With the academic year now in full swing and students back at their seats of learning around the Palace Quarter, it’s time to scope out the best cheap lunches within five minutes’ walk of the National Museum. Expat freelancers now on tighter budgets might also pick up a few useful tips.
Bagels have become a popular treat in the Hungarian capital, and Budapest Bägel has had a lot to do with this. Their fresh pastries are infinitely variable, you can order them with cream cheese, avocado, salmon, various types of vegetables, spreads, cold cuts and more, and there are new items added to the menu consistently. The bagels not only make for a healthy but a satisfying and filling lunch as well.
Adjacent to the Szabó Ervin Library, the Fecske (‘Swallow’) is popular among university students for very good reason: they await their guests with an absolutely budget-friendly menu that renews weekly, including two soups, three or four main courses and a dessert. From spring to autumn, you can sit under the trees on this corner of Baross utca, or retreat into the cosy interior in case of rain.
Istvánffi Veggie Burger
Vegan fast-food restaurant Istvánffi, which has somewhat of a retro atmosphere, is so popular precisely because they don’t try to overcomplicate things. The burgers come with one or two patties, which can be made from mushrooms, oats or wheat, depending on what you prefer. You can combine them with the legendary Istvánffi fries, unique, delicious dips and healthy juices. Dishes include no food colouring or additives, but are rich in nutrients.
Neighbouring its sister restaurant, PASTA. (see below), LEVES. offers heavenly, steaming hot soups. The tiny venue has a range of five options, with both classic and alternative flavours. You can order grilled baguettes to accompany, and even then you won’t spend much more than 1,000 forints. Note that it’s currently cash-only at both venues.
Műhely Egyetem Cafe
Located in a building of one of Budapest’s main universities, ELTE, the Műhely Egyetem Cafe is open and available for everyone. Set in a basement, this cosy café might seem a bit chaotic at first, but this is what gives it its special charm. They offer lunch menus every day and have yummy additional snacks and sandwiches at the counter, too. The daily menu consists of a soup and a second course, which can be anything from pasta to chicken, fish and salad.
At Nagy Lumen, you feel like you’re sitting in the palm house of the Botanical Gardens, with its huge windows, smart furniture and spacious interior, where plants even hang from the ceiling. For 1,450 forints, you can have the lunch menu of a soup and main course, but can also order à la carte. In addition, they organise concerts, fairs and film clubs.
Olive Sushi Restaurant
It’s a typical Chinese restaurant, but it offers a little variety when it comes to the flavours of the area. It doesn’t hide its light under a bushel: the usual vegetable rice, Thai chicken and roast duck can be found here, but it’s also worth investigating the soups. They give huge portions, at very good prices, ideal for warming you up on a chilly autumn day. Students also receive a 10% discount.
PASTA. - Kálvin tér
A favourite in the catchment area, with queues snaking out the door of the small interior – wooden tables are set outside in good weather, your pasta presented in a practical paper box with metal handles. This way you can easily take it with you, even if it doesn’t fit in your bag. Every day, you can choose from four types of flavours, so you can try new recipes – but you don’t have to give up the tried and tested ones.
We can’t leave Greek food off of our list, especially when it comes to PitaGorasz. Although the menu consists of only a few items, there’s everything you might want to find at a Greek restaurant. The classic blue-and-white colour scheme is present but they don’t let themselves be completely associated with Greek stereotypes, and have given a whole new definition to kebab.
If you’re looking for authentic, fresh and delicious salads, visit Rukkola, where 24 flavour combinations await. First, they named the different variations according to their colours, but the menu has since been extended, and now there are too many options for this to be done. The salads are served in takeaway boxes, as eating at Rukkola is only possible when it’s warm and the terrace is open. But same say that they have the best coffee in the area.
Another favourite on Baross utca is Szörp (‘Cordial’), where home-made stalwarts ordered as small or large portions, the selection changing on a daily basis. Vegetarian options are a given and even vegan dishes occur. It’s lovely, suitably cosy nook, with small tables on the terrace where we can sit comfortably even on cooler days.