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 a rotating set of sauces. On any day, there might be cacio e pepe, carbonara, puttanesca, amatriciana, and aglio, olio e peperoncino listed on the blackboard. You can't go wrong with any of them and they each cost around €10. Of the stuffed pastas, the ravioli with spinach and ricotta is especially good. If you have some stomach space left, round out your meal with a light panna cotta topped with strawberry sauce (€2).
With panoramic vistas 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. During the colder months, heated igloo structures prevent the winter from interfering with the year-round fun. The regular, open-air season usually begins on May 1st and runs through October. Advance booking is recommended.
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 polished 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). Chic, tourist-heavy crowds flock here for the breakfast-all-day and brunch offerings that include reliably prepared croque madame, eggs Florentine, waffles, and also zeitgesty things like acai bowl and avocado toast. The only letdowns are the the undersized and forlorn-looking English and Hungarian breakfast plates.
Unhurried groups of elderly Arab regulars tend to socialize at Al-Amir, surely 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; hookahs aren't allowed in the summer).
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. This osteria-type casual eatery within Budapest's charming Palace Quarter serves Italian classics and regional specialties from Puglia (the head chef is from Bari in southern Italy). The ever-changing daily meat, seafood, and vegetarian pastas are cooked simply and well. Of the Roman-style thin-crust pizzas, go for "Bomba," packing salami, mozzarella, and mushrooms, or the vegetarian "Casanova" with eggplant and gorgonzola. Desserts, however, aren't Al Dente's strong suit — you're better off skipping the unremarable tiramisu and panna cotta.
If you like Italian food and would like 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 Buda neighborhood. Little about the interior will evoke the Tuscan countryside, but the dishes can hold their own. Alessio’s claim to fame, the garlic shrimp (€11), is actually a Spanish classic (gambas al ajillo), arriving in a sizzling sauce of olive oil, chili, and garlic. It's impossible to stop eating (use the bread to mop up the rich leftover sauce to the last drop).
It’s easy to miss Altair, a cozy, below-ground teahouse on a sleepy side street in Budapest's Palace Quarter, but you shouldn't. Defying space limitations, they've squeezed in myriad tiny nooks and crannies that are separated from one another by curtains, pillows, and wooden beams. This faintly lit labyrinthine haunt is an ideal date spot, offering a bit of seclusion from the hustle and bustle of the city center just minutes away. Besides the almost 100 types of teas, including black, white, oolong, and green teas, Altair also has a selection of (hot) wines, beers, spirits, and hookahs (water pipes). Note that there's a no-shoes policy, so make sure your socks are on point.
Budapest's signature gay club, Alterego is a below-ground venue open only on Fridays and Saturdays and hiding 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.
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 is still less infiltrated with specialty coffee shops (and tourists). One of the few of them is Apricot, a tiny café within the and estate-filled streets of District 8 — amble through Horánszky, Reviczky, and Ötpacsirta streets and the area behind the National Museum to appreciate the architecture.
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. 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. Note that Aragvi is occasionally home to traditional Georgian supra festivities so don't be surprised if you find yourself in the middle of a lively dinner banquet celebration with copious amounts of food and alcohol. The restaurant is located in Buda, reachable from downtown Pest by public transport within 20 minutes.
Arán, which means "bread" in Old Irish, is a pricey craft bakery in Budapest's hip Jewish Quarter run by Kinga and Attila Pécsi. The couple spent a decade living in Ireland and it was there that Kinga mastered her baking skills. Arán lives up to its moniker: the whole wheat, rye, and white breads are all wonderful, imparting the signature, slightly sour taste of long-fermented sourdough. On Fridays, they also make kalács, a sweet roll similar to a challah.
Tucked away on a steep side street within the Castle Hill lies one of Budapest's most expensive, special-occasion restaurants: Arany Kaviár. As you'd expect from a place that specializes in high-priced caviars, the exquisite dining rooms, lined with maroon and golden tapestry and heavy drapes, exude an air of opulence. Apart from fish roe, they offer 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 are still the standard.
Known as the "Gerbeaud of Buda," Auguszt is an upscale pastry shop and a Budapest landmark. The family operation dates back to 1870 and is currently helmed by the fourth generation: seventy-year-old József Auguszt, donning a chef's hat, still mans the cashier on most days. Auguszt has been through thick and thin in the past 150 years — during the communist era, for example, the business was nationalized and the family deported to the Hungarian countryside. In 1957, they were granted a small space from which grew out the current premises.
Auguszt is a famous family-owned confectionery in Budapest dating back to 1870. Although their Buda location, which is run by a different part of the family, is considered to be the crown jewel, this one, on Kossuth Lajos Street, is more conveniently located for people in Pest. The inside is cozy and comfortable with plush banquettes, floor-to-ceiling windows, and nooks and crannies upstairs.
