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're 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. You can't go wrong with any of them. They each cost around €10.
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 Hungarian celebrity chef, opened a fast casual lunch eatery inside the practically empty Hold Street Market. Fast forward to today, this historic downtown market has since transformed into a thriving food court where prominent local chefs operate low-key restaurants and the area swarms with people at lunchtime.
À la Maison Grand is a chic breakfast restaurant in the middle of 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). Fashionable, tourist-heavy crowds flock here for the breakfast-all-day and brunch offerings that include reliably prepared croque madame (€5), eggs Florentine (€7), 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).
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 to 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).
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.
If you like Italian food and need a break from the bustle of the city center, head over to Alessio. With densely carpeted floors and crammed tables, this charming neighborhood restaurant is tailored to the local residents of this elite neighborhood on the Buda side. Little about the interior will evoke the Tuscan countryside, but the dishes here are better than in most Italian restaurants of Budapest.
Alterego is Budapest's signature gay club. This below-ground venue, which is open only on Fridays and Saturdays, hides in a quiet side street near 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 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 with conversations.
In Budapest's Jewish Quarter it can feel as if pricey cold brews lurk behind every tourist-trafficked corner. But just a couple of blocks away, the Palace Quarter in District 8 is still less infiltrated with specialty coffee shops (and tourists). One of the few is Apricot Coffee, a tiny café located near some of the most charming and estate-filled streets of Budapest—amble 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 that somehow manage to be almost unfailingly tasty.
Arán, which means "bread" in Old Irish, is a craft bakery in Budapest's hip Jewish Quarter run by Kinga and Attila Pécsi, a couple who spent a decade living in Ireland (it was there that Kinga mastered her baking skills). Arán lives up to its moniker: the toast-crisp sourdough loaves are delightful. There's whole wheat, rye, and white breads, all of them imparting the signature, slightly sour taste of long-fermented sourdough.
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.
Specializing in sourdough breads and morning pastries, Artizán is one of the top craft bakeries in Budapest. Under the helm of Gergő Fekete, who honed his skills in countries across Western Europe, Artizán has brought a new level of professionalism to a city where dreary bakery chains and bland croissants set the standard.
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.
Auróra is a community center in the outer part of District 8, an area with many low-income and minority Budapest residents. During the day, there are workshops and discussions on topics related to social justice and civic engagement (they're generally held in Hungarian, but most people will speak English).
Part café, part restaurant, and part bar, BÉLA is a laid back, all-welcoming neighborhood joint on the Buda side of the city, along the increasingly fashionable Bartók Béla Boulevard. The homey interior features terra cotta-colored walls, wooden floors, Persian carpets, and lots of 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, which is why the place tends to fill to capacity most evenings.
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 serves 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 the restaurant's moniker is a hat-tip to the neighborhood, which is home to much of Budapest’s middle-class Jewish residents. The snug, dimly lit interior — complete with vintage furnishings and hardwood floors — will make you want to enter.
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 awkward part out of the way: one of the co-owners 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 deeply local, communist-era neighborhood bar that doubles as a breakfast joint, I can't think of a better place than Bambi Eszpresszó on the Buda side. 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 are 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 for 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 downtown areas, setting up shop here instead.
An unlikely contender for the "Most creative restaurant name" award, Bartók is a modern restaurant on Bartók Béla Boulevard on the Buda side of the Danube. Step inside, and you'll note a kaleidoscope of interior designs: There are exposed brick walls, Edison bulbs, subway tiles, rustic table tops, and steel I-beams.
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 sausage shop in Budapest's downtown drawing nearby office workers. This self-service lunch destination features high-top tables and standing counters and 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. As locals do, pair your 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.
Bestia is a buzzing restaurant in the heart of Budapest specializing in grilled meats. With a picture-postcard view of the St. Stephen’s Basilica, an edgy industrial chic decor, and loud music piping through the speakers, it has quickly become a favorite among trendy tourists and locals alike.
For a deeply local experience, trek out to Big Daddy Burger in the south of Budapest, located a half-hour away from downtown by bus. Flanked by drab communist-era high-rises lies this quirky place inside a flimsy wooden shack, painted in red, white and blue. The kitschy 'Merican decor — I'm not sure whether it's ironic — features plenty of tchotchkes and decorative license plates from states like Texas, Florida, and Missouri.
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.
Biwako fashions itself as a ramen house, but I find their non-ramen Japanese dishes to be their strongest suit: the donburi, the okonomiyaki, and the takoyaki. The restaurant is strategically located across the street from The Japan Foundation in Budapest's District 6, inside a plain, very modest below-ground space.
