Over the past two years of life in the capital, I have become a worshipful devotee at the altar of Hungarian cuisine. The only problem with eating Hungarian food in Budapest is that there are many more bad restaurants than good ones. This is particularly the case in the downtown districts where every other establishment is an over-priced tourist trap. Luckily, there is an awesome selection of good restaurants serving some downright delicious Hungarian cuisine for you to choose from. In this guide, I’ve listed some of my favourite Hungarian dishes and the best local restaurants in Budapest where you can sample them.
Gulyás at Cafe Kör
Gulyás or ‘goulash’ is arguably the staple of food in Hungary and is really a category in its own right. Every restaurant has its unique recipe, but almost all of them involve a tender cut of beef, onions, root vegetables and of course, paprika. Traditionally gulyás is served in a big old soup bowl and takes its roots as a horseman’s dish from the wide-open plains of the countryside.
Cafe Kör’s rendition is a more gourmet version and does without the root vegetables, instead highlighting some of the juiciest veal these teeth have ever sunk into. The kicker here is the golden sizzled potato croquettes which act as a perfect sponge to sop up all the gulyás juice. There are plenty of other excellent dishes to try at Cafe Kör which lies just around the corner from Liberty Square and is a great choice if you are in the mood for proper old school dining in a classy setting.
Location: Sas u. 17
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 10AM – 10PM
Halászlé at Szegedi Halászcsárda
Halászlé is the fisherman’s soup and just like gulyás it involves a great deal of paprika, but this time the meat is traded out for luscious lumps of fish and is a bit more, well, soupy than its beefy cousin. It’s also usually quite spicy, contrary to some of the other Magyar soups which are spiced-optionally with table condiments. Being a landlocked nation, Hungarians rely on river fish such as carp and catfish sourced from the Danube and Tisza, as well as smaller streams and tributaries that lace across the country like a web.
Szegedi Halászcsárda is a nautically themed riverside restaurant and despite its touristic tilt, the soup here is sumptuous. It’s literally a halászlé based restaurant so is a great spot to dip your toes into the paprika broth. If you are feeling risky try their “witches blend” which involves all the innards and gutty goodness.
Location: Belgrád Rakpart 2
Opening Hours: Mon-Sun: 11 AM – 11:30 PM
Chicken Paprikás at Hilda
Chicken paprikás is a chicken-based dish that features, yes you guessed it, paprika. Traditionally the chicken is simmered and slathered in a saucy roux and then ladled over a bed of doughy nokedli (think Hungarian gnocchi). You’ll see plenty of other “paprikás” options on menus across town running the gamut of other meats, but chicken is by far the most famous.
Hilda is a pricy, upscale joint on highflying Nádor utca just a stone’s throw away from the Basilica. The food here is worth its luxury admission and the atmosphere is unbeatable if you are looking for a dash of glam. Most of the typical Hungarian food, including the paprikás, feature some sort of twist. Here the nokedli are substituted for crispy potato dumplings. Great cocktails and brunch on the weekends!
Location: Nádor u. 5
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 11:30 AM – 11PM, Sat-Sun: 9 AM – 11 PM
Töltött Káposzta at Pozsonyi Kisvendéglő
Töltött káposzta aka stuffed cabbage is a rockstar of a dish. You’re probably thinking that stuffed cabbage is vegetarian and you’re probably thinking wrong. Just like the majority of Hungarian cuisine, there’s usually meat involved. Cabbage leaves are wrapped around some sort of mince and then simmered in flavour-packed juices. These rolls are then served over more cabbage and ladles of sauce with a heaping dollop of sour cream for good measure. One of the most dynamic flavour profiles you can find when it’s done right.
Pozsonyi Kisvendéglő rests on a branch off Pozsonyi utca which is the Hungarian name for Bratislava. It’s a great stretch of cityscape down by the Margit Bridge, running through a leafy bit of District XIII. This is a family-style eatery, just like most places labelled “vendéglő” and is a great bang for your buck with its massive portion sizes. Incredibly friendly wait staff and tons of other classics to sample.
