BUDAPEST BLACK BOOK
A deep dive on where to eat from high-end to classic and Hungarian grandma cuisine, from our most trusted source. (Budapest’s Dining scene does not disappoint!)
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It’s Halloween, so many of you with young children will be trick-or-treating tonight (including me). Some of you may be at home, needing something to read while you wait for that ding-dong at the door—so today feels as good a day as any to finally share our Budapest Black Book.
I woke up thinking about how, this time last year, Andras picked me and Greta up at the train station in Gyor after an incredible weekend in Vienna (more on that soon). On the drive back to the village, Hungarians everywhere were gathering in cemeteries to begin the celebration of All Saint’s Day (Nov. 1). As we drove, passing village upon village as the sun set, lines of people marched holding candles to honor their ancestors. Entire cemeteries were lit up with thousands of small, flickering lights for the entire hour ride home—which gave me more goosebumps than even the spookiest Halloween trick. I felt grateful to be missing the candy chase in the U.S. and, instead, soaking in parts of history, ingenuity, and reverence for a country and a people that have seen and endured so much.
“If you come from Paris to Budapest, you think you are in Moscow. But if you go from Moscow to Budapest, you think you are in Paris.” – Gyorgy Ligeti*
A few weeks ago, when I wrote to you about our favorite spots in Budapest, I shared that I’d be tapping one of our most trusted sources to bring you an even deeper dive into what makes this city great. Her name is Carolyn Bánfalvi—a friend and fellow American-Hungarian (i.e. born in the United States but is now also a Hungarian citizen) who lives in Budapest with her husband and kids—and her black book is here!
Carolyn is the author of the books Food Wine Budapest and The Food and Wine Lover’s Guide to Hungary. She is co-owner (with her Hungarian-born husband, Gábor) of Taste Hungary, which specializes in food and wine tours and tastings, The Tasting Table wine cellar, and the Tasting Table wine shop in Budapest. They also import Hungarian wine to the US, via their online shop and wine club (stay tuned for more about Hungarian wine).
Carolyn lives and breathes Budapest daily, as a resident, a mother of three, a business owner, and a food enthusiast—so when she tells us where to eat in this vibrant, ever-evolving city, we listen.
A note before we get into Carolyn’s impressive, comprehensive list: if you love travel and food and restaurants at all—if you consider fine dining both theater and art—take a moment to link through to see the interiors and dishes of some of these restaurants. These are some of the finest and most exciting examples of both high-end and casual dining I have seen in years (and this from someone who has recently been to New York, Paris, and Vienna). Budapest’s Dining scene does not disappoint.
Everything below is from Carolyn; Bookmark this for your next trip to this enchanting, challenging city.
BUDAPEST, AN OVERVIEW
The city of Budapest is stunning, in so many ways. Much of the inner city is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, including the Danube banks, the Castle neighborhood, and Andrássy út. The Danube runs through the center, splitting the city in two—Buda on the west side and Pest on the east side. If you want to oversimplify the layout, you could say that the hilly Buda side (where the Castle is located) is quieter and more residential, while the Pest side is where (most of) the restaurants, bars, and cafés are! I’ve been living in Budapest for 19 years, and have been traveling here for even longer. From my very first visit, I’ve been in love with Hungarian wine and food, the traditions and rituals surrounding it, and exploring the city.
One of the frequent questions I get is: “What’s the best time to visit.” My answer—anytime. Every season has highlights and shows a different side of the city. Even in the deepest of winter—on days when the sun feels like it never really comes out, and then sets before 4 p.m.—there are many grand cafés to pop into, and the thermal baths await. The colder and drearier the weather, the more inviting the steaming mineral-laden water is!
The best way to explore Budapest is by foot, but you can also hop on one of the trams that run next to the Danube to give your feet a break—#2 Pest side and #19 and #41 on the Buda side. Budapest has some more unique transportation options worth experiencing—the funicular that climbs up to the Castle District, the chairlift at Jánoshegy in the Buda Hills, and the Children’s Railway (which winds through the Buda Hills and is entirely operated entirely by children). The #1 metro line, which is Europe’s oldest, runs underneath Andrássy út.
A SHORT BUDAPEST DINING GUIDE
Budapest’s restaurant scene is constantly evolving, to the delight of locals. The latest news is that for the first time ever, two Hungarian restaurants were awarded two Michelin stars—raising Budapest’s dining scene to a level that I would not have imagined when I first moved here in 1999. Even if Michelin-starred restaurants aren’t your thing, the weak Hungarian currency makes them a great value.
This is by no means a complete list of Budapest’s restaurants—but a selection of places that I consistently recommend to our visitors and guests on our tours. Budapest also has plenty of fantastic international restaurants, but here I emphasize Hungarian ones (or at least ones that are mostly Hungarian).
A few things to keep in mind:
Many Hungarian restaurants have special discounted lunch menus, which you can use as an opportunity to dine at a higher-end place at a discount.
Many restaurants are now including service in the bill, but this is not always clear; read your bill carefully, and if service is included, you do not need to leave any further gratuity.
Finally, call in advance whenever possible to book a table.
BUDAPEST FINE DINING
Stand — Stand recently made history, becoming one of the two restaurants in Hungary to be awarded with two-star Michelin stars. Chefs Szabina Szulló and Tamás Széll are celebrity chefs, known for other restaurants that they’ve headed (including Stand25 on the Buda side). There are tasting menus available for lunch and dinner, and dining here is a real experience, so be prepared for the pomp (and don’t bring the kids)!
Essência — This one-star Michelin restaurant is more on the casual side. Run by a Portuguese/Hungarian couple, the menu is an exciting blend of the two cuisines. There are tasting menus with wine pairings, or you can order from the menu.