Any country with a history wrought in battles and conquests will forever carry the scars of its ancestors. Those distant, but ever-present memories are ingrained deep into the veins of its streets and are often reflected in the architecture fortunate enough to have been spared amidst the destruction. But in the aftermath of such chaos is a melting pot of cultures, and the silver lining byproduct that sits atop a silver platter, is the superb cuisine. Budapest’s rich history is well-matched in its eclectic food offerings, and in our two-day trip, we tried our best to scratch the surface and take in the best of what the city had to offer (while quenching our thirst along the way). Let’s dig in!
Szimply – Breakfast + Brunch
Starting off your day with a solid breakfast is key to ensuring you have the energy to roam the windy streets of Budapest and cross the Danube several times if you have to. Szimply is a quaint breakfast nook located in the midst of a side alleyway not too far from the center of the city (Pest side), that serves up its own style of breakfast staples. Think corn crusted black cod rather than hash browns, pumpkin hummus with panko-crusted quail eggs instead of porridge, and of course, the hipster-favorite, avocado toast (but with Asian flairs such as shiitake vinaigrette). Interestingly enough, this breakfast nook does not serve its own coffee, and instead directs you to the shop across the alley – Kontakt – for all your caffeine needs. It works out – as you can check out another local shop and get your coffee while you wait for your food!
Mazel Tov – Mediterranean Lunch
As the name indicates, Mazel Tov is located in the heart of the Jewish Quarter in the Pest side (East) of the city. The restaurant is set within a quasi-greenhouse, which has clear window panes lining the top of the pitched roof, and lush herb gardens surrounding the eating space. The effect is quite inviting, as the entrance opens up to a bright, sun-lit terrace with ample seating for a small sized crowd (and trust me, there will be a crowd). The must-get items here are the hummus, in all of its glorious variations (mushroom ragout, falafel, sabich – fried eggplant), and the shakshuka, which is a hearty, tomato-based dish. They of course have shawarmas and various kebabs, but in my eyes the hummus and shakshuka definitely take the spotlight. Be sure to make a reservation at least a day in advance if you can, otherwise be prepared for a wait!
Szimpla Kert – Afternoon Delight
After a great meal, there’s no shame in wanting to digest by ingesting a couple pints of the golden grain beverage. And if you’re looking to combine a bit of local culture along with your inebriation, look no further than Szimpla Kert. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what Szimpla Kert is, as it straddles all of steam-punk art gallery, indie music hall, and pub. The pictures here may give you some sense of what I mean, but it’s quite peculiar how the chaotic decor somewhow.. works. The establishment prides itself on not having any exclusive partnerships with any distilleries or breweries, which means you technically have access to over 400 different brands to choose from. You’re on vacation – so sit back and let yourself enjoy a little early happy hour!
If you get the munchies after a couple beers, you should definitely check out Karavan, which is just down the street from the Szimpla pub. Set up in a partly-open space warehouse, it offers a wide array of street food options and vendors that truly reflect the eclectic palate and history of Budapest in a delicious, casual setting. If you’re lucky enough that it’s open while you’re in the city, definitely pop by for a snack or a second lunch!
Trattoria Pomo D’Oro – Lively Dinner
A long day of roaming around and sightseeing means your body is in need of some carbohydrate replenishment. And nothing gets the job done better than a carb overload at an Italian restaurant. Now, Pomo D’Oro is not your average Italian restaurant forcing itself upon visitors in the middle of a tourist destination. It’s a seriously authentic Italian joint that has a wide, but targeted menu offering, with handmade pastas and pizza dough setting it apart from the competition. The tagliatelle with homemade bolognese ragout was delectable and artfully simple, and the prosciutto + mushroom pizza was a perfect sharing dish for the two of us. The restaurant may not scream exotic or particularly cosmopolitan, but sometimes you just want a familiar dish that is done to perfection – and Pomo D’Oro delivered on that twice in our 2-day trip in Budapest.
Leo Budapest or TOPRUM – Nightcap Options
There’s nothing more befitting a great day of exploring a new city than to cap the night with some great cocktails and enjoying the evening cityscape. For your nightcap providers, I present you with two great options in Leo Budapest and TOPRUM. Leo is on the Buda (West) side of the Danube, which may be a trek for some of you staying on the other side, but it’s worth the trek for the views of the Chain Bridge and the Budapest skyline. The craft cocktails are skillfully concocted, and will certainly leave you feeling tipsy. The only drawback is that this is a slightly upscale establishment, so wearing your typical tourist getup may not grant you entry under the “smart casual” dress code. If you want something a bit more local and approachable, TOPRUM is a great option. The bar is located at the top of Hotel Rum, and is adorned with trendy, tasteful decors throughout. TOPRUM also has a unique retractable glass roof, which can open up on mild evenings to let in fresh air and get you even closer to the night skies (PS – this bar is equally awesome during the daytime). While the view may not be of the Chain Bridge or the Danube, the cobblestone cityscape below and its surrounding Baroque architecture are enough to keep you occupied while the next round arrives.
As I always say, use my suggestions as a guide to get you started, but do let your sense of adventure be the ultimate compass in where you end up. Traveling and exploring go hand in hand, and there’s nothing quite like discovering a hidden gem in the midst of your travels to brag about to your friends back home. Let your wanderlust free and Jó étvágyat (enjoy your meal)!