Travel often, travel hungry. Probably my life motto there.
When you’re visiting somewhere on a budget, it can be quite a daunting task to discover affordable places to eat. Luckily, Budapest in general is a purse-friendly place to visit. Unless you’re hitting up the Michelin starred hotspots, you’ll find it hard pushed to spend even £30 on a meal for two with drinks. And there are plenty of options that come in far cheaper than that, even.
My main tip if you’re looking for cheap food in Budapest on a budget is to avoid the overpriced ‘tourist friendly’ restaurants of the Inner City area, and instead head out to the ‘Jewish Quarter’ of Pest, where the majority of these suggestions can be found.
Street food is scattered all over the city, and is a great way to try out Hungarian dishes on the cheap. I was gutted I didn’t get to visit Street Food Karavan, which was closed for the winter and reopening in March – but we definitely found some pretty good alternatives.
Kolbice, Grand Central Market – for the perfect hangover sausages
With hangovers severely looming from the previous night’s pub tour, we took a walk to clear our heads and with the intent to fill our stomachs with stodgy grub. Grand Central Market is definitely a great place to explore, with all kinds of stalls selling produce, foodie bits and souvenirs.
Upstairs, they have a small street food area with stalls selling some Hungarian specialities. To begin with, we balked at how busy it was, with no idea where queues started and ended and all the tables filled with others tucking in. However, at the end of the row sat Kolbice, with a small queue and intriguing-looking sausages in bread cones, topped with cabbage, onion and cheese sauce.
Once I’d tucked into the sausages, I was left with a delicious cone of bread and a pool of cheese sauce at the bottom, which was probably even more enjoyable than the sausages themselves…hangover, gone!
Upper floor, Grand Central Market Hall
Vámház krt. 1-3, 1093 Hungary
Bordó Bisztró – for a bargain sit-down lunch menu
We discovered Bordó Bisztró on a wandering whim, when we spotted a sign offering their weekly lunch menu. At 1050 HUF (£2.89) for two courses, or 1300 HUF (£3.56) for three, we were pretty sold. If it was good, hooray, if it wasn’t…well, at least we hadn’t spent much. Thankfully, it erred towards the former.
The space itself was pretty lovely – high ceilings, wood panelled and exposed brick walls. The selection of dishes on the menu range from slightly more traditional, such as the layered potato dish I chose, to chicken kiev and chips. You can also add a glass of wine for 500 HUF (£1.38) – which, obviously, we did.
Okay, so this might not fancy-pants gourmet fine dining, but it’s probably as close as you’ll get on this kinda budget. The quality of the dishes was definitely impressive, especially considering the price. My layered potato dish was incredibly filling, and had a lot of flavour – especially with the pickles on the side. We decided to only have the two courses, starter and main, and grab dessert elsewhere in the spirit of trying things out. That, and I really wanted a chimney cake.
The service at Bordó Bisztró was great, compared to some of the more brusque experiences we’d had ordering food in the city. And the waiters were even super forgiving when we realised we’d dropped the 10,000 HUF note we had on us somewhere on the walk, and Conor had to run back to the hostel and grab some more cash. Whoops…
Nagymező utca 3., 1065 Hungary
Lángos – for stodgy Hungarian street food
Lángos is a traditional Hungarian street food dish that you definitely don’t want to eat if you’re a clean eating devotee. But you’re on holiday, so screw that and have it anyway, because it’s amazing.
Firstly, the dough’s spread into a flatbread, then deep fried. On top of it goes a layer of sour cream, then lots of cheese, and further toppings if you want them. And oh boy, is this delicious. It’s basically combining the best of a pizza and a doughnut (but savoury). Locals eat these before a night out to line their stomachs, and it’s not hard to see why.
We had lángos twice – once at Retro Làngos Büfé, and again at Tomi Lángos. The former was slightly the more enjoyable of the two, although both were a delicious, calorie-laden treat.
Retro Làngos Büfé
Podmaniczky Frigyes tér 4, 1054 Hungary
Blaha Lujza tér 1, 1085 Budapest
Steg – for that fish and chips craving
Another restaurant found during a wander, this time at the end of Gozsdu udvar, a pedestrianised hub of liveliness containing lots of bars and restaurants. We had no real destination in mind, just getting something to stuff our faces with, and that’s when we stumbled upon fish restaurant Steg.
It’s a pretty small space – their seating options offer a few four-person tables, and a large square table with stools, which we took over a corner of. An order-at-the-counter, no frills type joint, we sat and played a conveniently placed game of Connect 4 while we waited for our food to appear.
