Run by three Italian natives, 2 Spaghi is a small pasta shop in Budapest with an endearingly simple mission: serve fresh, made-to-order pasta dishes quickly and well. You are invited to pair a variety of pasta shapes (fusilli, bucatini, tagliatelle, etc.) with an often-changing list of sauces. On any day, there might be cacio e pepe, carbonara, puttanesca, amatriciana, and aglio, olio e peperoncino sauces listed on the blackboard. The good news is that you can't go wrong with any of them. Also, most options cost €10 or less.
With a panoramic vista of Budapest, 360 is one the hottest rooftop bars in the city. Trendy locals peppered with tourists nibble on sliders and sip cocktails here, perched atop one of the tallest buildings along Andrássy Avenue, also known as Budapest's Champs-Élysées. From Thursday to Saturday, hip-hop and R&B ooze from the DJs booth in the evenings.
In 2014, Lajos Bíró, a well-known Hungarian chef, opened a fast-casual lunch eatery inside the then practically-empty Hold Street Market. Fast forward to today, this historic downtown market has transformed into a thriving food court where several local celebrity chefs operate casual restaurants, and the area swarms with people at lunchtime.
À la Maison Grand is a chic, highly popular breakfast restaurant in Budapest's downtown, occupying the ground floor of a 1906 art nouveau building (take a glance at the striking glass mosaic perched atop the building). A fashionable, tourist-heavy crowd tends to flock to here for the breakfast-all-day and brunch offerings that include reliably-prepared croque madame (€5), eggs Florentine (€7), a range of waffles, and also zeitgesty items like acai bowl and avocado toast (€7). The only letdowns are the the undersized and forlorn-looking English (€10) and Hungarian breakfast plates (€12).
Neighborhood Roma and local office workers alike line up for home-style Hungarian flavors at Akácfa Étkezde, a self-service eatery in a backstreet of Budapest's old Jewish Quarter. The bizarrely eclectic decor includes landscape paintings and faux-Biedermeier living room furnishings, while the sticky, checkered tablecloths evoke 1980s nostalgia.
Unhurried groups of elderly Arab regulars tend to socialize at Al-Amir, a good sign for a Syrian restaurant in downtown Budapest. Al-Amir marries a counter-service with a sit-down restaurant. (Most upscale is the downstairs section, usually taken up by hookah-smokers during the cold months; note that hookahs aren't allowed in the summer for business reasons.)
Al Dente is one of those under-the-radar neighborhood restaurants in Budapest you hope others won't find out about so as to keep it all for yourself. It's an osteria-type casual eatery in Budapest's charming Palace Quarter, serving Italian classics and regional specialties from Puglia (the head chef is from Bari in southern Italy; you will note the Italian chatter wafting from the open kitchen through the dining room, always a good sign for an Italian restaurant).
Opened in 1964, Alabárdos is an iconic fine dining restaurant perched on Budapest's Castle Hill, just a stone’s throw away from the imposing Matthias Church. The restaurant is located within a medieval residential home complete with Gothic tracery and ogee curves. The dining room, which has less than a dozen tables, is startlingly impressive: they serve dishes on Herendi porcelain plates set with real silverware.
Never mind the black-and-white photos of Italy on the walls, little of Alessio’s interior will remind you of an Italian restaurant. Instead, the densely carpeted space with crammed tables feels like a charming neighborhood joint tailored to the tastes of the middle- and upper-class residents of this elite Buda neighborhood. If you need a break from the bustle of the city center, Alessio is a perfect hideaway, offering excellent food and a homey atmosphere.
Alterego is Budapest's best-known gay club. This below-ground venue, which is open only on Fridays and Saturdays, hides in a side street not far from the city center in District 6. Alterego's claim to fame is the midnight drag shows, available on both days, skillfully moderated by Lady Dömper, a fixture of the Budapest gay scene. The one-hour event features a stand-up, dance performances, and lip syncs by a number of drag queens. After the show, a DJ takes over the packed dance floor and plays an array of classic beats until the wee hours. Two spacious bars, and booths with seating cater to people who didn't bring their dancing shoes and prefer a lower-key setting and conversations.
Anker't is a ruin bar on a charming Budapest backstreet just a stone’s throw away from both the grand Andrassy Avenue and the gritty Jewish Quarter. As soon as you enter, you will recognize a ruin bar before you: the scaffolded, crumbling facade of the almost 200-year-old building—it was built in 1833—hides thick, skeletal brick and limestone walls.
If you walk around Budapest's Jewish Quarter, it can feel as if pricey cold brews lurk behind every tourist-trafficked corner. But just a few blocks away, the Palace Quarter in District 8 is still less infiltrated with specialty coffee shops (and tourists). Apricot Coffee is located near some of the most charming, estate-filled streets of Budapest—if you're in the neighborhood, it's worth ambling through Horánszky, Reviczky, and Ötpacsirta streets, and the area behind the National Museum for some architectural eye candy.
If you’re looking to dip your toe into the varied cuisine of Georgia in Budapest, Aragvi, named after a Georgian river, is a good place to start. Due to its geographic location, Georgian cuisine reflects Persian, Turkish, and Levantine influences, so brace yourself for a sea of herbs (parsley, coriander, tarragon, dill, mint), vegetables (eggplants, spinach, beets), walnut paste, and pomegranate seeds.
Tucked away on a steep side street in the Castle Hill lies one of Budapest's most expensive, special-occasion restaurants: Arany Kaviár (Golden Caviar). As you'd expect from a place that specializes in high-priced caviars, the exquisite dining rooms, lined with maroon and golden tapestry-like walls and heavy drapes, exude an air of opulence. Apart from fish roe, Arany Kaviár offers two tasting menus—a “Hungarian Fish” and a “Traditional” Russian—and plenty of chilled vodka and premium wines for pairing.
Auguszt is a renowned family-owned confectionery in Budapest dating back to 1870 and currently helmed by the fifth generation. Although their Buda location is considered to be the crown jewel, this downtown venue, on Kossuth Lajos Street, is more conveniently located and also more comfortable, featuring plush banquettes, floor-to-ceiling windows, and cute nooks and crannies on the upstairs floor. You’ll find most of the typical traditional Hungarian cakes and sweets here, including a Dobos and an Esterházy torte, krémes, isler, and marzipan figurines. There are also modern pastries like a chili and mango-laced chocolate mousse as well as sugar and lactose-free options.
Auróra, located in the outer part of District 8 in an area with many low-income residents and minorities, is a community center and home to several non-profit organizations. During the day, they hold regular workshops and discussions on topics related to social justice and politics (they're generally in Hungarian, but most people will speak English). Come night-time, Auróra transforms into a lively bar and concert venue.
If Jedermann Café had a sister location on the Buda side, it would be a lot like BÉLA. This atmospheric space is part café, part restaurant, and part bar, with an eclectic interior featuring wooden floors, Persian carpets, and greenery hanging from the high ceiling. There are plenty of nooks and crannies—look upstairs and in the back—meaning that BÉLA works well for dates nights, too. In fact, it works well for pretty much anything, as evidenced by a full house of locals most evening. This all-welcoming, homey bar is situated on Bartók Béla Boulevard, further proving that the neighborhood is the most versatile on the Buda side of the Danube currently.
Babel is a Michelin-starred restaurant in the heart of Budapest's downtown, offering a classic fine dining experience: the hushed, dimly-lit dining room has only a dozen tables, all set with white linen. Babel prides itself on serving dishes inspired by Transylvania, the chillingly beautiful, mountainous region cradled by the Carpathians and known for its long and complex history (today, it's part of Romania with a sizeable Hungarian community). The proof that this is more than empty marketing slogan is the young head-chef himself, István Veres, a Hungarian native of Transylvania.
Babka is a Middle-Eastern restaurant in Budapest named after the Ashkenazi Jewish bready cake originating in Eastern Europe, perhaps as a hat-tip to the neighborhood, which is home to much of Budapest’s middle-class Jewish residents. Babka's dimly-lit, homey interior, featuring vintage decor and hardwood floors, will make you want to enter the space.
Opened in 1951, Balla-Hús is one of the few remaining standalone butcher shops in downtown Budapest. Balla's business model has evolved over the decades: instead of raw meat, today they mainly serve low-priced breakfast and lunch dishes to the shrinking number of local residents (Airbnb, I'm looking at you).
Let’s get the annoying part out of the way: the co-owner of Bamba Marha fashions himself as Hungary's “burger pope,” a curiously narcissistic title, especially in a country where hamburgers don't run very deep. This shouldn’t necessarily deter you from visiting Bamba Marha, a small burger chain in Budapest, as their €5 cheeseburgers offer some of the best value for money in the city’s artisan burgerland: a nicely charred 130 gram / 4.6 ounce patty enclosed by a sesame bun and garnished with cheddar, lettuce, tomato, red onions, and a slathering of sauce.
