72 Hours of Eating in Budapest

When Z and I go on vacation, the plans usually revolve around food. In fact, most of our plans at home revolve around food, so I guess vacation isn’t actually all that different. Solid intro so far.

While others may focus on sightseeing or museums or clubbing abroad, that’s not us. Eating is undoubtedly one of the best ways to experience other cultures, so we were on a quest to discover all the nomz on our recent Eastern Europe tour. Our first main stop, Budapest, is one of the most dynamically growing cities in Europe, so there is a wide array of international cuisine available on every street corner.

We have two go-to moves for finding the best food during our trips: asking Uber drivers (locals know best) or checking TripAdvisor reviews (power of numbers). This strategy prevailed once again in Budapest, so I’ve decided to document our first 72 hours of eating in Hungary.

Thursday, 7:53 P.M.

Local Korner

A day removed from an overnight 9-hour flight — and with Z feeling under the weather — we opted for a low-key dinner for our first night in Budapest. Local Korner is a tiny pizza shop that we researched before our trip after we recognized that it was ranked the fifth-best restaurant in Budapest on Trip Advisor.

Early on in our trip, we quickly learned that unless it’s more than a 30-minute commute, you walk in Europe — our Uber driver in Copenhagen the day before was bewildered when we requested a 3 minute ride. This was a rude awakening to us because we refuse to walk even a tenth of a mile back home to pick up food.

So after our exhausting twelve minute walk to Local Korner, we stepped inside to find a gigantic world map covering two of their walls. Travelers from across the globe have eaten here, signing their names on their respective home countries on the map.

We repped MD obviously

We walked up to the counter and ordered our large 17-inch pizza with five toppings. “How much for this liter of water?” I asked.

“250 HUF.”

I whispered to Z, “I think that’s cheap.” So we got the water, too.

We grabbed a seat, signed our names on the state of Maryland, and Googled how much 250 HUF is in US dollars.

“Oh shit, 85 cents. Budapest is great.” For the pizza and two drinks, we paid less than 9.00 USD.

We took the pizza back to our apartment and it was delicious — My half was meat lovers and Z’s had onions and mushrooms (ew):

Meat lovers / onions / mushrooms pizza

We ate the entire thing and for some reason watched the first five episodes of Grace and Frankie on Netflix.

Friday, 1:30 P.M.

Bors GasztroBar

We spent most of Friday morning hanging out at the famous, yet definitely gross, Széchenyi thermal baths. We hopped from pool to pool inside — each one smelling more like chicken noodle soup than the last — until we finally reached this outdoor haven:

100-plus degree thermal bath

After a clearly tiring experience, we couldn’t wait to check out the number one rated restaurant in Budapest: Bors GasztroBar. The owner of this tiny street food establishment is an ex-Michelin chef who combines fine dining and Hungarian comfort food into a mashup of exotic flavors.

The line was out the door when we arrived, which is always a good sign. An American family was gathered around a golf cart-turned-table in the street, so we asked them about the food. The father got the Barack Obama, which I obviously had to order — it only solidified my choice that it was a sandwich with confit pork, barbecue sauce, apricot, and American cheese.

Once we entered the restaurant, it was immediately awesome. Mobb Deep was blaring on the speakers and the Hungarian chefs knew every word — I was mesmerized.

The sandwich menu was in English, but the soup menu was certainly not. Thankfully, the cashier was the owner and assisted us in our selection. The Barack and chicken ragu soup for me:

The Barry O

Thai curry chicken sandwich, jalapeno cheddar soup for Z:

All of the sandwiches were panini-pressed

Two soups, two sandwiches: 9.50 USD. It was so delicious that I ate there again on our final day — well deserving of its lofty Trip Advisor ranking.

Friday, 3:24 P.M.

Desszert Neked

It somehow took us nearly 24 hours to find this magical ice cream shop three doors away from our Airbnb.

We each ordered a scoop of the cookie biscuit (85 cents!) and each bite was jam-packed with flavor. The best ice cream I’ve had in my life — it overtook my previous number one spot, Il Gelato di San Crispino in Rome.

