Photo by Karen Holly Berliner

Hungarian cuisine is among the tastiest and richest in Europe, so it should come as no surprise that Budapest is famous for its excellent food. While it’s common to think that Hungarian food is all about the goulash (gulyás), that would be a mistake. Actually, it has a distinct and vibrant character, often rich with sour cream, onions, eggs, butter, fresh produce and wine.

Budapest isn’t short on great dining spots, with excellent choices at every corner. Here’s just a short list of some of the culinary delights that await. And further down is a short list of some of the great lodgings in Budapest.

This restaurant offers gourmet dining set in the historic Bauhaus building on the upscale Andrassy Avenue. Chef Norbert Biro develops his menus to reflect that changing seasons, like his New Zealand lamb loin in herb crust with harissa. Epicurean grand splendor.

Located in the heart of Budapest, the Spinoza restaurant is in the middle the old Jewish quarter, right near the great Synagogue and not far from the Opera and the theater district. This art-deco café serves international and Hungarian meals and features live piano entertainment nightly. For a real treat, try the popular goose leg, roasted to crispy perfection with a side of warm purple cabbage and mashed onion potatoes. Finish your meal with a piece of apple strudel  á la mode!

Borssó Bistro
Walk into this loft space with an airy double floor dining space and let it take you away from the bustle outside. The restaurant is located on the corner of Képíró and Királyi Pál streets, with French-Hungarian fusion cuisine offered in a classic bistro atmosphere. Romantic, candlelit nooks are elegantly appointed with white table cloths, and a vast wine list with bottles and glasses are expertly paired with any dish on the menu. Try the ratatouille cream soup, duck leg served with beet-tuiles filled with mild wasabi-mashed potatoes, or for a delightful seafood choice, the black mussels with parsley velouté. On weekends, a delightful violin and guitar duo are on hand to serenade diners.

The Múzeum Café
This lovely dining spot is located in Pest’s historical downtown section and has been open since 1885. Their menu offers modernized Hungarian and international classic masterpieces, paired perfectly with an impressive selection of local wines. Its interior space is decorated by the ceiling frescos of Károly Lotz and porcelain tiles from the world-famous Pécs Zsolnay factory. The múzeum sampler—beef tenderloin carpaccio with soft cheese, mangalica ham and goose liver parfait—is a perfect choice to open your palate. The fish soup made from catfish and carp with matchstick noodles is authentic and delightful. The atmosphere during a dinner seating is accented by live piano music.

Jó Estét! Where to Lodge

The InterContinental Hotel
Budapest InterContinental was voted as the ‘best view’ hotel; an award that was certainly well-deserved. This five-star hotel offers breathtaking views over the River Danube, and with the Royal Palace on the Castle Hill and the Chain Bridge right next to the hotel, guests can easily stroll across to the Buda side. Surrounded by Budapest’s most iconic landmarks, such as the former Royal Palace and the Parliament Building, this luxurious hotel is steps away from Vaci Utca, Budapest’s “miracle” shopping mile.

The hotel houses almost 400 guest rooms (with more than 200 non-smoking rooms) and 18 suites overlooking the River Danube and the Szechenyi Chain Bridge, all of which are equipped with modern conveniences including TVs, high speed internet connection, coffee and tea makers and a mini bar. Other accoutrements such as the reverse flow swimming pool (an aqua treadmill of sorts), cardiovascular machines, weights, a sauna, a relaxation area and a recreational area are also accessible to guests. The spa offers massage services and top shelf beauty and skin products. A hairdresser and beauty salon are also available.

Corso, the on-site restaurant, is a delightful dining spot with primarily Asian- and Mediterranean-seasoned dishes with inventive Hungarian accents. Be adventurous and order some of their specialties, many of which you’d be hard pressed to find back home, like the Brussels Sprout soup with sautéed pheasant breast and brioche croutons or the venison medallions with merlot sauce and sautéed porcini mushrooms, red cabbage, schupfnudeln (egg pasta) and chestnuts glazed in black beer and caramel. For a light bite, the Corso Bar on the ground floor serves cakes, pastries, specialty coffees and a variety of cocktails.

The Best Western Art
Situated in the center of Budapest in a newly renovated and charming street, this boutique hotel is very similar to high-end lodgings in New York’s SoHo. Just a few minutes away from the famous Vaci Street, this refurbished hotel has 32 rooms and offers a lovely continental buffet each morning, as well as a sauna and a fitness room, WiFi access throughout, a friendly concierge station and all the European charm that you desire.

—Karen Holly Berliner. For more on Budapest, be sure to pick up a copy of the spring 2012 issue of DOWNTOWN Magazine.