If you're looking to immerse yourself in a lively, deeply local, communist-era neighborhood bar that doubles as a breakfast joint, I can't think of a better place than Bambi Eszpresszó in Buda. What makes Bambi the real deal? It isn’t trying to show off an artificial (retro), unremembered past—it’s a genuine throwback.
Bangkok Thai Étterem is one of Budapest's oldest Thai restaurants, occupying a below-ground space near the Grand Market Hall and the tourist-heavy Váci Street. This, of course, means that most customers here consist of foreigners. Golden Buddha statues and fading celebrity photos line the walls—hello Matt Damon and Yoko Ono!—and lend an adorably dated feel to the inside.
Budapest’s District 7 may be known as the city’s party district, but its burgeoning and increasingly diverse food scene may give that title a run for its money. A young Vietnamese couple—one of them first, the other a second generation Vietnamese-Hungarian—set up shop in 2018, after seeing locals' fondness of Vietnamese food. But instead of yet another pho shop, they launched a bánh mì joint, specializing in the iconic French-Vietnamese sandwiches, the first of its kind in Budapest.
Baraka is popular among well-heeled tourists who rely on TripAdvisor for restaurant recommendations, but there are other fine dining restaurants in Budapest, some even with a Michelin star, that offer better-portioned dishes at more reasonable price point. Baraka’s seasonally-changing menu, prepared by chef André Bicalho, a Brazilian-native, blends French fare with notes of Asian, particularly Japanese flavors.
It’s not easy to find specialty coffee on the Buda side, so when Barako, a closet-sized café, opened in 2014, it filled a gaping void in Buda’s barely-existent craft coffee scene. This is thanks to Filipino owner, Ryan Andres, who eschewed the tourist-heavy areas of downtown Pest, setting up shop here instead.
Located on Bartók Béla Boulevard, Bartók is one of the few breakfast places on the Buda side of the Danube (yes, it's an unlikely contender for the "Most creative restaurant name" award). Step inside, and you will note a kaleidoscope of interior designs: There are exposed brick walls, Edison bulbs, subway tiles, rustic table tops, and steel I-beams. It's as if they included a sample of all the fashionable design trends of the past twenty years.
Enter through a garage ramp to get to this tiny underground club with a subversive spirit in the heart of the party district. The atmosphere could be too much for some, but there's a soul to the space that's worth experiencing. The moment of truth here comes way after midnight, but you can build a buzz at the nearby Dzzs Bár or Kisüzem. Walls are covered by funky posters, but you'll likely be too preoccupied to notice as you thrust your way through the throng to get to the bar upstairs. Outside too, there is a lively crowd. Mostly alternative pop/indie beats come from the DJ booth and live bands playing here. Open Thursday to Saturday only!
Belvárosi Disznótoros is a wallet-friendly lunch destination for downtown office workers in Budapest. This self-service sausage shop with high-top tables and standing counters offers a dizzying array of ready-made and to-be-prepared traditional meat dishes. Think blood sausage, grilled pork chop, wild boar stew, schnitzel, and the like. People usually pair their main order with a side of pickled vegetables. "A field of dreams, a landscape of braised, and fried, and cured delights," said the late Anthony Bourdain of Belvárosi Disznótoros after his visit in 2015.
For a deeply local experience, trek out to Big Daddy Burger in the south of Budapest, a half-hour bus ride away from downtown. Flanked by grey, communist-era high-rises lies this not particularly inviting, flimsy wooden shack, painted in red, white and blue. The cheap, kitschy 'Merican decor (I couldn't be sure that they're being ironic) features decorative license plates from Texas, Florida, and Missouri and plenty of other tchotchkes.
Coffee, contemporary Hungarian artwork, and a very friendly owner will draw you in to this adorable designer store nestled in a street behind the National Museum. The space is tiny and inviting. What gives its charm is the impression one gets upon entering that this store isn't purely run by business considerations and the owner seems to eschew the overly trendy vibes of typical designer stores. Bisztrónyúl is at least as much a hangout place for locals as a commercial enterprise.
Even among the numerous speakeasy-themed cocktail dens in Budapest, Black Swan tops the list for being the darkest and most exclusive. It’s one of those uppity places where heavy red drapes block the view from outside and whose private room draws the local elite, but if you enjoy a swanky experience it will be right up your alley. Black Swan has some of the broadest drink selections in Budapest—bartenders have to use a sliding ladder to retrieve bottles from the top shelves.
Never mind the uncanny resemblance to Blue Bottle Coffee, the pioneering California-based specialty coffee company, Blue Bird is a Hungarian coffee roaster and specialty coffee shop inside Budapest's tourist-heavy Jewish Quarter, opposite the 1872 synagogue designed by the famous Austrian architect, Otto Wagner.
At the foot of the Chain Bridge and overlooking the Buda hills, Bob occupies a prestigious piece of real estate in Budapest. The inside is a correspondingly posh bar-slash-lounge, with increasingly more dancing and champagne popping as the night progresses. The crowd is upscale: well-off, well-dressed, and attractive.
If you’re curious about the modern food scene of the less traveled side of the Danube, in Buda, Bobo restaurant is a worthy newcomer to visit in Rózsadomb, an exclusive residential area. The restaurant's stated mission is to draw Budapest's Bobos, a term made popular by David Brooks's book, Bobos in Paradise, referring to a social class with both a bourgeois and bohemian side to them.
In 2004, Bock Bisztró was one of the first Budapest restaurants to push the boundaries of traditional Hungarian food. Executive chef Lajos Bíró showed that contemporary cooking techniques, top ingredients, and a little boldness can jolt into the 21st century some centuries-old national dishes. For example, that crunchy bits of celery root adds a welcome freshness to the goulash soup (€7). That the paprikash can work as haute cuisine when made with beef tenderloins and enclosed in a pastry crust. That a delicately plated lecsó (€8) tastes better than one served carelessly.
Borkonyha (Winekitchen) is a high-end restaurant in Budapest's downtown, serving pan-European fine dining dishes and over 200 types of Hungarian wines. The executive chef, Ákos Sárközi, applies inventive techniques to locally-sourced ingredients and puts out colorful, almost artistically visual plates.
Borpatika (“Wine pharmacy”) is a neighborhood watering hole in Újbuda. Not much has changed inside since it opened in 1986, which is, of course, part of its charm. Customers are a blend of students from the nearby Budapest University of Technology and downtrodden neighborhood regulars who come here for spirit-lifting liquors and friendly banter.
Börze is a sleek downtown restaurant serving traditional Hungarian fare from early morning until midnight, seven days a week. With red banquettes and a chic interior designed to the minute detail, the vibes evoke a Keith McNally restaurant. Börze's moniker is a hat-tip to the enormous, 1907 building across the street that used to be the Budapest Stock and Commodity Exchange. The restaurant is a 2017 offshoot of Menza, and like its sister restaurant, Börze is a well-oiled machine with reliable dishes and a good-natured waitstaff.
This butcher shop (hentes in Hungarian) outside the Bosnyák Market is hardly the best sausage vendor in Budapest, but if a truly, deeply local experience is what you’re after, I can’t think of a better place. You'll need to trek out to Zugló, a residential neighborhood a bit outside the city center, but think of it as part of the experience. Come out here on a Saturday morning, when the farmers' market is bursting with locals and fresh produce. Once you’ve explored the market, drop by the hentes, right next to the main entrance, for some juicy, ready-made meat.
Despite what TripAdvisor might tell you, there are plenty of Italian restaurants in Budapest that serve tastier food at lower price points than Bottega di Bontolo. Unfortunately, too many dishes fall short at this downtown restaurant located on a side street off the tourist-heavy Váci Street.
If you're serious about your drinks, head over to Boutiq Bar. This upscale cocktail bar, which opened in 2008 and is hiding on a quiet side street near the city center, pioneered Budapest's craft cocktail movement under the helm of energetic owner Zoltán Nagy. With maroon-colored walls and dim lighting, speakeasy vibes fill this two-story drinking den. The skilled bartenders, each of whom go through a rigorous training process before being permitted behind the bar, serve the drinks with a laser-like focus and a bit of theatrics.
Along with American football and speakeasy-themed bars, another quintessentially American export is gaining ground in Budapest: barbecued meat. Don’t yet go searching for regional barbecue restaurants specialized in Carolina- or Memphis-style, but Budapest’s fledgling smoked meat scene stepped it up a notch when Bp BARbq opened in 2016 in the city's trendy Jewish Quarter.
In 2018, Scottish craft beer giant, BrewDog, expanded to Budapest with a massive space inside the city's party district. The decor looks as if it came straight out of a “trendy interior” design book: there are leather banquettes, reclaimed wood table tops, Edison bulbs, and a vintage sign board listing the 25 tap beers available. BrewDog's own beers flow from ten of those, with the remainder coming from a rotating set of local—Mad Scientist and Horizont during my visits—and foreign breweries.
