Budapest sees millions of tourists a year, many of them heading there for the architecture, history and bathhouses. In recent years, however, the main draw has been another part of the city entirely: the cuisine. The culinary scene has exploded in the Hungarian capital over the past decade to the point where it seems that every food magazine and blog has published a “where to eat in Budapest” list. Instead of curating a guide ourselves, we decided to ask an expert: Szilvia Magdics, the head concierge at the newly opened Matild Palace, who has over 10 years of concierge experience in the city and is a member of Les Clefs d’Or.
Originally built between 1899 and 1902, the Matild Palace building underwent significant restoration and renovation in recent years, opening its doors in its current form as a hotel in 2021. Even before stepping foot inside, it’s clear that the property truly cares about its century-long history. Plaques line the exterior telling the backstory of the palace and its famous cafe. One of the more opulent hotel bistros you’ll ever set foot in, the Matild Café and Cabaret was one of the main hubs of the city during the Belle Époque period when cafe culture was at its most vibrant. In addition, the hotel now houses Spago by Wolfgang Puck, a destination in and of itself for both locals and tourists.
Whether you stay at the Matild or elsewhere in the city, you’ll want to get out and explore. We got plenty of recommendations from Magdics, whether you’re looking for local hotspots or cocktail bars with the best views in town, as well as some intel on how the Budapest food and drink scene has changed in the last decade.
How has the food scene evolved in Budapest in recent years?
Budapest’s street food scene has exploded in the last few years since it is inexpensive, beautifully displayed and showcases all the best foods from the area. You should try things like lángos (fried bread with various toppings), chimney cake, strudel and hurka sausage. But also over the past decade the development of Hungarian gastronomy has attracted worldwide attention. The quality of Hungarian ingredients has been developing continuously and people are starting to take notice. We now have seven Michelin-starred restaurants, and still counting.
What about the drinking scene? What’s new?
Budapest’s nightlife has gone through a major upgrade in recent years through the development of a high-end bar scene of rooftop bars, cocktail bars and wine bars, led by top-notch mixologists and experts.
You can’t miss the ever-increasing underground bar scene either, while visiting a ruin bar is a must.
Where’s the best place to get non-touristy traditional Hungarian cuisine (a place where the locals go)?
Aszú is a family-run, bistro-style restaurant, a purveyor of modern cuisine that understands its roots, while gazing out from Tokaj upon the world where the wine list offers numerous special selections.
The best place for cutting-edge Hungarian cuisine?
Stand offers re-tuned traditional Hungarian dishes. The owners are the famous Hungarian chefs Tamás Széll and Szabina Szulló, and were awarded one Michelin star after their first year of operation. They offer well presented, tasty Hungarian dishes, full of flavor with perfect texture, temperature and plating, with outstanding service.
Classic: Matild Café and Cabaret. The two-story cafe is a dramatic reimagination of the most popular address for local elite and influencers of the Belle Époque era, and the first cafe to reopen in Budapest after World War II. This iconic gem is a flawless cafe, bar and pastry counter offering Hungarian specialties and peerless service in an authentic and historic room.
Speciality: Espresso Embassy. Youthful and trendy, Espresso Embassy uses specific weights and brewing times with their excellent quality coffee to produce maybe the best coffee in town. The selection includes pour-over, siphon and cold-drip coffee options at the brew bar.
Where do the trendy young Hungarians eat?
Kiosk has a stunning view of the Danube and the Elisabeth Bridge from the terrace, and a dramatically high-ceilinged, industrial chic interior. It is a beloved meeting point for locals to sit in for a drink or a quick bite as well as for a full evening chat with friends.
Best cocktail bar?
The Duchess is a secret rooftop liquor library and garden inspired by the Archduchess Maria Klotild. The hideaway has 360-degree views of Budapest. Accessed through a hidden entrance, it features incredible mixology blended with a carefully curated soundtrack.
Best wine bar?
Kadarka Wine Bar serves more than a hundred kinds of Hungarian wines from across the country’s 22 wine regions. The bar is visited mostly by locals and serves as a favorite spot for trying countless varieties.
Best ruin bar?
Definitely Szimpla Kert. It is the origin of the underground bar scene with a vibrant atmosphere, reasonably priced drinks and lots of fun ideas from the interior design to the program selection.
Best spa or bathhouse to eat at?
Budapest is known for their thermal baths and we have a large selection of pools, sauna and steam facilities. Rudas spa houses Rudas Bistro, which offers a nice panorama to the Pest side of the city, and filling food.
Where to go if you’re tired of Hungarian food?
Byblos Budapest, located in the heart of the inner city of Pest, is a Lebanese restaurant that represents the marriage of Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. It relies heavily on both traditional and local ingredients.
Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.