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—if you enjoy an upscale experience, it will be right up your alley.
Never mind the uncanny resemblance to Blue Bottle Coffee, the pioneering California-based coffee company, Blue Bird is a Hungarian coffee roaster and specialty coffee shop inside Budapest's tourist-heavy Jewish Quarter. If you go visit it, take also a glimpse at the stunning synagogue standing tall on the opposite side of the street, designed in 1872 by the prominent Austrian architect, Otto Wagner.
Curious about the top restaurants on the less traveled side of the Danube? Visit Bobo in Rózsadomb, an exclusive residential area but reachable within ten minutes from Pest. The restaurant's stated mission is to draw Budapest's Bobos (a term made popular by the book "Bobos in Paradise"), referring to people who harbor both bourgeois and bohemian sentiments.
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 local favorites into the 21st century. That crunchy bits of celery root add a welcome freshness to the goulash soup, that the paprikash is also wonderful when enclosed in a delicate pastry crust, that a beautifully plated lecsó tastes better than one served carelessly.
Bölcső may not have the deepest craft beer selections in Budapest, nor does it sling In-N-Out-level Double-Doubles, but the combination of above-average beers and burgers makes this lively neighborhood joint a worthy destination. Once here, you'll also get to explore a charming Buda neighborhood on the less-traveled side of the city. Being in Buda means that the patrons here are mainly locals, especially thirty-plus millennials who've developed a taste for craft beers.
Borkonyha (Winekitchen) is a wildly popular upscale restaurant in Budapest's downtown, serving European fine dining staples and more than two hundred types of Hungarian wines. Head chef Csaba Puskás puts out colorful, almost artistically visual plates made from locally-sourced ingredients.
Borpatika (“Wine pharmacy”) is a neighborhood watering hole in Újbuda on the Buda side. Not much has changed here since the place 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 pre-war building across the street that used to be the Budapest Stock and Commodity Exchange. Börze is a 2017 offshoot of Menza, and like its sister restaurant, it's a well-oiled machine with reliable dishes and a kind waitstaff.
This butcher shop (hentes in Hungarian) at the entrance of 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 a juicy, ready-made meat dish.
If you're serious about your drinks, head over to Boutiq Bar. This upscale cocktail den, 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 the snug two-story space. Each of the bartenders go through a rigorous training process before being permitted behind the bar; they 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, opened a massive bar inside Budapest's party district. The decor feels like it's still the early aughts: there are leather banquettes, reclaimed wood table tops, Edison bulbs, and a vintage sign board listing the 25 beers on tap. BrewDog's own beers flow from ten of those, with the remainder dedicated to 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 hip contemporary interior mix so well with fading grandeur.
Bagels rarely appear on Budapest breakfast menus, so I automatically order them when they do. Budapest Baristas, a small specialty café and breakfast restaurant in downtown, offers seven kinds (yes, the boiled-and-baked version, although they aren't made in-house). Apart from smoked salmon (€6), the other toppings are unconventional and include things like avocado cream and a combo of brie cheese and cranberry jam. They're perfectly fine, but keep in mind that Budapest isn't a bagel capital like Montreal or New York.
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, this market has transformed into a gourmet food court, where local celebrity chefs operate fast casual restaurants. The culinary mission of Buja Disznó(k) is simple enough: serve delicious, made-to-order pork schnitzels.
Opened in 2012, Butter Brothers has been putting out sourdough breads and expertly made croissants for a lot longer than most Budapest bakeries. Today, you can still get an exemplary whole wheat bread or kakaós csiga (chocolate roll), but the pastries don't always stand up to the quality achieved by the ambitious new bakeries around town.
Byblos is an elegant Middle Eastern restaurant perched on a quite side street just minutes from the heart of downtown Budapest. Syrian natives Osama and Mohamad Kutaini, brothers who previously worked at a nearby five star hotel restaurant, oversee the operations. The extensive menu features cold and hot mezze, salads, grilled meats, and the other usual suspects of Levantine cuisine.
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. The place quickly became a see-and-be-seen hangout for the city's upper crust. Gerbeaud was nationalized during the communist era but even then it maintained an air of splendor, continuing to draw Budapest's high society, especially elderly ladies.
The inside of Café Kör will make you feel like you've traveled back in time to pre-war Budapest: This snug downtown restaurant features bentwood Thonet chairs, a carpeted floor, tightly crammed tables, and a waitstaff donning a formal garb. In a city that increasingly prizes international food above its own, Café Kör is a Budapest essential, serving unadulterated, 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 even though it's just a short block from the high-end boutiques of Andrássy Avenue. Every time I go here, I feel a sense of discovery. The snug interior features antique furnitures, maroon and white floral wallpapers, dense carpeting, and small, round tables.