Brody Studios is a members-only bar and club in Budapest run by two Englishmen, and favored by the city's expat community. From the outside, Brody, which is located a bit outside the city center in a sleepy part of District 6, looks like just another delapidated pre-war building, in need of a serious refurbishment. But the inside is a different story: every inch of the three-story space has been meticulously designed, and it's rare to see a chic, contemporary interior mix so well with fading grandeur.
Although Budapest Baristas is primarily a specialty café, it’s their breakfast-all-day offerings that can make a visit worthwhile. Bagels rarely appear on Budapest breakfast menus, so I automatically order them when they do. After all, who doesn’t like to bite into a still-warm bagel with a dense and chewy dough? The default is a sesame bagel, and toppings include the classic cream cheese, and also lox, the signature Jewish-American variety with smoked salmon.
Buja Disznó(k) is a food stall on the upper deck of the historic Hold Street Market Hall in downtown Budapest. Over the past few years, the market has transformed into a gourmet food court, where local celebrity chefs operate wallet-friendly fast casual eateries. The culinary focus of Buja Disznó(k) is simple enough: pork schnitzels.
Gerbeaud is a historic pastry shop and café in Budapest, anchoring downtown's Váci Street. It was Hungarian-Swiss patissier Emil Gerbeaud, who, after taking over the business in 1884, revolutionized Hungarian confectionery with inventive sweets and pastries and the place became a see-and-be-seen venue for the city's upper crust. Gerbeaud was nationalized during the communist era but even then it retained an air of opulence and was a favorite haunt of Budapest's high society, especially among elderly ladies.
Step inside Café Kör, and the atmosphere will immediately transport you back to a pre-war, middle-class dining room in Budapest. The inside of this homey downtown restaurant features bentwood Thonet chairs, a carpeted floor, and densely packed tables. In a city that increasingly prizes international cuisine above its own, Café Kör is a Budapest essential, serving classic Hungarian dishes without twists or updates.
Zsivágó is an adorable café and bar nestled on a quiet side street in District 6, under the radar of most people, a short block from the high-end boutiques of the tourist-heavy Andrássy Avenue. Every time I go, I feel a sense of discovery. The snug interior comes with maroon and white floral wallpapers, dense carpeting, and small, round tables.
Located inside Budapest's Palace Quarter, this grand library was once the private residence of the aristocratic Wenckheim family, landowners in south-eastern Hungary. Since 1931, the exquisite Baroque Revival building operates as one of the biggest public libraries in Budapest. While the café itself, which used to be the horse stable, evokes the communist-era both in terms of offerings and prices, the interior of the Szabó Ervin library is a must-see.
As soon as you enter, Caffe Gian Mario will conjure images of a stereotypical family-owned Italian restaurant. A charming man in his 70s, wearing a finely cut wool jacket and a smile on his face that hints of a life well lived, is usually in charge of greeting and seating guests. The service staff, most of whom are also Italian, scurry around and shout half-uttered words to one another over the cramped tables. Despite the seeming chaos, food arrives quickly at Caffe Gian Mario.
Managed by the Hungarian Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic community, Carmel is one of Budapest’s three glatt kosher restaurants. Like Hanna, the other meat restaurant around the corner, it gets liveliest during Shabbat, that is, Friday's dinner and Saturday's lunch. Here too, guests must prepay the meals, each of which costs €25 per person.
Central Cafe is one of the few remaining coffeehouses dating back to Budapest’s golden era before WWI. At the time, the city was swarming with all-inviting cafés, like Central, that stayed open around the clock, attracting many artists who've spent endless caffeine-fueled hours working and socializing under the sky-high ceilings. Today, one of Central's walls is blanketed in framed photos of prominent Hungarian writers, poets, and editors who were once regulars here.
Chinatown Restaurant, which opened in 1991, was one of the first Chinese restaurants in Budapest. Although not in the city center, it's closer to downtown than other authentic Chinese places (the restaurant's name is misleading, because it isn't in Budapest's Chinatown). Be sure to take the main entrance, else you might end up in the takeout section, where cheaper, but watered-down dishes cater to local tastes and wallets.
The Buda side of the city has begun to catch up to Pest when it comes to having chic, new-wave breakfast joints. New wave? The kinds of places that cater to global tastes with dishes that wouldn’t seem out of place anywhere from Sydney to San Francisco: avocado toast, eggs Benedict, pancake, granola bowl, and the like.
Cintányéros isn’t so much a posh wine bar as a charming neighborhood wine tavern—the place where local residents gather for banter and wallet-friendly house wine. The area, inside the once seedy outer District 8, is currently undergoing large-scale real estate development, perfectly symbolized by Nokia’s gleaming headquarters towering over the streets.
Hate it or love it, Corvin is an iconic club in the Budapest alternative scene. It’s located at the side of a run-down socialist-era department store with a nondescript entrance. If the menacing bouncers let you through, walk up to the 5th floor to get to the giant dance floor. The inside is dark, a bit grungy and dirty, but this hasn’t stopped anyone from dancing their hearts out until the wee hours. If you’d like to take a break and breathe in some fresh air, go up another flight to the rooftop bar, but don’t expect leather couches and VIP tables. Check their facebook for the type of music that night (mostly techno and electronic), and look out for the movie screenings on the rooftop during the summertime. For more options, check Müszi next door, operating in similar vain.
Costes Downtown is a 2015 offshoot of Costes, the first Michelin-starred restaurant in Budapest. Downtown is a slightly more casual version of its sister location: instead of a classic fine dining decor, here a sleek, modern design sets the tone with an open kitchen and wooden tables stripped of tablecloths. The restaurant, which has had its own Michelin star since 2016, is helmed by Portuguese chef Tiago Sabarigo.
In 2010, Costes was the first restaurant in Hungary to earn a Michelin star. Today, despite the fact that Budapest boasts many Michelin-starred places, Costes still has a special cachet. The restaurant is once again helmed by Portuguese chef Miguel Rocha Vieira, under whom Costes first won its Michelin accolade and who for several years cut his teeth in the kitchens of legendary Spanish chef Ferran Adrià.
Balázs Pethő, the executive chef of family-run Csalogány 26 Restaurant, was a pioneer of Hungary's contemporary food revolution. A whole crop of younger cooks, many of them established head chefs now, learned the ins and outs of haute cuisine under Pethő's tutelage at a time when comically backward, communist-era practices reigned supreme in Budapest kitchens. Pethő's exceptional skills best show through in the five-course dinner tasting menu.
Csendes Társ is a cute, outdoor-only café by Károlyi-kert, a spotless park in Budapest known for its colorful flower beds and manicured lawns. The place feels like an island of peace within the hustle and bustle of downtown. I enjoy coming here for a late breakfast (they open at 10 a.m.), or for drinks in the evening when the neighborhood has quieted down, and colorful lanterns provide atmospheric lighting.
Csendes is a popular ruin bar in downtown Budapest, tucked away on a quiet backstreet. Unlike some other ruin bars with party vibes, Csendes is a mellower, sit-down venue best for conversations. This high-ceilinged space used to be a grand coffee house during the glory days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which makes the current ruin bar decor, featuring creepy dolls hanging upside down from the walls, all the more bizarre. Try to book ahead of time as Csendes fills up to capacity in the evenings with a mix of locals, expats, and tourists.
Csirke Csibész is an iconic chicken sandwich shop in Budapest's District 6. The place has been serving chicken sandwiches since 1992, meaning that they know a thing or two about preparing poultry. As pizza, good chicken can be very democratic, bringing together people from all walks of life, which is certainly the case at Csirke Csibész, where construction workers and white collar employees alike line up for the flavorful fried and roasted birds here at lunchtime.
The outer part of District 6, beyond the Grand Boulevard, isn't teeming with specialty coffee shops as is the city center. In fact, Cube, a hip café occupying a hole in the wall, is a lonely warrior in the neighborhood, pushing the boundaries of new-wave coffee one batch brew at a time. The options include everything you’d expect with both espresso-based (cappuccino, cortado, flat white) and filter coffee (V60, cold brew). There are also croissants, wraps, salads, cakes, and bottled craft beer. On Sunday mornings, Cube serves a brunch pre-fix until 2 p.m. for €7.
Who would've guessed? Budapest's Curry House restaurant specializes in Indian dishes cooked in heavy sauces, also known as curries. Unfortunately, most of what I've tried here left my taste buds underwhelmed, wishing for more nuanced flavors. Of the appetizers, you're best off avoiding the soggy and insipid vegetable fritters, and the same is true for the tandoori half chicken (€6), which came out being distractingly dry, underspiced, and without the sizzle this dish is known for.
When I want to impress my friends that Budapest has restaurants as hip as those in the East Village, I take them out to DOBRUMBA. With a chic crowd, effortlessly cool design, and a Middle Eastern menu, DOBRUMBA is one of the trendiest restaurants inside Budapest's buzzing Jewish Quarter. The place is especially enjoyable in the warmer months when the oversized windows swing open and the ear-catching electronic music wafts into the street.