It was so good we stopped for ice cream five times in three days.

Friday, 7:27 P.M.

Pad Thai Wokbar

One of the cool things about staying in Airbnbs in other countries is that the host will generally provide a list of local attractions, restaurants, and sites to visit. Luckily for us in Budapest, our host created an entire binder full of recommendations.

At this point, it had been two long days since we last ate Asian food, so we were craving it. Pad Thai Wokbar was on our host’s list — and it received positive reviews on Trip Advisor — so we decided to check out the Asian carry out version of “choose your own adventure.”

Basically, you build your own box — select a base (various types of noodles, rice, or vegetables), fillings (meats and vegetables), sauce (Pad Thai, curry, etc.), and toppings (sesame seeds, peanuts, to name a few).

Our boxes were actually expensive relative to our new Hungarian expectations: 15.00 USD for our two meals combined.

By now, we were out of bottled water back at the apartment, so we decided to stop in the local DM on our way back to stock up:

Budapest version of CVS

By the way, just know that every time we needed to stop by a convenience store in Budapest, we made a “we need to slide in the DM” joke. It didn’t get old.

If you’ve ever traveled to Europe, you know that they love carbonated water (a.k.a “with gas”). For the record, carbonated water sucks. Seemingly 80 percent of the water sold in the DM was carbonated, and it was not easy to locate the uncarbonated variety since all the labels were in Hungarian. As we’re scouring the water section, an English-speaking family comes over to us and asks, “Do you have any idea which of these is uncarbonated?”

We didn’t know, but luckily Google Translate was there to help us (side note: definitely pay for mobile data while abroad, it helps in times like these). “OK, this one word is on all the pink bottles, but NOT on the blue bottles. So I think the blue bottles are uncarbonated!”

Good guess, but that actually wasn’t true — and that one word wasn’t even available to translate in Google Translate. Eventually, we figured out the translations and grabbed a few (uncarbonated!) liter bottles to hold us over for the next two days.

Saturday, 3:33 P.M

Kádár Étkezde

On the way from the airport to our Airbnb on the first day, I asked our Uber driver what the best food was to eat in Budapest. Before I could even finish my sentence, he immediately answered, “Goulash.” We already knew we were going to try traditional Hungarian cuisine at some point on this trip, but our drivers’ urgency cemented our decision to find the best goulash.

After a (relatively) long afternoon of exploring Fisherman’s Bastion and the Royal Palace, we began a search for the best Hungarian food in the city. Numerous blogs and articles recommended Kádár Étkezde, and the message was the same in all of the reviews — you won’t find a more authentic experience.

We certainly wanted authentic, so we hopped in an Uber to head over there. When we arrived, the line was already out the door. While there were only 10 tables inside, the line moved pretty quickly and we were greeted by one of the waitresses as soon as we entered.

I told her we have two people in our party, there was some brief confusion, and she seated us at a table for six. She put up six fingers in an effort to ask if we have six people, but I corrected her. “No, two,” as I put up two fingers.

“OK, OK.”

A few minutes went by, but we didn’t receive a menu and there was no further acknowledgement from our waitress. I pointed to a menu on another table and asked for one — she looked confused and mumbled something in Hungarian, then handed us a menu. Sweet, it’s only in Hungarian.

Ten more minutes passed and the group that was behind us in line was already eating their food at their table. I stopped the bustling waitress and asked if we can ever order food. She pointed to the empty chairs at our table and says “No!” plus some Hungarian. I spoke up, “No, we have two!”

She finally understood that we only had two people, directed us to another table, and seated us near the front of the restaurant by the owner. If we hadn’t figured out by this point that we were receiving an old school Eastern European experience, our new table confirmed it. The owner at the adjacent table tallied every table’s tab by hand on his ancient calculator and gave change to customers out of his wallet.

When we left, he said “See you tomorrow!”

After the dizzying table swap fiasco, we finally got to order. Unfortunately, our waitress still only knew like four English phrases:

“No problem.”

“Sorry.”

“Yes.”

“Meat soup.”