Auróra is a community center in the outer part of Budapest's District 8, an area with many low-income and minority 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). Come night-time, Auróra transforms into a lively bar and there's a small below-ground concert hall featuring Hungarian folk, jazz, and indie rock bands. The mixed crowd usually includes local artists, community organizers, students, and foreigners — it's a good place for thought-provoking discussions and to meet interesting people.
Part café, part restaurant, and part bar, BÉLA is a laid back, all-welcoming neighborhood joint located on the increasingly fashionable Bartók Béla Boulevard on the Buda side. The snug 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 fills 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, dim 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 contentious 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, dim interior complete with vintage furnishings and hardwood floors is very inviting.
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 a shrinking number of local residents (Airbnb, I'm looking at you). In the mornings, go for the scrambled eggs, which arrive sprinkled with crisped-up sausages and red paprika powder — expect an especially generous portion if the owner himself prepares it.
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 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. 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. The food is a bit hit-or-miss. I've had disappointingly tired papaya salad (som tam; €7) but also bright and silky green curry (€7) here. A highlight is the whole roasted trout, served with a crispy skin and blanketed in a chili-laced sauce (€12). The stir-fried noodles feature the usual suspects: pad see ew, pad thai, drunken noodles, and pad woon sen (glass noodles).
It’s not so easy to find specialty coffee on the Buda side so when the tiny Barako opened in 2014 it filled a gaping void in Buda’s craft coffee scene. This is thanks to Filipino owner Ryan Andres, who eschewed the tourist-heavy downtown areas, setting up shop here instead. He imports the Barako coffee beans — a variation of the rare Liberica species — from land he cultivates back in the Philippines.
Bartók is a chic restaurant and café on Bartók Béla Boulevard within the increasingly cool Újbuda neighborhood on the Buda side of the Danube. The interior fittings have a little bit of everything: exposed brick walls, Edison bulbs, subway tiles, rustic table tops, and steel I-beams. The breakfast dishes include eggs Benedict variations (€6), toasted sandwiches, scrambled eggs, and, best of all, a generously portioned goat cheese salad drizzled with walnuts and dried tomatoes (€8). Bartók serves breakfast until 11:30 p.m. from Monday to Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sundays. In the afternoons, the place transforms into a bar, with a selection of top Hungarian wines, draft beers, and a variety of dips and spreads. The crowd is mainly local and 30-plus.
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!
"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. This wallet-friendly self-service sausage shop in Budapest's downtown does serve a dizzying array of ready-made and to-be-prepared traditional meat dishes. Think paprika and blood sausage, grilled pork chop, wild boar stew, and schnitzel. I usually go for a simple and delicious snappy sausage with a side of mustard and a slice of bread (there's no seating, only high-top tables and standing counters).
Bestia is a buzzing restaurant in the heart of Budapest specializing in pricey grilled meats. With a picture-postcard view of the St. Stephen’s Basilica, an edgy industrial chic decor, and loud music blasting through the speakers, it has quickly become a favorite among trendy tourists and locals alike. If you’re feeling adventurous, start your meal with the roasted bone marrow and toast: silky, jiggly white stuff arriving inside two massive slabs of veal shanks. Scoop out the rich fat and spread it on the whole wheat toast (€10).
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 flimsy wooden shack, painted in red, white and blue. The kitschy 'Merican decor — I'm not sure whether it's meant ironically — features plenty of tchotchkes and decorative license plates from states like Texas, Florida, and Missouri.
Coffee, contemporary Hungarian artworks, and a friendly proprietor are the attractions of this adorable designer store nestled in a quiet street behind Budapest's National Museum in District 8. One gets the impression that this store isn't purely run for business reasons and that Bisztrónyúl is at least as much a community hangout 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, 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. Before you enter, take a peek at the impressive synagogue soaring on the opposite side of the street, designed in 1872 by the famous 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 David Brook's book, "Bobos in Paradise"), referring to people who harbor both bourgeois and bohemian sentiments. The restaurant is inside a beautifully refurbished 1885 estate, once the playground of the Hungarian aristocracy. The slightly formal vibes and steep price points — mains range €12-16 — put Bobo a step above Budapest's chic bistros, but it’s also more casual than hushed fine dining venues.
In 2004, Bock Bisztró was one of the first Budapest restaurants to give new meaning to Hungarian food following the decades-long decline during the communist era. Owner and executive chef Lajos Bíró showed that contemporary cooking techniques, top ingredients, and a little boldness can jolt the local favorites into the 21st century. That crunchy bits of celery root add welcome freshness to the goulash soup; that paprikash can be 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 experience a charming Buda neighborhood on the less-traveled side of the city. Being in Buda means that the patrons are mainly locals, especially thirty-plus millennials with a taste for craft beers.
