13 Excellent Middle Eastern Restaurants in Budapest

I've compiled Budapest's top Middle Eastern, Northern African, Persian, and Georgian restaurants, so you can gorge yourself on creamy hummus, crunchy falafel, fresh fattoush salad, herby ghormeh sabzi, Moroccoan chicken tagine, and traditional khachapuri Adjaruli. 'Nuff said!

Byblos is an elegant Middle Eastern restaurant tucked away on a quite side in the heart of downtown Budapest. Syrian natives Osama and Mohamad Kutaini, brothers who previously worked at a nearby five star hotel restaurant, oversee the operations. The extensive menu features cold and hot mezze, salads, grilled meats, desserts, and there's also water pipes for hookah fans on the upstairs (Byblos serves alcohol, too).

The standout mezzes are the smoky mutabbal (eggplant dip similar to baba ganoush), the thick labneh (strained yogurt), and the makanek (spicy lamb sausage). Also good are the falafels, and the kibbeh, fried lamb meatballs made with bulgur and spices. Most mezzes are priced €8-9 apiece. I was less impressed by the grilled meats and the chicken musakhan, a Palestinian sumac-spiced chicken. For dessert, try kanafeh and the baklava with vanilla ice cream for a well-earned sugar-high.

Not every dish is a hit, but for an all-around, comfortable Levantine dining experience in Budapest's city center, Byblos is one of the top choices currently.

When I'd like to impress my friends that Budapest has restaurants as hip as those in New York's East Village, I take them out to Dobrumba. With a chic crowd, effortlessly cool design, and a Middle Eastern menu, Dobrumba is a wildly popular place inside Budapest's buzzing Jewish Quarter. It's especially enjoyable in the warmer months when the oversized windows swing open and the ear-catching electronic music wafts into the street.

Unfortunately the food can fall short – I've had unremarkable meals here, but most hot and cold mezzes and the tender chicken tagine are unlikely to disappoint. The basbousa is also good, a rich and sugary semolina cake blanketed in a tangy yogurt. Also here: a deep drinks menu with cocktails and local wines. Reservations are an absolute must.

Head to Mazel Tov if you like the ruin bar concept in theory but prefer things more upscale. This Middle Eastern restaurant inside Budapest's buzzing Jewish Quarter does have a disintegrating facade like other ruin bars, but the inside is a different story: Cheap drinks have been upgraded to cocktails, ham & cheese sandwiches to mezze plates, self-service to hostesses, and weathered furnishings to modern fittings with lush greenery.

The dishes arrive without delay to ensure that tables turn over quickly in this popular restaurant. The shawarma plate and the merguez, a North African sausage made from beef here and paired with beets, tahini, and matbucha, are reliable. You can safely skip the undersized and under-seasoned beef kebab. Cocktails and plenty of Hungarian wines are available. Reservations are a must as the place gets mobbed by people every day of the week.

A hotel restaurant always runs the risk of feeling detached from the fabric of the city, which is why it took so long for me to visit ARZ, a Lebanese establishment on the ground floor of the five-star Intercontinental Budapest. A visiting friend drew my attention to it and I'm so glad he did. On a recent evening, I've had very good cold mezzes, tender kibbeh, juicy grilled meats – shish taouk and lamb skewers – and an unexpectedly glorious dessert called Um Ali (croissants soaked in a vanilla-laced cream and sprinkled with pistachios and dried fruits). The wines came from Lebanon's well-known producer, Chateau Musar.

Ultimately, though, you're here for the striking views as the hotel occupies a precious stretch of real estate on the Danube's bank. The restaurant's floor-to-ceiling windows provide open vistas toward the Royal Palace, the Chain Bridge, the Matthias Church, and the Fisherman's Bastion across the dusty-blue river. Few restaurants in Budapest can rival the views. €6-9 mezzes, €15 grilled meats, and a panoramic terrace during the outdoor season.

Mozata is a modern Lebanese restaurant hiding on a Budapest downtown side street, just minutes from the throngs of Váci Street. The airy, two-floored interior is fitted with comfortable chairs and mid-century modern furnishings, although a more intimate atmosphere could be extracted from the premises with softer lighting. The comprehensive Levantine menu features all the classic salads, hot and cold mezzes, grilled meats, and deliciously sugary desserts.

The highlights include the reviving fattoush, the creamy red lentil soup, the smoky eggplant spread (moutabal), and the walnut-spiked strained yogurt (labneh). From the dessert list, don't miss the pistachio and strawberry infused milk pudding (festkiye). Herbal teas, beers and Lebanese wines are all available. Mains are €12-18.

Iranian residents in Budapest would tell you that among the half a dozen options, Darband is the city's top Persian restaurant. The nondescript entrance and the modest below-ground space belie some of the wonderful dishes that come out of the restaurant's kitchen, whose head chef is an Iranian native.

The two must-have starters are the kashk e bademjan, a warm, creamy eggplant spread, and the zeytoon parvardeh meze, an olive oil dip marinated in pomegranate molasses and walnuts. The mains comprise Iranian homestyle stews (khoresh) and kebabs. The ghormeh sabzi, stew often considered to be the national dish of Iran, comprises sauteed herbs mixed with morsels of stewed beef. I was a bigger fan of Darband's kebabs, especially the koobideh long strips of a juicy, flavorful blend of ground beef and lamb paired with buttery rice and grilled tomatoes. In Iranian fashion, pair the dishes with a glass of doogh, a popular carbonated yogurt (alcohol isn't served).

