Budapest is far removed from the global capitals of burgerdom, so if you grew up eating In-N-Out Double Doubles or ShackBurgers, you may feel underwhelmed by the local offerings. Several Budapest burger joints, however, have been working hard on perfecting their burger games, and if you keep your expectations in check, you might be in for a positive surprise.
Pesti Burger is a chic burger joint on the campus of Semmelweis University, near the glass-curtained building of the Basic Medical Science Center in Budapest's District 9. If you think that slinging pricey burgers on a college campus isn't a savvy business idea, think again: Pesti Burger fills up nicely at midday with both students and local office workers (granted, the wallet-friendlier pasta joint next door is usually mobbed by students).
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.
W35 is a small burger joint on the far end of Budapest's party district. The place breaks down the hamburger-making process into meticulous, scientific steps: a patty forming machine shapes the Angus into uniform sizes, a timer achieves consistent char, and a meat thermometer ensures that all patties are cooked to a juicy, medium-rare doneness. The result is a compact patty with good beefiness framed by two crisped sesame buns. I only wish they wouldn't use a truffle oil which doesn't do any favors here.
Kollázs Brasserie & Bar is a fine dining restaurant and cocktail bar on the ground floor of the swanky Four Seasons Hotel Budapest. The restaurant, which is inside a beautiful Art Nouveau building, offers prime views onto Budapest's Castle Hill. It's the type of place where dark-suited waiters scurry around with tableside carts and pricey bottles of Bordeaux while soft jazz is drifting from the speakers. There's a discernible air of affluence here but without the stiffly formal setting of a fine dining restaurant.
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.
Tuning is a tourist-heavy burger joint in the heart of Budapest's trendy Jewish Quarter. Burgers here are pricey, and often feature non-traditional ingredients like eggs, avocado, and grilled zucchini. My issue with these gussied-up versions is that they don't let the main ingredients shine through: the patty, the bun, and the cheese; I recommend that you stick to the “classic street food” cheeseburger (€8). The pricier burgers are made with a 180 gram / 6.3 oz. Angus patty; the others use Hungarian Grey Cattle, a local breed.