restaurant roundup

  1. BulletYou want a list of the best restaurants in Budapest, go to the Chew.Hu Top 33.  (Avoid Zagat, which uncharacteristically seems to attract its reviews almost exclusively from short-term visitors to the city.) 

But if you want a rambling collection of the places I like ...

  1. BulletCafé Bouchon (a George Karpati recommendation) provided the best single meal we’ve had in Budapest.  And, after a second visit, the second best.  Admittedly, a part of that was how relieved we were to be welcomed warmly on a cold and rainy night (the first time), but the cosseting of the waiters, the quiet innovation of the food, and the quality of the ingredients conspired to make everything fall into place. If you’re only going to one special dinner, run, don’t walk…about $35/person with wine, dessert, and tip.  Tel 06 1 353 4094; Zichy Jeno utca 33.

  1. BulletThe once and future Segal, the restaurant owned and obsessed over by Victor Segal, the original chef from Baraka (the one who put it on the map).  A spectacular fusion restaurant in intimate but luxurious surroundings, is now open in new digs on O utca, near Liszt Ferenc ter.  Breakfast-lunch-dinner and an atrium café in a fancy new building.

  1. BulletA Hungarian friend took us to the Café Kör (Sas utca 17; tel: 06 1 311 0053) when we couldn't get a table at Tom-George (ok, it was George Karpati again; it's a couple of blocks away and was also rather busy but they took pity on us and seemed to recognize him), and I was wary because of negative comments on Chowhound and elsewhere, but was very pleasantly surprised, both because there was a wider range of Hungarian dishes than found at most serious restaurants in the city and because they were by and large executed to a standard far above the average there. And it was not filled exclusively with tourists and expats.  Reservations are important here and in most places worth eating during the tourist season.  We had a second really wonderful meal here months later and the service was very attentive. I gather it was unique and wonderful until some of the senior staff went off to start Bouchon, which is surely in a similar genre but far more consistently inviting, engaging, and quietly creative.

  1. BulletThe Gerloczy Café (tel: 06 1 235 0953; Gerloczy utca 1 ) for all the reasons suggested above, a lovely, lovely spot.  Extremely close to Szervita ter, Deak ter, and Ferenciek tere and open for breakfast at 7:00 am.  Getting very trendy, and now listed in several guidebooks and local websites.  As a result it can be hard to get a table, so reservations may be a good idea.  Our guests tend to live there when they are not in the apartment or pounding the pavement.  The menu is online at:

  1. BulletThe Café Central, which is our second favorite café to sit and feel mitteleuropaische in, also is quite a decent Hungarian restaurant and serves lunch and dinner as well as excellent breakfasts (the sausages at breakfast and the soups served in loaves of bread are particularly good; if you like chicken livers, the "small plate" of roasted chicken livers – which are actually sautéed with peppers and onions and paprika I think – is excellent—[the word for roasting and the word for sautéing are very similar in Hungarian and the result is that working from a dictionary in either direction can lead to a lot of confusion on menus; in particular, don't be surprised when an English menu describes a dish, like this one, as roasted and it comes out looking like a stew]).

  1. BulletThe Castro Bisztro has the best gulas soup in town and is a Serbian/expat hangout with decent Serbian grills and that killer gulas. In the back of Madach Imre ter, just off Deak ter.  Find the Rothschild supermarket on the körút and look to its left...see that very large apartement building with a large U-shaped driveway/porte cochere going into it?  That driveway is Madach Imre ter.  Walk to the rear right and there's the Castro.

  1. BulletBorbirosag, Csarnok ter 5; 361 219 0902 – an excellent wine tasting bar and restaurant with really wonderful veal paprikas and other food, just behind the Central Market (on the left side of the square behind the Market Hall. An Eliane Pickermann recommendation.

  1. BulletAnother very good wine bar and restaurant is Klassz on Andrassy ut tel: 06 1 413 1545; Andrassy ut 41, no phone, no reservations. Run by the Hungarian Wine Society. Excellent kitchen. More upmarket and bling-y than Borbirosag; likelier to be crowded and impossible to find a seat after 8:00pm.  Eliane’s find.