Caffe Gian Mario conjures memories 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 few glatt kosher restaurants. During the meals a mashgiach—an official supervising rabbi—is present at all times to ensure that Carmel adheres to kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws. As is the case with Hanna, the other meat restaurant around the corner from here, Carmel 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 cafés like Central that stayed open around the clock, attracting 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 these prominent Hungarian writers, poets, and editors.
Chinatown Restaurant, which opened in 1991, was one of the first Chinese restaurants in Budapest. Although not in the city center, it's one of the few places near downtown that serves authentic Chinese food (Chinatown's moniker is misleading, because the restaurant isn't actually located in Budapest's Chinatown). Be sure to take the main entrance, else you will 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 a large-scale real estate development perfectly symbolized by Nokia’s gleaming headquarters towering over the streets.
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.
In the early aughts, Balázs Pethő, the executive chef of family-run Csalogány 26 Restaurant, was a pioneer in improving Hungarian restaurant food. A whole crop of younger cooks, many of them established head chefs now, learned under Pethő's tutelage at a time when comically backward, communist-era practices reigned supreme in Budapest kitchens.
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 like to come 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 coffeehouse during the glory days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which makes the current ruin bar decor — featuring a mishmash of furniture including creepy dolls that hang 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 tourists and locals.
Open since 1992, Csirke Csibész is an iconic chicken sandwich shop in Budapest's District 6. As in the case of pizza, good poultry vendors tend to be democratic establishments, bringing together people from all walks of life. This is also true for Csirke Csibész, where construction workers and office employees alike line up for the flavorful fried and roasted birds here at lunchtime.
When I want to impress my friends that Budapest has restaurants as hip as those in New York's East Village, I take them out to DOBRUMBA. With a chic crowd, effortlessly cool design, and a Middle Eastern menu, DOBRUMBA is a wildly popular restaurant inside Budapest's buzzing Jewish Quarter. The place is especially enjoyable in the warmer months when the oversized windows swing open and ear-catching electronic music wafts into the street.
Most Japanese restaurants in Budapest specialize in sushi even though local Hungarian tastes and wallets are more compatible with everyday Japanese dishes. Perhaps this is what the Tomokis, a young couple from Tokyo, had in mind when in 2018 they opened DON DOKO DON, Budapest’s first donburi restaurant near the city center. It's a small, counter-service place with a few tables on the upstairs.
Da Mario is a modern Italian restaurant in Budapest, set on a precious piece of downtown real estate between the Parliament building and Liberty Square, with views onto both from its outdoor terrace. Instead of a trattoria vibe, the polished, high-ceilinged space features sleek leather banquettes and dark furnishings. Being inside the city's financial and government district, business dinners here are more typical than date nights.
There's near-universal consensus within the local Chinese community that Dabao Jiaozi is the place to head to for home-style dumplings in Budapest — quite a statement in a city where more than 30,000 Chinese people live. Before moving into 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. In the 1990s, Dang Muoi started as a small food stall 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. Don't expect trendy mid-century furnishings or a hip ambiance—it's the food that takes center stage here.
Daohuaxiang Restaurant 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 where people sit around a boiling broth and cook for themselves an array of meats and vegetables. Daohuaxiang is a 10-minute cab ride from Budapest's city center, located on the ground floor of an oversized, not-exactly-inviting dining room.
Many Iranian residents in Budapest would tell you that Darband is the city's best Persian restaurant. The nondescript entrance and the below-ground, modest space belie the wonderful dishes that come out of the restaurant's kitchen. The dining booths that line Darband's rather drab interior are each named after an old Tehran street. More importantly, both the restaurant's owner and its head chef are Iranian natives.
Curious where the top one percent 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 brand of casually-hip-but-classy vibes. Déryné has managed to remain popular for all these years, even as similar restaurants have sprouted up on the other side of the Danube with comparable offerings at lower prices.
In addition to downtown’s 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'll find many of the classics—Dobos torte, Rákóczi túrós, isler—but they feature small twists and updates while retaining their chief ingredients. All of the cakes are so beautifully crafted that it pained me to bite into these artistic concoctions.
DiVino is a posh 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. (You'd better avoid the dim interior with a soulless, club-like atmosphere).
Digó pizza shop puts out some of the best Naples-style pies in Budapest. Digó operates two locations, both of them in the city center. The main one is a polished sit-down venue on Kazinczy Street, right in the heart of the Party District; the other is a seasonal open-air pizza stand by Akvárium. As other upscale pizza shops around the world, Digó uses a wood-burning oven, an extra fine “double-zero” flour, and a long, two-step dough fermentation to enhance flavor.
