Ahh, Budapaest. This beautiful city along the Danube has so much to offer in the way of historical and cultural sights. Whether it’s cruising down the Danube, exploring the historic charm of Buda, recalling the somber remembrances of yesteryear such as the Bronze Shoes on the Danube Memorial or the House of Terror, or taking to the thermal baths, there is much to see and do.
But y’all already know that. I’m here to talk about where to wine and where to dine. In a city as varied as Budapest, there really is no such thing as a “best of” because who really can visit every place? But I can share some of my favorite Budapest wine and food experiences from my time there. And you know I won’t steer you wrong.
To Discover Hungarian Wine
Umm, yeah, this starts with wine. Were you expecting something different? To get exposure to, and literally get a taste of Hungarian wine, head on over to Tasting Table Budapest. This local outpost of Taste Hungary, is a wine shop, tasting room, event space, education center, and online shop all rolled into one. Set in a cozy vaulted cellar of a 19th-century palace, it is THE place to try a variety of Hungarian wines and get your Budapest wine experience started.
Their ‘Essentials of Hungarian Wine’ tasting is a great dive into the wines of Hungary.
I enjoyed a fabulous evening featuring a sommelier-led tasting of eight fine wines (typically 1 sparkling, 3 white, 3 red, & 1 dessert) each paired with meats, cheeses, and other nibbles.
In addition to tasting the delicious wines, you learn the stories behind the wines, about the various Hungarian wine regions, and about Hungarian food and wine culture. And when you’re done, you are free to purchase any of the wines you tasted as well as some of the foods. I bought as many oils and food products as I did wine! And don’t worry if you can’t make it in for one of their scheduled tastings1 as you can pop in any time for a glass or a flight of wines along with cheese and charcuterie boards.
Taste Hungary is the leading culinary tour company in all of Hungary. They offer daily food walks, coffeehouse walks, ruin bar walks, craft beer walks, Jewish cuisine walks, wine tastings, wine tours, and private and custom tours for groups throughout Hungary. You name it and they do it – and do it well. It seems there is nothing Hungarian food and wine that they don’t do. I even hired them to drive me to Eger for a day of wine tasting.
For Authentic Hungarian Food
To get a taste of authentic, traditional2 Hungarian food, look no further than Hungarikum Bisztro. But know that it is small, in demand, and fills up quickly so be sure to make a reservation. Dining at this quaint, charming restaurant (complete with piano player) is like eating with family.
From the amuse, which consists of onion and bacon stuffed bread topped with sour cream and garlic sauce, I knew I was in for a treat.
And the staff is some of the friendliest you’ll meet even helping me practice my Hungarian phrases. Köszönöm – that’s “Thank You” to you.
Of course, you must have the goulash soup. Other items of note that will make you lick your plate clean are the pork loin with paprika sauce and bacon-sour cabbage dumplings, and the crispy duck leg with onion potatoes and braised cabbage.
Mr. Corkscrew, pork lover that he is, was literally in hog heaven. No meal is complete, at least for yours truly, without sampling the local wine. The 2017 Vylyan Kakas Rosé from the Hungarian region of Villány was the wine to fit the bill and nice accompaniment to the meal.
And don’t be afraid of that shot of Pálinka, the local flavored fruit brandy, that they give you at the end of your meal. It’s strong, but it’ll get ya right!
For Fine Dining & People Watching
It can be a challenge to find quality restaurants in tourist-centered parts of the city, but it can be done. Cyrano Étterem sits right off busy, touristy Vaci Utca and is a prime example of fine dining right off the main tourist drag. Even better that it offers al fresco fine dining and is a prime spot for people watching.
Featuring both local and international cuisine, the menu has a balanced selection of fish, chicken, beef, and (gasp!) vegetarian dishes. And after all the meat-heavy dishes3 I’d had, I was thrilled to find to seafood and vegetable dishes.
After tasty cocktails and beer, it was time to choose a wine. I had my eye on another wine when I saw a group of travelers on their third bottle of a particular wine. So of course, I had to find out what was so great about it. When I inquired, I was pointed to the 2011 Bock Villány Cuvée. Another point in the Villány column!4
Lush black fruit and smooth tannins made this easy to drink and quite enjoyable. Completely understandable why my dinner neighbors were on their third bottle!
For Great Café Culture / Breakfast
Like Vienna (where I started my travels before coming here) Budapest has a great café culture. And yes, Café Gerbeaud, Gerlóczy Café, and New York Café are beautiful, ornate cafes and good bets as well, but I really enjoyed Café Central.
One of the oldest Vienna-style cafés in the city, open since 1887, it is a great place for coffee, light meals, and pastries of course. It also made a great spot for breakfast. The ham and cheese eggy bread with seasoned sour cream was quite tasty. Also memorable was the French toast – eggy brioche with coconut, almond, and fresh fruit served with an assortment of homemade jams, honey, and butter.
For Total Immersion
If anything shows you the heart and soul of Budapest, the Great Market Hall is arguably a contender. First opened in 1897 and a daily destination for locals, it is truly an experience for all the senses.
Whether there to people watch and soak up local culture, to get your eat on, or to find a souvenir or two, it’s hard to go wrong.
The quite cavernous market consists of three levels. The basement houses a fish market, butcher, grocery store and vegetable stalls. The main and second levels are where tourists spend most of their time with the main level showcasing fruits, vegetables, wines, spirits, pastries, candies, paprika, meats, cheeses, and on and on while the second level has food stalls/eateries and souvenirs.
For a Taste of the Ruin Pub Experience
A visit to Budapest isn’t complete without a drink (or two) at one of the many ruin pubs (known as “romkocsma”). Yes, even for the refined, Champagne crowd! These flea market cum junkyard cum Bohemian pubs are unlike any pub you’ve been to. Fashioned from once deteriorating buildings and decorated with vintage, second-hand furnishings and eclectic odds and ends that most folks would trash, the ruin pub is a central part of Budapest’s drinking culture and nightlife. Several exist throughout the city – each unique with its own vibe – but the largest cluster of ruin pubs is in the city’s Seventh District (the former Jewish Quarter).5 And because of this, Ruin-Pub Crawls have become quite the experience. For more info, check out RuinPubs.com.
But if you can only visit one, then visit Szimpla Kert – the original ruin pub.
A former stove factory that was saved from demolition, Szimpla Kert is one of those places that creates awe when you walk in as you can’t quite understand what you’ve walked into. A central courtyard surrounded by various “rooms” each with its own theme, it is funky kitsch through and through. Want to sit on a “loveseat” bathtub? No problem? Chairs or a bicycle hanging from the ceiling? It’s there. A car in the middle of a courtyard complete with tables and chairs? Yep. Whether you go early for coffee or relaxing drink or truly do the nightclub thing, it’s a must see when in Budapest.
- In Budapest, they also do a daytime wine, cheese & charcuterie tasting as well as bi-weekly wine dinners.
- Can I say ‘Old School?’
- Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Texas carnivore through and through, but sometimes I need fish and vegetables.
- I sense a trip to the Villány region is in my future.
- This part of the city, which had been run-down and left to deteriorate after World War II, thus the ready availability of dilapidated buildings.