We asked for goulash, she understood. Great, two plates of goulash! She said “meat soup” about four times — okay, cool, just give us a soup to share. Z also noticed cabbage on someone else’s table, pointed to it, and asked for an order. The waitress gave us a summary in Hungarian, put up multiple fingers, and left.

Immediately, Z asked, “What did we order?”

I didn’t know the answer, but we found out shortly. Our goulash arrived, but not our meat soup. Do entrees come before soup in Hungary? Who knows? Either way, the goulash wasn’t a mastery of presentation:

Nothing complex here

It was a matter-of-fact dish: gnocchi, tomato sauce with paprika, and chunks of turkey. It wasn’t an explosion of flavor by any stretch of the imagination, but it was hearty and filling. I liked it, but let’s just say Z never asked to find goulash the rest of the trip.

We finished our goulash, but still no meat soup or cabbage on the table. The waitress hurried over to the table, grabbed our plates, and gave the owner a heads up on what we ate. The owner, in decent-enough English, asked how many cups of water we drank.

“Uh, two?” We get charged for two waters. Honesty system, I like it.

We never received the rest of our meal, but we also weren’t asked to pay for it. We’ll never actually know what happened to our meat soup and cabbage.

Saturday, 7:25 P.M

Karavàn Street Food / Zing Burger / Kürtős Legenda

Definitely not satisfied with our lunch, we fortunately already had an excellent food night planned at a street food court. It’s exactly what it sounds like — the deliciousness of street food combined with the variety of a food court.

Before dinner, however, we grabbed a drink (and by “we grabbed a drink” I mean Z grabbed a drink and I Snapchatted everything) at one of the ruin pubs. These bars are built in the ruins of abandoned buildings, stores, etc. for a unique social atmosphere:

Old building -> weird bar

It was an awesome experience, but when there’s a street food court next door, no one really has time for having fun. We left the bar after about an hour and did one loop through the court to investigate all of the eating options. We finally decided on an American-style food truck: Zing Burger.

There were just eight burgers on the menu, so I opted for the BBQ Burger (chili mayo, caramelized onion, cheddar, bacon, and barbecue sauce) while Z ordered the Chili Burger (pepper mayo, red onion, cheddar, chili sauce, mustard, jalapenos). Did we order fries? Of course, it’s Budapest, it was only a dollar.

While we waited for our burgers to be cooked, we moved across the aisle to grab a chimney cake for dessert. Chimney cakes are basically wider, taller churros, and we saw them everywhere we went in Budapest (including some filled with ice cream!), so we needed to try it.

The chimney cakes were cooked on an open flame grill, and in the most Eastern European scene ever, a random guy came over and lit his cigarette on the open flame during the cooking process.

Since we had a baller Airbnb — and since Grace and Frankie wasn’t going to watch itself — we got all of our food to go. Z believed this was the best burger she had ever eaten because “it had the perfect blend of spiciness.” It was damned good.

And we crushed the chimney cake:

Now imagine gelato inside of this

We stayed another full day in Budapest, but there’s no point in writing about it. Z literally got the same burger she ate 12 hours before, I re-visited Bors GasztroBar, and of course we made a couple stops at Desszert Neked.

During my travels, I’ve found that if you like a restaurant, there’s no shame in going there twice in a trip. Hell, I once went to the same restaurant in Rome three straight days (Ristorante 33 if you’re ever there). So for our last day, it was an easy decision to run a “Greatest Hits” collection of all of our Budapest food discoveries.*

Despite traveling to five other cities and four other countries on our Eastern Europe tour, Budapest was decidedly our favorite part of the trip. Cuisine aside, it’s an awesome city. For basically 600 USD roundtrip from the U.S. east coast, you can drop yourself in a diverse city with loads of history and affordable accomodations.

We spent more than 15 USD combined on just one meal during our four days in Budapest while staying in an upscale apartment that was a 15 minute walk to most attractions.

If you’re looking for your next adventure, Budapest should be near the top of your list.

View of the city from the top of the Royal Palace

*We also decided to eat at a sit-down Thai restaurant on our last night, and it was wildly disappointing. It was no Thai House Gaithersburg, that’s for sure.