Be sure to make a reservation at this intimate bistro near St. Stephen’s Basilica. The local favorite, which features a small dining room with a vaulted ceiling, faded peach-pink walls and wrought-iron tables, fills up fast, especially during lunch. The Hungarian-international menu runs the gamut from salads and omelets to heartier fare like beef tenderloin goulash and grilled goose liver served with roasted apples. There’s also a long list of daily specials and calorie-rich desserts, like the traditional gulácsi, a messy, delicious crêpe-like treat that’s stuffed with plum jam and served with whipped cream and poppy seeds. It’s an amiable atmosphere, with a nice mix of locals and visitors, and the food is consistently good.
If you’re touring Castle Hill, be sure to stop by this local favorite for lunch. Set in a landmark building that dates from the 13th century, Pierrot opened in 1982 as a coffeehouse, but has since morphed into a fine restaurant. Banquette seating lines walls adorned by Pierrot drawings, large mirrors and contemporary art. The menu offers an elegant mix of modern European and Hungarian dishes, such as grilled goose liver. Some bemoan that the restaurant has become too touristy, but it still draws both well-heeled locals and visitors, and the food is terrific.
This expansive coffeehouse hails from the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (it opened in 1887, and to this day the menu features a selection of Viennese coffee drinks). After closing in 1949, the Café Central was bought in 1997 by a local businessman, and the restored main dining room, with its soaring ceiling, large windows, parquet floors and Art Deco–inspired lamps, reopened in 2000. Located in Downtown Pest, near the Central Market Hall and adjacent to the Ernst Galéri, the Café Central is a great place for coffee, hot chocolate or tea, accompanied by rich Hungarian pastries, of course. The service can be spotty, but it’s undoubtedly a classic.
This sliver of a sandwich takeout shop near St. Stephen’s Basilica is a Budapest institution. You pick from a variety of open-faced canapés, including egg salad, ham and Brie, pickled herring and pepperoni topped with gherkins, that are lined up in the shop window and sell out daily. Pick up a selection and walk to the Danube or to the square in front of St. Stephen’s for a picnic.
Founded in 1858, Budapest’s most famous coffeehouse sits on pretty Vörösmarty Square, and though it draws tourists, it’s worth a visit if only to sit in the beautifully restored 19th-century space and enjoy a coffee. The most popular pastry here is the Gerbeaud beigli, a rolled pastry stuffed with poppy seeds or walnuts. There’s also a to-go cart out front for those who want to eat in the park or grab a bite while shopping.
I stumbled upon Gerlóczy Káveház by chance—in a desperate attempt to find an open restaurant around Váci Utca on a Sunday—and ended up returning twice in the course of my weeklong trip. Located on the ground floor of a residential building on leafy Kamermayer Square, the restaurant serves delicious Hungarian-French fare, including daily specials that are fresh and simply prepared. After returning home, I learned that Gerlóczy was featured in the Steven Spielberg film Munich, so it’s not a totally undiscovered find, but I barely heard a word of English spoken here; instead, the place drew a mix of local families, couples and groups of friends.
Budapest’s most famous restaurant is a bit touristy, but definitely worth a visit. The fine-dining spot occupies a picturesque spot in City Park, and the food and service is reliably excellent. A less expensive offshoot, Bagolyvár, is next door.
With fantastic views of Budapest, Halászbástya offers an unforgettable dining experience and is the perfect spot for a special occasion, whether it’s a romantic dinner for two or a birthday party for dozens. The restaurant has multiple dining rooms and terraces, including the Danube Terrace, where guests can enjoy gypsy music during the spring, summer and autumn, and the Margareta Terrace, which offers panoramic views of Pest. The menu mixes traditional flavors with modern techniques, and changes regularly to incorporate seasonal items. The sizable wine list includes bottles from different Hungarian wine regions.
Múzeum Café & Restaurant
For authentic Hungarian food, try this local favorite, which is near the Hungarian National Museum. Meals are served in a dining room with a gorgeous frescoed ceiling.
New York Café
One of the city’s most famous coffeehouses, the New York Café was the preferred meeting place for intellectuals and artists in the early 1900s. Closed on and off since World War II, it was reopened for good in 2006. It’s an awesome, soaring space that looks like a cross between a Baroque church and a Viennese Käffeehaus, with pastel-colored ceiling frescoes, gilt-framed balconies, sculpted putti and red velvet fauteuils. While it is a bit touristy, the café has a nice selection of teas and coffees as well as homemade cakes and pastries.
Locals adore this venerable restaurant, on an unassuming street near Keleti Palyaudvar train station. It’s a bit out of the way, but the hearty, traditional Jewish-Hungarian fare is spot-on.
Located in Buda’s Castle Hill district, this venerable café—the city’s oldest—is considered by many locals and loyal visitors to be the best in the city. It’s certainly the most charming: the small patisserie has original cherry wood paneling that dates from its founding in 1827, and the adjacent tearoom looks like the pretty salon of a well-heeled Hungarian aunt. If timing and luck are on your side, you’ll claim one of the velvet fauteuils under faded photographs and beside a white tiled stove, and while away the afternoon over coffee and Ruszwurm’s famous homemade pastries.
The cakes, tarts and desserts in the multi-tiered display case look like something out of Willy Wonka’s factory: there are stacked cakes, like the walnut-filled Estherházy and marzipan-covered Mátyás torte, beside Ruszwurm Krémes (cream-filled phyllo dough) and a large assortment of strudels made with poppy seed, cherries and apples. If you fall for the café’s delicious creations, you’re in good company: during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a courier was dispatched weekly to bring back cakes and pastries to Vienna (home of the Sachertorte, no less). Today, it’s owned by the Szamos clan, marzipan manufacturers who also have a boutique in Pest.
The oldest and most famous ruin bar in Budapest, Szimpla Kert is a must for all first-time visitors. From the outside, it is little more than a dilapidated building, but the gritty-chic interior is a wonderland of creativity and Wonka-esque charm. The two-story haunt features indoor and outdoor seating, where visitors (admittedly, mostly tourists) can choose to unwind in a graffiti-covered Trabant car or lounge in a repurposed bathtub. Expect the unexpected, and even then, be prepared to be surprised; on a recent visit, the waitress was handing out carrots to patrons to nosh on while sipping beers or spritzers. Indagare members can contact the Bookings Team to arrange a tour of the city’s best ruin bars, from the longtime classics to local favorites, and even to organize a private party in one.