Opened in 2010, Dobló was one of the first wine bars in Budapest. Being in the very center of the boisterous Jewish Quarter, today's party district, means that the crowd is heavy on tourists, but you don't usually need to worry about a rowdy stag party ruining the vibes. In fact, thanks to the dim and homey interior, Dobló is one of the more atmospheric wine bars in Budapest.
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 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 on the long communal table without feeling rushed.
Double shot is a hip breakfast-all-day restaurant and coffee shop in Budapest’s downtown, hiding on a quiet side street. They serve the usual suspects of trendy international breakfast foods here, including avocado toast, yogurt with granola, and turmeric latte. They’re all reliably good and beautifully plated, even if a bit too predictable. Best of all are the scrambled eggs with pan-roasted mushrooms. Cocktails, craft beers, and Hungarian wines are also available. Note that the prices here reflect a bit of downtown mark-up — a capuccino runs €3.
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 carries a carefully curated inventory of 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, but pricey, local Hungarian vinos.
Dzzs Bár, down the block from Kisüzem, attracts an eccentric and bohemian crowd of twentysomethings. A late night here can feel like being at the house party of your coolest friend — you can meet local film directors, painters, and musicians in this snug, dimly lit space. Unfortunately, the owners have recently jacked up the prices, which is leading to a rapid erosion of locals.
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.
Don't be foooled by the puritan below-ground space, Ennmann is one of the best Japanese restaurants in Budapest. The restaurant'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 slick Victoria Arduino machine, and a range of tasty cakes from plant-based ingredients you might not even have heard of.
Fahéj is an adorable café and bar on a quite backstreet in Budapest's downtown. Fahéj eschews the trendy vibes and the tourist-targeting approach of other places in the neighborhood, relying instead on a loyal group of regulars, both young and old. Apart from the low-priced drinks, the highlight here is the two atmospheric, 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 with a hat-tip to northern Italian fare. Forget pizza and Caprese salad; here scallops, foie gras, flatfish, and venison loin are the lingua franca. A couple of egg pasta and risotto are also available, made with deliciously rich sauces.
Fecske Presszó is a laid-back, wallet-friendly restaurant and bar just a stone's throw away from the Szabó Ervin Library in Budapest's Palace Quarter. This means that students of all ages tend to gather here throughout the day to take study breaks of varying lengths and with varying amounts of beer.
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'd like to escape the rowdy bachelor-party tourists in Budapest's party district but stay in the neighborhood, make your way to Fekete Kutya. Despite its location alarmingly near Kazinczy Street, the main artery of the area, Fekete Kutya somehow flies under tourists' radars and remains an unfussy bar still mainly frequented by millennial locals.
With stunning views onto both the Castle Hill and the nearby Danube river, the location of Felix is hard to beat. The restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, is located inside a refurbished landmark building from the 19th century designed by Miklós Ybl, the head architect also behind the Budapest Opera House. In terms of prices and ambiance, Felix is a notch above trendy spots but it's also more casual than stiff-lipped fine dining establishments.
At a time when modern takes on the classics reign supreme across Budapest, it can be difficult to find a good old traditional Hungarian restaurant. If old-school, rustic fare is what you're after, head to Földes Józsi. Mr. Földes, a renowned chef of five-star Budapest hotels throughout the '80s and '90s, passed away in 2012, but his family and former colleagues carry on his legacy at the foot of the Buda hills inside an 18th century Baroque building, reachable from downtown in ten minutes by taxi. That legacy translates to flavorful local favorites prepared with care and attention.
Hungarians have a difficult relationship with "the Kaiser," that is, Emperor Franz Joseph, the regimented Habsburg king who ruled the country from Vienna for more than half a century: He brutally crushed the Hungarian revolution of 1848, but later facilitated the creation of Austria Hungary, thereby laying the ground for a period of unprecedented development. Budapest's Franz Joseph restaurant, naturally, tips its hat to the later years of the Kaiser. This it does, for example, with an oversized oil portrait that anchors the art-laden interior and depicts a somber and wild-moustached sovereign.
A small hipster paradise, Freyja bakery brings a pocket of East Williamsburg to Budapest complete with tattooed bakers, bearded baristas, and the obligatory minimalist design elements. And, unfortunately, prices too.
