Italians have their osterias, the French their brasseries. In Hungary, no-frills, modest restaurants that serve home-style dishes at low 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. 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 wallet-friendly lunch destination for downtown office workers in Budapest. This self-service eatery with tall tables and standing counters offers a dizzying array of fully-prepared and to-be-prepared traditional Hungarian meat dishes. Think blood sausage, wild boar stew, chicken cutlets, and grilled pork chops, paired with pickled and marinated vegetables. "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..
Buja Disznó(k) is a food stall on the upper deck of the historic Hold Street Market Hall in downtown Budapest. Over the past few years, the market has transformed into a gourmet food court, where local celebrity chefs operate wallet-friendly fast casual eateries. The culinary focus of Buja Disznó(k) is simple enough: pork schnitzels..
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-era dining—prices are rock-bottom, cheap wood panelings decorate the walls, tablecloths are covered with sticky plastic, waiters are dressed as if parachuted here from the '80s. .
If you wonder what everyday dining was like during communist Hungary, Kádár Étkezde may be able to give you the answer. Or at least that used to be the case before tourists descended on the place in the last few years. Kádár, which opened in 1957, started out as a wallet-friendly neighborhood joint feeding the mainly Jewish local residents—it's inside Budapest's old Jewish Quarter—with unfussy traditional Hungarian foods like stuffed cabbage and beef stew (pörkölt), and also Jewish staples like matzo ball soup and cholent (note that Kádár isn't kosher). The dishes were passable, prices rock-bottom.
For a deeply 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..
Opened in 1981, Öcsi étkezde is a teeny-tiny, lunch-only eatery in outer District 8, a bit away from the city center. The engine of this mom-and-pop restaurant is Erzsi, who runs the kitchen by herself, and occasionally pops in to the dining area with cilantro-covered hands to ask a regular whether he wants a schnitzel with his lecsó. Feri, her husband, sporting a white lab coat, multitasks by taking orders, serving food, and chatting with customers, most of whom he knows by name. Despite pushing 60, he has a youthful presence and handsome features..
This self-service, modest eatery (“étkezde”) a bit outside the city center in District 9 may not be for everyone. Even within Budapest’s low-priced eatery genre, Gyuri bácsi konyhája is positioned towards the lower end when it comes to comfort and interior design. But the food is excellent, and the place represents the type of everyday dining that most tourists are unlikely to experience in Budapest..
The refurbished Klauzál Market Hall in Budapest's old Jewish Quarter is a far cry from the thriving food court inside its sister location at the Hold Street Market Hall. Amid shuttered storefronts and bland grocery store chains, however, you will find a couple of self-service eateries that can make a visit worthwhile. One of those places is Mangalica Mennyország (the other is Marika Lángos Sütője on the upper deck)..
In 2014, Lajos Bíró, a well-known 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 thriving 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 the ingredients and decides the dishes. Marika's home-style Hungarian classics are tasty and cheap (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. Városház Snack, which opened in 1985, is a bare-bones, shoebox-sized, counter-service restaurant in Budapest's downtown that's popular among emplyees of the Mayor's Office across the street..
Here’s a little secret: there’s hole-in-the-wall eatery right next to, and sharing a kitchen with Rosenstein, one of the best traditional Hungarian restaurants 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. In other words, at Kürtös Ételbár you can enjoy the same goulash soup (€2), beef stew (€5), and schnitzel (€5) that they serve next door at steeper price points. .
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 that specializes in lángos, a traditional, 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..
Norbi Étkezde is a shoebox-sized, self-service eatery in Budapest's Újlipótváros neighborhood, not far from the city center. Every morning, they freshly prepare a host of traditional Hungarian dishes, mostly soups and schnitzel-like fried-and-breaded meats, so that by lunchtime they can feed the endless crowds with incredible efficiency. The line at midday can stretch outside the building—a sure sign of impending deliciousness. .
Pocakos Lakatos is a lunch-only everyday eatery on the outskirts of Budapest. The restaurant revolves around Ferenc Hangos, the cheerful owner: he mans the counter in his signature white suspenders and multitasks by plating dishes, handling payments, and shouting orders to the kitchen staff. Mr. Hangos's banter with regular customers is peppered with witty personal insults (he seems to take particular joy from roasting a customer behind whom a sufficiently long line of people has formed to appreciate his verbal slap).
Csirke Csibész is an iconic chicken sandwich shop 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 pizza, good chicken can be very democratic, bringing together people from all walks of life, which is certainly the case at Csirke Csibész, where construction workers and white collar employees alike line up for the flavorful fried and roasted birds here at lunchtime..
Neighborhood Roma and local office workers alike line up for home-style Hungarian flavors at Akácfa Étkezde, a self-service eatery in a backstreet of Budapest's old Jewish Quarter. The bizarrely eclectic decor includes landscape paintings and faux-Biedermeier living room furnishings, while the sticky, checkered tablecloths evoke 1980s nostalgia. .
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 serve 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 redesigned place with brand new Mid-century modern fittings that misleadingly advertizing itself as "retro." Instead, this pocket-sized food stall on the surface level of a 1980s Budapest subway station is a real communist-era holdover. Perhaps this is why the place has become a tourist-favorite. .
Tera Magyar Konyhája ("Tera's Hungarian Kitchen") is an affordable, self-service eatery in an unexpectedly prestigious pocket of Újlipótváros, a well-heeled Budapest neighborhood. At lunchtime, a cross section of local residents show up here, including over-80 senior citizens and trendy hipsters alike. What brings them together are low prices and reliable home-style dishes..