Traditional Hungarian food reflects the local climate, as well as regional and ethnic influences. While the importance of the goulash soup hasn't diminished since nomadic Hungarians cooked it in large cast-iron kettles a 1,000 years ago—although the ingredients did change—new dishes have entered the culinary mainstream along the way. The restaurants below serve some of the best, rib-sticking traditional fare in Budapest.
Rosenstein Restaurant, located a bit outside the city center, serves some of the best traditional Hungarian, and Hungarian-Jewish food in Budapest. Tibor Rosenstein opened this family-run operation in 1996, which is currently helmed by his son, Róbert. Most of the long menu is a hat-tip to classic Hungarian fare: patrons can sample expertly prepared goulash soup (€5), beef stew (pörkölt), paprikash (€12), and stuffed cabbage (€9)—traditional Hungarian foods that have changed little over the generations. .
Step inside Café Kör, and the atmosphere will immediately transport you back to a pre-war, middle-class dining room in Budapest. The inside of this homey downtown restaurant features bentwood Thonet chairs, a carpeted floor, and densely packed tables. In a city that increasingly prizes international cuisine above its own, Café Kör is a Budapest essential, serving classic Hungarian dishes without twists or updates..
In retrospect, it's strange that it took so long for someone to finally open a traditional Hungarian restaurant inside Budapest's party district (also known as the old Jewish Quarter). After all, most tourists are after local dishes before they hit the neighborhood bars. Gettó Gulyás's moniker makes its culinary priorities clear—the short menu features the heart of Magyar cuisine with staples like goulash (€4), chicken paprikash (€7), and beef stew (pörkölt). .
In the early aughts, Liszt Ferenc Square in District 6 was a popular hangout for trendy, well-heeled locals. But as the wheel of trends turned, the hoopla tapered off and people moved on to other pockets of the city. Today, you will find plenty of "Hungarian cuisine" and "tourist menu" signs, and it’s also here that Hungary's only Hooters operated until recently. You don't need me to tell you: proceed with caution..
Börze is a sleek downtown restaurant serving traditional Hungarian fare from early morning until midnight, seven days a week. With red banquettes and a chic interior designed to the minute detail, the vibes evoke a Keith McNally restaurant. Börze's moniker is a hat-tip to the enormous, 1907 building across the street that used to be the Budapest Stock and Commodity Exchange. The restaurant is a 2017 offshoot of Menza, and like its sister restaurant, Börze is a well-oiled machine with reliable dishes and a professional waitstaff.
For an unpretentious, traditional Hungarian meal, leave behind the tourist-heavy streets of downtown and head to Pozsonyi Kisvendéglő inside the residential Újlipótváros neighborhood. Red-and-white checkered tablecloths and an exhaustive menu spanning across 12 categories (soups, stews, ready-made, etc.) will await you at this popular, no-frills neighborhood restaurant. .
If the hunger for inexpensive Hungarian food hits while you’re near downtown's tourist sites like the Parliament building and Liberty Square, Tüköry restaurant is your best bet. Since its opening in 1958, Tüköry has been serving reasonably-priced and reliable traditional Hungarian staples amid red-and-white checkered tablecloths. Although there exists better Hungarian food in Budapest, Tüköry’s pörkölt (beef stew; €6), made-to-order schnitzel-dishes like the cordon bleu (frissensültek; €6), and the palacsinta desserts (Hungarian crepes; €3) can hold their own against any restaurant in Budapest. Most of the main dishes are €6-8.
Rib-sticking Hungarian countryside fare can be intimidating if you aren’t used to eating high-calorie, heavy dishes like pork knuckles or wild boar stew. But if you’re up for the challenge, Kispiac Bistro is the best place in Budapest to acquaint yourself with these hearty, traditional dishes; just be sure to expect low post-meal productivity. Kispiac doesn’t try to reinvent old recipes, but it moves past communist-era kitchen practices and uses high-quality ingredients..
Gyergyó restaurant, which opened in 1991, masks itself as a typical greasy spoon, but it’s closer to a semi-upscale restaurant when it comes to food, plating, and, unfortunately, prices too. The place’s moniker is a hat-tip to the Transylvanian city where the owner-chef, Árpád Gyurka, hails from. The restaurant is located in an elite, residential Buda neighborhood, which explains why main dishes run €10-15, and why big-time lawyers, businessmen, and retired, upper-middle class regulars fill this tiny, lunch-only restaurant..
Budapest has only a few restaurants right along the Danube River, and even the ones that exist are usually more about vistas than gastronomic delights. Flanked by endless rows of docked Viking river cruises, Szegedi Halászcsárda doesn't hold much promise at first sight, but it turns out to be a positive surprise. Their specialty is the Hungarian fisherman’s soup, halászlé, especially its famed version from the south-Hungarian city of Szeged. .
The outer part of the Grand Boulevard (Nagykörút) is much different than the inner side—the Jewish Quarter’s stag-party apocalypse doesn’t reach this far, meaning that the streets quiet down as night falls, and residents are still mainly locals rather than Airbnb guests. The neighborhood’s mom-and-pop stores and dilapidated buildings serve as a reminder of what much of Budapest looked like in the '90s. .
Huszár, named after the Hungarian light cavalry soldiers, is the type of restaurant where everyday local Hungarian families go for a Sunday lunch. It's an unchic restaurant that doesn’t try to be more than what it is—an unfussy neighborhood joint serving Hungarian dishes without twists or updates to traditional recipes. Huszár also satisfies my occasional nostalgia for the type of gruff service and weathered interior that defined Budapest restaurants in the '90s. .
If you’re looking to try traditional Hungarian food in a restaurant away from the crowded downtown streets, Regős Vendéglő can be a good option. Despite its offbeat location, however, the crowd here actually consist mainly of tourists who’ve discovered Regős through TripAdvisor and concierge recommendations, leading to higher price points and less “local vibes” than at similar neighborhood joints (main dishes run €8-10). The restaurant, which opened in 2002, occupies a brick-arched underground space decked out in wooden banquettes and kitschy decor. .
Restaurants outside the city center tend to draw a more diverse set of patrons than those in downtown. A tasty and low-priced lunch can bring together grandmas, office workers, local thugs, and tourists alike, as evidenced at lunchtime in Rákóczi restaurant, located in Budapest's outer District 8. The restaurant overlooks Rákóczi Square, an area once known for its grimy streets, rampant prostitution, low-life characters. Today, there’s a glitzy subway stop beneath the square and the neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying (pop in to Csiga Café across the street for proof)..
Many countries put their own twist on the fish soup, reflecting locally available fish species and ingredients. The fisherman’s soup (halászlé) is Hungary’s take on the bouillabaisse. It has myriad permutations across the country, but the classic version uses carp fillets, and a generous portion of paprika seasoning that lends the broth a deep-red hue. Oddly, few Budapest restaurants serve fisherman’s soup at all, and of the ones that do, few seem to care to get it right.