Most Japanese restaurants in Budapest serve higher-end fare like sushi, even though local Hungarian tastes and wallets are more compatible with simpler dishes. Perhaps this is what Mr. Tomoki and his wife, a young couple from Tokyo, thought when in 2018 they opened DON DOKO DON, Budapest’s first donburi restaurant. It's a small, counter-service place with a few tables, located near the city center.
Da Mario is a spacious, upscale Italian restaurant in Budapest's downtown, set on a precious piece of real estate between the Parliament building and Liberty Square, with views onto both from its outdoor terrace. Instead of a trattoria-look, the high-ceilinged space features sleek leather banquettes, dark furnishings, and has a bit of corporate feel to it.
There is broad consensus within the local Chinese community that Dabao Jiaozi is the place to head to for home-style dumplings in Budapest. This is quite a statement in a city where more than 30,000 Chinese people live. Before moving to its current location in Budapest's Chinatown, Dabao was a takeout-only venue hidden in a beaten-down commerical building.
Excellent restaurants often turn up in the most unlikely places. Dang Muoi is situated on a noisy, car-saturated road in Buda with little foot traffic—not exactly a restaurateur's dream location. But against the odds, the place is usually mobbed by diners. In the 1990s, Dang Muoi started as a food stall in a now-demolished Asian street market on the other side of the Danube, and has since expanded into three locations across Budapest, having found the way to Hungarians' hearts and stomachs. Dang Muoi restaurants are inexpensive and undecorated—it's the food that sings here.
Daohuaxiang fuses two contemporary Chinese food trends: spicy food and hot potting. The restaurant draws inspiration from the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing, known as the birthplace of spicy hotpot, the communal cooking experience whereby people sit around a boiling broth and cook various meats and vegetables for themselves. Daohuaxiang is a 10-minute cab ride from Budapest's city center, located inside an oversized, utilitarian dining room.
Most Iranian residents in Budapest claim that Darband is the city's best Persian restaurant. This below-ground space just off Budapest’s downtown, whose owner and head chef are both Iranian, is lined with dining booths, each named after an old Tehran street. There are mosaic tile tables and photos of Iran inside the otherwise modest interior.
Curious where the top 1% of Buda residents hang out? Wonder no more. The owners of Déryné Bistro were ahead of the curve when in 2007 they opened this chic restaurant featuring a Balthazar-like interior straight out of the Keith McNally playbook. Back then, few places in Budapest offered this type of hip-but-classy ambiance. Déryné has managed to remain popular for all these years, even as similar restaurants have sprouted up in Pest with comparable offerings at lower prices.
Apart from downtown’s century-old pastry shops that offer traditional Hungarian pastries and a travel back in time, there's an increasing number of new-wave confectioneries across Budapest. One of the pioneers is Desszert.Neked, ocuppying a spacious, distinctly modern space on a quite backstreet near downtown. Here too, you will find some of the classics—Dobos torte, Rákóczi túrós, isler—but they come with small twists and updates (while retaining their chief ingredients). What unites all cakes here is how stunningly pretty they are, to the point that it usually pains me to bite into these artistic concotions.
DiVino is a trendy wine bar in the heart of Budapest's downtown. You can sip a glass of Hungarian red or white here while enjoying the picture-postcard view of the St. Stephen's Basilica, Budapest's largest church. Touristy it may be, still, it’s a sight to behold. DiVino is most enjoyable from the outdoor tables during the warm-weather months (the dim interior has a soulless, club-like atmosphere).
Digó, which is an open-air pizza stand by Deák Square, the epicenter of Budapest, makes some of the best Naples-style pies in Budapest. The competence and passion of Digó's pizzaiolos shone through as they enthusiastically explained the benefits of using “double-zero” flour and a two-step dough fermentation, and also the technical challenges of a wood-burning oven (the individual logs burn differently), which is what they use here.
Dobló, which opened in 2010, was one of the first wine bars in Budapest. Being in the center of the Jewish Quarter, also known as the party district, means that more than half of the patrons here are usually tourists, but you don't need to worry about a rowdy stag party spoiling your fun. In fact, with a dimly lit, cozy interior, and live music most evenings, Dobló is one of the more atmospheric wine bars in Budapest that also works well for a date night.
Does Budapest need another specialty coffee shop? The answer is not obvious to me, but if it’s a “yes," then more of them should be like Dorado Café. This 2018 newcomer occupies a large, plant-filled space on the rapidly gentrifying Klauzál Street, inside the old Jewish Quarter. Unlike in the hole-in-the-wall cafés that are so common in Budapest, here patrons are welcome to linger with free wifi on the long communal table without feeling rushed.
Hiding in an elite part of downtown Budapest near the Parliament building, Drop Shop is a boutique wine bar doubling as a wine store. Unlike most wine bars in the city that stack only local bottles, Drop Shop serves carefully curated international wines anywhere from Austria to Australia, from a traditionally-made Brunello to natural wines from the New World. There's also an ample selection of top-notch local Hungarian vinos that are somewhat pricier and more premium than what you'll find elsewhere. Most options are available both by the glass and by the bottle.
Dzzs Bár, down the block from Kisüzem, attracts an eccentric and bohemian crowd of twentysomethings. Stopping by here on a late night can feel like being at the house party of your coolest friend. You can meet local film directors, painters, and musicians in this cozy space. The interior is a mishmash of worn-out furniture and walls crowded with an eclectic selection of provocative local artwork. Dzzs Bar stays open late, so this can be the place to end your late-night adventures in Budapest’s nightlife.
ESCA is a tiny, 16-seat fine dining restaurant in a quiet backstreet of District 7, Budapest’s party district. The dimly-lit interior, featuring sleek, dark wood finishes and chic, Mid-century modern chairs, couldn’t be more different from the kitsch ruin bars nearby. ESCA is helmed by owner-chef Gábor Fehér, a young local talent who's gained experience in France and Copenhagen before setting up shop here.
If you're curious about Hungarian craft beers and what Budapest looks like a bit outside the city center, be sure to head to Élesztő. From a total of two hundred Hungarian craft beers, Élesztő has a rotating set of 25 on tap, including everything from light crowd-pleasers to sour IPAs. Hoppy-beer fans should go for Hara'Punk's tellingly named "Son of a Bitch," an imperial IPA with a hearty 8.5% ABV and an astringent finish.
Ellátó Kert is a ruin bar buried deep within Budapest's old Jewish Quarter, inside a U-shaped, brick skeleton that used to be a meat processing facility. The best part of Ellátó is its expansive outdoor courtyard, which feels like a charming oasis away from the throngs of the busy Kazinczy Street. During the colder months, head all the way to the back, where there's everything from comfortable sofas, a pool table, a makeshift Virgin Mary shrine (!), and a food vendor slinging Mexican food. For a Budapest ruin bar, both the beef tacos (€1.5 each) and the chicken burrito (€5) are surprisingly tasty.
Run by a Chinese couple out of a bare, below-ground space, Ennmann restaurant offers some of the best Japanese food in Budapest. Ennmann’s strongest suit is seafood: besides chirashi, sashimi, and regular sushi (nigiri and maki), they serve a host of maki variations. I went with the six-piece nigiri plate (€9), packing a pair of tuna, salmon, and sea bass each, and it didn’t disappoint. The shrimp tempura—seafood dressed in a thin layer of batter and quickly deep-fried—has a crispy crust and juicy meat. Also good is the katsudon (€9), a rice bowl topped with eggs, onions, and sliced pork cutlet, and the yakisoba (€7) buckwheat noodles.
The building, rather than the food, is the key attraction of Építészpince, a no-frills restaurant inside a stunning pre-war mansion in Budapest's Palace Quarter. Take some time to absorb the view from the inner courtyard: ivy-covered facades, inlaid stone patterns, and symmetrically curved staircases.
It's tough to beat the location of Esetleg Bistro, a trendy, partially outdoor bar and restaurant situated on the Danube's bank, inside a dramatic, whale-shaped contemporary building in District 9. Esetleg offers sweeping views onto several Budapest landmarks, including the Liberty Bridge, Gellért Hill, and the imposing building of the Budapest University of Technology right across. This lively space is best for winding down with an afternoon drink during the warm months.
Espresso Embassy is a paradise on earth for specialty coffee fans in Budapest. This lively, downtown café inside the city's financial district makes hand pour-overs with a Hario V60, espresso-based drinks with a fancy Victoria Arduino machine, and a range of tasty cakes from organic ingredients you've likely never heard of.
Fahéj is a cute café and bar on a quite backstreet in Budapest's downtown. Fahéj eschews the trendy vibes and the tourist-targeting approach of many other places in the neighborhood, relying instead on a loyal group of regulars, both young and old. This they do by serving low-priced drinks inside an atmospheric space that features two high-ceilinged rooms with wooden floors, bookshelves, and small round tables.
