Know before you go — the below set of tips will help you get the most out of your drinking and dining in Budapest.
#1 - Restaurants in the city center (District 5), especially the pricier establishments, are mainly frequented by tourists and expats. You will find more locals and lower prices in Districts 7, 8, 9, 11, and 13.
#2 - In Hungary, it's customary to eat breakfast at home, but this tradition is changing with a rising number of tourists and foreign students. These days, you can easily track down an eggs Benedict, both in casual cafés and trendier breakfast restaurants.
#3 - Except for fine dining restaurants, most places in Budapest don't employ hosts to greet and seat people, meaning that you're free to choose a table. At the same time, it’s nearly impossible to find open tables for walk-ins at peak hours in the hottest restaurants, so try booking in advance.
#4 - A wallet-friendly weekday lunch prix fixe is available in many restaurants, usually ranging in price between €7-10. Before choosing à la carte, it's worth inquiring about a set meal.
#5 - Free water and free refills are largely unknown concepts in Budapest and greater Hungary — you should specifically ask your server for tap water (to which they may react with mild annoyance), otherwise they'll serve and charge you for bottled water.
#6 - In Hungary, people usually eat dinner between 7 and 9 p.m., and it's the main meal of the day. For the best experience, try booking a table for 8 p.m. Most fine dining restaurants turn only one table an evening, meaning that you should be able to score an 8 p.m. reservation.
#7 - Many Budapest restaurants are closed on Sundays, sometimes even for the whole weekend, so be sure to double-check the opening hours before you trek across town. Fine dining restaurants are usually closed on Sundays and Mondays.
#8 - In Budapest's ever-more-international restaurant landscape, étkezdes are some of the last bastions of local dining. These no-frills, lunch-only eateries—similar to osterias in Italy—serve low-priced everyday dishes to local residents. Note that étkezdes are closed on weekends.
#9 - You're best off avoiding the dime-a-dozen downtown restaurants, many on Váci Street, which beckon tourist with special menus consisting of mediocre goulash soups and paprika-laced dishes. Instead, try these traditional Hungarian restaurants.
#10 - Unlike in Western Europe and the U.S., few long-standing, century-old restaurants exist in Budapest. This is due to the Holocaust and the ensuing Communist regime, when most restaurants ceased to exist or were nationalized by the state. Today, some of the oldest dining and drinking establishments include Café Gerbeaud, Bambi, and Ibolya.
#11 - For historical reasons, Budapest has one of the largest Chinese communities in Europe, meaning that excellent Chinese food abounds. The best Chinese restaurants are in Chinatown (Monori Center), on the outskirts of the city.
#12 - Most of Budapest's fine dining restaurants specialize in contemporary French fare, with hat-tips to Hungarian classics and zeitgeisty Scandinavian and Asian techniques. Foie gras, sturgeon, mangalica pork, and vegetable purées are likely to appear in some form on their menus.
#13 - Main dishes in Budapest's restaurants usually range from €7-15. You can find both meaningfully cheaper and pricier alternatives. Tasting menu price points at fine dining restaurants start from €55 and go up to €140 per person, not including tip and wine pairing.
#14 - Despite being part of the EU, Hungary hasn't yet switched to the euro currency, instead still using the Hungarian forint. Given the weakness of the forint, most prices run into the thousands, ten thousands, so be sure to double-check the zeros on your bill before paying.
#15 - As for tipping, ten percent is the standard and expected in Hungarian restaurants and bars, with up to twenty for exceptional service. Lately, some places have begun to add an automatic service charge to the bill (usually ten percent), and your server may or may not draw your attention to this.
#16 - Since 2021, all cafés, restaurants, and bars in Hungary are mandated to accept payments with a card. In practice, some places are still cash-only, so it’s generally a good idea to carry some money with you.
#17 - Thanks to Andy Vajna, the late Hungarian businessman with Hollywood connections, Budapest boasts Central Europe's only NOBU, the world's fanicest chain restaurant co-owned by Robert De Niro.
#18 - Mentally prepare yourself for brusque service in Budapest. Waitstaff with an attitude is a general Central and Eastern European phenomenon – you'll know if you've been to Vienna – and while things have improved, this is still an issue in Hungary (and due to a shortage of waiters, unlikely to change).
#19 - We all know how rewarding a late-night meal can be, be it after a long shift in the office or a night of debauchery. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find places in Budapest that serve quality hot food past 10 p.m. Almost no sit-down restaurants cater to night-owls and your best bet is the dime-a-dozen gyro or pizza joints swarming the city.
#20 - Smoking has been banned since 2012 in all public and commercial indoor spaces in Hungary, including restaurants and bars.
#21 - Finally, let me kindly ask that you refrain from booking tables to multiple restaurants for the same time. Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common practice among foreign diners who don't always realize how financially damaging a no-show table is for restaurants, especially during peak business hours.