Unlike its competitors, Borkonyha, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Budapest's downtown, doesn't put special emphasis on the traditions of Hungarian food — the dishes here wouldn't seem out of place in fine dining restaurants around the world. Instead, Borkonyha's secret lies in its technical expertise: they serve up colorful, visually impressive plates that verge on the artistic. What does lend a local angle are the more than 200 types of Hungarian wines skillfully selected by Wine Director Krisztián Juhász.
Borpatika (“Wine pharmacy”) is a low-priced neighborhood watering hole in Újbuda on the Buda side. Not much has changed here since the place opened in 1986, which is part of the 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. Apart from the all-welcoming atmosphere, it's the array of food options that draw people to Borpatika: sandwiches, meatballs, and delicious, freshly made pogácsa (savory biscuits) are stacked behind the glass case. Descend to the lower level to find some seating.
Börze is a sleek downtown restaurant serving classic 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) next to 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 here on a Saturday morning, when the farmers' market is bursting with locals and fresh produce.
Hiding on a side street near the city center, Boutiq Bar is an upscale cocktail bar that pioneered Budapest's craft cocktail movement under the helm of energetic owner Zoltán Nagy. Maroon-colored walls and dim lighting project speakeasy vibes into the snug, two-story space. Each bartender has to 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.
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 neglected 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 and edgy contemporary interior mix so well with fading grandeur.
Budapest Baristas is a small specialty café and breakfast restaurant in downtown. They serve seven kinds of bagels (yes, the boiled-and-baked version but they aren't made in-house), including one with a classic smoked salmon topping. While they're tasty, keep in mind that Budapest is no bagel capital like Montreal or New York. There's also other on-trend international breakfast foods like pancakes, granola bowls, and eggs Benedict. Portions are on the small side — most people can easily handle two plates.
Buja Disznó(k) is a food stall on the upper deck of the historic Hold Street Market 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. Hungarians have grown so fond of this breaded cutlet, which originates in northern Italy, not Austria, that schnitzels have become nothing less than a national dish alongside the goulash soup and the chicken paprikash.
Opened in 2012, Butter Brothers has been putting out sourdough breads and expertly made croissants for longer than most Budapest bakeries. Today, you can still get a tasty whole wheat bread or kakaós csiga (chocolate roll) here, but not all of the pastries stand up to the ambitious new bakeries around town.
Byblos is an elegant Middle Eastern restaurant tucked away 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, desserts, and there's also water pipes for hookah fans on the upstairs level (Byblos does serve alcohol, too).
Gerbeaud is a historic pastry shop and café in Budapest's downtown inside a gleaming white building lavishly decorated with crystal chandeliers, marble-topped tables, and cherrywood paneling. It was Swiss-Hungarian patissier Emil Gerbeaud, who, after taking over the business in 1884, revolutionized the Hungarian confectionery industry with inventive sweets and pastries. Café Gerbeaud has always been known as a see-and-be-seen hangout for Budapest's upper crust. Even when it was nationalized during the communist era it maintained an air of splendor.
Café Kör makes you feel like you've traveled back in time to pre-war Budapest: This snug downtown restaurant is fitted with bentwood Thonet chairs, a carpeted floor, tightly cramped tables, while the kind waitstaff is 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'm here, I feel a sense of discovery. The snug interior features antique furnishings, maroon and white floral wallpapers, dense carpeting, and small, round tables. In the afternoons, freelancers tend to camp out with their laptops; come evening, a local crowd shows up and spirited chatter fills the high-ceilinged room. Plenty of nooks and crannies, both on the ground floor and upstairs, make Zsivágó an ideal date spot. Besides wine, beer, and tea, there's also hot chocolate, and Polish pierogies (€1).
Caffe Gian Mario is a family-owned restaurant in Budapest run by Italian natives. A charming man in his 70s, wearing a finely cut wool jacket and a smile hinting of a life well lived, is usually in charge of greeting and seating guests. The service staff, most of whom are also Italians, scurry around and shout half-uttered words to one another over the cramped tables. Despite the seeming chaos, the food arrives quickly.
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 meals, that is, Friday's dinner and Saturday's lunch. Here too, guests must prepay the meals, each of which costs €25 per person.
Central 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 and attracted 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 writers, poets, and editors who were once regulars.
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, omelet, pancake, granola bowl, you name it. There’s nothing memorable about Cinnamon’s all-day breakfast dishes, but they’re perfectly satisfying. Of the breakfast pastries, I chose the cinnamon-dusted donut and it delivered: a thin layer of sugar-cinnamon coating yielded to a soft inside lined with apple custard (€2).
