The restaurants and bars below are very different from one another, but one thing is common: you won't hear much Hungarian chatter here. Why? Many Budapest guide books feature them, which means they're flooded with tourists. Although lack of locals is normally a warning sign, these wildly popular places haven't actually become tourist traps. So give them a try if you don't mind mingling with fellow travelers.
If you've spent at least 5 minutes researching the city's nightlife, then you will already have come across Szimpla Kert, Budapest's iconic ruin bar. Likely you're also familiar with the ruin bar (romkocsma) concept, but for those who remain unaware, here's a quick refresher: ruin bars are makeshift bars located inside dilapidated pre-war buildings, furnished with quirky furniture assembled from clearance sales, and all in all exuding a inexplicably cool atmosphere. .
Mazel Tov is for people who like the ruin bar concept in theory, but prefer things more upscale. This Middle Eastern restaurant in 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 fancy cocktails, ham & cheese sandwiches to a range of trendy Middle Eastern 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 center 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 Kőleves restaurant honors the building’s past with several Hungarian-Jewish dishes like matzo ball soup and cholent. They also use leftover items from the kosher meat plant to adorn the interior. For example, a well-worn, leather-bound ledger book and a Talmud are displayed as design pieces..
Known to every Budapest resident young and old, Gerbeaud is a legendary café and pastry shop in Budapest's downtown. Swiss patissier, Emil Gerbeaud, took over the business in 1884 and turned it into the leading confectionery of the city with a line of inventive sweets. They included the konyakmeggy, a brandied sour cherry enclosed by a chocolate shell, and the “macskanyelv”, a milk chocolate shaped like a cat’s tongue (both of them are still produced). Café Gerbeaud also makes a dizzying array of classic Hungarian (or Austro-Hungarian) pastries, such as Dobos and Esterházy torte, krémes, and the namesake Gerbeaud cake.
Above-average food, laid-back vibes, a chic crowd, tiny tables crammed into a small space, and waitresses speaking fluent English - are we in Brooklyn or Budapest? Budapest, because service isn't rushed and diners are welcome to linger. .
If you wonder what everyday dining was like during communist Hungary, Kádár Étkezde may be able to give you the answer. This traditional eatery, which opened in 1957, will immediately transport you back to a different epoch. Or, at least that used to be the case until recently. .
Szimply is a tiny breakfast-all-day restaurant in the cobble-stoned courtyard of a pre-war downtown building. Thanks to The New York Times, which featured Szimply (Budapest is #50), it's next to impossible to find an open table at this closet-sized breakfast nook. They serve pricey, on-trend breakfast foods such as the generously packed avocado toast topped with tarragon, kohlrabi, and roasted garlic (€11). There are also a range of vegetable and fruit juices, including an acai kombucha (€3).
Spíler has been reliably one of the hottest restaurants in Budapest since its opening in 2012. It's located in the heart of the buzzing Jewish Quarter, inside the tourist-heavy Gozsdu Courtyard dotted with restaurants and bars. Spíler occupies a massive space that includes three stylish, highly Instagrammable dining rooms that operate at capacity most evenings. .
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-style dining. Cheap wood panelings decorate the walls, tablecloths are covered with transparent plastic, and waiters are dressed as if they were parachuted here from the '80s - those in search of a journey back in time are unlikely to be disappointed by Frici Papa. .