There are Italian, Spanish, Mexican, Hungarian (of course), and others of all the most well-known culinary types. But hidden among the side streets of the city are also those wonderful, tiny, hard-to-find, small, intimate mom-and-pop dining venues that make our search for them so worthwhile.
So if you’re looking for that special style of food that you just can’t seem to find anywhere, join us on this journey to find those great little international restaurants only the locals know – and which are sometimes hidden even from them!
In the sudden mood for some real, down-home Israeli dishes? Or how about some great Ukrainian vareniki? Check out this small, cosy, but on the verge of expanding into its large cellar area, Budapest institution since 2013.
On the Middle Eastern and Israeli side, it’s a hummus bar with a twist: there’s scrumptious shakshuka, Jerusalem salad and Israeli breakfast, served all day. Much of the food is vegetarian, including the falafel, which is baked and not oil-fried.
The healthy chickpea is the standard base for these dishes, and the Israeli flavoring gives them just the right tweak of difference. On the other side, the Ukrainian dishes are also specialties of the house; the vareniki is crispy and stuffed with your favorite goodies and there is even a traditional Russian pelmenyi waiting to be tried at your next visit. Come see the Olive Tree at Paulay Ede u. 46, just down from Nagymezo u. You might even pick up one of owner Josszi’s original paintings!
Then one day your taste buds scream out: “I need Peruvian food!” No worries about where to find it: at Inka Grill Bistro, number 29 Ráday u.
Owner Carlos is pleased to expound on the food of his native Peru. This South American country boasts cuisine that is spicy and fresh; it even manages to blend together tastes from several other countries, such as Africa and China. Carlos will also tell you that many of his ingredients are actually imported from Peru including some of the potatoes, peppers and fish. In fact, several of these ingredients are for sale in the bistro.
All dishes on the menu are shown in Hungarian and Spanish, so better brush up on both before visiting. They offer such Peruvian favorites as skewered beef heart and anticucho according to recipes handed down to the family of Carlos’s wife Milagros; the dessert menu includes picarones, a kind of doughnut made with squash and sweet potato (tastes even better than it sounds. A glass of chichi morada, a citrus specialty, tops off your mains nicely.
There’s even a Chinese influence in such dishes as lomo saltado, in which sirloin strips are marinated in vinegar, soy sauce and spices and then stir-fried. And don’t miss the mouth-watering deep-fried jalea de pescado (wolf trou) and the Peruvian potato casserole. Another dish hard to find in Budapest is ceviche, a specialty of the house, (fish cured in citrus juices and served with sweet potato and salad). Some evenings there is also a Peruvian guitarist.
American expats in search of their favorite dishes will find them at Johnny’s Bistro in the Buda Hills. You might want to work up an appetite first by hiking around the hills of Buda and then dropping into this Mexican/American diner for some of the tastiest dishes in town.
When you come upon Johnny’s at Szarvas Gábor út 33, the outside façade is not all that impressive. In fact, the exterior of the building is covered in corrugated metal, which apparently gives it a more urban look. Then you walk down the steps inside, and find yourself in a throw-back to real, authentic, old school Americana diner, including decorations such as handmade surfboards and those great small signs we knew and loved in the old diners.
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Just like a real American diner, Johnny’s is known for its burgers. The guacamole bacon burger was a hit with my friend while I had the chicken fingers and a small cheeseburger. My burger was so big and juicy I had to ’smoosh’ the sandwich down in order to hold it with both hands. Yummy.
Our waiter, who was watching us to be sure all was okay, then recommended we order milkshakes, telling us they are really delicious. Well, OK, what the heck, I hadn’t had a real gooey thick milkshake in ages. I ordered what I presumed would be a classic chocolate milkshake and I got a work of art: a creamy rich chocolate milkshake topped with whipped cream and a cookie.
Strollers on Kazinczy utca in the Jewish Quarter will probably be surprised to find a tiny little Cajun/Creole place at Number 32 called, appropriately enough, Soul Food, which has graced this party street since 2014.
You can try the tastes and flavors of the American Deep South here with such dishes as a po’ boy sandwich, jambalaya or gumbo. These are the favorite dishes of Louisiana and almost non-existent in Hungary.
The most popular dish on the menu seems to be the seafood gumbo, a signature Louisiana stew that includes shrimp, clams, tomato, celery, onions, and white rice; in other words, the “Creole version”. If you’re in the mood for a sandwich, go for the pulled pork or another signature po’boy. The meats are all oven-braised until tender, as opposed to smoking in a barbecue pit. But whatever you decide to eat, you can wash it down with one of the excellent local Hungarian beers.
Soul Food is more of a take-away, fast casual eatery, where you place your order at the counter. Prices are still reasonable (about 2500 HUF for the pulled pork sandwich with a side of fried potato chips), and you’ll find yourself chomping happily away next to the locals on pretty much any given night.
Most of the small community of Georgian expats in Budapest choose to head for the Aragvi restaurant on their night out. If you’re looking to dip your toe into the varied cuisine of this Caucasian country, Aragvi, named after a Georgian river, is a good place to start.
Georgian cuisine includes Persian, Turkish, and Levantine influences. The menu here is generally vegetarian, featuring plenty of herbs (mint, coriander, dill and tarragon), vegetables (eggplants, beets, spinach), walnut paste and pomegranate seeds.
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Georgia’s signature dish, known outside the country’s borders, is probably the khachapuri Adjaruli. It’s a crispy and doughy, boat-shaped bread surrounding a melted cheese base, which is topped with a freshly-cracked egg. For those diners who like Chinese soup dumplings, you can’t go wrong checking out Georgia’s pork and beef-filled khinkalis. Kharcho soup is also available, a spicy dish with cubes of tender brisket and a mound of coriander. For three people or more there’s the shkmeruli, a pressed roast chicken sautéed in a milk and garlic-based sauce, served sizzling in a terracotta skillet.
A true specialty of this Georgian venue, and one which too few non-Georgians know little about, is the Georgian wine. Aragvi boasts 25 different vineyards, so it will take several visits to try them all. And, as your author can report, having visited Georgia and tried their wines, they are truly something special. Aragvi is located on Szepvolgy ut, up from the west bank of the Danube, about 20 minutes from downtown Pest by public transport.
Build your own pizza! When you find a table at this tiny pizzeria at Semmelweis street #17, the waiter will give you a sheet of paper with all the different options of size, toppings and dough that you can choose from. It’s a custom-made pizza place where you can literally create your own pizza.
The service is neighborhood friendly and the atmosphere is cool/street. The music might be a touch strange for some tastes (i.e., skater/rock with a few Retro beats thrown in for good measure). The pizzas are incredibly tasty and the prices are very reasonable; and as a bonus, you can write your home town on the large world map on the wall!
Aficionados of Chinese food have long known that the dishes of each region in China have their own unique ingredients and tastes. Shanghai House’s family restaurant specializes in Shanghainese cuisine – light, well-balanced meals, infused with sweeter flavors.
This little out-of-the-way restaurant at Jókai Tér 6 boasts an authentic taste of Shanghai. Their meals are prepared in the traditional way of family home-cooking. The menu offers a small but choice selection of noodle soups, classic dishes and dumplings.
Raw ingredients are selected and prepared specially every day. The broths are prepared daily according to an old family recipe and the dumplings are made fresh and cooked to order. Dumplings are not frozen or store-bought. The restaurant’s desserts are made from scratch every day by hand. Shanghai House has pledged to deliver tasteful and quality dishes that remain true to its Shanghainese cuisine.