Cintányéros isn’t so much a posh wine bar as a charming neighborhood wine tavern — the type of place where local residents gather for banter and wallet-friendly house wine. The place is situated inside the once-seedy outer District 8, which is currently undergoing a large-scale real estate development perfectly symbolized by Nokia’s gleaming headquarters towering over the neighborhood.
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, occupies the ground floor of the posh Prestige Hotel, meaning that the dining area closest to the lobby can feel like a hotel restaurant so try asking for a table by the window.
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 cut his teeth in the kitchens of the legendary Spanish chef Ferran Adrià.
In the early aughts, chef Balázs Pethő was one of the people who pioneered Hungary's food revolution at a time when comically backward communist-era practices still reigned supreme in many Budapest kitchens. A whole crop of younger cooks, many of them established head chefs now, cut their teeth under Pethő's tutelage. The family-owned Csalogány 26 is Pethő's long-standing fine dining restaurant, located on the ground floor of a Buda residential building near the Danube.
Csendes Társ is an adorable outdoor-only café by Károlyi-kert, a spotless park in downtown Budapest known for its colorful flower beds and manicured lawns. The place is an unlikely island of peace and calm within the hustle and bustle of the city. 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 soft 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 hanging upside down from the walls — all the more bizarre.
Open since 1992, Csirke Csibész is an iconic chicken sandwich shop in Budapest's District 6. As with pizza joints, 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 space with a few tables upstairs.
Da Mario is a pricey modern Italian restaurant in Budapest, set on a precious piece of downtown real estate between the Hungarian 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 within the city's financial and government district, business meals here are more typical than date nights.
There's near 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. Dabao makes Shandong-style dumplings, which means that the wrappers are a bit thicker and chewier. There's only two versions; both with a base filling of ground pork and shrimp, with one of them packing napa cabbage, the other shredded Chinese chives. I'm slightly in favor of the chive-version, but there isn't much of a flavor difference and they're both very good.
Dang Muoi is a small family-owned Vietnamese restaurant chain with three locations across Budapest. My favorite one lines the car-saturated Attila út in Buda (with little foot traffic, it's not exactly a restaurateur's dream location). Don't expect on-trend 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 away from Budapest's city center, located on the ground floor of an drab, oversized dining room.
Iranian residents in Budapest would tell you that among the half a dozen options, Darband is the city's top Persian restaurant. The nondescript entrance and the modest below-ground space belie some of the wonderful dishes that come out of the restaurant's kitchen, whose head chef is an Iranian native.
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 as if 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 through all these years, even as comparable restaurants have sprouted up on the other side of the Danube with lower price points.
In addition to the longstanding pastry shops, 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 and beautiful craftsmanship. I can also recommend "Royal," a layered cake packing an intensely chocolatey flavor, and Mademoiselle, which is a white-chocolate mousse laced with raspberry jam.
DiVino is a posh wine bar in the heart of Budapest's downtown with a picture-postcard view of the St. Stephen's Basilica, Budapest's biggest church. Touristy it may be, still, it’s a sight to behold. DiVino is most enjoyable from its outdoor tables during the warm-weather months (you'd better avoid the dim interior with a club-like atmosphere). The selections include 150 types of wines sourced from leading Hungarian wineries, both big (Takler, Heimann, Konyári) and small (Pendits). Split by wine regions, all winemakers are listed on the walls. DiVino's customers are a mix of tourists who pass by the area and 30-plus Hungarians who enjoy sceney spots.
Digó puts out some of the best Naples-style pizza in Budapest. They operate 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 a seasonal pizza stand by Akvárium. As other upscale pizza shops around the world, Digó uses a wood-burning oven, extra fine “double-zero” flour, and a long, two-step dough fermentation to enhance flavor.
Dobló was one of the first wine bars in Budapest when it opened in 2010. Being smack in the middle of the 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 cozy interior, Dobló is one of the more atmospheric wine bars in Budapest.
Dorado is a plant-filled coffee shop situated on the rapidly gentrifying Klauzál Street inside Budapest's old Jewish Quarter. Unlike in the hole-in-the-wall cafés so common in Budapest, here patrons are welcome to linger at the long communal table without feeling rushed. There's everything from a V60 hand pour-over to espresso-based drinks and cold brew in the warmer months.
Hiding on a quiet downtown side street, Double Shot is a hip breakfast-all-day restaurant and coffee shop in Budapest. They serve the usual suspects of popular international breakfast foods here, including avocado toast, granola bowls, and turmeric latte. They’re all reliably tasty and beautifully plated, even if a bit predictable. Cocktails, craft beers, and Hungarian wines are also available. Note that the prices here reflect a bit of downtown mark-up — for example, 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 also 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. The cheese (€8) and charcuterie (€12) plates are decent, but it's the surprisingly tasty ham and cheese panini (€3) that I usually order.