Frici Papa is a tourist-heavy restaurant in Budapest favored by price sensitive visitors who're looking for low-priced Hungarian food and old-school vibes. With main dishes rarely exceeding €5-6, the prices are truly rock-bottom, even by local standards. The humble two-story interior features cheap wood paneling, tablecloths covered with sticky plastic, and waiters dressed as if parachuted here from the '80s.
Following stints at well-known Budapest restaurants, two young chefs, Andor Giczi and Szabolcs Nagy, struck out on their own, opening Fricska in 2014. Fricska has since earned a reputation for tasty dishes, and it also picked up a Bib Gourmand award in 2017. The restaurant is located on the far end of Budapest's party district, inside a buzzing below-ground space.
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 city's party center. Frőhlich serves low-priced traditional Hungarian tortes, pastries, and strudels, including Esterházy, Dobos, and krémes. Sure, Frőhlich is far from the best pastry shop in Budapest, but I enjoy coming here for a throwback vibe as 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 within the healthy segment that specializes in salads and fruit juices. Fruccola has 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 (€6). On weekdays, they offer a seasonal, two-course lunch prix fixe (€7) 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 Japan-inspired posh dining room, they served pricey dishes to well-off locals and expats looking for exotic tastes in post-communist Budapest. Almost three decades hence—an eternity in restaurant years—Fuji is still around. After several visits, it appears that Fuji’s continued popularity is rooted in its longevity and status symbol rather than the quality of its kitchen.
Fülemüle is an old-school restaurant hiding on a quiet side street in Budapest’s Palace Quarter, which feels a world away from the neighboring party district. The relaxed vibe is just one of the things to like about this family-run place, which opened in the year 2000 and specializes in Hungarian-Jewish food.
Funky Pho is a teeny-tiny soup shop hiding in a side street off Andrássy Avenue in Budapest's District 6. The place makes some of the best pho soups in Budapest, which is saying a lot in a city flooded with them. The small space, which has only two tables and less than ten counter seats, goes for a chic street-food look complete with pop-art wall paintings and conical hats hanging from the ceiling.
Eastern European, bohemian-intellectual vibes ooze from Gdansk Bookstore Café, located on Bartók Béla Boulevard on the Buda side of the city. This dimly lit and densely furnished bar features cheap vodka selections, Polish and Hungarian craft beers, and bookshelves stacked with Polish books. The place is the brainchild of a Polish native from Gdansk, a port city on the Baltic coast, and her Hungarian husband.
Gerlóczy is a snug café and restaurant tucked away on an unusually quiet pocket of Budapest's downtown. The charming plaza outside the restaurant, surrounded by elegant pre-war buildings, is one of the best kept secrets of this otherwise tourist-packed neighborhood. Gerlóczy's interior evokes French bistro vibes, complete with small round tables, leather banquettes, and a high ceiling. In the warm months, the 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 want 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 (€5), 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, if you find yourself in a place where a live gypsy band performs music, chances are that you've been sucked into a tourist trap. Overpriced downtown restaurants tend to hire gypsy musicians to fabricate “Hungarian vibes” for unsuspecting tourists. The reality is that except for the occasional wedding parties when such old-school songs may be performed, most locals, especially those below 50, are seldom exposed to this genre of music.
Gólya is a popular bar and community center in Budapest best known for the healthy dose of anarchy that radiates through this high-ceilinged industrial space: You’ll find here left-leaning locals and foreign students who care deeply about things like gentrification, climate change, and identity politics. True to its spirit, Gólya is located a bit outside Budapest’s city center in a grittier section of District 8.
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 joints. Good Spirit Bar, which opened in 2017 on a quiet cobblestoned side street, filled this gaping void in downtown's lackluster bar landscape.
Grinzingi is an unpretentious downtown wine tavern with a simple formula: serve cheap drinks in the center of Budapest that's otherwise teeming with overpriced, tourist-oriented bars. When Grinzingi opened in 1983, it was difficult to find decent wine in the city, so word spread that this wine bar served up low-priced, drinkable stuff. Fast forward 30 years, some of those early patrons still pay repeated visits, as do plenty of college students from nearby universities. The inside hasn't changed much. A dark wood-heavy interior evokes the atmosphere of the bar's namesake Austrian village (Grinzing, known for its wine taverns), and the weathered furniture bears marks of long, alcohol-fueled nights over its decades-long past.
This lunch-only restaurant, which opened in 1991, masks itself as a greasy spoon, but it's actually one of the top destinations in Budapest for homestyle Hungarian fare. The restaurant's moniker is a hat-tip to the Transylvanian city where the owner-chef, Árpád Gyurka, hails from. Note that the place is located away from the city center in an elite, residential Buda neighborhood, which explains why main dishes cost €10-15, and why big-time lawyers, businessmen, and upper-middle class regulars fill this tiny space at lunchtime.
