The 14 Best Traditional Hungarian Restaurants in Budapest

Traditional Hungarian food is a reflection of the local climate and foreign influences, including Austrian, Ottoman, Slavic, Jewish, and Romanian. While the importance of the goulash soup hasn't diminished since nomadic Hungarians cooked it in cast-iron kettles a thousand 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. 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 traditional Hungarian and Hungarian-Jewish dishes. Tibor Rosenstein, nearing 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, Rosenstein shows off the brightest side of Hungarian fare.

#2 Café Kör

Café Kör makes you feel like you've traveled back in time 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.

#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 túrógombóc (€4). ("Gettó" refers to the Jewish ghetto, into which this neighborhood was turned during the winter of 1944, the darkest time of WWII in Budapest).

#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 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.

#5 Börze Budapest

Börze is a sleek downtown restaurant serving classic 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 Kispiac Bistro

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

#7 Tüköry Étterem

When the hunger for inexpensive Hungarian food hits while you’re in downtown, Tüköry restaurant is one of your best bets. Opened in 1958, Tüköry serves reasonably priced local classics in an adorably weathered space fitted with wooden booths and red-and-white checkered tablecloths.

#8 Pozsonyi Kisvendéglő

For an unpretentious and low-priced traditional Hungarian meal, leave behind the tourist-heavy streets of downtown and head to Pozsonyi Kisvendéglő in Újlipótváros, not far from 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 highly popular neighborhood restaurant.

#9 Gyergyó Árpi kisvendéglője

Tucked away in an exclusive Buda neighborhood, Gyergyó Árpi is a longtime lunch-only family restaurant serving homestyle Hungarian fare. Given the prime location and the elite customers who fill this tiny space at lunchtime — big-time lawyers, businessmen, and upper-middle class regulars — main dishes range €10-15. The restaurant's moniker is a hat-tip to the Transylvanian city where the owner-chef, Árpád Gyurka, hails from.

#10 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).

#11 Franz Joseph Restaurant

Hungarians have a complicated 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 latter years of the Kaiser as evidenced by an oversized oil portrait anchoring the art-laden interior and depicting a somber and wild-moustached sovereign.

#12 Huszár Étterem

Named after a class of Hungarian light cavalry soldiers, Huszár is an unfussy neighborhood restaurant 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 dining in the '90s. The food here is a bit hit-or-miss. Avoid the hortobágyi pancake, but I can safely recommend the goulash soup, the beef stew (pörkölt; €8), and the paprikash (€7). If pork fat doesn't intimidate you, go for the cigánypecsenye, a pork cutlet topped with fried fatback. Round out your meal with gesztenyepüré, Hungary's take on the chestnut-based Mont Blanc dessert.

#13 Regős Vendéglő

Regős is a traditional Hungarian restaurant located a bit outside the city center on a tranquil street not far off Andrássy Avenue. The inside of this below-ground space is decked out in kitschy decor, red-and-white checkered tablecloths, and wooden banquettes. The long menu features traditional Hungarian staples like goulash soup, paprikash, various schnitzel dishes, and stuffed cabbage.

#14 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 by the lunchtime crowd at Rákóczi restaurant 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 (drop by 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.