While a visit to Hungary’s capital will no doubt feature both sides of the Danube, it’s on the Pest side where much of its nightlife can be found. It’s here that Budapest’s varied gastronomic experiences can be discovered and it really doesn’t matter what your tastes or budgets are, there’s something for everyone.
Restaurant, Hungarian, $$$
It’s in the name of this small restaurant, but it’s not specifically the dishes of Hungary you’ll find here but the flavours. While this does mean spicy paprika and juicy stews, the real glory is in its mangalica, a breed of pig specific to Hungary and whose existence has even been protected by the government – which means the quality of its meat is worth the expense. Add in homely piano-driven tunes, traditional chequered tablecloths and some of the most friendly service you’ll find in the city and you’re left with a dining experience that truly offers a taste of Hungary.
At the other end of the scale is Paprika. Further out from downtown Pest and sitting on the edge of the városliget – or City Park – is this homely eatery that is better suited to those who would rather enjoy something more rustic. Paprika’s timber seating and wooden beams give the place an authentic aesthetic, but its meals of chicken liver, stuffed cabbage or brassói – a garlic-infused dish of chopped meat and potato – offer a traditional Hungarian taste, too.
You may think that this simple yet authentic restaurant’s name is a reference to its position inside a cellar, but in fact it’s the Hungarian word for ‘celery’ – and, no, we don’t know why they chose this, either. Famed for its stylish takes on meat-heavy Hungarian meals – a particular favourite being its csülök, or pork feet – the place is just as highly praised for its cuisine as the friendly staff and suave interior.
Since it’s located only a short stroll away from the Great Market Hall, Borbíróság – or ‘wine court’ – is a perfect place to quench your desire after perusing the marketplace of traditional Hungarian flavours. It’s an ideal blend of the classic and the contemporary, with its wide selection of grilled Hungarian meats available at incredibly fair prices.
As one of a handful of Michelin star restaurants in Budapest, Costes naturally has a lot to contend with when it comes to non-locals dining in its calm and subdued atmosphere. It manages to offer a whole range of Hungarian meals beyond those typically offered up as more ‘traditional’ Hungarian dishes. This might be the borsóleves (AKA creamy pea soup), the crescent-shaped bread kifli or a savoury scone called pogácsa. It might be fine dining, but it’s not afraid to overlook the simpler tastes from Hungarian cuisine.
It would be a shame to take a trip to Budapest and not make the most of the view of the Danube, and what better way than to dine on one of the many ships anchored on the banks of the Pest side. Spoon is one of the more popular of such places, particularly due to the variety of its menu. It has everything from chicken in a paprika sauce with dumplings, to a selection of fish, meats and intricately crafted cakes.
Sitting at the edge of Budapest’s party district and overlooking the Grand Boulevard, Fricksa Gastropub is perfectly suited to tourists looking to make the most of their time in the city. Its simple yet effective decor matches its unique take on Hungarian fusion dishes, made all the more fascinating by a focus on using locally available ingredients. Best of all, in 2017 the Michelin Guide recommended the restaurant for its Bib Gourmand, a coveted accomplishment that says everything about the quality of its dishes.
Another Michelin-starred restaurant here, and one that has retained the glory for two years now. Borkonyha – or Wine Kitchen – is interesting for its clever blending of Hungarian flavours with a number of dishes from an eclectic range of nations. France, Italy, Spain and even Transylvania – the formerly Hungarian part of Romania – have all inspired Borkonyha’s ever-changing menu in some way and, as you might expect from its name, the stores of Hungarian wines are equally as varied.
There’s a saying in Hungary that the best way to describe their cuisine is ‘hús hússal‘, or ‘meat with meat’. While Mészár’s does admittedly sidestep the more traditional stews and fried meats, it still utilises fresh Hungarian meats and prepares them in a number of tantalising ways. It might not win awards as a gourmet restaurant, but if it’s meat that you’re into then this joint effort between a butcher’s love of meat preparation and a restaurateur’s ability to turn that into a dining experience, then this is absolutely the place to go.