After spending a few days in Budapest, you might also notice that local residents have a weird fixation with gyros judging by the myriad gyro joints that dot the city center. Unfortunately, most of these painfully overlit shops serve the kind of low-priced gyros that are best relegated to late-night nourishment after a long evening of drinking.
This modest self-service eatery (“étkezde”) a bit outside the city center in District 9 may not be for everyone: Even among Budapest’s low-priced establishments, Gyuri bácsi konyhája is positioned toward the lower end when it comes to comfort and interior design. But the food is notably excellent, and Gyuri bácsi embodies the type of unfussy diner where many Hungarians go to for lunch. In other words, here's your chance to dine elbow-to-elbow with locals.
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 can spawn inventive dishes, but at Hai Nam they simply avoid flavorful cuts of fatty meats and traditional Vietnamese dishes that they deem unpalatable 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 that coveted porky flavor and crunchy crust.
There are many theories as to why it was China's Sichuan Province of all places where chili peppers have reached an absurd level of intensity. Whatever the reason, Sichuan food has become synonymous with spicy and mouth-numbing flavors thanks to the generous use of chilis and Sichuan peppercorns. In Budapest, if you don't feel like trekking out to the city's Chinatown, Hange Restaurant will satisfy your cravings for red pepper-laden dishes. Note that Hange is also a bit outside downtown, occupying the ground floor of a modern office building in District 9.
Hanna is a glatt kosher meat restaurant in Budapest's old Jewish Quarter operated by the Hungarian Autonomous Orthodox Jewish Community. 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 because their 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 of them is from Hanoi, the other Saigon — the restaurant's claim to fame is bringing rarely seen Vietnamese dishes to Budapest. For example, you'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere banh xèo (€8), a delicious sizzling savory pancake made from rice flour, coconut milk, and turmeric, and folded with shrimp, lettuce, and bean sprouts.
Hanoi Xua is a Vietnamese restaurant in Budapest best known for its extensive soup selections and above-average fried rice dishes. The place 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.
Good news! Regional Chinese restaurants are opening in Budapest at an increasing rate. Instead of the bland sameness of Chinese takeouts, you can now taste dishes that would hold their own even in their places of origin. The la zi ji chicken, a Sichuan classic, at Yu Man Tang, and the steamed dumplings at Dabao come to mind first.
You don't need me to tell you: döner kebabs are among the most rewarding street foods — these nutritious umami bombs wrapped in a pita impart the succulent taste of roast lamb or chicken, ideally both. Unfortunately, the stuff Budapest’s countless döner and gyro shops serve hardly does justice to this Ottoman invention that has since been refined by Germany's Turkish street vendors.
Like it or not, Budapest’s booming tourism has inspired many local business owners to profit off visitors. Overpriced restaurants hawking “authentic goulash” and dime a dozen “Irish pubs” are all too common in Budapest’s downtown. Három Holló bar, however, 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 inside, 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 the 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. The restaurant serves an array of excellent Chinese dishes from a modest, undecorated space in Budapest's Chinatown (Monori Center), reachable in 25 minutes from the city center by public transport.
High Note Sky Bar offers some of the most spectacular rooftop views in Budapest. To get to the bar, you'll need to walk through the sumptuous, a bit 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'll find plenty in this charmingly grungy bar located a bit outside the city center in District 8. The place gets packed most evenings with a crowd heavy on international students, many of them German. Hintaló boasts a more interesting drinks menu than what you'd find at your typical neighborhood bar: there are local craft beers on tap, several kinds of amaros, gins, and rums.
Hopaholic, located inside Budapest's party district, is a snug craft beer bar known for its dizzying range of international craft beers. They source bottled beers from over 250 microbreweries across the world and there's also ten 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 that this isn't your average dive bar is when you get a glimpse at the more than 200 types of bottled craft beers stacked in the fridge. It's this extensive beer selection that makes Hops Beer Bar a pilgrimage-site for craft beer fans in Budapest.
The fisherman’s soup, halászlé, is Hungary’s take on the bouillabaisse. Oddly, few Budapest restaurants today serve it, and of the ones that do, few seem to care to get it right. There are myriad permutations across the country, but carp fillet and a generous portion of piquant paprika seasoning are standard features of the soup.
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 fashionable interior features polished 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 filter coffees and espresso-based drinks made from 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, the Italian amaro, they’ll offer a Hanky Panky (gin, sweet vermouth, Fernet) without a moment’s hesitation, perhaps along with a complimentary shot of Fernet’s Menta line.