Dzzs, down the block from Kisüzem, is a tiny, high-energy bar attracting an eccentric 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, dim space. Unfortunately, the owners have recently jacked up the prices, leading to a rapid erosion of longtime regulars.
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.
Head to Élesztő if you're curious about Hungarian craft beers and what Budapest outside the city center looks like. From a total of two hundred options, Élesztő serves a rotating set of 25 beers on tap, ranging from light crowd-pleasers to sour IPAs. The former glass manufacturing plant is an ideal venue for a craft beer bar: the century-old brick walls and the exposed fermentation tanks exude a sense of artisanship and give the (false) impression that an actual brewery is on the premises. The spacious courtyard patio lined with communal tables is ideal for groups. Cash only!
Don't be fooled by the puritan below-ground space, Ennmann is one of the top 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 buckwheat noodles.
The building, rather than the food, is the main appeal of Építészpince, a no-frills restaurant set on the ground floor of a stunning pre-war mansion in Budapest's Palace Quarter. Take some time to absorb the view from the interior courtyard: ivy-covered facade, inlaid stone patterns, symmetrically curved staircases. Today the building is home to the Chamber of Budapest Architects.
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 the river. This lively space is ideal to wind down with an afternoon drink during the warmer 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 quiet backstreet in Budapest's downtown. Fahéj eschews the trendy vibes and the tourist-centered 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 softly glowing, high-ceilinged rooms fitted with wooden floors, bookshelves, and small round tables. Fahéj works well for a casual weeknight drink, a date, or a heart-to-heart over a bottle of wine. Go for the hot wine or the rum-laced tea during the colder months; also tasty are the grilled sandwiches. Cash only!
Falafel Bar is your best bet for quick and affordable Middle Eastern fare in Budapest's party district. This unfussy place, which does both takeout and sit-down, serves hearty portions of shawarma, sabich, kebab, and various hummus plates. The must-have dish here is the namesake falafel platter (€6) sporting deep-fried chickpea balls that are crunchy on the outside and creamy inside. For a quick snack, I usually order the sabich (€3), an Israeli vegetarian pita packing fried eggplants, vegetables, tahini sauce, and a hard-boiled egg.
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 gastronomic currency. A couple of egg pasta and risotto are also available, made with deliciously rich sauces. The decor is traditional fine dining: soft background music drifts from the background of the dim dining room, which has only a dozen tables, all set with heavy linen tablecloths. Under the vigilant eyes of owner Fausto Di Vora, always dressed in a chef's coat, an army of waiters quietly scurry around the tables that tend to fill up on Friday and Saturday evenings with well-heeled tourists and local businesspeople.
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 quiet courtyard is one of those Budapest surprises hiding behind many sooty facades. Fekete serves a range of on-trend dishes like shakshuka, granola, and various quiches. Pricey new-wave coffee, both espresso-based and hand pour-overs, are also available along with bottled craft beers to help lift the mood.
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 local Millennials.
With panoramic views onto the Castle Hill and the Danube, the location of Felix is hard to beat. The restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, occupies a nicely refurbished landmark-protected building designed by Miklós Ybl, the head architect of the Budapest Opera House. In terms of prices and ambience, Felix is a notch above the trendy spots but more casual than stiff-lipped fine dining establishments.
Around since 1973, Fischer is one of the oldest pastry shops in Budapest. Not much has changed inside this tiny standing-only space over the last century, which is part of its charm. Owner Aurél Fischer, now well into his eighties, still mans the counter on most days. As you can imagine, the selections include many of the Hungarian classics, though not all of them are made equally well; local regulars would tell you to go for the fresh and crumbly pies — red currant jelly! — and the ice creams in the summer. For the full experience, also order a shot of espresso with a dollop of whipped cream on top. Once here, use this guide to discover the neighborhood. Note that Fischer is closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Hungarians have a complicated 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 latter years of the Kaiser as evidenced by an oversized oil portrait anchoring the art-laden interior and depicting a somber and wild-moustached sovereign.
A hipster paradise, Freyja bakery brings a pocket of East Williamsburg to Budapest complete with tattooed bakers, bearded baristas, and minimalist design elements. And, unfortunately, prices too. Freyja specializes in croissants, which are among the best you'll find in Budapest: rich and flaky and buttery and wonderful. Every three months, they rotate the fillings, but you'll usually find pistachio cream, marzipan, and raspberry jam among the options (some savory stuffings are also available). There's new-wave coffee and enough space to sit and linger for a bit. Freya also delivers its croissants to coffee shops across Budapest, so if their bakery in the outer District 7 is too far for you, try Espresso Embassy or Dorado instead.
Frici Papa is a tourist-heavy restaurant in Budapest favored by visitors and locals 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. The place has since earned a reputation for reliable and tasty dishes, drawing a well-off office crowd from near and far to its buzzing below-ground premises in Budapest's party district.
