If you wonder what everyday dining was like during communist Hungary, Kádár Étkezde may be able to give you the answer. This traditional eatery, which opened in 1957, will immediately transport you back to a different epoch. Or, at least that used to be the case until recently.
Kádár started out as a wallet-friendly neighborhood joint feeding the mainly Jewish local residents (Kádár is located inside Budapest's old Jewish Quarter). It served unfussy but reliable traditional Hungarian foods like stuffed cabbage and beef stew (pörkölt), and also some Jewish classics including matzo ball soup and cholent. The dishes were passable, prices rock-bottom.
Today, this restaurant became an unlikely favorite of tourists. Visitors clasping Lonely Planet guide books can often be observed forming a line outside. Despite, or perhaps because of, the buzz, Kádár stuck to its blueprint. The servers still wear outfits that could rival the wardrobe collection of Soviet movies in the 1950s. The stereotypical red-and-white checkered tablecloths still adorn all tables. Walls are crammed with photos showing Hungarian celebrities who've visited Kádár over the decades. The food is still mediocre at best.
Once you're finished with your lunch, follow the local protocol and tip your server, then walk up to the amiable gentleman at the entrance to pay for your meal (he's Sándor Orbán, the owner). Although graying regulars still show up at lunch-time, their numbers are dwindling. Kádár is far from a tourist trap, it's just that mostly tourists go there these days. Prices are beginning to reflect this recent popularity, but with main dishes below €9, they're still comparatively low.
Note that the Jewish foods are usually served on Saturdays and that Kádár is closed on Sunday and Monday. After your meal, it's worth popping in to the restored Klauzál Square market hall that dates back to the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and is located two doors down from Kádár Étkezde.