Hú Lù Lu is a modest-looking Vietnamese restaurant in Budapest’s party district; 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 typical Vietnamese classics.
From the outside, Hunnia isn't an inviting place but trust me, it's worth proceeding down the stairs to this adorably grungy, below-ground music bar. Hunnia is best known for its Friday and Saturday live concerts, when A and B-level Hungarian bands take over the tiny stage for a high-energy concert. Many of the bands who play here were part of Budapest's alternative music scene during the later years of communism, in the '70s and '80s. Today, some of them are still going strong, as are their graying but loyal fans (they tend to sing along louder and more passionately as the night progresses).
This homey butcher and sausage shop has been around for almost a hundred years, with the current owner in charge since 1991. It's a small miracle that this old-school, unpretentious place still exists today, hiding beside the Budapest Opera House, one of the city's main tourist attractions. Being 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 in Budapest's Újlipótváros neighborhood. 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. I also enjoy the fried chicken liver with a perfectly tender piece of pork belly and a side of sauerkraut and a slice of bread.
Named after a class of Hungarian light cavalry soldiers, Huszár is an unfussy neighborhood restaurant serving Hungarian dishes without any twists or updates to traditional recipes. Huszár also satisfies my occasional nostalgia for the type of gruff service and weathered interior that defined Budapest dining 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 sit-down pizza shop on the Buda side. Here, the pizzaiolos churn out Naples-style pies all day long using a wood-burning oven fueled by beech wood 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.
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 for over half a century. The interior furnishings are a genuine throwback to the communist era, featuring Mid-century modern-inspired light fixtures with orange plexiglass and curvilinear chairs topped with 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. The food here isn’t going to blow your mind, but Il Terzo Cerchio serves reliable mid-range Italian fare, featuring pasta, seafood, grilled meats, and pizza.
Many local Indian expats would tell you that their go-to Indian restaurant in Budapest is Indigo, and 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 (a few years ago Indigo launched a sister location on the Buda side).
Instant & Fogas Ház isn't so much a typical ruin bar as a massive venue featuring more than a dozen bars and several dance floors. This enormous building with a crumbling facade dates back to 1861, when this area was part of Budapest's Jewish Quarter. Instant & Fogas may not be the best place to experience the ruin bar ambiance, but head over here if you're in the mood for dancing because other ruin bars offer little space for moving your feet.
In 2012, Mihály Juhász decided to leave his cushy corporate job as a lawyer and instead try his hand as a full-time baker. This bold move has decidedly paid off, as Mr. Juhász's tiny craft bakery, Jacques Liszt, hiding on a downtown backstreet, has become a popular destination for bread aficionados in Budapest.
Japan Okonomiyaki Kincsán is a teeny-tiny takeout restaurant specializing in, you guessed it, okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory pancake. Okonomiyaki is a street food made from grilled cabbage, eggs, and a host of other ingredients packed into a wheat-flour-based batter. As in Japan, 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 hidden on a quiet street in District 9, not far from the city center, but away from the throngs clogging the party district.
If you’re serious about your Chinese pancake, head straight to this tiny takeout shop buried deep within the Kőbányai Piac, one of Budapest’s two Chinatowns. Known as jianbing and originating in northern China, these savory crepes are a beloved street food across China. Here, a Chinese lady will help you customize your order and then proceed to freshly prepare it on a cast iron griddle before you. There are myriad variations but eggs, fried crackers, hoisin sauce, and a drizzle of cilantro and scallions are standard ingredients. I also like to add pork floss and sausage for a protein boost. The result is a crispy bundle of flavor bomb (be sure to eat it while it's hot).
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 specializing in lángos, a traditional Hungarian 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 Danube vistas 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 here, 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, almost right outside Jónás.
Located in Buda within a 6,700 sqm (72,000 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 is an unfussy bar and community space hiding on the ground floor of the premises. During the day, artists from upstairs come here for meetings or to scarf down the two-course lunch prix fixe.
KEG is a spacious craft beer bar in Budapest’s increasingly trendy Újbuda neighborhood. The place is just off Bartók Béla Boulevard, the main 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 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. Spurred by Sáo's success, they later 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 in communist Hungary, Kádár Étkezde in Budapest's old Jewish Quarter will give you the answer. Kádár opened in 1957 as a wallet-friendly neighborhood joint feeding the mainly Jewish local residents with unfussy Hungarian and Jewish-Hungarian classics like matzo ball soup, stuffed cabbage, beef stew, sweet noodles, and, on Saturdays, cholent (Kádár isn't kosher). The dishes were passable, prices rock-bottom.