  1. BulletTom-George [a Karpati choice] tel: + 36 1 266-3525; Oktober 6 utca 8, is a wonderful place for not-very-Hungarian fusion cooking (it has, among other things, surprisingly good and fresh sushi for the middle of a landlocked not-very-wealthy country). Everything we ate there was good. In the running for best goose liver pate.  Reservations are important.

  1. BulletTrofea:  There are two branches of this restaurant owned by the owners of Tom-George and the Leroy restaurants: One is at Visegradi utca 50/a near Lehel ter (06 1 270 0366); the other is at Erzsebet kiralyne 5; 06 1 251 6377. We’ve eaten at the former, at George Karpati’s urging and in his gracious company.  Reservations pretty much a must.  The theory of these restaurants is not promising: All You Can Eat and Drink.  Great for volume but we were pessimistic about quality.  We were wrong.  Abundant varieties of starters, soups, salads, and main courses; a cook-to-order grill area; a range of desserts including home-made ice creams and various small cakes.  Everything was good, some of it very, very good.  The fried chicken was really wonderful, as were the stews and soups.  The pates were fine, the range of starters impressive.  The wine and beer were better than you would expect, and it all kept flowing for 2400 HUF at lunch/person, 3300 HUF at dinner; on Friday-Sunday it’s 3900 all day; open noon-midnight except closes early on Sunday (8:30pm); special dishes on Friday nights.  A great value, almost no tourists, lots of partygoers (there was a wedding party there when we went); if you say it is your birthday when you reserve, they bring out a cake and sparklers for the table.  Works best when you are REALLY hungry because while everything is good, it’s the variety and range that are best.

  1. BulletThe restored building housing the Four Seasons Hotel (the Gresham Palace) has a cafe on the street level that has a genuinely solid kitchen behind it, isn't cheap by Budapest standards but is still a good deal as off-the-chart high end restaurant meals go, and gives you a terrific opportunity to look at the remarkable restoration.  Wander around the lobby, check it out, oooh, ahhh, and drool and they may invite you to take a look at the rooms and other hotel amenities.  Best schnitzel in Budapest; in contention for the best goose liver pate.  On the Pest side by the Chain Bridge.  An all-out meal there might cost $50, with tip, lots of good wine, and three courses.  The hotel restaurant, Pava, is really excellent and consistent, and a great bargain by non-Hungarian standards…a comprehensive meal including wines and tip should come to less than $75/person for something comparable in quality and service to places that cost twice that in most other cities.  Roosevelt ter 5-6; tel: 06 1 268 5100.

  1. BulletAlmost adjacent to the Gresham, there’s a very, very good Indian restaurant, Salaam Bombay.  Strong, I think, by any non-indogenous standard (English, American … whatever).  Not cheap as Budapest restaurants go, but not that expensive (4000-5000 HUF/person with drinks and breads if memory serves).  Merleg utca 6, phone: 06 1 411-1252;  [Eliane’s find.]

  1. BulletBaraka: in the Hotel Andrassy, very near Heroes’ Square, Andrassy ut 111, 06 1 483 1355. Very upscale, very polished, very beautiful restaurant, with a menu that strives and sometimes succeeds at being the most modern and fresh in Budapest.  As expensive as restaurants here get…easily $70/person for dinner.  Portions on the small side, the style is Fusion with many Eastern and Middleeastern accents and inspirations (the chef and one of the owners are Israeli); the desserts are marvelous, nothing is bad, and almost everything is interesting and beautifully presented.

  1. BulletAcross from the Central Market, an Argentinian steakhouse opened recently.  The steaks are decent though smallish, the prices not horrible by Hungarian standards for steak (where steaks are uniformly overpriced) but expensive when compared to anything else, the ambience a bit heavy-handed (sort of Moscow-Mafia meets Gundels in the 21st Century), but there’s ample room between the tables and it’s a comfortable and slow-paced place to eat near Kozraktar.  Pampas, Vamhaz korut 6; phone: 06 1 411-1750;  Reservations help or else you wind up seated in the downstairs dungeon (though perhaps that’s a benefit).