If you’re looking for quick and affordable Middle Eastern fare in Budapest's party district, Falafel Bar is your best bet. This unfussy place, with both takeout and sit-down options, serves hearty portions of shawarma, sabich, kebab, and various hummus plates. The must-have dish here is the namesake falafel plate (€6), where the deep-fried chickpea balls are exactly as they should be: crunchy on the outside, creamy inside. They’re the best I’ve had in Budapest.
Fausto’s Ristorante, which opened in 1994, is a classic fine dining restaurant in Budapest specializing in northern Italian fare. Forget pizza and Caprese salad and instead think of meticulously plated dishes made from expensive ingredients like foie gras, scallops, flatfish, and venison loin. A couple of egg-based pasta and risotto options are also available, made with rich sauces.
Escape the noisy downtown street, and enter through the yellow ceramic tiles into the 19th century courtyard of Fekete, a hip café and all-day-breakfast restaurant. The marble well in the center of the tranquil courtyard is one of those Budapest surprises hiding behind many sooty facades. Weather permitting, enjoy your morning coffee in the open-air courtyard.
If you want to escape the annoyingly rowdy bachelor-party crews in Budapest's party district but remain in the area, make your way to Fekete Kutya. Despite its location alarmingly near Kazinczy Street, the main artery of the neighborhood, Fekete Kutya has somehow managed to remain an unpretentious bar frequented by artistically-minded locals in their 20s and 30s. Feel free to mingle with them—the vibes are very laid-back.
The location of Felix is hard to beat, offering stunning views onto the Castle Hill and the nearby Danube river. The restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, is inside a carefully refurbished landmark-protected building from the 19th century designed by Miklós Ybl, who was also the head architect of the Budapest Opera House. The vibes at Felix are a notch above what people often refer to as "trendy," but the place is more casual and also cheaper than stiff-lipped fine fining dining establishments.
At a time when modern renditions of traditional food reign supreme across the culinary world in Budapest, it can be difficult to unearth a good ol' traditional Hungarian restaurant. Notwithstanding the plethora of goulash options in the tourist-heavy downtown streets, you're often better off leaving the city center if old-school, rustic fare is what you're after.
Although Frici Papa opened after the fall of the iron curtain, this eatery has rightfully become a darling for tourists who're looking to experience a piece of communist-era dining—prices are rock-bottom, cheap wood panelings decorate the walls, tablecloths are covered with sticky plastic, waiters are dressed as if parachuted here from the '80s.
Following stints at well-known Budapest restaurants, two young, local chefs, Andor Giczi and Szabolcs Nagy, struck out on their own, opening Fricska restaurant in 2014. Since then, Fricska has earned a reputation for outstanding modern Hungarian dishes, and it also won a Bib Gourmand award from Michelin in 2017. The restaurant is located on the far end of the party district, inside a below-ground space that manages to be cozy despite the absence of natural lighting.
Budapest’s one and only kosher pastry shop is, you guessed it, inside the city's old Jewish Quarter. Frőhlich set up shop in 1953, when more Jewish people lived in the neighborhood and long before it became the party center. Instead of "Jewish cakes," Frőhlich specializes in low-priced, traditional Hungarian tortes, pastries, and strudels, including Esterházy, Dobos, and krémes. Sure, some other places in Budapest make tastier stuff, but I enjoy coming to Frőhlich for the homey ambiance—little has changed inside this family-run operation over the decades. Although now mainly a tourist destination, a shrinking group of local regulars also appear from time to time.
In the late aughts, Fruccola was one of the first restaurants to pioneer fast casual dining in Budapest, especially the healthy segment specializing in salads and fruit juices. They have since become a recognized brand and a mini-chain with three locations across the city. Besides salads, smoothies, fresh fruit and vegetable juices, Fruccola also serves excellent breakfast omelettes, both with salmon and spinach & goat cheese (€5). On weekdays, they offer a seasonal, two-course lunch prix fixe (€6) that's heavy on vegetables, though not strictly vegetarian.
When it opened in 1991, Fuji was one of the first Japanese restaurants in Budapest. From a tastefully upscale venue they served pricey Japanese fare to well-heeled locals and expats looking for exotic tastes in post-communist Budapest. Almost three decades later—an eternity in restaurant years—Fuji is still around.
Funky Pho is a teeny-tiny soup shop hiding in a quiet side street off Andrássy Avenue in District 6. The place makes some of the best pho soups in Budapest, which is saying a lot in a city flooded with pho joints. The small space, which has only two tables and less than 10 counter seats, goes for a chic street-food look featuring pop art wall paintings and conical hats as design pieces.
An Eastern European, bohemian-intellectual spirit oozes from Gdansk Bookstore Café, a dimly lit, densely furnished bar with cozy nooks and crannies along Bartók Béla Boulevard in District 11, on the Buda side of the city. A Polish native from Gdansk, a port city on the Baltic coast, and her Hungarian husband opened this shoebox-sized bar, which features bookshelves of Polish-language books, cheap vodka selections, and Polish and Hungarian craft beers.
Gerlóczy is a snug café and restaurant tucked away in an unusually quiet pocket of Budapest's downtown. The tiny plaza outside Gerlóczy, surrounded by elegant pre-war buildings, conjures images of a Paris backstreet. Perhaps this is why the interior exudes French bistro vibes, complete with small round tables, leather banquettes, and a high ceiling. In the warm months, Gerlóczy's outdoor terrace is especially enjoyable (whenever the local municipality isn't using this precious space for construction equipment storage).
In retrospect, it's weird that it took so long for someone to finally open a traditional Hungarian restaurant inside Budapest's party district, also known as the old Jewish Quarter. After all, most tourists are after local dishes before they hit the neighborhood bars. Gettó Gulyás's moniker makes its culinary priorities clear—the short menu features the heart of Magyar cuisine with staples like goulash (€4), chicken paprikash (€7), and pörkölt, which is a beef stew. ("Gettó" refers to the Jewish ghetto, into which this neighborhood was turned during the winter of 1944, the darkest time of WWII in Budapest).
In present-day Budapest, listening to live gypsy music is mainly a tourist activity. Overpriced downtown restaurants tend to hire gypsy bands to play traditional songs, thereby enhancing the “Hungarian vibes.” The reality is that except for the occasional wedding parties when such songs may be performed, most locals, especially those below 50, are seldom exposed to this type of music.
A spirit of healthy anarchy radiates from this bar/community center located a bit outside the city center in a gritty part of District 8. They hold weekly panel discussions on a range of relevant topics like industrial interest vs. environmental protection or gentrification. The talks are in Hungarian but most people will also speak English. Even if you aren't in so high-minded a mood, there're good reasons to trek out here, including live concerts many nights, cheap drinks, and lots of outdoor seating. Speaking of gentrification, look no further than how the small, lonely pre-war building of Gólya is now bizarrely towered over by the gigantic NOKIA local headquarters. It stands there like the last bastion of a neighborhood undergoing rapid changes.
I’ve tried almost all dishes at Good Morning Vietnam, a tiny, unassuming restaurant in downtown, and without fail they were very good—the summer roll was light and fresh; the spring roll porky; the pho rich and flavorful with tender slices of beef shank; the bun bo nam bo varied in its textures; the bun cha intensely smokey. As with all Vietnamese food, the dishes arrive smothered in herbs (chive, mint, lemon balm) and vegetables (bean sprouts, cucumbers), but there are also sweeter notes, hinting at the flavors of the gastronomically more adventurous South Vietnam.
While Budapest's party district has long been teeming with specialized cocktail bars, downtown was a wasteland when it came to discerning drinking dens. Good Spirit Bar, which opened in 2017 on a quiet, cobblestoned side street, filled this gaping void in downtown's lackluster bar landscape.
Grinzingi, an unpretentious downtown wine tavern, has a simple formula: serve cheap drinks in the center of Budapest that's otherwise teeming with overpriced, tourist-oriented bars. But what gives Grinzingi its native spirit is its longevity, the variety of its patrons, and the “interior design.”
Gyergyó restaurant, which opened in 1991, masks itself as a typical greasy spoon, but it’s closer to a semi-upscale restaurant when it comes to food, plating, and, unfortunately, prices too. The place’s moniker is a hat-tip to the Transylvanian city where the owner-chef, Árpád Gyurka, hails from. The restaurant is located in an elite, residential Buda neighborhood, which explains why main dishes run €10-15, and why big-time lawyers, businessmen, and retired, upper-middle class regulars fill this tiny, lunch-only restaurant.
Budapest residents have a weird fixation with gyros. To appreciate this, all you need to do is roam around downtown and start counting the gyro joints you pass. Within a few blocks, I'm fairly certain, you'll get to half a dozen or so. These painfully overlit places are known for their low prices and unremarkable food offerings—they serve the type of gyros that are best relegated to late-night nourishment after a long evening of drinking.
