Great Market Hall
You could easily visit the Great Market Hall every day and not get bored. In fact, I did go every day. The market is a great spot for breakfast not only because it was right across the street from my Airbnb, but also because the variety was endless. Strudel? Check. Langos? Check. Cheesy potato scones? Check. Start each day with something different while grazing on the many options in this multi-tiered labyrinth of a market.
My favorite by far was the sour cherry strudel, found at the large bakery on the first floor. The plum strudel is good, too. Langos, sausage, and other tourist staples can be found at the restaurants on the upper floor.
Traditional Hungarian Food at Cafe Kor
If there was one place I’d go back to and eat at a second time during a trip to Budapest, it’s Cafe Kor. They have a lengthy board of daily specials as well as a regular menu. I chose one of the specials, the duck leg on a bed of potatoes and red cabbage, but I was intrigued by several of the other options and would have happily eaten more of them if we hadn’t already stuffed ourselves full of several meat and potato variations already.
Cafe Kor still maintains its traditional prewar ambience. Service is very attentive, no tap water is available (sparkling or still bottled water only), and the vibe makes you feel somewhere between an old-world aristocrat and a modern businessperson. Come for a leisurely lunch and maximum people watching,
Cake at Ruszwurm Confectionery
Ruszwurm is a 200-year-old patisserie by Fisherman’s Bastion, one of the oldest traditional cafes in Budapest. Unless you’re visiting during shoulder seasons (and even then), there will likely be a line. Visit at an odd hour to minimize the wait (cake for dinner is a common theme of my travels), or just be prepared to wait a bit. The cream cake is the thing to get, but if you come with a friend you can get the cream cake and branch out and try something adventurous. We tried the Cake of the Year 2019, a colorfully layered raspberry slice with a macaron on top.
You’ll want a coffee, too, to cut through all the sweetness. They have an impressive menu of hot chocolates, floats, and other confections, but when you’re eating this much sugar, sometimes an espresso is the way to go.
“Among Budapest’s four Michelin-starred restaurants, Borkonyha is the most casual, with a bistro-like vibe,” Eater writes, and the prospect of an affordable Michelin-quality meal should be reason enough to go. The five-course degustation menu is well worth the price. Enjoy a glass or two of Tokaji wine while you’re there, and you’ve accomplished the quintessential Budapest culinary experience.
I occasionally have a strained relationship with the food in Budapest. Some of it is quite good. Some of it is great and really memorable. But even for the food that is objectively very good, like at Borkonyha, Hungarian cuisine can seem sort of plain and underwhelming to the western palate. Each dish we had was clean, almost delicate in flavor, where the ingredients tasted like themselves but very well done. The flavor explosion, the fireworks one might expect, are lacking. It’s more like a quiet appreciation, muted but reverent, of the ingredients and the dishes.
Their signature dish is the duck liver pate starter, which has been on the menu since the restaurant opened in 2010. However, the course I keep thinking about was the bread basket we started with. To me, it was the most impressive and interesting of them all. Three types of bread, with butter, and a little wooden jar of salt with a tiny wooden scoop. The cashew nut bread (left) and the black bread (right) were delicious, each unique in their flavor while enhanced by butter and salt. I kept trying bites with and without butter, to compare, and the flavors were complex and ever-changing. The spiced bread (was it fennel?) in the middle was my least favorite. Something about the flavor was off-putting, and that was the only bread I didn’t finish.
By this point in your travels in Eastern Europe, you’ve had a lot of meat. And potatoes. A lot of heavy, hearty food in varying shades of brown. My lunch at Mazel Tov was the first time I saw a fresh vegetable on my plate in Budapest, and I rejoiced. (I had also just caught a cold, and I think the fresh fruit and veg spoke to my soul in a very primal, nature’s medicine kind of way.) The smoothest, creamiest hummus I had ever eaten, solid falafel, and a piping hot pita fresh from the fire, crisp on the outside but still pillowy on the inside. I finished it off with one of my favorite drinks, passion fruit lemonade—a perfect blend of passion fruit, lemonade, and fizz.
The atmosphere alone makes Mazel Tov worth a visit. An Instagrammer’s paradise, the high ceilings, greenery, and fairy lights are juxtaposed with exposed brick and industrial aesthetic in a building that looks almost abandoned. Once inside, you feel as if you just remembered you’re meeting friends for happy hour, even if you made no plans to meet anyone here. It’s immediately welcoming, as if inviting you into a secret club. It is a treat that the food delivers, too.
More Food in Budapest
I didn’t eat chimney cake or goulash during this trip, because I’ve had both in Prague, but if this is your first time in this part of Europe you should definitely try both. If you’re staying longer, or splurging more, Onyx and Costes are also important Budapest bucket list contenders.
More culinary travel in central Europe:
Where to Eat in Vienna
Five places you should eat in Vienna (and one you shouldn’t).
Fine Dining in Budapest at Borkonyha
Of all the Michelin-star restaurants in Budapest, Borkonyha Winekitchen is a good place to start.