Location: Radnóti Miklós u. 38
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 9 AM – 12 AM, Sat-Sun: 10 AM – 12 AM
Zsíros Kenyér at Tokaji Borozó
Oh dreamy, dreamy zsíros kenyér. Unfortunately, you have to look rather hard for this beautiful bar food nowadays and only the old school spots still serve it. It’s a super simple dish that is really more of a snack. The recipe is in the name: take a slice of “kenyér” aka bread and load it to the tipping point with zsír, literally fat. It’s not butter, it’s better. It’s commonly loaded with onions then dusted with paprika and works as an excellent absorbent for a night of swilling pálinka.
You’ll find one of my favourite offerings in the city at Tokaji Borozó. A borozó is a type of cheap wine tavern that is so idiosyncratic to the Hungarian bar scene. Many of them are little, rusty dives, but here you’ll find a glorious, vaulted wooden basement with a constant din of incomprehensible Magyar babble. It’s a ridiculously cool spot with plenty of old locals quaffing down litres of wine.
Location: Falk Miksa u. 32
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 1 PM – 10 PM
Jókai Mór Bableves at Regős Vendéglő
Jókai god-damn Mór. The Charles Dickens of Magyar letters, or is Charles Dickens the Jókai Mór of the Brits? Either way only one of these illustrious writers has a soup named after him. It’s a slow-cooked delight with heaps of beans (bábleves literally means bean soup) and chunks of smoked meat (usually pork). The great Mr. Mór warmed many a night on the shores of Lake Balaton sipping his favourite soup and writing legendary novels. An inspiration!
You’ll find Regős Vendéglő just above the 4/6 line up the street from the chaos of Király utca. It’s a bottom basement eatery dishing up good old comfort recipes. Look, it’s not the best food in town and its definitely a bit on the touristy side but it’s so much better than most eateries in that genre. A real local feel to this place and the walls are covered in interesting cultural mementoes. I like it down there, its got one of those homey feels.
Location: Szófia u. 33
Opening Hours: Mon-Sun: 12 PM – 3 PM, 6 PM – 10 PM
Steak Tartare at Csalogány 26
Obviously some version of steak tartare shows up on most international menus and the Hungarian version is just as good as any. The raw beef may be a bit squeamish-inducing for some of you, but that’s alright, more for me! Runny egg yolk glues everything together in this illustrious appetizer. One of those dishes that unlocks some powerful emotions deep inside the psyche.
I just found out about Csálogány 26 after moving to Buda last month and its a total hidden gem. Csálogány aka “nightingale” is also the name of the street and this elusive eatery is the star of that particular shoe. I say elusive because they’ve got crazy limited opening hours (see below). But the Michelin-rated fare is worth rearranging your schedule for. If you’ve got the cash to burn, try their degustation menu for a full-on flavour tour through the Magyar kitchen. Divine.
Location: Csalogány u. 26
Opening Hours: Tues – Wed: 12 PM – 3 PM, Thurs – Sat: 12 PM – 3 PM, 7 PM – 10 PM
Rántott Csirkemell at A Séf Utcája
‘Rántott’ just means ‘breaded’ and the Hungarians like to ‘rántott’ just about the whole kitchen sink. Chicken is one of the classic choices and will show up in plenty of places serving street food. There is also the veal version which is pretty much a straight clone of wiener schnitzel (sometimes listed on Hungarian menus as “Bécsi Szelet”, as well as plenty of veggie options.
A Séf utcája is a fixture in the Hold Street market hall and will be easily distinguishable by a wrap-around line of patrons every day for lunch. They serve up their fare on big wooden cutting boards and I’d harken to say this might be the best street food in the whole city. They also do a fantastic kolbász (see below).
