14 of the Best Traditional Hungarian Restaurants in Budapest

Hungarian food: a reflection of the local climate and traditions, as well as Austrian, Ottoman, Slavic, Jewish, and Romanian influences. While the importance of the goulash hasn't diminished since Hungarian herdsmen 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 restaurants below serve excellent paprikash, pörkölt, schnitzel, stuffed cabbage, túrógombóc (cottage cheese dumplings), and palacsinta in Budapest.

#1 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 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.

#2 Gettó Gulyás

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 away in Kazinczy Street.

#3 Café Kör

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 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 meatballs. Mains are €13-20.

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).

#4 Szaletly

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 food 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 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), whose name is also borne by the elegant street where Szaletly is located. The service is excellent – not pushy but alert and knowledgeable and there's a full wine list of local options. Mains are €14-18. Reservations are recommended.

#5 Bobo Restaurant

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 in David Brooks's "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 venues. 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 €16-23.

#6 Rosenstein Restaurant

Rosenstein is a well-known restaurant in Budapest serving traditional Hungarian and Hungarian-Jewish dishes. Tibor Rosenstein, over eighty now, 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 very pricey by local standards – mains are €18-25 – Rosenstein shows off the bright 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. Also here: flódni. Reservations are a must.

#7 Kéhli Vendéglő

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.

#8 Stand25 Bistro

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-off 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.

Price points are very steep: a two-course meal with a glass of wine will set you back by €55-60 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.

#9 Buja Disznó(k)

Buja Disznó(k) is a lunch-only fast casual restaurant inside the Fény utca market on the Buda side of Budapest. Run by local celebrity chef Lajos Bíró, the culinary mission of Buja Disznó(k) is simple enough: serve delicious traditional Hungarian dishes with small updates and modern adjustments. Liver dumpling soup, pork schnitzel with potato salad, fried chicken thighs, stewed pork liver, sour lungs, and so on. On Fridays, they have two Jewish-Hungarian specialties: cholent, and the memorably delicious flódni layered cake. €15 or so will buy you a full meal. Craft beers, wine, and pálinka (fruit brandy) are also served.

#10 Róma Ételbár

In 2020, after the retirement of the original owner, the legendary Cica, a young team went on to revive Róma Ételbár, one of the last Budapest étkezde: cheap, no-frills, lunch-only eateries once common in Hungary. Róma’s dishes still exclusively revolve around Hungarian classics and they’re still affordable. And very solid: I can recommend the orja leves, a pork bone soup with a side of mustard and cream, the goulash variations (pörkölt and paprikash), the layered cabbage, the rice pilaf (bácskai rizses hús), the schnitzels, the dessert specials such as the rice pudding (tejberízs) and cottage cheese dumplings (túrógombóc). Service is quick, the crowd a combination of local office workers and Millennials in search of nostalgia. For a post-meal drink with similar vibes, head to the nearby Bambi Eszpresszó.

#11 Tüköry Étterem

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.

#12 Öcsi étkezde

Opened in 1981, Öcsi étkezde is a teeny-tiny, lunch-only eatery in Budapest's outer District 8, a bit away from the city center. The engine of this modest mom-and-pop restaurant is Erzsi, who runs the kitchen all by herself and occasionally pops into the dining area with flour-dusted hands to ask a regular patron whether he wants a schnitzel with his lecsó. Feri, her husband, sporting a white lab coat, multitasks by taking orders, serving food, and chatting with customers, most of whom he knows by name. Despite pushing 70, he retains a youthful presence and handsome features.

The daily-changing, handwritten menu consists of low-priced, reliably prepared Hungarian classics. The made-to-order meat dishes ("frissensültek") and the vegetable stews ("főzelék") are usually the highlights. There's nothing trendy or inventive about the place, but if you feel like taking a break from downtown and immersing yourself in a true-to-Budapest neighborhood restaurant while enjoying tasty Hungarian food, it's hard to think of a better place than Öcsi Étkezde.

#13 Király 100 Restaurant

Opened in 1994, Király 100 is a traditional Hungarian restaurant a bit outside the city center, lining the historic 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.

#14 Pozsonyi Kisvendéglő

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.