Kadarka is a lively wine bar inside Budapest's hopping Jewish Quarter. The place's moniker refers to a prominent red grape variety native to Hungary. Note that Kadarka isn't the type of uber-cool wine bar where you'll get to taste the latest natural wine or pet-nat sensation, but they do serve more than a hundred kinds of reliable Hungarian wines across the country's 22 wine regions. Despite being in a tourist-heavy area, Kadarka has remained a mainly local haunt, especially for 30-plus Hungarians, likely because prices haven’t shot through the roof and the service is kind and attentive.
Kaffeine is unlikely to win any award for the most creatively named coffee shop chain, but if you need a caffeine jolt while exploring the pre-war palazzos and high-end boutiques of Budapest's Andrássy Avenue, this place won't disappoint (turn into Nagymező Street). You’ll find the usual specialty coffee repertoire — espressos, batch brews, handmade filter coffees.
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 better part of the past two decades, Akácfa Street in Budapest's party district was best known for Fogas ruin bar, but recently new places have popped up at a head-spinning pace. One of my favorites is Kaptafa, a hip breakfast-all-day restaurant. The space used to be home to a shoe repair shop, hence "kaptafa," which means shoe tree in Hungarian. Yes, you could take issue with the cliched design elements — chipped walls and Edison bulbs — but Kaptafa exudes effortlessly chic vibes nonetheless. There are relaxed-looking, millennial waiters who kindly chat with customers while indie-pop is drifting through the speakers.
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 or the panini selections.
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 lined with walls of books, was one of the early birds here that helped breathe new life into the area. Boasting a floor-to-ceiling window, it's perfect for people-watching.
If you’re serious about your pizza and spending more than a few days in Budapest, grab your hiking boots and trek out to Kemencés, which makes some of the best pies in the whole city. 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'll need to sign up and become a member, a thirty-second exercise, to gain admission to this tiny, dimly lit bar (it's free). The reason for the legal maneuvering is to allow smoking inside. The snug, smoke-filled interior evokes a Prohibition-era ambiance, where the common cause brings out the friendliest side of people.
Kertem (“My garden”) is an enormous beer garden inside Budapest's City Park. The place somehow flies under the radar of most tourists, even though it's not far from Széchenyi Thermal Baths. Tall trees tower over this tranquil area and block out the noises of the nearby streets, which feel a world away. Apart from cold beers, there are grilled sandwiches, of which the "Balkan," a Serbian hamburger-like pljeskavica (€5), is my favorite. The crowd here is a melting pot of laid-back local residents, many of them accompanied by their dogs. Note that Kertem shuts down for the cold months.
Opened almost 20 years ago, Két Szerecsen is a fixture in Budapest thanks to its longevity. The restaurant anchors Nagymező Street, between the stately Andrássy Avenue and the Jewish Quarter, occupying a precious piece of no man’s land. The highlight here is the cozy ambiance — the bright space receives plenty of natural light through oversized windows and you can find little nooks amid the tightly crammed wooden tables.
Helmed by seasoned Japanese sushi chef, Yoshihito Hirose, Kicsi Japán is a tiny Japanese counter service restaurant in Corvin negyed, a bit outside the city center in Budapest’s District 9. For this shoe-box sized space, the food offerings are notably wide: There’s everything from donburi (rice bowls) to Japanese snacks like karaage and takoyaki and also raw fish including nigiri sushi, chirashi bowls, and sashimi (€10).
Perhaps the area around Nagymező Street in Budapest's District 6 will one day become the center of Budapest's still-fledgling gay bar scene. Here, not far from the iconic Alterego Club, stands Kimberly, a a tiny gay bar doubling as a small club. With oversized windows and direct access to the street level, 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. Kino serves low-priced and tasty breakfast dishes 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 cakes displayed behind the glass taste just as good as they look.
Many people are automatically turned off by restaurants set inside hotels, and usually for good reason: food rarely takes center stage. Not so with Kiosk Buda, a hip restaurant on the ground floor of the chic Hotel Clark with panoramic views onto the Danube and the Chain Bridge. The place is the project of local restaurateur Hubert Hlatky Schlichter, the "Danny Meyer of Budapest," also in charge of Kiosk Pest and Michelin-starred Babel.
Kiosk Pest 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.)
Király 100, which opened in 1994 and lines the outer part of the historic Király Street, is a traditional Hungarian restaurant a bit outside the city center. The cozy two-story space, outfitted with exposed beams and rafters, evokes chalet vibes, perhaps as a hat-tip to the beer hall that first occupied the space in 1893. (Even today, many people come for beers only, of which four lagers are available on draft.)