Most Budapest guide books feature the places below, meaning that throngs of tourists flock to them. Although lack of locals is normally a warning sign, these restaurants, bars, and cafés haven't actually turned into tourist traps. Price-points may be a little higher than usual, but they have retained their native spirit that made them famous in the first place.
If you've spent at least 5 minutes researching the city's nightlife, then you may have come across Szimpla Kert, Budapest's iconic ruin bar. Likely you're also familiar with the ruin bar (romkocsma) concept: makeshift bars inside dilapidated pre-war buildings, furnished with quirky furniture assembled from clearance sales, and all in all exuding an inexplicably cool atmosphere..
Head to Mazel Tov if you like the ruin bar concept in theory, but prefer things more upscale. This Middle Eastern restaurant inside Budapest's buzzing Jewish Quarter does have a disintegrating facade like other ruin bars, but the inside is a different story: Cheap drinks have been upgraded to cocktails, ham & cheese sandwiches to mezze plates, self-service to hostesses, and cheap furniture to a thoughtfully designed, industrial-chic interior with sleek wood paneling..
Kőleves is a wildly popular restaurant in the heart of Budapest’s old Jewish Quarter, today’s party district. The building, which was built in 1851, used to be home to a kosher meat processing facility and butcher shop, so it’s fitting that they honor the building’s past with dishes like matzo ball soup, and cholent, the typical Sabbath dish. They also use leftover articles from the meat plant as design pieces, including a well-worn, leather-bound ledger book and a weathered Talmud..
Known to every local resident, Gerbeaud is an iconic café and pastry shop in Budapest's downtown. It was Swiss patissier Emil Gerbeaud, who in 1884 transformed the space into a confectionery famed for its inventive sweets like the konyakmeggy, a brandied sour cherry enclosed by a chocolate shell, and “macskanyelv,” a milk chocolate shaped like a cat’s tongue (both of them are still produced). Gerbeaud also makes some of the best traditional Hungarian (or Austro-Hungarian) pastries such as Dobos, Esterházy torte, krémes, and the namesake Gerbeaud cake. If you order them to go, all cakes are half-priced..
If you wonder what everyday dining was like during communist Hungary, Kádár Étkezde may be able to give you the answer. Or at least that used to be the case before tourists descended on the place in the last few years. Kádár, which opened in 1957, started out as a wallet-friendly neighborhood joint feeding the mainly Jewish local residents—it's inside Budapest's old Jewish Quarter—with unfussy traditional Hungarian foods like stuffed cabbage and beef stew (pörkölt), and also Jewish staples like matzo ball soup and cholent (note that Kádár isn't kosher). The dishes were passable, prices rock-bottom.
Although Frici Papa opened after the fall of the iron curtain, this eatery has rightfully become a darling for tourists who're looking to experience a piece of communist-era dining—prices are rock-bottom, cheap wood panelings decorate the walls, tablecloths are covered with sticky plastic, waiters are dressed as if parachuted here from the '80s. .