Dining
6 temptingly tasteful Budapest lunch menus
Photo : László Balkányi/We Love Budapest
6 temptingly tasteful Budapest lunch menus

Restaurants and bistros across Budapest offer filling and/or exceptionally delicious lunch specials for one reason, and it’s not profit. These sometimes insensibly cheap midday-meal deals are great ways of showcasing the eateries’ characteristic flavors in hopes of inspiring daytime guests to return for dinner, or a leisurely weekend lunch. Here we feature six pleasant top-quality establishments that are just as enticing in the middle of a workday as they are on a Saturday evening.

Bestia – the “half-legal” Code Zero – the business-lunch spot Esca Studio Restaurant – refined creativity EXTRA – a home-style hotspot Émile – appetizing elegance   Sophie & Ben – reliable delight

Bestia – the “half-legal”

We didn’t invent the term: the lunch menu of Bestia is called the “half-legal pub lunch”, which could either refer to the fact that having lunch at an American-style steak-and-beer joint is extremely cool, or that adventurous patrons can wash down their two-course lunch with a complementary glass of beer (2 dl). Guests have six starters and seven entrées to choose from, including the local version of the traditional goulash soup and refreshing salads and spreads, all of which are available to order for dinner as well. The Liptauer with bunny-hop beer and the duck rillettes that we sampled were amazing, and fit right into the strong, homestyle cuisine Bestia offers. Some of the other lunch options are Pest-style sausages, Asian chicken salad, Cajun chicken with vegetables, beef “bestrami”, and crispy pork pancetta with cabbage salad. Roasted in a rotisserie until absolutely tender, the Cajun chicken was perhaps the spiciest, smokiest, and most wonderfully indulgent lunch dish we’ve ever had, and we can attest to the fact that the beer served with it adds a great kick to the mix. You can order the lunch menu until 4pm.  

Price: two dishes & beer – 2,200 forints + service charge
Type of menu: customizable

Bestia
  • 1051 Budapest, Szent István tér 9-11.

Code Zero – the business-lunch spot

Situated in busy Egyetem Square, Code Zero has a refined air that makes it seem like a great place for business lunches or partner meetings over delectable culinary creations. The restaurant is the local version of the Csopak grill of the same name. The dinner menu comprises grilled meat or fish with salad and side dishes in both places, but the lunch menu is different: the Budapest eatery offers two appetizers, two entrées, and a dessert. We loved the fried goat cheese with beetroot and the grilled rolled chicken thighs with polenta cream. The latter dish was paired with kimchi, which seemed a strange combination, but the polenta was so silky we didn’t mind at all. The portions are what you’d expect in a lunch menu, but you won’t leave hungry after a three-course meal.

Price: two dishes – 1,690 forints, three dishes – 2,190 forints
Type of menu: customizable

Code Zero Budapest
Address: Budapest 1056, Papnövelde utca 10
Opening times: Monday-Sunday 11am-midnight

Esca Studio Restaurant – refined creativity

There are plenty of reasons to love Esca: Budapest’s only studio restaurant adds a special flair to the emerging Dohány Street area, and the cozy-sized eatery boasts a chef – Gábor Fehér – who can manipulate flavors and ingredients like no one else. You can always count on the lunch menu here regardless of whether you want to grab a bite with colleagues, friends, or business partners. The menus always include two appetizers, three main dishes, and two desserts, and often feature such premium elements as truffles, frutti di mare, or meats of the highest possible quality. The lunch menu we tried consisted of super-light leek velouté, smoked salmon straight from Copenhagen with a more traditionally seasoned potato salad, and a vanilla-strawberry dessert cup, which had a creamy, velvety texture that we’d never experienced before.  

Price: two courses – 2,250 forints, three courses – 2,550 forints
Type of menu: customizable

UPDATE: From the beginning of 2016, the restaurant serves dinner only, and opens at 5 in the afternoon.

ESCA Studio Restaurant

EXTRA – a home-style hotspot

We were surprised to learn that EXTRA on Klauzál Street has a lunch special that puts the pub on the list of downtown’s must-try establishments. We were skeptical when we saw that their midday menu was priced at an unbeatable 990 forints, but it piqued our interest quite a bit that this pleasant new-wave ruin pub, a stylish spot amid Budapest’s vibrant party district, is fast becoming a firm favorite among young people working in nearby office buildings. Since WLB HQ is based in the area, we decided we had to give it a try, and what we got was the kind of homestyle Hungarian cooking we all love so much. Instead of velouté, consommé, or espuma, the selection features popular dishes like chicken broth, noodles, and stews. The cream of potato soup with bacon chips was just as good as the roasted chicken legs with parsley potatoes that came after, and we left the premises fully satisfied with the portions and the flavors. The quality-price ratio here is pretty amazing.  

Price: two dishes – 990 forints
Type of menu: fixed dishes

EXTRA
  • 1071 Budapest, Klauzál utca 15.

Émile – appetizing elegance  

The Buda establishment of the Gerbeaud family of eateries, Émile on Orló Street, was an especially frequented spot during the summer season due to its elegant and exclusive surroundings and atmospheric garden. As of this fall, the refined villa restaurant offers its very own version of a lunch menu, giving guests an opportunity to sample the top-notch culinary delights of the luxury restaurant located in Buda’s posh Rózsadomb district. The selection comprises two appetizers and two main dishes, while dessert comes from the restaurant’s renowned cake counter. This is the definition of a fine-dining menu with carefully designed dishes and cutting-edge cooking technology. We couldn’t be happier to see Émile among the increasing number of premium-category restaurants that have recently jumped on the lunch-menu bandwagon, giving more apprehensive visitors a much needed push to enter this trendy shrine of first-class gastronomy. 

Price: two dishes with mineral water – 2,900 forints, three dishes with mineral water – 3,500 forints (+12% service charge)
Type of menu: customizable

Émile
  • 1026 Budapest, Orló utca 1.

Sophie & Ben – reliable delight

Despite opening less than a year ago, Sophie & Ben Bistro has quickly become one of the friendliest places of downtown, where kids are also very welcome – even during lunchtime. The dishes are well thought out, and the quality is always reliable – all of their creations, including those on the lunch menu, are delightful. Guests can put together a two- or three-course meal from a selection of two soups, three entrées, and two desserts, but beware: the portions are filling, to say the least. They are especially proud of their soups, and after trying their cream of pea soup with cheese chips we can see why. Fresh, healthy dishes dominate the menu – most of their meat dishes, for example, are not fried, but grilled. The pork chops with pumpkin and hot kapia pepper sauce and the pullet with sweet potatoes and crispy green beans were excellent, not to mention the forest fruit crumble. Sophie & Ben’s signature burgers are regularly featured on the lunch menu, which definitely sets this cozy bistro apart from similar establishments around Budapest.  

Price: two dishes – 1,490 forints, three dishes – 1,790 forints
Type of menu: customizable

It may be wise to note that most restaurants post their lunch menus on Facebook daily, or at the beginning of the week. Make sure to arrive as early as you can because the number of portions tends to be limited.
Sophie & Ben Bistro (ceased)
  • 1061 Budapest, Káldy Gyula utca 5.