  1. BulletNear the körút, not far from Deak ter, on Paulay Ede utca (#7; 06 1 268 0888), the Vista Café is an interesting place with a wide variety of engagingly quirky aspects and solid traditional Hungarian cooking.  In particular, the Crispy Pork Bites (meaning something between chitlins and bacon and pork chops). Roasted (meaning fried, I think) and Served with Potatoes and Fried Onion Rings seemed worth crossing the körüt for, if not a full-fledged detour.  There is free Internet access and the place caters to travelers (it’s apparently owned by a travel agency; this is part of a broader Budapest phenomenon: there doesn’t seem to have to be any linkage at all between the various things a store sells…one place I know of devotes half of its space to books and half to used sheets and linens; another place sells flowers, houseplants, wine, and liquor; this place thinks booking plane tickets and serving food go together.  And inevitably the differing enterprises sort of meld into each other.  So here, weary travelers can come and just rest a bit.  There’s a childcare area where kids can romp around with toys; there’s the internet and email section, there’s a lounge.  Customers are encouraged to write their impressions on the placemats.  And some of those get printed on the back of the menu (which has immortalized disparaging comments about many of the place’s signature dishes; you really have to go there if only to read the back of the menu).  Another Karpati Call. 

  1. BulletTrattoria Toscana [an Eliane Pickermann selection] tel: 06 1 327 0045; 13; open hours: midday-midnight daily; Was wonderful when it opened, now at best a mixed and often surly venue.  Generally good Italian food, with the best bread I’ve had in Hungary.  Lunch is a better value than dinner, and we did have very expensive, frighteningly tough and over-cooked lamb chops there. Pastas have been al dente and quite well sauced. Pizza is rumored to be excellent.  Tell them to hold the salt.

  1. BulletThe reason Toscana is no longer as good as when it opened is that its first-rate chef left and opened his own  place -- a seafood restaurant called Óceán.  One of the best places in town.

  1. BulletVery nearby Toscana there’s a decent Greek restaurant.  Garish and bustling, the lamb is tasty even if the chops are small and tend to be overcooked.  Better than it has to be, given that it’s in Hungary not Greece, looks like it’s exclusively for tourists, and is set up to serve many people at a time, it specializes in fish (which I didn’t try on the theory that Hungary is land-locked and has limitless sheep but few seagoing fish but have to admit looked very good).  It’s on the Danube to boot.  Dionysus, Belgrad rakpart 16, phone: 06 1 318 1222.

  1. BulletTwo of the restaurants on Liszt Ferenc tér by the music academy have been quite good but one has changed name (it used to be Leroy and is at #10, now I think it is Fresco; nothing else about it has changed; the chandeliers are made from inverted plastic soda bottles that glisten like crystal high up in the vaulted ceiling) and the other, directly across the pedestrian square, is called Menza. None of the places on Liszt Ferenc have been bad.  The latter is a bit more upscale and its menu somewhat more audacious, but both have been consistently strong.

  1. BulletSoul Café: On Raday, with a spinoff several blocks further down Raday, the Soul Bistro.  Both are good.  The latter is a sort of Hungarian tapas menu, with small dishes prepared to order.  The Soul Café has a wide menu of relatively good food in a comfortable setting.  Service can be slow.  Sometimes, when the place is crowded, VERY slow.  But the food is so much the better for the anticipation.  Good duck breast, interesting and excellent desserts.

