Reading up on Budapest, I came across this quote by travel writer Steve Fallon, "Hungarians will tell you that there are just three essential styles of cooking: French, Chinese and their own." Hungarian as an essential cuisine is debatable but Hungarians' pride for their cuisine is not.
Budapest has an emerging food scene with something for pretty much every type of eater. During my time there I devoured classic goulash in local dives, savored molecular cuisine while watching the Danube stream by, snacked on chocolate in a bustling square, and gobbled up farm-to-table delicacies while sipping local Tokaji wine.
Hungarians take their food seriously and modern Budapest has much more to offer than chicken smothered in creamy paprika gravy. That said, if home-style comfort food is on your agenda, I've also found the perfect place to have that meal. Here are the best spots in Budapest for every type of eater:
For the Classicist (Typical Hungarian Fare):
Well-located on a side street near St. Stephen's Basilica, this affordable cafe serves home-style dishes in a relaxed atmosphere, with plenty of al fresco dining. This is the spot to try goulash soup or mushroom stew with dumplings. With extra paprika of course.
A favorite with Budapesters, especially on Saturdays for long, leisurely lunches. Trust the waiters recs because the dish mine ordered me — Pork Lnuckle with Potatoes and Cabbage — was stellar. The Hungarian consomme with Dumplings and Ratatouille with Sausage and Eggs were equally divine.
For the Locavore (Farm to Table Treats):
From the complimentary Elderflower Sparkling Wine to the Truffle Soup, nearly all the ingredients are fresh from the owners' farm. Zeller gets every detail right, and I felt like a VIP — this cozy place channels Brooklyn chic.
This cafe provides organic Slow Food cooking at Budapest's unbeatable prices. The farmer's toasts are tasty — my favorite was the cheese and sun-dried tomato mix; the Hungarian Tarka beef burger is an awesome choice; and for vegetarians they've got "Vega Burgers".
For the Modernist (Molecular Gastronomy):
Zona calls their style "contemporary Hungarian bistro cuisine with Basque and Asian inspirations." It is a beautifully designed space with excellent service and fancy but fantastic food. Don't be shy — order the rooster ramen with iberico pork pate or the Hungarian vegetable ragout with a free range chicken egg. I wasn't disappointed and of course there was some "foam" involved.
For the Award-Obsessed (Michelin-Starred Savories):
Borkonyha is what happens when a French bistro marries a Hungarian family restaurant and they have a wine bar as a child. The name actually means "wine kitchen" and they serve 200 types of wine, with a preference towards Hungarian varietals. Despite the shining Michelin star, service is still refreshingly casual and friendly.
This was the first restaurant to receive a Michelin Star and the locals consider it a "gastro powerhouse." Costes is the place to go for special occasions or to impress a date. The seasonal menu changes constantly and the plates served are pure art. The choose-your-own tasting menu is a fun way to try different flavors.
For the Chocoholics (Coffee & Cakes):
Budapest is famous for its beautiful coffee houses. With chandeliers and ornate ceiling carvings, sitting inside one is like being served within a royal palace. Cafe Central wins most photogenic in a city filled with such places. As a bonus, it definitely serves the best breakfast.
Cafe Gerbaud offers fantastic people watching, coffee, and cake. Established in 1858, this confectionary cafe has seen many a government come and go. The menu has great meal options but something chocolate for dessert is a must.
For the Animal Lover (Vegan)
Started seven years ago, this now chain is whimsical and delicious. It's all about hummus and most options are vegan. They claim that hummus makes people happy and I can't argue with that after trying their Hummus Phool.
Opening photo by Jovana Rikalo