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Where to eat with the locals: 17 Cheap Restaurants In Budapest

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 homemade 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 eateries are some of the most indigenous to the city. Note that most étkezdes are closed on the weekend and accept cash only.

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#1 Belvárosi Disznótoros

Belvárosi Disznótoros is a popular lunchtime 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 wild boar stew, blood sausage, grilled pork chops, and pork knuckles paired with a range of pickled or marinated vegetables. My favorite is the simple and excellent fried sausage with braised red cabbage, mustard, horseradish, and a slice of bread.
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#2 Kívánság Étkezde

For a truly local lunch experience, 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 and cheap, and in the case of Kívánság, it's all about delicious home-style dishes. .
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#3 Buja Disznó(k)

Buja Disznó(k) is a food vendor located on the upper deck of the impressive Hold Street Market Hall in downtown Budapest. The market has been rapidly transforming into a food court, where leading local chefs operate affordable fast casual eateries. Being close to the city's financial district, it's mainly a moneyed local office crowd aside from tourists who flock to here during lunchtime. .
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#4 Kádár Étkezde

If you wonder what everyday dining was like during communism, search no longer. Kádár Étkezde, a traditional Hungarian eatery in the old Jewish Quarter, around since 1957, will immediately transport you back to a different epoch. Note that Kádár is open for lunch only..
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#5 Öcsi étkezde

Öcsi étkezde, a tiny lunch-only eatery in District 8, has flourished since 1981, in part due to the familial environment created by married owners Erzsi and Feri. Erzsi, the driving force behind the kitchen, occasionally pops into the dining area with cilantro-covered hands to check with regulars whether they would like a schnitzel with their lecsó. Feri, a comforting presence with a white lab coat and handsome features, multitasks between taking orders, bringing out food, and chatting with patrons, most of whom he knows by name. .
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#6 Frici Papa Kifőzdéje

Although Frici Papa opened after the fall of the iron curtain, this eatery has become a darling for tourists looking to experience communist-style dining. Tablecloths covered with transparent plastic, cheap wood panelings decorating the walls, waiters dressed as if having been parachuted here from the '80s - those in search of a journey back in time won't be disappointed. .
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#7 Marika Lángos Sütője

For a journey back in time, stop by at this hole-in-the-wall food stall on the upper deck of the Klauzal tér market hall in Budapest's old Jewish Quarter. The place is hidden from plain sight, meaning that not only tourists to the market remain unaware of its existence, but even most locals miss it. Marika, the engine behind the operation, and her husband prepare a range of home-style Hungarian classics at bizarrely low prices (the two-course daily special runs the equivalent of €3). .
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#8 Városház Snack

No English menu, let alone a Facebook page: these are good signs that you've stumbled on something uniquely local. Városház Snack belongs to the bare-bones, self-service lunch venues that were popular during communist times and are now nearing extinction usually for good reason. Városház Snack, however, is still standing, since 1985, and so are plenty of people in line at lunchtime for cheap and tasty Hungarian dishes served inside a shoebox-sized downtown location. .
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#9 A Séf utcája

A leading Hungarian chef, Lajos Bíró, opened a fast casual lunch eatery at the Hold Street market hall and we should all celebrate that decision. At A Séf utcája (trans. "Chef's Street") you will find wallet-friendly traditional Hungarian dishes prepared with a twist, which in this case means better-than-average ingredients and an attention to the visual aesthetics. Like it or not, these reconfigured Hungarian plates are in a different league than grandma's cooking.
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#10 Mangalica Mennyország

The renewed 19th century Klauzál Market Hall is a far cry from the thriving food court that its sister location in Hold Street has become. Amid shuttered storefronts and bland grocery store chains, however, you will find a couple of eateries that will make it worth popping in here. One of those is Mangalica Mennyország (the other is Marika Lángos Sütője on the upper deck)..
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#11 Norbi Étkezde Budapest

Norbi is a shoebox sized, partially takeout eatery (or “étkezde” in Hungarian) that represents the best of the étkezde genre: it’s quick, it’s cheap, and it’s delicious. In the mornings they freshly make a range of popular Hungarian dishes like stuffed cabbage, chicken paprikás, and pork schnitzels, so that by lunchtime they can feed a seemingly endless crowd with incredible efficiency. The line stretching outside of Norbi Étkezde at midday is a sign that good things lie ahead. .
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#12 Csirke Csibész

Csirke Csibész is a fast casual eatery in Budapest's District 6 serving delicious chicken sandwiches since 1992. This standing-only venue is the ultimate melting pot of Budapest: construction workers and white collar employees alike line up for unexpectedly flavorful fried and roast chicken here at lunchtime. .
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#13 Akácfa Étkezde

Neighborhood Roma and office workers alike line up for home-made Hungarian flavors at Akácfa Étkezde, a bizarrely decorated self-service diner in a District 7 backstreet. The interior includes a hodgepodge of items spanning from nature-themed wall paintings to faux-Biedermeier living room furniture. The checkered tablecloths covered with transparent plastic evoke nostalgia of the 1980s' Hungarian dining scene. .
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#14 JóKrisz Lángos Sütöde

For a truly, deeply local experience, make your way to this tiny food vendor inside the Rákóczi Market Hall. Hiding in the back of the building is JóKrisz lángos sütöde, a mom-and-pop, standing-only eatery that specializes in lángos, a traditional Hungarian flatbread. .
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#15 Balla-Hús

Opened in 1951, Balla-Hús is one of the few remaining independent butcher shops in downtown Budapest. Balla-Hús' business model has evolved over time: instead raw meat, it now serves freshly prepared and affordable breakfast and lunch dishes to a mainly local crowd, who find it increasingly difficult to have an affordable lunch in the tourist-satured downtown streets..
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#16 Tera Magyar Konyhája

Tera Magyar Konyhája ("Tera's Hungarian kitchen") is an affordable, no-frills eatery located in Újlipótváros, a charming Budapest neighborhood. The area is a city within the city, where the cultural upper crust and young families with baby strollers form a strong local community and make for a lively area. Many local residents flock to Tera Magyar Konyhája for a quick lunch of traditional Hungarian flavors. .
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#17 Retro Büfé & Lángos

Retro Büfé is not your flawlessly designed space complete with brand new Mid-century modern fittings that's misleadingly advertised as "retro." Instead, this pocket-sized food vendor located inside a kiosk of a 1980s Budapest subway station is a real socialist-era holdover..
Rankings are based on a combination of food/drink, atmosphere, service, and price. The author visits all restaurants incognito.