This self-service, modest eatery (“étkezde”) a bit outside the city center in District 9 may not be for everyone. Even within Budapest’s low-priced eatery genre, Gyuri bácsi konyhája is positioned towards the lower end when it comes to comfort and interior design. But the food is excellent, and the place represents the type of everyday dining that most tourists are unlikely to experience in Budapest.
HILDA is a chic downtown restaurant on the increasingly fashionable Nádor Street, an area that has come to life as a growing number of tourists and international students from the nearby Central European University pass through. HILDA boasts a perfect curb appeal and Instagrammable interior: An oversized stained glass mosaic covers one of the walls in its entirety, and the bar is studded with dark blue, glazed Zsolnay ceramic tiles, the same brand that decorates the lobby of the Four Seasons around the corner from here.
Hai Nam Pho Bistro is what happens when ethnic cuisine becomes a victim of too much "localization." The Vietnamese owners here believe that the food must be adjusted to local tastes, a perfectly reasonable theory that may spawn inventive dishes, but at Hai Nam they simply avoid flavorful cuts of fatty meats and traditional Vietnamese dishes that they don't deem palatable to Hungarians. For example, the bun cha (€6), normally a mound of flavorful pork belly, is a forlorn-looking affair of lean meat; the spring roll (€2), another Vietnamese staple, lacks the coveted porky flavor and crunchy crust.
There are many theories about why it was China's Sichuan Province of all places where the gastronomic use of chili peppers was taken to a whole new level. Whatever the reason, Sichuan food has become synonymous with spicy and mouth-numbing flavors thanks to chilies and Sichuan peppercorns. Apart from the places in Chinatown, Hange Restaurant serves some of the best Sichuan dishes in Budapest (Hange is also a bit outside the city center in District 9, but it's not as far as Chinatown).
Hanna is a glatt kosher meat restaurant operated by the Hungarian Autonomous Orthodox Jewish Community inside Budapest's old Jewish Quarter. Since the restaurant is buried within the fortress-like edifice of the congregation, most locals have never encountered Hanna, even though the surrounding area is currently the center of Budapest's nightlife, teeming with cafés, bars, and restaurants.
Hanoi Pho’s moniker is misleading as their unremarkable pho soup is hardly the reason to visit this Vietnamese restaurant in the heart of Budapest’s downtown, near the Parliament building. With a chef duo representing both ends of Vietnam (one is from Hanoi, the other Saigon), their claim to fame is the under-the-radar Vietnamese dishes rarely found elsewhere in Budapest. For example, it's only in Hanoi Pho where they make banh xèo (€7), a sizzling savory pancake of rice flour, coconut milk, and turmeric, folded and stuffed with shrimp, lettuce, and bean sprouts. Don’t miss it.
Hanoi Xua is a Vietnamese restaurant in Budapest best known for its extensive soup varieties, above-average fried rice plates, and some Vietnamese dishes that rarely appear in other restaurants like the chè dessert. It occupies the ground floor of a residential apartment building in the outer part of District 9, once a seedy neighborhood, but now rapidly transforming thanks to moneyed international medical students at the nearby Semmelweis University.
Like it or not, Budapest’s booming tourism is inspiring local business owners to profit off well-heeled visitors. Overpriced restaurants hawking “authentic goulash” and dime a dozen “Irish pubs” in Budapest’s downtown are all too common. Három Holló bar, located right in the city center, is the fruit of an entirely different philosophy.
Három Tarka Macska is an artisan bakery on the tastefully upscale Pozsonyi Road in Újlipótváros, a well-heeled area I think of as the “West Village of Budapest.” Step in, and a paradise of aromatic and still-steaming sourdough, whole wheat, and rye breads, brioches, and rolls in all shapes and sizes await you. The two must-try local favorites are the túrós batyu (a sweet-tart cottage cheese-filled laminated pastry) and the kakaós csiga (a snail-shaped chocolate pastry roll), which go down especially well with flavored yogurts that Három Tarka Macska sources from a local family-owned producer.
If you’re looking for tasty and wallet-friendly Chinese food in Budapest, HeHe is one of your best bets. They serve an array of authentic Chinese dishes from a relatively modest, undecorated space in Budapest's Chinatown (Monori Center), which takes about 25 minutes to get to by public transport from the city center.
High Note Sky Bar offers some of the most spectacular rooftop views in Budapest. To get to the bar, you will need to walk through the sumptuous, over-the-top lobby of the five-star Aria boutique hotel, and take the elevator to the top floor. The panorama is truly stunning: the Liberty Statue, the Buda Castle, and the St. Stephen’s Basilica all appear within arm’s reach, which, in case of the church, is practically true.
In Hungarian "hintaló" means rocking horse, of which you will find plenty inside this charmingly grungy bar a bit outside the city center in District 8. The lively atmosphere inside Hintaló is in stark contrast to the deserted backstreet the bar is situated on. Hintaló gets packed most evenings with a lively crowd of German and other international students.
Hopaholic, located inside Budapest's party district, is a snug craft beer bar famed for its dizzying range of international craft beers. They source bottled beers from over 250 microbreweries across the world, supplemented by 10 rotating beers on tap. Do you feel like downing a cloudy, yeasty hefeweizen? Perhaps an imperial stout from Denmark sporting a 10% ABV? Or, rather, a tarty and fruity Moldavian-Hungarian lambic beer? Not a problem.
Hops Beer Bar is a divey-looking craft beer bar in the heart of Budapest's party district. The moment you realize this isn't your average dive bar is when you get a glimpse of the more than 200 types of bottled craft beers stacked in the fridge. It's this extensive beer selection, and the witty, loud-mouthed, and charismatic owner-operator, which make Hops Beer Bar a pilgrimage-site for craft beer fans in Budapest.
Many countries put their own twist on the fish soup, reflecting locally available fish species and ingredients. The fisherman’s soup (halászlé) is Hungary’s take on the bouillabaisse. It has myriad permutations across the country, but the classic version uses carp fillets, and a generous portion of paprika seasoning that lends the broth a deep-red hue. Oddly, few Budapest restaurants serve fisherman’s soup at all, and of the ones that do, few seem to care to get it right.
If the iconic New York Café, located right across the street from here, offers a journey back in time, then Horizont Café shows off Budapest's contemporary self. This circle-shaped café and breakfast restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows used to be a movie theater's ticket office until 1999. Now, following a recent gut renovation, the handsome interior features mid-century modern and Art Deco furnishings complete with hanging globe lamps, vivid colors, and brass finishes. Central to the space is the coffee counter, where a couple of baristas ground, brew, and serve everything from filter coffees (€3) to espressos (€2) made with lightly roasted beans imported from places like Colombia, Ethiopia, and Burundi.
Hotsy Totsy is a dimly-lit, below-ground craft cocktail bar in Budapest's party district. Instead of a fixed menu, bartenders prepare bespoke drinks based on customers' taste preferences. For example, if you tell them you like Fernet-Branca, they’ll offer up a Hanky Panky (gin, sweet vermouth, Fernet) without a moment’s hesitation, along with a complementary shot of Fernet’s Menta line.
Hú Lù Lu, a modest-looking Vietnamese restaurant in Budapest’s party district, is the type of place where the food speaks louder than the decor (always the better combination). Two Vietnamese-Hungarian twentysomethings originally from Nghệ An, in north-central Vietnam, set out to serve up dishes from their home region alongside Vietnamese classics.
Perhaps it's not the most inviting of places, but trust me, it's worth proceeding down the stairs to Hunnia, an adoringly grungy, below-ground music bar in Budapest. Hunnia is best known for its live concerts on Friday and Saturday evenings, when A- and B-level Hungarian bands take over the tiny stage. Expect a packed venue and a bohemian crowd of 40-plus regulars who sing along louder and more passionately as the night progresses (you can check their concert schedule).
This homey butcher and sausage shop has been around for almost a hundred years, with the current owner in charge since 1991. What makes it even more of a small miracle that this old-school, unpretentious place still exists today is that it's located right beside the Budapest Opera House, one of the main tourist attractions of the city. Stepping inside here feels like a travel back in time, both in terms of the interior and the service—evidently, the brusque lady behind the counter comes from a generation when customers were not always right, and there's something deeply authentic about her attitude.
This neighborhood institution, which opened in 1969, is still mainly a butcher shop with an array of raw pork, poultry, and beef dominating the display, but the longest lines form by the steam table in the corner containing a mound of ready-made meats. The atmosphere is part of the charm here: senior neighborhood residents often drop by to pick up whatever they dreamed up to cook that day (on my last visit, and elderly lady ordered three pork feet for a dinner-to-be of braised pig trotters). Many students from the nearby Budapest University of Technology are also repeat customers thanks to the low prices.
