The 12 Best Traditional Hungarian Restaurants in Budapest

Traditional Hungarian food is a reflection of the local climate as well as Austrian, Ottoman, Slavic, Jewish, and Romanian influences. While the importance of the goulash soup hasn't diminished since Hungarian shepherds cooked it in cast-iron kettles hundreds of years ago although the ingredients did change new dishes have entered the culinary mainstream along the way. The places below serve some of the most reliable traditional fare in Budapest, some also with modern twists on the classics.

Rosenstein is a well-known restaurant in Budapest serving traditional Hungarian and Hungarian-Jewish dishes. Tibor Rosenstein, currently eighty, started this family-run operation which is located a bit outside the city center and currently helmed by his son Róbert (at lunchtime, Rosenstein senior is often seen chatting away with regulars). Though pricey by local standards – mains are €17-25 – Rosenstein shows off the brightest side of Hungarian cuisine.

Most of the long menu is a hat-tip to classic Hungarian fare: patrons can sample tasty goulash soup, beef stew (pörkölt), paprikash, and stuffed cabbage here – traditional foods that have changed little over the generations. The catfish paprikash is another standout, arriving sprinkled with crispy bits of pork fat (Rosenstein isn’t kosher). Or the goose liver, whose best expression is the pan-fried foie gras paired with potato croquettes and drenched in a Tokaji sauce.

Of the Jewish-Hungarian dishes, cholent, the signature sabbath dish of slow-cooked beans and pearl barley topped with brisket, is served on Fridays and Saturdays. Don't plan on doing much else the rest of the day after this hearty meal. Reservations are a must.

A visit to Café Kör is a travel back to pre-war Budapest: This snug downtown restaurant is fitted with bentwood Thonet chairs, a carpeted floor, tightly cramped tables, while the kind waitstaff is donning a formal garb. In a city that increasingly prizes international food above its own, Café Kör is a Budapest essential, serving unadulterated, classic Hungarian dishes without twists or updates.

Before you order, scan the oversized cardboard paper clipped to the wall and listing the daily specials. It's hard to go wrong with anything here, but keep a special eye out for the daily soups, the paprikash with egg dumplings, and the oversized veal schnitzel. I also like the vegetable stews, főzelék, eaten as a main course with a side of meatball. Mains are €15-20.

Café Kör owes its success to the ever-present manager Gábor Molnár, who's been overseeing every aspect of the restaurant with a cheerful demeanor since the opening in 1995. On weekdays, Kör is the see-and-be-seen lunch spot for Hungarian executives from the nearby financial district; more families come here on Saturdays (the restaurant is closed on Sundays).

Gettó Gulyás is a cozy Hungarian restaurant inside Budapest's party district, also known as the old Jewish Quarter. The short menu features the heart of Magyar cuisine with staples like goulash, chicken and veal paprikash (€11-15), and various seasonal vegetable stews called főzelék. "Gettó" refers to the Jewish ghetto, what this neighborhood became during the winter of 1944, the darkest time in Budapest's history.

Don't sleep on the desserts, of which the ground walnut-filled crepes (Gundel palacsinta) and the cottage cheese dumplings (túrógombóc) are both excellent. Hungarian wines are available for pairing.

My only issue with Gettó Gulyás is also a compliment: these reliable Hungarian dishes have become so popular among visitors that the absence of Hungarian patrons can detract from the experience. Advance reservation is an absolute must (forget about scoring a same-day booking). Before your meal, you could grab a drink at Szimpla Kert, the famous ruin bar just steps from away in Kazinczy Street.

In the early aughts, Liszt Ferenc Square in Budapest's District 6 was a popular hangout for chic locals, but as the wheel of trends has turned, people moved on to other pockets of town. Today, you'll find restaurants emblazoned with "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.

So it's against the odds that you'll find here one of Budapest's best destinations for Hungarian food: Menza. This lively modern restaurant churns out traditional local dishes with a level of consistency that would make any Hungarian grandmother blush (there are also pastas and burgers but keep your eye on the prize). I usually order the beef broth soup (húsleves), the wonderfully soft pork schnitzel, or the hearty veal paprikash paired with egg dumplings. Mains are €12-18. Desserts are also excellent, especially the poppy seeds-blanketed mákos guba, and the Kaiserschmarrn, a Habsburg-era shredded pancake topped with apricot jam.

Menza is usually mobbed by tourists but locals also come here, especially for the two-course lunch prix fixe. The service staff is among the best you'll find in Budapest informed, kind, and efficient. Reservations are an absolute must.

Located a bit outside downtown, near the City Park, Szaletly is a destination restaurant, one worth trekking out to. At least if you're curious to try traditional Hungarian dishes transformed with a deft hand by head-chef Dániel Bernát. The whole menu is a celebration of dishes people in Hungary are used to eating, but these beautiful plates are hardly what appear on most dining tables at home.

There's of course goulash, but also the local fish soup (halászlé), foie gras, fogas (pike-perch), Mangalica pork, schnitzel, and túrós palacsinta (túró-filled crepes). And Stefánia vagdalt: a meatloaf named after Stéphanie, the Habsburg Crown Princess of Austria (1864-1945), after whom Szaleltly's elegant street was named. The service is excellent not pushy but alert and knowledgeable, and there's a full wine list of local options. Mains are €15-20. Reservations are recommended.

Curious about the top restaurants on the less traveled side of the Danube? Visit Bobo in Rózsadomb, an exclusive residential area but reachable within ten minutes from Pest. The restaurant's stated mission is to draw Budapest's Bobos (a term made popular David Brook's book, "Bobos in Paradise"), people who harbor both bourgeois and bohemian sentiments.

