sushi-An Hilton in the Castle district. Hax’n Beerhouse and Paulaner are the best of the Bavarian restaurants, the best tapas is sold in Pata Negra. First class Russian dishes can be found in Arany Kaviár, while Pampas is a brilliant Argentine steak house in the inner city. Opt for Friday’s if you want a genuine American restaurant&bar, Kama Sutra if you are more into Indian food. In the Jewish quarter, Carmel has the best in Jewish cuisine, and for Serbian grilled vegetable dishes, go to Castro bar.
Although ’Hungarian’ does not exactly mean vegetarian, there are quite a few vegetarian restaurants all over Budapest. One of the best is Vegetárium, but we also like the restaurant … very much, next to Batthány tér. Full list available here.
In Budapest, there are even two streets where you can find lots of nice bars and restaurants next to each other. Few steps away from the ’Budapest Broadway’ (Andrássy avenue) is Liszt Ferenc tér and its surroundings, an area full of great restaurants, bars, and big crowds. Mainly visited by cosmopolitan, intellectual youth – find out more in the Nightlife section. Ráday utca, next to the inner city, has become a crowded party centre of the city in the past few years. There are many bars, restaurants and cafés, with nice open-air parts in the summer.
Tasty treats… only for the adventurous!
If you are not fastidious, but instead in for oldschool Pest atmosphere, we recommend Kádár étkezde at Klauzál tér, in the centre of the old Jewish quarter – one of the last of the truly typical small Pest restaurants. On the Buda side, Pali bácsi borozója (Winery of Uncle Paul – practically a garage), which looks like a run-down, dirty pub, offers the best lecsó (vegetable stew) in the city, furthermore, it was one of the favourite places of Ferenc Puskas. Uncle Paul, who has been there for 45 years now, was a friend of the legendary football player. We visit the place monthly!
Uncle Pali's (Pali bácsi) wine shop Kádár restaurant at the old jewish quarter
Before WWII, Budapest was the Paris of the East regarding the number of cafés. Nowadays these sanctuaries are being re-opened, offering good coffee, newspapers, and, of course, delicious cakes. The city’s biggest and best ’large’ café is the inner-city Centrál, with a wide range of fine cakes and other dishes.
An old, respected café in the middle of the city is Gerbeaud, but it is mostly visited by tourists. The tiny Ruszwurm, in the Castle, is also worth a visit – they have the best cream cakes. If you go out for an excursion, make sure to drop by Szamos at Szabadság hegy. For breakfast and lunch there is the small Alibi Café in the city centre, they have the best coffee, a quality kitchen, plus you can even have a great chat with the owner. The atmosphere of M?vész (Artist), near the Opera, is also very unique. The once-most-famous café of Budapest is New York, now it is the café of a five-star hotel (Boscolo) – this shows in the golden decoration, but – unfortunately - also in the prices.