Húsimádó, which translates to "meat lover," is a neighborhood butcher shop anchoring Újlipótváros. The place is so chuck-full of meats that sometimes it's hard to even see the proprietor on the other side of the counter through bricks of fatback and rows of smoked salami. The main draw here is the ready-made sausages: paprika-laced, liver, and blood varieties. If you feel like deviating from the classic order, try the fried chicken liver with a perfectly tender piece of pork belly, and a side of sauerkraut with a slice of bread.
Huszár, named after the Hungarian light cavalry soldiers, is the type of restaurant where everyday local Hungarian families go for a Sunday lunch. It's an unchic restaurant that doesn’t try to be more than what it is—an unfussy neighborhood joint serving Hungarian dishes without twists or updates to traditional recipes. Huszár also satisfies my occasional nostalgia for the type of gruff service and weathered interior that defined Budapest restaurants in the '90s.
As Neapolitans like to say, “when it comes to clothes and pizza, it’s always Naples over Rome." This proverb is taken to heart at Igen, a spacious pizza joint on the Buda side, churning out Naples-style pies all day long inside a wood-burning oven fueled by beech to achieve high heat and a smokey flavor. The Naples variety is known for an airy crust with splotches of char, and a soupy center. As customary, Igen uses a refined, type "00" flour to ensure a soft pizza dough.
Opened in 1968, Ibolya Espresso is an iconic café and bar in Budapest's downtown. Ibolya is deeply anchored in Budapest's collective memory as two generations of local residents have been coming here for everything from first dates to business meetings over the past half-century. Ibolya's interior furnishings evoke the design items of the communist era: the Mid-century modern-inspired light fixtures feature orange plexiglass, while chairs are topped with sticky, red faux leather upholstery.
Il Terzo Cerchio has been serving Italian comfort food in Budapest’s historic Jewish Quarter for well over a decade. A brick vaulted ceiling, rustic wooden furniture, and a wood-burning oven help evoke Tuscan countryside vibes on this Budapest side street. The restaurant's moniker is a reference to Dante's third circle of hell, where gluttons were punished.
Many local Indian expats would tell you that their go-to Indian restaurant in Budapest is Indigo—an Indian restaurant hardly needs better points of reference. Indigo is toward the higher end of the narrow range of Indian restaurants in Budapest, although now there are many more places than in 2005, when Indigo opened (in fact, a few years ago Indigo launched a sister location on the Buda side).
Instant & Fogas Ház isn't so much a ruin bar as a massive club featuring 18 bar counters and seven dance floors. This enormous venue in Budapest's party district is inside a landmark-protected building fom 1861 with a crumbling facade. Instant & Fogas Ház may not be the best place to experience the ruin bar ambience, but head over here if you're in the mood for dancing as other ruin bars offer little space for moving your feet.
Japan Okonomiyaki Kincsán is a teeny-tiny fast casual restaurant specializing in, you guessed it, okonomiyaki—a traditional Japanese street food of grilled egg-and-cabbage pancake mixed with a host of savory ingredients. As in Japan, you can watch as they prepare your order on the electric griddle right before you.
Hans van Vliet, the owner of Jedermann Café, is a legendary restaurateur in Budapest with a genius for creating atmospheric, all-inviting places for everyone to enjoy (hence "Jedermann", which translates to "everyone"). On any given day, tables might be filled with senior citizens fiercely debating Hungarian politics, students gossiping over a cup of coffee, and a theater director mapping out upcoming projects with the staff. Jedermann, which marries a café with a bar, is hiding in a quiet street in District 9, not far from the city center, but away from the throngs clogging the party district.
For a truly, deeply local experience, make your way to this bare-bones food stall inside the Rákóczi Market Hall in Budapest's District 8. Hiding in the back of the building is JóKrisz Lángos Sütöde, a mom-and-pop, standing-only eatery that specializes in lángos, a traditional, deep-fried Hungarian flatbread. I usually visit Jókrisz early in the mornings when the colorful cast of characters flock here from the mainly working-class neighborhood.
Due to bad urban planning, cars have better access to the Danube than city residents in Budapest. A handful of bars, however, can boast a precious river panorama, and Jónás Craft Beer House is one of them. So, while sipping your citrusy pale ale, you can marvel at Gellért Hill and the stately building of the Budapest University of Technology on the opposite bank. If you come from the city center, take tram #2 for a scenic ride along the Danube, and get off at Zsil utca, which drops you almost right outside Jónás.
Located on the Buda side of the city within a 6,700 sqm (72 thousand sqft.) building, Jurányi is a gigantic center for the performing arts, housing dozens of independent theater and dance troupes who use the space for both practice and performances. Jurányi Suterene, an under-the-radar, unfussy bar and community space, is on the ground floor of the premises. During the day, artists from the building come here for meetings, to relax, or to scarf down the two-course lunch prix fixe (€4).
KEG is a spacious craft beer bar in Budapest’s increasingly trendy Újbuda neighborhood. The place is just off Bartók Béla Boulevard, the artery of the area, inside a remodeled brick-arched basement. Digital flap displays show the 32 (!) types of draft beers available, most of them sourced from local breweries. But you can also run into foreign beers such as a 15% ABV imperial stout from Denmark’s hyped-up Mikkeller brewery. For those unsure what to order, KEG offers a tasting special where the bartenders (or you) select five 1 dl / 3.4 oz samples for €7.
In 2015, three young Vietnamese-Hungarians with a passion for cooking and a background in fashion and design launched a trendy Asian-fusion restaurant, Sáo, in the tourist-packed Jewish Quarter of Budapest. Encouraged by Sáo's success, they opened KHAN, another chic, Instragram-friendly venue, situated in the residential Újlipótváros neighborhood, a bit outside the city center.
KNRDY is an upscale steakhouse in the heart of Budapest’s downtown. The restaurant buys prime-graded and Omaha Angus from the U.S., Wagyu from Australia and Japan, and serves only the best cuts: ribeye/tomahawk, New York strip, filet mignon, and T-bone/porterhouse. If you enjoy the funky flavors of aged meat, KNRDY also offers 50-day dry-aged meats. You can’t really go wrong with anything here—all steaks arrive with a beautifully-browned crust. I enjoyed the intensely flavorful, juicy, and tender Prime Angus ribeye (€60 for 450 grams; 16 oz).
If you wonder what everyday dining was like during communist Hungary, Kádár Étkezde may be able to give you the answer. Or at least that used to be the case before tourists descended on the place in the last few years. Kádár, which opened in 1957, started out as a wallet-friendly neighborhood joint feeding the mainly Jewish local residents—it's inside Budapest's old Jewish Quarter—with unfussy traditional Hungarian foods like stuffed cabbage and beef stew (pörkölt), and also Jewish staples like matzo ball soup and cholent (note that Kádár isn't kosher). The dishes were passable, prices rock-bottom.
Kadarka, whose moniker refers to the aromatic red grape varietal native to Hungary, is a lively wine bar in Budapest's Jewish Quarter. Despite the tourist-heavy area, Kadarka has somehow remained a mainly local haunt, especially for 30-plus Hungarians. Perhaps this is because prices haven’t shot through the roof and the service is kind and attentive.
Part burger joint, part craft beer bar, Kandalló is a bustling space in the Jewish Quarter. Their burgers are among the best you will find in Budapest, although, as in other places, I'd prefer their buns to be smaller and squishier. Most patties are made from Grey Cattle, a local variety, while the more expensive ones use Angus (patties are 180 gram / 6.3 oz).
I'll start with the bad news: Kao Niaw Ping Kai Restaurant is located on one of the least inviting stretches of Budapest, the multi-lane Rákóczi Road, where the constant stream and pollution of car traffic has all but cleared the area of pedestrians. But don't despair. A quick bus-ride from downtown (take #5, #7, #110, #112, or #178) will drop you right outside the restaurant, so you won't need to inhale any exhaust fumes.
For the past decade, Akácfa Street in Budapest's party district was mainly known for Fogas ruin bar. That has changed with the opening of the wildly popular Mazel Tov restaurant, and also Hops Beer Bar, one of the best craft beer bars in the city. And now here's Kaptafa, a hip breakfast-all-day restaurant.
Kék Ló (Blue Horse) is a hidden gem of a bar located outside Budapest's main tourist zones, within the outer part of District 8. Despite looking similar to many of its eclectically (over)designed peers, Kék Ló beats out the Jewish Quarter's run-of-the-mill ruin bars. Why? In part due to its location a bit outside the city center, and in part also to the alternative local artistic crowd that comes here, there's a level of intimacy you are unlikely to find in the Jewish Quarter's high turnover bars. Also, you don't need to worry about annoying stag party crews ruining your party at Kék Ló.
Part café, part restaurant, part bar, Keksz is a hybrid space located under the stately arch that marks the entry point of Budapest's party district. There are a handful of passable traditional Hungarian dishes here—including a goulash soup (€5), a catfish paprikash (€7), and a lecsó (€6), which is similar to a ratatouille—but you're best off sticking to the breakfast-all-day offerings like the scrambled eggs (€4) or the panini selections (€6). Alternatively, you can build your own salad from a set of ingredients.
