Balázs Pethő, the executive chef of family-run Csalogány 26 Restaurant, was a pioneer of Hungary's contemporary food revolution. A whole crop of younger cooks, many of them established head chefs now, learned the ins and outs of haute cuisine under Pethő's tutelage at a time when comically backward, communist-era practices reigned supreme in Budapest kitchens. Pethő's exceptional skills best show through in the five-course dinner tasting menu.
Csalogány, which is located on the ground floor of an unremarkable residential building in Buda, isn't furnished from the latest design catalogues like other fine dining venues in Pest. To me, the bare-bones interior signals that food takes center stage here. In fact, the restaurant's two long-time waiters are some of the most knowledgeable in Budapest—you will be in good in hands.
Instead of using fancy, imported meats and fish, Csalogány extracts deep and rich flavors from more reasonably-priced ingredients and pairs them with seasonal vegetables and light sauces. On any day, a suckling pig terrine, minced guinea fowl with squash puree, gilt-head bream with peas, or crispy and tender roasted chicken thighs might be on the menu. Desserts are inventive and delicious. The five-course tasting menu for €50, or €70 with wine pairing, is one of the best deals in Budapest for discerning diners. Csalogány also serves a wallet-friendly, three-course weekday lunch prix fixe for €10.