Italians have their osterias, the French their brasseries. In Hungary, no-frills, small restaurants whose main purpose is to fill your stomach with familiar flavors at affordable prices are called "étkezde." Many étkezdes opened in the communist-era and are now nearing extinction, usually for good reason. But a few are still around, serving outstanding home-style Hungarian dishes at almost ludicrously low prices. People with a lingering nostalgia for times past should be certain to visit them - in Budapest's increasingly international dining scene these places are some of the most native to the city.
Note that most étkezdes are closed on weekends and accept cash only.
Belvárosi Disznótoros is a popular lunch-only eatery for downtown office workers in Budapest. This self-service food vendor with tall tables and standing counters offers a dizzying array of fully-prepared and to-be-prepared selection of traditional Hungarian meat dishes. Think blood sausage, wild boar stew, grilled pork chops, and pork knuckles, paired with a range of pickled and marinated vegetables. .
Buja Disznó(k) is a food stall located on the upper deck of the impressive Hold Street Market Hall in downtown Budapest. Over the past years, the market has transformed into a gourmet food court, where leading local chefs operate wallet-friendly, excellent fast casual eateries. .
Although Frici Papa opened after the fall of the iron curtain, this eatery has rightfully become a darling for tourists who're looking to experience a piece of communist-style dining. Cheap wood panelings decorate the walls, tablecloths are covered with transparent plastic, and waiters are dressed as if they were parachuted here from the '80s - those in search of a journey back in time are unlikely to be disappointed by Frici Papa. .
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. .
For a truly local lunch experience in Budapest, it’s hard to think of a better place than Kívánság Étkezde. The continued existence of this eatery, which opened in 1985, is evidence that there’s still lingering love in Budapest for communist-era, family-run restaurants. After all, they’re quick, cheap, and some of them, like Kívánság, serve delicious home-style dishes..
Öcsi étkezde, this tiny, lunch-only eatery in the seedier part of District 8 has flourished since 1981. The restaurant's success is mainly thanks to the owner-couple, Erzsi and Feri. Erzsi, the driving force behind the kitchen, occasionally pops in to the dining area with cilantro-covered hands to check with regulars whether they'd like a schnitzel to come with their lecsó, which is a Hungarian ratatouille. Feri, a comforting and still youthful presence despite pushing 60, sports a white lab coat and handsome features.
This self-service, utilitarian eatery (“étkezde” in Hungarian) a bit outside the city center in District 9 may not be for everyone. Even within Budapest’s affordable eatery genre, Gyuri bácsi konyhája is positioned toward the lower end when it comes to comfort and interior design. In fact, the “decor” could only be alluded to in ironic terms. I’m nonetheless including Gyuri bácsi here because the food is excellent, and it's an authentic representation of the type of everyday dining that most tourists are unlikely to experience in Budapest..
The restored, 19th century Klauzál Market Hall in Budapest's old Jewish Quarter is a far cry from the thriving food court inside its sister location at Hold Street. Amid shuttered storefronts and bland grocery store chains, however, you will find a couple of self-service eateries that can make it worth popping in here. One of those is Mangalica Mennyország (the other Marika Lángos Sütője on the upper deck)..
In 2014, Lajos Bíró, a leading Hungarian chef, opened a fast-casual lunch eatery inside the then practically empty Hold Street Market. Fast forward to today, this historic downtown market has transformed into a bustling food court where several local celebrity chefs operate casual restaurants, and the area swarms with people at lunchtime. .
For a journey back in time, stop by at this hole-in-the-wall food stall on the upper deck of the Klauzal Market Hall in Budapest's old Jewish Quarter. Marika Lángos Sütője is hidden from plain sight, meaning that most visitors to the market, tourists and locals alike, remain unaware of its existence. Marika is the driving force behind the kitchen, while her husband, Csaba, sources ingredients and decides the daily specials. Marika's home-style Hungarian classics are tasty and sold at bizarrely low prices (the two-course daily special runs €3)..
Low prices, home-style cooking, no English menu, let alone an Instagram page: these are signs that you've stumbled on a truly local eatery in Budapest. Városház Snack, which opened in 1985, is the type of bare-bones, self-service lunch restaurant that was popular during communist times. Most of those places are now nearing extinction, and usually for good reason. Városház Snack, however, is still standing, and so are plenty of people in line at lunchtime for the cheap and tasty Hungarian dishes that are served in this shoebox-sized downtown space..
Here’s a little secret. There’s hole-in-the-wall eatery right next to, and sharing a kitchen with Rosenstein, the restaurant I ranked as the best for traditional Hungarian food in Budapest. In fact, Rosenstein itself grew out of this tiny, smoke-filled space back in 1989, before hoisting itself into an elegant sit-down venue. So, welcome to Kürtös Ételbár..
For a truly, deeply local experience, make your way to this 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 that specializes in lángos, a traditional, deep-fried Hungarian flatbread. .
Csirke Csibész is a fast-casual chicken joint in Budapest's District 6. The place has been serving chicken sandwiches since 1992, meaning that they know a thing or two about preparing poultry. As is the case with pizza, good chicken has a democratizing force - it brings together people from all facets of life. This is certainly true for Csirke Csibész.
Pocakos Lakatos is a lunch-only eatery located on the outskirts of Budapest. The operation revolves around owner Ferenc Hangos. He mans the counter in his signature white suspenders and multi-tasks between plating dishes, handling payments, and shouting orders to the kitchen staff behind him. He does this playfully, referring to dishes in humorous nicknames.
Norbi Étkezde is a shoebox-sized, partially takeout eatery (or “étkezde” in Hungarian) that represents the best of the étkezde genre: it’s quick, cheap, and delicious. In the mornings, they prepare traditional Hungarian foods like stuffed cabbage, chicken paprikash, and a range of fried-and-breaded, schnitzel-like meats, so that by lunchtime they can feed the seemingly endless crowd with incredible efficiency. The line at midday can stretch outside the building - a sure sign of impending deliciousness. .
Neighborhood Roma and local office workers alike line up for home-style Hungarian flavors at Akácfa Étkezde. This bizarrely decorated self-service eatery is located in a District 7 backstreet. The interior is decked out in a hodgepodge of items that span from landscape paintings to faux-Biedermeier living room furniture. The checkered tablecloths covered with transparent plastic evoke nostalgia of the 1980s' Hungarian dining scene.
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 meat, today they mainly specialize in low-priced breakfast and lunch dishes to the shrinking number of local residents (Airbnb, I'm looking at you). .
Retro Lángos Büfé is not your flawlessly re-designed space featuring brand new, Mid-century modern fittings and misleadingly advertizing itself as "retro." Instead, this pocket-sized food stall on the ground floor of a 1980s Budapest subway station is a real communist-era holdover. Perhaps this explains why the place has become a favorite of tourists looking for a cheap bite. .
Tera Magyar Konyhája ("Tera's Hungarian kitchen") is an affordable, self-service eatery located in an unexpectedly prestigious pocket of Újlipótváros, a well-heeled Budapest neighborhood. At lunchtime, a cross section of local residents show up at Tera, who can include over-80 senior citizens and trendy hipsters alike. What brings them together are low prices and reliable Hungarian home-style cooking..