Some pockets of Buda can be as lively as Pest, but they're few and far between. Bartók Béla Boulevard is one such revitalized Buda neighborhood, featuring art galleries, cafés, and bars. Kelet, which is a snug all-day café, was one of the early birds here, helping to breathe new life into the area.
If you’re serious about your pizza and are spending more than a few days in Budapest, grab your hiking boots and trek out to Kemencés Pizza, which makes some of the best pies in all of Budapest. It takes about an hour to get to from downtown by public transport, but think of it as part of the experience of discovering Budapest.
Since Keret is officially a social club, you will need to sign up and become a member, a 30-second exercise, to gain admission to this tiny, dimly-lit bar (it's free). The reason for the legal maneuvering is to allow for smoking inside, which is fully exploited. The snug, smoke-filled interior evokes a Prohibition-era atmosphere, where the common cause brings out the friendliest side of patrons.
Kertem (“my garden”) is an enormous outdoor bar inside Budapest's City Park. It somehow flies under the radar of most tourists, even though it's not far from Széchenyi, the most popular thermal bath of the city. Kertem's crowd comprises a melting pot of laid-back local residents, many of them accompanied by their dogs.
Opened almost 20 years ago, Két Szerecsen is a fixture in the Budapest restaurant scene. It's located between the stately Andrássy Avenue and the Jewish Quarter's main artery, Király Street, occupying a precious piece of no man’s land. The bright space is crammed with tables that receive plenty of natural light through the oversized windows.
Opened over two decades ago, Kilenc Sárkány Étterem (“Nine Dragons Restaurant”) is a long-established Chinese restaurant in Budapest. They carry two sets of menus, so be sure the waitstaff hands you the one for Chinese patrons, otherwise you’re in for watered-down dishes adjusted to “European tastes.”
Who knows, perhaps one day the area around Nagymező Street in Budapest's District 6 will become the center of Budapest's still-fledgling gay bar scene. Here, not far from the long-standing Alterego Club, stands Kimberly, a gay bar doubling as a small club. With welcoming bartenders and windows overlooking the street, Kimberly feels a long way away from the secluded world of Alterego.
Kino is a laid-back, breakfast-all-day restaurant set along Budapest's Grand Boulevard. The interior is draped in movie posters as Kino occupies the ticketing area of an independent movie theater. The low-priced and tasty breakfast dishes are served seven days a week—when in doubt, go for the hearty "Hungarian" scrambled eggs packing bacon, sausage, tomatoes, and a sprinkle of grated cheese (€3). Also, the ever-changing selection of cakes taste just as good as they look.
Kiosk is a buzzing restaurant and cocktail bar in the heart of Budapest, favored by trendy locals and plenty of tourists. Kiosk has at least two things going for it: a stunning view of the Danube and the Elisabeth Bridge from its outdoor patio, and a dramatically high-ceilinged, industrial-chic interior. (Interestingly, the building houses a Roman Catholic high school upstairs, in fact, there's a chapel right above Kiosk.)
The Jewish Quarter’s stag-party apocalypse doesn’t extend to the outer part of the Grand Boulevard (Nagykörút), meaning that the streets quiet down as night falls, and residents are still mainly locals rather than Airbnb folks. The neighborhood’s mom-and-pop stores and dilapidated buildings serve as a reminder of what much of Budapest looked like in the '90s.
Rib-sticking Hungarian countryside fare can be intimidating if you aren’t used to eating high-calorie, heavy dishes like pork knuckles or wild boar stew. But if you’re up for the challenge, Kispiac Bistro is the best place in Budapest to acquaint yourself with these hearty, traditional dishes; just be sure to expect low post-meal productivity. Kispiac doesn’t try to reinvent old recipes, but it moves past communist-era kitchen practices and uses high-quality ingredients.
Those looking to passionately debate Hungarian political history will find themselves at home in this bar, set along what used to be a quiet street in the bustling Jewish Quarter. Local artists, Budapest's left-wing intelligentsia, and international students from the Central European University comprise the regular customers. In addition to wallet-friendly Hungarian wines and beer, rum fans can indulge in excellent top-shelf selections.
For a deeply local lunch experience in Budapest, it’s hard to think of a better place than Kívánság Étkezde. The continued existence of this eatery, which opened in 1985, is evidence that there’s still lingering love in Budapest for communist-era, family-run restaurants. After all, they’re quick, cheap, and some of them, like Kívánság, serve delicious home-style dishes.
Vittula comes closest to delivering a dive-bar experience in Budapest. With an adorably grungy below-ground interior and labyrinthine layout, the space is actually cooler than your average dive bar. The well-worn walls are blanketed in graffiti and witty scribbles. It would be a stretch to characterize Vittula as cozy, but if you enjoy divy vibes, you will like its squalid nooks and crannies. A Finnish expat opened Vittula in 2004, using the female genitalia as an inspiration for the place’s moniker.
Recommendations on the tourist-heavy Kazinczy Street must be taken with a grain of salt, but you can still find excellent bars here (rule of thumb: avoid places with prominently displayed "Hungarian goulash" signs). Kőleves Kert, which isn’t to be mistaken with the popular Kőleves restaurant next door, is one of those summertime treasures in the form of a laid-back, all-welcoming outdoor bar.
Kőleves is a wildly popular restaurant in the heart of Budapest’s old Jewish Quarter, today’s party district. The building, which was built in 1851, used to be home to a kosher meat processing facility and butcher shop, so it’s fitting that they honor the building’s past with dishes like matzo ball soup, and cholent, the typical Sabbath dish. They also use leftover articles from the meat plant as design pieces, including a well-worn, leather-bound ledger book and a weathered Talmud.
Kollázs Brasserie & Bar, which occupies the ground floor of the opulent, Art Nouveau building of the Four Seasons Hotel, is a fine dining restaurant and cocktail bar with prime views onto Budapest's Castle Hill. It's the type of place where dark-suited waiters scurry around with tableside carts and pricey bottles of wine. The interior is furnished in a tasteful neo-Art Deco style, complete with marble, dark wood, and brass finishes.
Komachi, a no-frills Japanese restaurant in Budapest's old Jewish Quarter, is committed to proving that there's more to Japanese food than sushi. For a Central Europe-based restaurant, Komachi serves a refreshingly broad range of everyday Japanese dishes like ramen (miso, shio, and soy-based), tonkatsu, curry, karaage, and donburi.
Budapest’s kosher restaurants, unfortunately, aren’t known for offering the most convincing or nuanced flavors in the city. Most people who frequent them, of course, have no other choice. Kosher Deli Restaurant, which opened in 2019, has quickly established itself as the better of Budapest’s only two dairy restaurants (the other is Tel Aviv Café). The ground floor consist of a small kosher grocery store and a pastry counter, with the restaurant occupying the upstairs area.
Located near the arched, red-bricked edifice signaling the entry of the old Jewish Quarter, Központ is a popular haunt of Budapest's thirtysomething liberal establishment. During the day, Központ functions as a specialty café, drawing hipster foreigners who linger with their MacBooks for hours on end. Come night-time, the crowd turns more local as journalists, musicians, and people from the fashion industry appear. Note that drinks are a bit more expensive here than at other places on this list.
The Grand Boulevard (Nagykörút) doesn't only separate the city center from outer Pest, it's also a boundary between the polished and the gritty, the predictable and the mysterious. As a result, bars along here draw eclectic crowds from all walks of Budapest life. Krúdy Söröző, an unpretentious, all-welcoming, communist-era neighborhood bar, is one of them. Despite the wifi and flat screen TVs, the space feels distinctly 1980s, as do the prices.
Here’s a little secret: there’s hole-in-the-wall eatery right next to, and sharing a kitchen with Rosenstein, one of the best traditional Hungarian restaurants in Budapest. In fact, Rosenstein itself grew out of this tiny, smoke-filled space back in 1989, before hoisting itself into an elegant sit-down venue. In other words, at Kürtös Ételbár you can enjoy the same goulash soup (€2), beef stew (€5), and schnitzel (€5) that they serve next door at steeper price points.
I can’t blame you if your first instinct is to avoid all restaurants on Váci Street, Budapest’s version of La Rambla. You know it's time to move on when hostesses, dressed in folk outfits, try to lure you with "traditional Hungarian tourist menus." La Botte is somewhat of an exception. Only somewhat, because part of the restaurant mimics the neighboring places, serving goulash soup amid a rustic Hungarian countryside decor complete with red-and-white tablecloths.
You will need leave the city center to unearth La Perle Noire, a high-end restaurant serving French and revamped Hungarian dishes. It's on a quiet section of Andrássy Avenue, Budapest's Champs-Élysées, peppered with residential villas and embassies inside District 6. The cute modernist building from 1937 that houses the restaurant (and also a hotel upstairs) stands out from the predominantly 19th century street view.