The beautifully refurbished 1885 estate, once the playground of the Hungarian aristocracy, puts Bobo a notch above Budapest's chic bistros, but it’s also more casual than hushed fine dining venue. The short menu draws inspiration from dishes once popular in Budapest and Vienna during Austria-Hungary (1867-1918), featuring goulash soup, foie gras, paprikash, schnitzel, freshwater pike-perch (fogas), all plated delicately and served on white linen. Crown your meal with the yeast buns drenched in vanilla custard (aranygaluska) or the sweet cottage cheese dumplings (túrógombóc), both of which pair nicely with a glass of Tokaji wine. Mains range €17-23.

If you’re feeling nostalgic for or simply interested in visiting a restaurant with gypsy music – Romani musicians performing lighthearted traditional Hungarian melodies – head to Kéhli in Budapest. Located in Óbuda, the restaurant earned its fame as the haunt of Gyula Krúdy (1878-1933), a famous gourmet-writer who lived around the corner in what is now the Museum of Hospitality (with a wonderful collection, consider it a post-meal treat).

Kéhli serves all signature Hungarian dishes, from goulash to catfish paprikash with túrós csusza. Apart from the stuffed cabbage, the winner at my table turned out to be the Gundel palacsinta dessert: a thin crepe filled with ground and sweetened walnuts and dunked in chocolate cream (arriving in flames for visual flourish). Despite the restaurant's fame and steep price points (€15-22 mains), Kéhli is no tourist trap and most tables are filled by local Hungarians. Live music schedule: every evening plus Sunday lunchtime.

Rib-sticking Hungarian fare can be intimidating if you aren’t used to dishes like roasted goose liver, Mangalitsa pork chop, and wild boar stew. But if you’re up for the challenge, Kispiac Bistro is a good place in Budapest to acquaint yourself with these hefty protein bombs that used to crowd the dining tables of the local aristocracy. The restaurant sticks to the old recipes, but doing it with high-quality ingredients.

One of the highlights here is the fall-apart tender pork belly with a crunchy crust and a side of baked potatoes and sauerkraut. Kispiac is located in downtown, within Budapest's financial district, meaning that price points cater to well-off office workers and tourists (main dishes are €13-20). Also note that the area gets deserted in the evenings, so come for lunch, rather than dinner.

When in 2017 Szabina Szulló and Tamás Széll (a European Bocuse d'Or winner and celebrity-chef in Hungary) announced they were leaving the Michelin-starred Onyx restaurant to venture out on their own, one didn’t need a business degree to predict success. The idea of Stand25 Bistro was to prove that Hungarian fare can be more than a gut-busting, high-carb, greasy affair. The restaurant's success was immediate: a well-to-do local crowd fills Stand25's tables each day.

Although not ground-breaking, the dishes are very good. The crimson-hued goulash soup is exactly as it should be, strewn with crusted cubes of beef and brightened with chopped celery. The layered potatoes come with crisped-up sausages, eggs, and sour cream. Both the somlói galuska, a sponge cake coated in whipped cream and chocolate syrup, and the túrógombóc, cottage cheese dumplings with foamed sour cream and cherry preserves, are worth any sugar-induced guilt that might overcome you.

Note that price points are steep: a two-course meal with a glass of wine will set you back by €45-50 per person. Nonetheless, Mr. Széll’s disciplined approach, which can occasionally be observed through the open kitchen, sets a new standard in Budapest – other restaurants would do well to take cues from Stand25's concept, hospitality, and execution.

When the hunger for affordable Hungarian food hits you in Budapest's downtown, Tüköry restaurant is one of your best bets. Opened in 1958, Tüköry serves affordable – mains are €10-15 local classics in an adorably weathered space fitted with wooden booths and red-and-white checkered tablecloths.

Tüköry is far from the top restaurants in Budapest, but the beef stew (pörkölt), the made-to-order schnitzel-dishes (frissensültek), and the Hungarian crepes (palacsinta) are unlikely to disappoint. Patrons are a mix of tourists and locals from the area. On weekdays, office workers swarm the place for the two-course lunch prix fixe. Hungarian wines, beers, and pálinka (the local fruit brandy) are also available.

Opened in 1994, Király 100 is a traditional Hungarian restaurant a bit outside the city center, lining the historical Király Street. Exposed beams and rafters evoke chalet vibes inside the snug two-story space, perhaps as a legacy of the beer hall that first occupied the premises in 1893 (even today, many people come for beers only).

In addition to classics such as a liver dumpling soup, goulash, and stuffed cabbage made from Managlica pork, the restaurant specializes in roasted duck, fried chicken, and homemade pastas. Mains are €13-18. Also here: dozens of pálinka, the local distilled fruit brandy. Patrons consist of tourists and middle-class Hungarian families who prefer a neighborhood stalwart to a trendy establishment in the city center.

If you're on a budget and looking for an unpretentious Hungarian meal, leave behind the tourist-heavy streets of downtown and head to Pozsonyi Kisvendéglő in Újlipótváros, near the city center. Red-and-white checkered tablecloths and an exhaustive menu spanning soups, stews, ready-made dishes, and noodle desserts will await you at this popular neighborhood restaurant.

The food is average at best, but it's the old-school vibes and the friendly prices that draw most people. There's more than a hundred dishes on the long menu, mainly variations on the classics: goulash, pörkölt, paprikash, schnitzel. Round out your meal with the sweet-tart cottage cheese dumplings (túrógombóc), or the Gundel palacsinta, crepes blanketed in chocolate sauce and filled with ground walnuts. Reservations are recommended, especially to the outdoor tables in the summertime.