The 16 Best Traditional Hungarian Restaurants in Budapest

Traditional Hungarian food reflects the local climate and also Ottoman, Austrian, Slavic, Jewish, and Romanian influences. While the importance of the goulash soup hasn't diminished since nomadic Hungarians cooked it in large cast-iron kettles a thousand 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 traditional fare in Budapest. If you prefer updated takes on the classics, try these modern Hungarian restaurants, too.

#1 Rosenstein Restaurant

Rosenstein is an iconic restaurant in Budapest, serving some of the best traditional Hungarian and Hungarian-Jewish dishes in the city. Tibor Rosenstein started this family-run operation, which is located a bit outside the city center and is currently helmed by his son Róbert (at lunchtime, you'll likely see the senior Rosenstein chatting away with regulars). Most of the long menu is a hat-tip to classic Hungarian fare: patrons can sample expertly prepared goulash soup (€7), beef stew (pörkölt), paprikash (€12), and stuffed cabbage (€9) here—traditional foods that have changed little over the generations.

#2 Café Kör

The inside of Café Kör will make you feel like you've traveled back in time to pre-war Budapest: This snug downtown restaurant features bentwood Thonet chairs, a carpeted floor, tightly crammed tables, and a waitstaff 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.

#3 Gettó Gulyás

In retrospect, it's weird 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 want 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 (€5), chicken paprikash (€7), and pörkölt, which is a beef stew. ("Gettó" refers to the Jewish ghetto, into which this neighborhood was turned during the winter of 1944, the darkest time of WWII in Budapest).

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#4 Menza Restaurant

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 turned, people moved on to other pockets of the city. Today, you'll find plenty of tourist trap restaurants here emblazoned with "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.

#5 Börze Budapest

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 pre-war building across the street that used to be the Budapest Stock and Commodity Exchange. Börze is a 2017 offshoot of Menza, and like its sister restaurant, it's a well-oiled machine with reliable dishes and a kind waitstaff.

#6 Földes Józsi vendéglője

At a time when modern takes on the classics reign supreme across Budapest, it can be difficult to find a good old traditional Hungarian restaurant. If old-school, rustic fare is what you're after, head to Földes Józsi. Mr. Földes, a renowned chef of five-star Budapest hotels throughout the '80s and '90s, passed away in 2012, but his family and former colleagues carry on his legacy at the foot of the Buda hills inside an 18th century Baroque building, reachable from downtown in ten minutes by taxi. That legacy translates to flavorful local favorites prepared with care and attention.

#7 Kispiac Bistro

Rib-sticking Hungarian fare can be intimidating if you aren’t used to eating high-calorie, meat-heavy dishes like roasted goose liver, Mangalitsa pork chop, and wild boar stew. But if you’re up for the challenge, Kispiac Bistro is the best place in Budapest to acquaint yourself with these hefty dishes that used to crowd the dining tables of the local aristocracy's countryside estates. Kispiac sticks to the old recipes, but doing it while using high-quality ingredients.

#8 Tüköry Étterem

When 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. Opened in 1958, Tüköry serves reasonably priced local classics in an adorably weathered space featuring wooden booths and red-and-white checkered tablecloths.

#9 Pozsonyi Kisvendéglő

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 soups, stews, ready-made dishes, and noodle desserts will await you at this wildly popular neighborhood restaurant.

#10 Gyergyó Árpi kisvendéglője

This lunch-only restaurant, which opened in 1991, masks itself as a greasy spoon, but it's actually one of the top destinations in Budapest for homestyle Hungarian fare. The restaurant's moniker is a hat-tip to the Transylvanian city where the owner-chef, Árpád Gyurka, hails from. Note that the place is located away from the city center in an elite, residential Buda neighborhood, which explains why main dishes cost €10-15, and why big-time lawyers, businessmen, and upper-middle class regulars fill this tiny space at lunchtime.

#11 Király 100 Restaurant

Király 100, which opened in 1994 and lines the outer part of the historic Király Street, is a traditional Hungarian restaurant a bit outside the city center. The cozy two-story space, outfitted with exposed beams and rafters, evokes chalet vibes, perhaps as a hat-tip to the beer hall that first occupied the space in 1893. (Even today, many people come for beers only, of which four lagers are available on draft.)

#12 Franz Joseph Restaurant

Hungarians have a difficult relationship with "the Kaiser," that is, Emperor Franz Joseph, the regimented Habsburg king who ruled the country from Vienna for more than half a century: He brutally crushed the Hungarian revolution of 1848, but later facilitated the creation of Austria Hungary, thereby laying the ground for a period of unprecedented development. Budapest's Franz Joseph restaurant, naturally, tips its hat to the later years of the Kaiser. This it does, for example, with an oversized oil portrait that anchors the art-laden interior and depicts a somber and wild-moustached sovereign.

#13 Szegedi Halászcsárda

It's a fact of life in Budapest that few restaurants offer Danube River views, and even those that do are rarely known for gastronomic delights. Szegedi Halászcsárda, flanked by docked Viking river cruises, is a notch above its kind. The specialty here is the Hungarian fisherman’s soup, halászlé, especially the famed version from the south-Hungarian city of Szeged.

#14 Huszár Étterem

Named after a class of Hungarian light cavalry soldiers, Huszár is an unfussy neighborhood restaurant serving Hungarian dishes without any twists or updates to traditional recipes. Huszár also satisfies my occasional nostalgia for the type of gruff service and weathered interior that defined Budapest dining in the '90s.

#15 Regős Vendéglő

Regős is a tourist-favorite restaurant located a bit outside the city center on a tranquil street not far off Andrássy Avenue. The inside of this arched below-ground space is decked out in kitschy decor, red-and-white checkered tablecloths, and wooden banquettes.

#16 Rákóczi Étterem

Restaurants outside the city center draw a more diverse set of patrons than those in downtown: a low-priced lunch can bring together grandmas, office workers, local thugs, and tourists alike, as evidenced at lunchtime in Rákóczi restaurant, located a bit outside the city center in Budapest's District 8. The restaurant overlooks Rákóczi Square, an area once known for its grimy streets, rampant prostitution, and low-life characters. Today, there’s a glitzy subway stop here and the neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying (pop into Csiga Café across the street for proof).

Rankings are based on a combination of food/drink, atmosphere, service, and price. The author visits all restaurants incognito and pays for his own meals and drinks.