Budapest is not short of fancy restaurants, cafés, and bistros, but finding real authentic ones that are also a good value for your money is not easy. As in any big city with a plethora of choices, visitors get confused by the internet reviews and recommendations, often sponsored by the restaurants themselves. Like many others ahead of me, I had my fair share of disappointments and paid my price for the knowledge I gained in this field. Below is my top 10 restaurants list, based on what I feel makes a good value restaurant.
If it’s only about having a meal, some of these restaurants may not be the place for you, but if what you want is an unforgettable evening that will give you reasons to brag about, then here are a couple of suggestions:
Famous Restaurants in Budapest
Gundel (Address: 14th district, Gundel Károly street 4) is a high end restaurant with an international reputation and an old culinary tradition. They serve some of the best dishes I ever tasted (and I could say I eat in some good places on this planet). Each dish is served with its own wine that best compliments the food. The service is great, you will definitely be pampered. They have a gypsy band that plays a wide variety of music on request from old Hungarian folk songs, to waltzes and modern hits. Overall the atmosphere is great, you feel like royalty. On the downside, the food portions are ridiculously small (literally bite size) so you are forced to order at least a there course meal, or you’ll leave with an empty stomach. A dinner for two may cost anywhere from $350-$500 depending on the kind of wine you order, so if you work for your money Gundel may not be your best choice unless . . . you work for your stomach!
Bagolyvár Restaurant (The Owl’s Castle, Address: Allatkerti ut 2, Budapest 1146) is a cheaper version of Gundel (has the same owners and shares a kitchen with that much more expensive establishment), exclusively women worked, with a very unique atmosphere. Located in a reproduction of a Transylvanian house and just a stone throw from Gundel, the restaurant also has a patio that is opened during summer months. It also serves lunch. For dinner the restaurant has live piano music, alternated with short appearances of the the gypsy orchestra from Gundel. The food is wonderful, reasonably priced, and the service is good.
Csalogány 26 (Address: Csalogány utca 26, district I) is a bistro style restaurant in a simple neighborhood in Buda, very popular among the locals. But don’t be fooled by the unassuming look and the non-ceative name (named after the address) because the food is outstanding and the service is very friendly. Prices are high.
Mátyás Pince (Matthias Cellar, Address: 1056 Budapest, Március 15. tér 7) is one of Budapest’s oldest restaurants, located in a former brewery and named after King Matthias Corvinus. Very convenient location (close to pedestrian Vaci utca) offers a true Hungarian cuisine, with gypsy music and a short folk dance show during dinner. Food is very tasty and the service is good most of the times. Prices are a little high, but still a good value. It also serves lunch on week-ends.
And last but not least, if all you want is a good hearty meal after a long day of sightseeing here is my recommendation:
Szlovák Söröző (a Slovakian and Hungarian cuisine, located on Bihari János utca 17, off Szent Istvan körut) is one of my favourite little pubs in Budapest with a very unpretentious atmosphere, excellent food, cheap prices and NO tourists. They serve an excellent Goulash, beautifully grilled meats, soups and deserts. Their signature dish is “sztrapacska” (potato dumplings with sheep feta cheese and bacon). I was never disappointed here!
Famous Cafés in Budapest
Café Gerbeaud is Budapest’s most famous café. If you asked me a while ago, I would have told you that no visit to Budapest is complete without savoring a Sissi cave (coffee), or devouring an Esterházy torte in the opulent Café Gerbeaud. Located at Vörösmarty Square, at one end of the pedestrian Vaci street, the legendary Gerbeaud tries hard to hang on to its great reputation. Unfortunately the place has changed a lot in the last 10 years. It became very touristy, overpriced, and mediocre. Still, if you want to see one of the most traditional coffeehouses in Europe, you should stop for a visit. The grandeur of its chandelier-lit rooms covered with red velvet may justify your money. Too bad the quality of the service is lost. I used to love this place.
Café New York, another historic café in Budapest that served as the gathering spot for famous artist figures of the time. During the Communist era, the place was turned into a sporting goods store. In 1954 it reopened as a restaurant, renamed Hungaria, and became a café again in 1989, under the current name. Located on the ground floor of the New York Palace hotel, the coffee house displays a very rich and opulent decor and still maintains the old time tradition of serving coffee on silver trays.
Prices are very high (around 900 HUF for a coffee and 2000 HUF for a slice of cake!). This is not the place that I would go on a regular basis, but for the sake of enjoying the ambiance of a great coffee house it’s definitely worth a visit.
Ruszwurm is one of my favorite spots in Budapest, because it taps into my weakness. If you want to buy me you can offer me sweets. Their delicious pastries and coffee make your mouth water. Located in the Buda Castle area, the 187 years old tiny little café still operates with great success. Ruszwurm is owned by the Szamos family, a famous confectionary dynasty. Prices are moderate to high, service is good. Due to its fame and location, the place is always very crowded and finding a table is a real challenge.
Europa Café is another very pleasant coffee house, with a gallery inside and a terrace outside. Located on Szent Istvan körut opposite the Comedy Theater and just a few steps from Margaret Bridge, the café offers a very big selection of pastries and sweets. Prices are moderate, service is good and the atmosphere is very pleasant. This is a very authentic Hungarian café and is very much a locals’ spot. Most people around you will be speaking Hungarian. It reminds me a lot about those small Parisian cafés where the old timers meet to catch up with each other. Because of its proximity to our apartment we visit the café relatively often when we are in Budapest, but even if you don’t live in the area this place is definitely worth a visit.
So, is it worth spending a fortune in a fancy restaurant? For me it’s not. When it comes to having a good meal, I’m happy with a local spot or a street stand. I’d be a hypocrite if I told you that I don’t enjoy dining in style, but I always feel guilty afterwards.
How much are you willing to spend for a great meal?