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. They serve low-priced traditional Hungarian tortes, pastries, and strudels, including Esterházy, Dobos, and krémes. Sure, Frőhlich is far from the top pastry shops in Budapest, but I enjoy coming here for a throwback 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 specializing 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, they also serve excellent breakfast omelets (spinach & goat cheese is the way to go). On weekdays, they offer a seasonal, two-course lunch prix fixe heavy on vegetables, though not strictly vegetarian. Note that this location, on Arany János Street, is closed on weekends, but there's another one on Kristóf tér, a 10-minute walk from here.
When it opened in 1991, Fuji was one of the first Japanese restaurants in Budapest. From a Japan-inspired wood-paneled dining room, it served pricey dishes to well-off locals and expats who were looking for exotic tastes in post-communist Budapest. Almost three decades hence — an eternity in restaurant years — Fuji is still around and it's still one of the few upscale Japanese restaurants in Budapest.
Fülemüle is an old-school Hungarian-Jewish restaurant hiding on a quiet side street in Budapest’s Palace Quarter. The unhurried, relaxed vibes are just one of the things to like about this modest family-run establishment, where swarms of family photos and ornate seder plates crowd the walls.
Eastern European, bohemian-intellectual vibes ooze from Gdansk Bookstore Café, located on Bartók Béla Boulevard on the Buda side of the city. This dim and densely furnished bar features cheap vodka selections, Polish and Hungarian craft beers, and bookshelves stacked with Polish books. The place is run by a Polish native from Gdansk, the port city on the Baltic coast, and her Hungarian husband. You're also here for the pickled herring, delivered straight from the Baltic Sea and served with onions and rye bread (€6). Note that empty tables are rare, closing times flexible, and the prices wallet-friendly.
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 a well-kept secret of this otherwise tourist-heavy neighborhood. Gerlóczy's interior evokes French bistro vibes, featuring small round tables, leather banquettes, and a high ceiling. In the warm months, the outdoor terrace is especially enjoyable.
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 túrógombóc (€4). ("Gettó" refers to the Jewish ghetto, into which this neighborhood was turned during the winter of 1944, the darkest time of WWII in Budapest).
If you find yourself in a place with live gypsy music, chances are that you've been sucked into a tourist trap — overpriced downtown restaurants tend to hire gypsy bands to fabricate “Hungarian vibes” for unsuspecting tourists. The reality is that few Hungarian people, especially those below 50, are exposed to or familiar with such songs.
Gólya is a 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. The late afternoons are often taken up by panel discussions (they’re in Hungarian, but most people will also speak English), but even if you aren't in so high-minded a mood, there's reason to trek out here for the nighttime events, which include small but high-energy concerts of local Hungarian bands.
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 didn't have much to offer when it came to discerning drinking joints. Good Spirit Bar, which opened in 2017 on a quiet cobblestoned street, finally filled the void in the city center's lackluster bar landscape. Half cocktail bar, half whisky bar: the bartenders here can just as well serve you an excellently prepared Negroni as a rare Japanese single malt from the literally hundreds of bottles on the shelves. There's an actual store inside in case you'd like to stack up on premium bottles. Being in downtown, Good Spirit draws mainly tourists, especially a slightly older crowd compared with the bars in the Jewish Quarter's party district.
Grinzingi is an unpretentious downtown wine bar with a simple formula that has changed little since its opening in 1983: serve cheap drinks in the center of Budapest that's otherwise teeming with overpriced, tourist-oriented bars. Fast forward 35 years, some of the early patrons still pay repeated visits, as do plenty of college students from nearby universities. Inside, heavy wooden fittings evoke 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.
Tucked away in an exclusive Buda neighborhood, Gyergyó Árpi is a longtime lunch-only family restaurant serving homestyle Hungarian fare. Given the prime location and the elite customers who fill this tiny space at lunchtime — big-time lawyers, businessmen, and upper-middle class regulars — main dishes range €10-15. The restaurant's moniker is a hat-tip to the Transylvanian city where the owner-chef, Árpád Gyurka, hails from.
After spending a few days in Budapest, you might also notice the countless gyro joints dotting 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 the place embodies the type of unfussy diner where many Hungarians go for lunch. In other words, here's your chance to dine elbow-to-elbow with locals.
HILDA is a chic downtown restaurant lining 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 curb appeal and an Instagrammable interior, featuring an oversized stained glass mosaic that covers one of the walls in its entirety and glazed Zsolnay ceramic tiles, the same brand that decorates the lobby of the Four Seasons around the corner from here.
Located on the Buda side of Budapest, Hai Nam is one of, if not the most popular Vietnamese restaurants for local Hungarians in the city. The Vietnamese owners here tend to adjust the dishes of the short menu to local tastes, which can mean that flavorful cuts are swapped out for less fatty meats as in the case of the bun cha (€6), normally a mound of delicious grilled pork belly.