I had a small portion of catfish and chips, which cost 1590 HUF (around £4.36), and for a large portion you’re looking at 2290 HUF (around £6.28). The ‘traditional’ fish and chips – which I assume is cod – is a hundred or so forints more expensive, but I actually preferred the catfish. Slightly pricier than some of the other places I’m recommending, but still a pretty good deal for decent quality fish’n’chips.
Dob u. 17, 1074 Hungary
Marxim – For Communism-inspired pizza and decor
I’d had Marxim down on my list of places to eat since I began my Budapest research (which mostly went out the window when we actually got there, as it usually does) – I loved the sound of its Communist-era decor, and – most importantly – cheap pizza.
The names of some of the dishes raised a smile, and I chose the ‘Snow White and the Seven Small Proletarians’ – mozarella cheese, sour cream, ewe cheese and garlic. The pizzas were served with the tomato sauce on the side rather than under the cheese. It was also served cold, so I dipped my crusts in it rather than pouring onto my pizza.
It didn’t matter anyway though, because the cheese was generous and tasty. Yeah…all I need in life is cheese and bread, really. The ‘Sausagekoje’ – cheese and salami – was also really delicious too, although definitely a lot greasier than my choice.
If you’re hungry, I’d definitely recommend ordering the larger size pizzas – we went for the small ones, and could really have eaten more!
The small pizzas are priced from 990-1290 HUF (around £2.71-£3.53), and the large pizzas from 1390-1690 HUF (around £3.81-£4.63). So basically, any pizza comes in at under a fiver. Bargain.
Kisrókus u. 23, 1024 Hungary
Self-Service Canteen – for eating like locals
On our first day in Budapest, our lovely tour guide Zoltan introduced us to the wonderful world of self-service canteens, by taking us for lunch at Fortuna Onkisszolgalo Etterem. Over on the Buda side in particular, restaurants can be on the more pricey side. But self-service canteen restaurants, primarily aimed at local service workers, are a cheap alternative. They may not be fancy, and your meal will probably come out on a tray – but it’s a great way to save cash for other things. Like beer.
Some of the canteens are more public than others, so may have English menus. But if you end up in a real, hidden away gem like we did, you’ll probably need some time to translate the menu from Hungarian. It’s worth the effort though, as we got traditional food, plates piled high, for a fraction of the price we’d paid locally. And the food was actually pretty damn tasty.
Fortuna Onkisszolgalo Etterem
Fortuna utca 4, 1014 Hungary
Ferenc József Söröző – for an inexpensive taste of goulash
Because you can’t go to Budapest and not try goulash, right?
Traditionally, as we learnt from one of our guides, authentic Hungarian goulash is a soup – although it’s also commonly used to refer to a thicker stew. Having been rubbish and still not tried it, we spent our last lunchtime wandering the streets to find goulash that would suit our budget. With our original destination of a stall in ruin pub Kuplung closed, we navigated through District VII (known as ‘the Jewish quarter) to find somewhere as affordable as possible.
Ferenc József Söröző, a charming little restaurant moments from our hostel, caught our eye when we saw goulash on the menu for just 990 HUF (£2.72). Although the goulash was considered a starter, the server was happy to let us just order a bowl each, along with some bread for a mere … HUF (£…).
What the goulash lacked in thickness with it being a soup, it made up for in flavour. A generous amount of beef and vegetables in a warming broth, the smokiness of the paprika came through perfectly. Despite it being a starter, it was filling – a great taste of this traditional Hungarian dish for a decent price.
Ferenc József Söröző
Nagymező u. 12, 1062 Hungary
Palotai Pékség és Pizzéria – for a quick and easy breakfast
If you’re looking for food to grab on the go that’ll fill you up, Budapest’s bakeries have lots of options beyond bread. We picked up these sausage rolls (basically hot dogs, but it’s from a bakery so definitely counts as breakfast) with either mustard or ketchup from Palotai Pékség és Pizzéria. And they were just 250 HUF (about 69p) each. Who needs Greggs?!
They also do coffee, cakes and sandwiches, and have a limited amount of seating inside – although this was often full when we dropped in. A great option for grabbing something on the go though!
Palotai Pékség és Pizzéria
Király u. 44, 1061 Hungary
This post has taken me so long to write, and now I’m hungry for Budapest eats all over again. SEND HELP (and lángos).
*all prices and conversions correct at time of publication