We ate very well during our time in Budapest. The restaurant scene in Hungary's capital seems to be flourishing with a wide variety of offerings and excellent food at reasonable prices. While it's easy for visitors to find fast food chains, kebab shops and pizza joints, be sure to have at least one nice meal of traditional dishes at these modern eateries.
V. Sas utca 17 (311 0053) Metro: M3 Arany Janos utca, www.cafekor.com
You can't beat the variety in this cosy bistro. We were offered two menus: the regular dishes and an equally long list of specials posted on the wall. This is my top pick for delicious food and wine with a hearty selection of Hungarian drops available by both the glass and bottle. We visited at lunch and enjoyed appetizers of creamy noodles with cheese and bacon and baked goats cheese with a tastily dressed salad. Like most Hungarian restaurants, the portions are generous - our waiter ordered half sizes of the starters but these were still large dishes. These were followed by John's plate of grilled chicken with cheese-smothered vegetables and my perfectly-cooked salmon with yummy croquettes (salmon looked excellent in every restaurant we visited in Budapest). Service was warm and knowledgeable and our waiter recommended a fruity rose (2010 Konyari) for me and a Sauvignon Blanc-Chardonnay blend (2010 Konyari Loliense Feher) for John. The food is so good you won't believe how little it costs (our bill was around €55).
VI. Andrássy út 41 (no phone number) Metro: M1 Oktagon/M1 Opera, www.klassz.eu
Though classed as a wine restaurant (it's owned by the local Wine Society), this lovely eatery certainly doesn't skimp on its food. We loved the wine list, particularly the fact that every selection can be purchased by the glass or bottle. Our server recommended trying Kadarka, a very Hungarian wine variety that's been in the country since the 16th century. We had the delicious 2008 St. Andrea Magyalos with our hearty, delicious lamb ragout soups. These were served with nice bread and almost filled us too much ahead of our main dishes: generous portions of roasted pork tenderloin with flap mushroom ragout for John and a traditional chicken paprika with dumplings for me. For our second glasses of wine, John chose the 2007 Szemes Dél while I tried the 2009 Apátsági Pinot Noir, both impressive. The food was so delicious that we couldn't pass on dessert, a hefty slab of chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream (shared, of course!) Klassz doesn't accept reservations and we heard that we'd wait for a table, but luckily there were a couple free around 9 pm. when we arrived. We loved this restaurant for the friendly service and great food for excellent value (our meal cost less than €55) in an elegant setting.
1061 Bp. Liszt Ferenc ter 2 (+36 1 413 1482) Metro: M1 Oktagon, www.menzaetterem.hu
We ate here late on a Monday night and it was still packed. Retro is the word of the day in decor at this hip Liszt Ferenc eatery, but the food is fresh and modern. We started with delicious soups, Turkey ragout with matzoh ball for John and Autumn mushroom for me. Then John sunk his teeth into a giant cheeseburger while I enjoyed deep fried pork chops. Desserts going to other tables looked delicious but we didn't have room. The drinks list here dwarfs the food menu with plenty of Hungarian wines, cocktails and even Menza's own beer, a light-style lager. Service is friendly and attentive and the prices will make you smile too.
Trófea Grill Restaurant
3 central locations (see website for details), www.trofeagrill.eu
I rarely get excited about a buffet. This all-inclusive restaurant chain, however, offers such good value that I feel I have to mention it. For a fixed price (€17 for a weekday dinner, less after 9 pm.) diners can eat and drink for up to three hours including wines, beer and specialty coffees. The food is both Hungarian and international and this is a good way to try several authentic dishes if you're on a budget. We started with the hot buffet before working our way over to the grill, which offers a wide variety of marinated meats (pork, beef, chicken) and fish cooked on demand. Salads and cold appetizers are tasty and the buffet offers several soups and desserts as well. The atmosphere is nice with friendly waiters and modern decor. Sometimes when you're travelling you just want big food for little money - and the food here ranges from good to delicious. Head here for your birthday for the best free cake I've ever seen in a restaurant.
Food and drink to try when you're in Budapest:
Tokaj Wine - Hungary's most famous sweet wines hail from this North Hungarian region (though a shift to dry whites is tipped). Their flavour is achieved due to the special Aszú berries that are produced by noble rot on the grapes. In general, Hungarian wine is very good and the country's varied terrain and climate allow for the production of many different styles. It's advisable to try some local ones from the 22 different wine regions. The best place to do this is at a cafe or borozók (wine bar).
Goose Liver Pate - Lovers of foie gras should definitely try this national delicacy, though I advise that it should be tried fresh, never out of a tin or packaging. Try one from a restaurant like Klassz or Trofea, or the pastry shop Gerbeaud. It's sweet, smooth and flavoursome.
Palinka - This is a strong brandy that comes in many varieties such as apricot, plum and pear. It has a very high alcohol content, is produced under strict standards, and is a perfect post-meal digestif.
Have you tried Hungarian food? What's your favourite dish?
Our time in Budapest was sponsored by EuropeNetHotels.com, a collection of short-stay apartments in 14 cities across Europe. We stayed in the modern, comfortable Town Hall Apartments, an excellent alternative to small, expensive hotel rooms with all the amenities we needed to feel like locals in Budapest.