Location: Hold u. 13
Opening Hours: Mon: 8 AM-5 PM, Tues-Fri: 8AM – 6PM, Sat: 9 AM – 4 PM
Kolbász at TöLTő
A kolbász is a sausage and is one of the most notable national dishes of Hungary. You’ll see plenty of fat, scrumptious dried kolbász hanging proudly from overflowing butcher’s stands in Budapest’s many market halls. There are tons of different types of kolbász and usually, each region infuses its own signature blend of herbs and spices. Some of the most notable are Csabai and Gyulai kolbász, the former of which even has its own protected geographic designation.
The picture above is from A Séf utcája who dish out a delicious cooked version with spicy mustard and toasted bread. For some modern twists with inventive toppings, you can head over to Töltő in District VII and try some of their gourmet creations. My favourite is the wild boar.
Location: Wesselényi u. 31
Opening Hours: Tues-Thurs: 11:30 AM-9:30 PM, Fri: 11:30 AM-10:30 PM, Sat: 12 PM – 10:30 PM, Sun: 12 PM-9 PM
Pörkölt at Kicsi Csángó
Again, pörkölt is more of a category of food than a particular dish. Specifically, it’s a category of stews. Just like paprikás, you’ll see plenty of different types of meat popping up under the pörkölt heading and it is usually accompanied by some sort of pickled salad and/or nokedli.
Kicsi Csángó takes its name from the ‘Csángó’ sub-ethnic group, the remnants of which still live in modern-day Moldova. The food here is nothing spectacular but is incredibly good value and best of all, open 24/7. They have hearty, authentic Hungarian recipes and serve it in an atmospheric wooden dining room on the Buda side with pictures of the romantic Hungarian and Romanian countryside. Shown above is a heaping plate of birkapörkölt, a lamb-based version of the Hungarian classic.
Location: Alagút u. 1
Opening Hours: 24/7 Hours
Uborka Saláta at Kívánság Kifőzde
Pickles, pickles, and pickles galore. Pickles are the quintessential side dish to any Magyar delicacy. Hungarians pickle just about everything, even sweet fruits which are particularly special if you can find them. Pickles go great alongside spicy soups and hearty meat dishes and are omnipresent at Budapest’s many lunch canteens and comes served in a variety of lovely salads. Vegetarians rejoice!
Kívánság kifőzde is only open for lunchtime but is just about as authentic as you can get. A down to earth eatery with cheap as can be prices and scrumptious, crunchy, pickled salads. It’s not often you come to a restaurant for the side dish. But here you do. Football memorabilia and blue checkerboard line the walls. Great, homestyle food.
Location: Belgrád Rakpart 2
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 11:45AM – 4PM
Főzelék at Kádár Étkezde
Főzelék is a vegetable stew. There is a litany of different lip-smacking directions this dish can go on. A derivative of főzelék that is specifically beloved is the famous lecsó, which can be compared most closely to a ratatouille. Of course, the carnivorous Hungarians often opt to add eggs or meatballs to these dishes. But obviously, they are usually be found meat-free and are a great option if you are joining the vegan revolution.
Kádár étkezde is similar to Kívánság kifőzde in that its an old-style lunch canteen with checkerboard tables and cheap eats. Open since the ’50s, this Budapest institution is named after the long time leader of the Hungarian communist party, presiding from 1956-1988. The name is not as much an ode to the man’s legacy as it is to the era in which he ruled. A great place to taste the past and the surrounding grounds of Klauzál tér are a pure delight.
Location: Klauzál tér
Opening Hours: Tues – Sat: 11:30 AM – 3:30 PM
This article is a great starting off point for exploring the intricacies of Hungarian food in Budapest. But we couldn’t possibly list everything. For more excellent dining options be sure to check out 24 Epic Places to Eat in Budapest. Also download the Like Locals App, available for free on both iOS and Android devices. Here you can find more of my local recommendations, including street art, bathhouses, and areas of adventure.
Words and photographs by Like Locals insider Willie Gevertz. You can follow his adventures on Instagram