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 Hungarian Parliament building. With a chef duo representing both ends of Vietnam — one of them is from Hanoi, the other Saigon — the restaurant brings 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.
Regional Chinese restaurants are opening in Budapest at an increasing rate: Instead of the bland sameness of Chinese takeouts, you can now taste dishes in the city that would hold their own in their places of origin (for example Yu Man Tang's la zi ji chicken and Dabao's steamed dumplings). Now, we can add jianbing to that list, available at Happy Panda, a small takeout shop on a District 8 side street.
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.
Amid downtown Budapest's overpriced tourist traps and dime a dozen “Irish pubs” hides Három Holló, a bar with an entirely different philosophy. Named after the favorite watering hole of Endre Ady, one of Hungary’s poet laureates from the early 20th century, Három Holló occupies a three-story space that fuses a bar with an exhibition space and a concert venue. On any given week, there might be a photography pop-up and a couple of contemporary jazz concerts here. (See their packed event calendar; note that they shut down for the summer.)
Három Tarka Macska is a hip bakery located within the heart of Újlipótváros, a well-off residential area near the Danube. 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).
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 impressive rooftop views in Budapest. To get to the bar, you'll need to walk through the polished 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.
Hintaló is an atmospheric bar located a bit outside the city center in District 8. Apart from the cozy and dim inside peppered with nooks and crannies — the upstairs is ideal for date nights — you're here for the classic cocktails that won't break the bank (most of them are €5). There are also local craft beers on tap, several kinds of amaros, gins, and rums. Hintaló tends to fill up most evenings with a mixed crowd of international students and locals.
Hivatal bar, which opened in 2010, was an early bird on Madách tér, the entry point of Budapest’s party district. This pedestrian-only plaza is home to a number of wildly popular hipster bars like Központ and Telep, but Hivatal has remained a laid-back, unpretentious spot with friendly price points. Inside, communist-era slogans on the walls remind customers of the value of hard work ("hivatal" means "office" in Hungarian). Apart from drinks, there are also tasty grilled sandwiches here (brie!). During the warmer months, the night-time crowd often spills out onto the stairs of the neighboring office building, lending the area a block-party feel.
Located inside Budapest's party district, Hopaholic is a snug craft beer bar known for its dizzying range of international craft beers. They source bottled beers from over 250 microbreweries around 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 percent ABV? Or, rather, a tart and fruity Moldavian-Hungarian lambic beer? Not a problem. The bartenders will provide samples to taste if you feel overwhelmed by all the options.
With a crowd of male-heavy imbibers and walls blanketed in band stickers, Hops is a divey-looking craft beer bar within Budapest's party district. The moment you realize that this isn't your average dive bar is when you catch a glimpse of the more than 200 types of bottles stacked in the fridge. It's this extensive selection that makes Hops a pilgrimage-site for Budapest craft beer fans (of sour beers alone there are thirty options).
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 side. This hip café and breakfast restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows used to be a movie theater's ticket office. Following a recent gut renovation, the round 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 filter coffees and espresso-based drinks.
Hotsy Totsy is a dim, below-ground cocktail bar within 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 small 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 Vietnamese classics.
Hunnia is an adorably grungy, below-ground music bar best known for its Friday and Saturday night concerts, when A and B-level Hungarian bands take over the tiny stage for a high-energy show. Many of the bands who play here were part of Budapest's alternative music scene in the '70s and '80s. Today, some of them are still going strong, as are their graying but loyal fans. If you're looking for a deeply local (musical) experience, this is it. Ironically, Hunnia, a decidedly anti-establishment bar, is located inside Budapest's upscale financial district, almost right across the Hungarian Central Bank.
This neighborhood institution, which opened in 1969, is still mainly a butcher shop but the longest lines form at midday before the steam table containing mounds of freshly made cuts. 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, while students from the nearby University of Technology wolf down low-priced porcine delicacies.
Húsimádó, which translates to "meat lover," is a beloved neighborhood butcher shop in Budapest's Újlipótváros neighborhood. The place is piled so high with meats that bricks of fatback and rows of smoked salami can block the view of the other side of the counter. The main draw here is the ready-made sausages: paprika-laced, liver, and blood varieties. I also enjoy the fried chicken liver with a 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 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. The food here is a bit hit-or-miss. Avoid the hortobágyi pancake, but I can safely recommend the goulash soup, the beef stew (pörkölt; €8), and the paprikash (€7). If pork fat doesn't intimidate you, go for the cigánypecsenye, a pork cutlet topped with fried fatback. Round out your meal with gesztenyepüré, Hungary's take on the chestnut-based Mont Blanc dessert.
