Restaurants in Budapest come in all sizes, qualities, price lists, styles, etc. Here is our Budapest Restaurants 101, with infos on tipping, some culture clash to count on, etc.
Budapest Restaurants Guide
You will find a restaurant in the city centre in almost every street. Literally. If you are not on a budget tour, we recommend starting your Hungarian culinary experience by picking one of the Best Budapest Restaurants or even the Budapest Restaurants in the Michelin Guide.
Opening hours of restaurants
Most of the restaurants in Budapest have tourist-friendly opening hours, from 12am to 10pm (or, depending on the season, the guests, etc to 12pm). Restaurants in Budapest usually do not close between lunch and dinner. After lunchtime, the kitchens of restaurants will stay open, so you won’t stay hungry if you drop in at 3pm or 4pm for a late lunch.
Several restaurants have a no-welcome-waiter-at-the-door policy, so you basically walk in, and pick a table of your choice. Waiters and waitresses in Hungary usually do not introduce themselves by their names, they will simply come up to you, greet, give you a menu to choose from and take your drink orders if you know what you want to drink already. Several tourists have remarked that waiters were not smiling or friendly enough. Hopefully, you will see otherwise. In any case, do not take it personally, smiling is not an all day face for Hungarians, unlike for Americans.
The standard tipping rate is 10%, anything over 10% means your appreciation of the service as above average. Oftentimes service fee / tip is not included in the bill.
Budapest Restaurant Map
You can find some of the best restaurants in Budapest in our Budapest Tourist Map. Please click on the map image to get to the actual interactive map to estimate walking, car or Budapest public transport distances:
Paying by card
You can pay for your meals by card in most restaurants, especially in restaurants of higher quality. However, just in case, prepare for paying by cash. The smaller and less expensive the restaurant is, the higher the chance that they only accept cash. But dropping in a restaurant how should you know? It may help that meal prices, and in fact the complete menu is often stuck outside at the entrance of the restaurant, so you can decide if the prices fit your budget or not. Now, if the prices for main courses are less than 700-1500 HUF, you are at a cheap or cheapish restaurant and you will need cash.
- Restaurant is etterem in Hungarian. Say: eight-terr-rem.
- Vendeglo (ven-day-gler) is a kind of restaurant, something like an inn. It can be less elegant, more casual and cheaper than an Etterem.
- Kisvendeglo (kish-ven-day-gler) is literally a Small Vendeglo, i.e. a small inn.
- Etkezde (eight-kez-dae) is a kind of restaurant on the cheap side. A budget diner.
- Menu is Etlap (eight-lop), but Hungarians use the word Menü (see the two dots over u?) for a la carte.
- Wine is Bor in Hungarian. Sounds like ‘bore’ in English.
- Beer is Sör (say shir as in Shirley).
- Good is Jó (yoo)
- Delicious is Finom (finn-om).
- Bon appetit is Jó étvágyat! (Yo eight-vadj-ot)
- Cheers (when drinking toast) is Egészségedre! (say: egg-ace-shay-ghed-rae) (quite a mouthful, this one word is a whole sentence: To your health!)
Checking the bill
There are some restaurants or waiters to be more precise, who might try the good old trick of ‘bill overcharge’ on you. Do keep track of what you have ordered, re-ordered, and do check the bills before paying in Budapest restaurants. Mind you, if you are paying for bread slices, it is customary. Also, if there is a snack on the table like bread and butter, or pogacsa or nuts, what have you, you will pay for them if you eat them. Drinks are not refilled for free. Each drink is a separate item on your bill.
Wines at Hungarian Restaurants
Unfortunately, there are not many good restaurants with a good wine list in Budapest. Sorry. That being said, several tourists have reported that the best wines they drank in Budapest was when they were wine tasting (e.g. on the Castle Hill, Budapest), or went on a Budapest wine tour.
General dinner time is between 6-8 pm in Hungary, so if you decide to have dinner at 9 (or 10pm) “you risk offhand service and cold food ” (Fodor’s travel guide).
Salads and pickles
Budapest restaurants will offer various salads and pickles on the menu. There is one thing that might be curious to you: some salads are of small size, like the Cucumber salad (Uborkasalata) or the Tomato salad (Paradicsomsalata). Basically these salads are treated as pickles, and Hungarians eat them simultaneously with the meaty main course, not as a starter. Nevertheless, many restaurants will have salads that are entree alternatives, for instance, Ceasar salad and the like of good sizes.
Fodor’s guide says “Strict vegetarians should note: even meatless dishes are usually cooked with lard (zsír)” It may have been true 15-20 years ago, but not any more. Vegetable oil is absolutely prevailing in Budapest restaurants (even though some Hungarian households in the countryside indeed still make meals with lard.
That being said, if you ever stand a chance to try Mangalitsa lard (mangalica zsir), or Mangalitsa (say: mon-gah-lits-tsah) sausage, pork meals, give in. Mangalica pigs are a special Hungarian breed, resembling wild boars, whose lard and meat are very low in cholesterol, and contain higher levels of oleic acid. Hard to imagine that pork can be healthy? Read more about Mangalitsas:
NY Times Blog
San Francisco Chronicle
Hungarians and Hungarian Restaurants
Hungarians do not tend to go to restaurants on a regular basis, according to a 2009 survey by GFK Hungaria Market Research institute, not even on a weekly basis. Most Hungarians use restaurants to celebrate events like birthdays, name days, to do business or to date. Meeting friends is more typical in pubs than in restaurants.
Only 4% of Hungarians go to restaurants on a daily basis, another 6% eats in restaurants 2-3 times a week. The Hungarians who most typically spend on restaurant meals are either successful white collar workers or young hipsters (‘young hedonists’ as the analysis puts it) who cannot cook for themselves.
Very many Hungarians (especially the elderly and the underclass) never go to restaurants.
So when Hungarians do go to restaurants, they will usually prefer not to eat traditional Hungarian meals, but something else, like Italian, French, Greek, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, etc. Or it just sounds a good explanation for why it is hard to find a good Hungarian restaurant with Hungarian cuisine, which is more than just goulash and chicken paprika.