  1. BulletFeszek: Feszek Muveszklub etterem; 36 1 322 6043;  Kertesz utca 36; District VII; an outdoor café in a courtyard of the old artists’ club.  Huge and open very late (24 hours?) and decent food, inexpensive and a great place to sit; easy walk to the Music Academy

  1. BulletKarolyi Palace:  The Karolyi Etterem-Kavehaz, in the courtyard of the Karolyi Palace at Karolyi Mihaly utca 16. This restaurant was recommended by two of our guests and it is a quiet, lovely, secluded area in which to sit if the weather is pleasant.  The courtyard of a large and opulent building (originally a ‘palace’ as all the large bourgeois buildings were called at the Hungarian millennium/turn of the century, now a museum).  The food was Hungarian traditional, and very variable.  Exellent gooseliver, other stuff only fair, but the evening was a real pleasure and the time, spent in good company, went quickly on a hot summer’s night.  If you walk around the block, behind the palace is a lovely gated garden/park with flowers and a playground.

  1. BulletA small, typically Hungarian, neighborhood restaurant (George Karpati’s neighborhood that is, not far from the West End mall) is Pozsonyi Kis Vendeglo on Pozsonyi utca and Radnoti Miklos.  Good, hearty, postwar Hungarian cooking.  Reservations can be useful, prices are low.  English generally understood and there’s an English menu, but it’s not a tourist place at all.  Really just a neighborhood place. In the best sense of the word  Phone: 06 1 329 2911.  George recently moved from his old neighborhood to a new one, about 50 meters down the block...apparently he wanted to stay near his favorite restaurants, another of which is Kanaan, Csanádi u. 18 (phone: 350-2622; web:  I actually like the food here more than at Pozsonyi Kis Vendeglo, and the goose was better than any I’ve had elsewhere in Budapest.

  1. BulletChinese Food: Tai-Wan Restaurant: 1097 Budapest, Gyali út 3/b Tel: 215-1236; quite good, not cheap by Hungarian standards, Chinese place in a difficult to find location that’s pretty out of the way (in the Fortuna Hotel (a pretty dingy place in a building that houses McDonalds Budapest corporate offices) just off the Blue Line  Nagyvarad ter stop on the metro.  Of course, ‘Chinese’ food differs significantly depending on the country one is in.  This is an excellent place to get a feel for what the phrase means in Budapest.

  1. BulletCheap Chinese: There are any number of Kinai Bufés, little mom-and-pop Chinese restaurants serving from steam table buffets, often with no one Asian in sight either dining or serving or cooking.  Often ok for a quick and inexpensive meal.  There is one very near Szervita ter on Fehér Hajó utca I think that’s particularly good.  Our manager Ilona Molnar turned me on to it.

  1. BulletKék Rózsa Étterem: Budapest VII. kerület 1077 Wesselényi utca; behind the Synagogue, a good place for deep fried stuff.  Alajos, our driver and a serious fresser-in-arms, brought it to our attention and it’s quite good.

  1. BulletThere are several branches of the franchised Leroy Café around town, including ones at the West End Mall and one on Raday utca.  They serve pretty good sushi and salads, and have menus that largely overlap.  The food is not bad, but they are primarily a place to sit, talk, and perhaps drink.  Overlapping ownership with Tom George and a number of other trendy Budapest restaurants.

  1. BulletKaltenberg Etterem (Kinizsi utca 30-36, more or less around the corner from the Museum of Applied Arts; the museum is a striking building in its own right and the collection is somewhat minimal but intriguing); 06 1 215 9792; ) is a brew pub of some note in Budapest (the taxi driver who took us there, when he saw where we were headed, said “Great beer!” in Hungarian and approved of our choice.  The meal was just good, but that was more because the company (including George Karpati, who had recommended it) was pleasant than because the food was memorable and the beer was a bit warm.  Everything was good and the pleasant surprise was that on weekends all the food prices were slashed by 50% of the menu price.  Not a gimmick, just a recognition of the fact that it’s not in the main tourist pathways, and that in the summers more or less every Hungarian heads out of Budapest for Balaton every weekend.  You’ll have a hard time finding a tourist anywhere near you, and the food is hearty Bavarian/Hungarian fare.

  1. BulletFrench Crepes: A la Galette, 1067 Budapest,Szondi utca 11, Tel: 302.69.25.  Eliane says this new restaurant has wonderful crepes, French cider, and country French food.  Between Oktogon and Westend Station, one block from the ringroad.