Of all the Central European cuisines, Hungarian is the most distinctive. This is thanks to its liberal use of paprika. The pungent spice is derived from capsicum peppers and can be mild and sweet or hot and zesty. Hungarian paprika is known for its rich red hue and robust flavor which can elevate any common stew to something extraordinary. While nearly every dish I sampled was a winner, there were some standouts. After eating my way across town for over a week, I found these to be the best restaurants in Budapest.
The very best meal of the trip was served at Fülemüle, a restaurant specializing in Hungarian and Jewish home cooking. I chose the fantastic “Hungarian Touch” set which began with an appetizer of lecsó, a piquant pepper and tomato stew with spicy sausages. For the second course, a bowl of savory bean goulash. The grand finale was a traditional paprika chicken with gnocchi so delicious that I nearly wept with joy. The set meal came with two glasses of wine and a shot of pálinka, the local fruit brandy.
My companion ordered the playfully-named “Wonder of Goose” set. It included succulent goose cracklings, a hearty goose and matzo ball soup, and a spectacular crispy goose leg with potato latkes covered in sour cream and cheese. The “wonder” was that anyone could walk after such a feast!
Should you find yourself in need of a good meal on Andrássy út, look no further than Menza. Located in one of Budapest’s most popular squares, Menza stands out for its classic fare and retro atmosphere. We started with the antipasti platter of grilled vegetables which came with a creamy cheese dip and freshly baked bread. Next came Hungarian crepes stuffed with chicken and smothered in paprika gravy and sour cream, then a plate of chili-mustard pork medallions atop a pile of cheesy noodles. As if this wasn’t indulgent enough, we finished with sour cherry strudel and poppy seed ice cream. I needed a long walk after that incredible meal!
The owner of our guesthouse directed to Ráday utca, a street known by locals as a culinary hotspot. He specifically recommended Paprika Jancsi Restaurant for authentic Hungarian cuisine and we were not disappointed. The veal stew with cheesy noodles was the most memorable dish, but all were excellent.
Rivalda Café & Restaurant – now closed
Our best meal on Castle Hill was at Rivalda Café, which I’m sad to learn has since closed. We enjoyed a casual lunch in Rivalda’s charming courtyard – part of a former convent – taking advantage of the reasonably priced set menu. We started with hearty bowls of soup – cream of mushroom and boar with gnocchi – paired nicely with glasses of Hungarian beer and wine. The winning entree was a paprika pork chop with homemade noodles and pickles. This restaurant was truly a star of the castle district!
I can’t write a post about all the fabulous things we ate in Budapest and not mention the pastries. We happened across this table set up in Deák tér and locals were as excited by the homemade treats as I was! The sour cherry strudel was marvelous! If you aren’t fortunate enough to fine a similar sidewalk sale, the Princess Bakery chain is a dependable choice.
Which do you think are the best restaurants in Budapest?