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 of the city. Here, the pizzaiolos churn out Naples-style pies all day long using a wood-burning oven fueled by logs of beech to achieve high heat and a smoky flavor. The Naples variety is known for its 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 to this unfussy spot for everything from first dates to business meetings to class reunions. 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 is a reliable mid-range Italian restaurant in Budapest’s historic Jewish Quarter. 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 Indian expats in Budapest would tell you that their go-to restaurant is Indigo — an Indian restaurant hardly needs a better endorsement than that. Indigo, which opened in 2005 and also has a sister location in Buda, is a casually elegant sit-down venue not far from downtown in District 6.
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 the 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 as 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 at baking. 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, the Japanese savory pancakes. 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 an electric griddle right before you.
Founded by the legendary Budapest restaurateur Hans van Vliet, Jedermann Café is a snug, all-inviting café and restaurant for all 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 is buried on a quiet part of District 9, not far from the city center but away from the throngs clogging the party district.
If you like Chinese pancake and are curious about an offbeat part of the city, head 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 freshly prepare it on a cast iron griddle before you. Many versions exist 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 (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 poor urban planning, cars have better access to Danube vistas than city residents in Budapest. But a handful of bars 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 on the ground floor of a gigantic performing center for independent theater and dance troupes, Jurányi Suterene is an unfussy bar and community space. During the day, artists from upstairs come here for meetings or to scarf down the two-course lunch prix fixe; it's after the shows in the evenings that Suterene reaches its full potential, when an alternative crowd of theatergoers and performers drink away here happily. In the summer, the activity shifts onto the spacious outdoor terrace. If you're in the area, also consider stopping by Nemdebár, a lively neighborhood bar not far from here.
KEG is a below-ground 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 nearly 30 types of beers on tap, most of them sourced from leading local breweries. For those unsure what to order, they offer a tasting special where the bartenders (or you) select five 1 dl / 3.4 oz samples for €7. This being the Buda side, there are more local patrons and fewer tourists than in comparable places across the Danube. Burgers are available to help prevent a hangover.
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 within the residential Újlipótváros neighborhood a bit outside the city center.
Kadarka is a lively wine bar inside Budapest's hopping Jewish Quarter with a moniker that refers to a popular red grape variety native to Hungary. Kadarka isn't the type of super-hip place with the latest natural wine or pet-nat sensations; instead, they serve more than a hundred kinds of well-known and reliable Hungarian wines from across the country's 22 wine regions. Despite being within 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.
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.
Part burger joint, part sports bar, part craft beer bar, Kandalló wears many hats. The burgers at this popular joint within Budapest's Jewish Quarter are among the best you'll find in the city (although I wish they used smaller and squishier buns). From the dozen or so options, I recommend you stick to the classic cheeseburger or, if you'd like to splurge, try the grilled foie gras-studded "Kandalló" burger for €15 — it comes in a light brioche bun and the luscious goose liver does shine through every bite. There's also a vegetarian and a vegan option.
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 of car traffic has all but cleared the area of pedestrians. But don't despair. A downtown bus (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 high-ceilinged 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 effortlessly cool vibes suffuse the place nonetheless.
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 impressive arch that marks the entry point of Budapest's party district. There are a handful of passable traditional Hungarian dishes here — goulash soup, catfish paprikash, and lecsó — but you're best off sticking to the breakfast-all-day offerings like the scrambled eggs and the panini selections. The crowd consists of a healthy mix of locals and tourists, many of whom come here for coffee or drinks only (the house IPA on draft, "Keksz," is especially popular). Note that Keksz is cheaper than most places in this hopping neighborhood.
Some pockets of Buda can be as lively as Pest, but they're few and far between. Bartók Béla Boulevard is one such revitalized neighborhood, featuring art galleries, cafés, and bars. Kelet, 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. Apart from the usual coffee options, they also serve Turkish coffee and a range of tasty cakes (don't sleep on the carrot cake). There's Chinese (oolong) and Japanese (sencha, matcha) loose leaf tea varieties as well as local beers and wine.
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 for 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. But tobacco isn't the only allure — there are cold beers, grilled sandwiches, and plenty of board games. Also note the paintings on the walls, a positive surprise compared with the check-the-box-type artwork so common in bars these days.
Kertem (“My garden”) is an enormous beer garden inside Budapest's City Park. The place flies under the radar of most tourists, even though it's not far from the Széchenyi Thermal Baths. Poplars 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 pljeskavica, a Serbian hamburger-like creation, is the one to go for. 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 beloved neighborhood restaurant on Nagymező Street, located between the stately Andrássy Avenue and the Jewish Quarter. The best part here is the cozy ambience — the space receives plenty of natural light through oversized windows and there are little nooks amid the tightly cramped wooden tables.