Unhurried groups of elderly Arab regulars tend to socialize at Al-Amir, surely a good sign for a Syrian restaurant in downtown Budapest. Al-Amir marries a counter-service with a sit-down restaurant; most upscale is the downstairs section, usually taken up by hookah-smokers during the cold months (hookahs aren't allowed in the summer).

The dishes are solid but far from memorable. You can find here fresh and fluffy pitas most Levantine restaurants in Budapest serve bland discs of flatbread and tasty mezzes such as hummus, baba ghanoush, and matbucha. Also good are the falafel and the shish taouk, but what's superior to them is Al-Amir's baklava: perfectly moist and flavorful. No alcohol is served, but a range of teas and coffee are available.

If you’re looking to dip your toe into the varied cuisine of Georgia in Budapest, Aragvi, an adorably old-school restaurant on the Buda side, is a good place to start. Georgian cuisine reflects Persian, Turkish, and Levantine influences, so brace yourself for a sea of herbs (parsley, coriander, tarragon, dill, mint), vegetables (eggplants, spinach, beets), walnut paste, and pomegranate seeds that somehow manage to be unfailingly tasty.

There’s good reason why khachapuri Adjaruli has become the best-known export of Georgian cuisine its boat-shaped vessel piled with a tangy mush of melted cheese and topped with a just-cracked egg is an Instagrammer's dream. If you like Chinese soup dumplings, go for their Georgian sisters, the herb-infused pork and beef-filled khinkalis. I also enjoyed the kharcho soup, a reviving broth layered with tender brisket and a mound of coriander. For three or more, get the shkmeruli, a pressed roasted chicken sitting in a milk and garlic sauce and served sizzling in a terracotta pot. Mains are €14-20.

25 types of Georgian wines are also available. Aragvi’s self-righteous service staff evoked in me memories of the 1990s with part nostalgia, part relief that’s it’s now behind us.

Babka is a fashionable Middle-Eastern restaurant in Budapest named after the Ashkenazi Jewish bready cake that originated in Eastern Europe. Perhaps the restaurant's moniker is a hat-tip to the neighborhood, which is home to much of Budapest’s middle-class Jewish residents. The snug, dim interior complete with vintage furnishings and hardwood floors is inviting; unfortunately, the Israeli and Middle Eastern dishes are pricey and a bit hit-or-miss.

On a recent visit, the lamb kofta (€18) arrived with a distractingly sour side of parsley salad, and the namesake Babka dessert was a far cry from the moister, richer, and softer versions that catapulted this baked good into cult status around the world. All this at €15-20 mains, prices that are high by Budapest standards.

Looking for a tasty falafel sandwich while in the city center? Avoid the myriad bland gyro joints scattered everywhere, and head instead to Tahina Bite: a modern, vegan take-out shop operated by a Lebanese family and located across the street from the Dohány Street Synagogue.

Crunchy discs of falafels fried to a golden brown anchor these sandwiches, which come layered with beautifully fresh vegetables (beets, radish, tomatoes, cucumber, parsley), a generous glug of tahini sauce, and a drizzle of sesame seeds. All this wrapped in toasted, crackly flatbread; even better: served as a platter. Other Middle Eastern classics are also served: hummus, baba ganoush, muhammara, and tabbouleh and fattoush salads. Open every day!

Hummusbar is a chain of Middle Eastern fast casual restaurants across Budapest. I live near and hence am a regular customer at the Nagymező utca branch where I’ve yet to be disappointed (variations exist; I can't speak for the others). My go-to is the sabich sandwich: a soft pita piled high with cooked egg, roast eggplant, sauerkraut, crispy potatoes, and drenched in tahini. Filling, delicious, and affordable.

Shakshuka, hummus platters, and salads are also available, both vegetarian and meat-based. The cherry on top: watching the laser-focused Israeli manager prepare your order while he's feeling one with the ear-catching electronic music oozing from the speakers.

Falafel Bar is your best bet for quick and affordable Middle Eastern fare in Budapest's party district. This unfussy place, which does both takeout and sit-down, serves hearty portions of shawarma, sabich, kebab, and various hummus plates. The must-have dish here is the namesake falafel platter sporting deep-fried chickpea balls that are crunchy on the outside and creamy inside. For a lighter snack, I usually order the sabich, an Israeli pita packing fried eggplants, vegetables, tahini sauce, and a hard-boiled egg.

Before long, all visitors to Budapest will notice the countless painfully overlit gyro vendors swarming the city and hawking low-priced sandwiches of mediocre quality at best. At first glance, San Da Vinci, located along the highway-like Rákóczi út in the city center, looks like one of them, but it turns out to be a worthy venue.

The owner, a Turkish native from the seaside city of Cesme, is committed to bringing the flavors of street food from the Aegean Region to Budapest. You're here for the kumru sandwich, a specialty of Cesme, consisting of a sesame-seeded demi baguette layered with melted cheese, crisped pepperoni, sweet tomatoes, and pickles. It's very good. Get the “atom” version to top it off with a fried egg. San da Vinci’s baklava, moist and buttery and rich with pistachio nuts, is delicious. Turkish coffee, ayran, the yogurt-based beverage, and a few seats upstairs are also available.