Lest you get the impression that we waddled through the Jewish Quarter after eating everything on the list below in one day, I can assure you that we savored every bite over our week in Budapest. We found ourselves exploring District VII almost every day for lunch, dinner, or just a snack, and it never disappointed.
The Jewish Quarter today is roughly the same area as the Jewish Ghetto defined in WWII. Coming from the Astoria metro stop, you’re greeted by the grand Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe. As you walk a bit further into the district, through the narrow streets and little alleys, each building visibly wear the scars of a painful past on its facade. As the area has gentrified and the crumbling exteriors and decay have become almost endearing, it was an important reminder to me of why these buildings were left abandoned.
While you’ll find plenty of traditional Jewish food in this district, you’ll also find some of the best pizza, hot chocolate, and everything in between. Everything was exceptionally delicious, and by comparison to many other places we’ve lived or traveled, so cheap! I’m just grateful I left with the same pant size.
I loved that I felt like I was exploring every time I found myself rambling through the Jewish Quarter. Even if I had walked the street earlier in the week, I ended up finding something I’d missed the first or even second time. Many of the buildings have an inner courtyard, or eruv. I was intrigued when I learned that these courtyards are common place in Orthodox Jewish communities. They function as a way to permit Jewish residents to carry things beyond their own doors on Sabbath or Yom Kippur; during the week, the courtyards are open for business and visitors are free to pass through, but on Sabbath, the gates are closed and the courtyards become an extension of residents’ homes.
Before you reach the Dohány Street Synagogue, pass through the courtyard at Károly körút, where you can start of your morning with a delicious hot chocolate at Azték Choxolat! (or indulge in some chocolate truffles, we won’t judge). If you’re looking for something stronger and colder, the specialty coffee bar Kontakt serves up Roket, it’s own cold, tapped coffee.
The ruin bars, most notably the original, Szimpla Kert, put the Jewish Quarter on the map as a hotspot in Pest. These bars embrace and even celebrate the ruin around them. At Szimpla, the food is great and you won’t find a more unique atmosphere. The décor looks like it was recycled from the local dump and you can even enjoy your drink in a bathtub or an old Trabant, a sad little car manufactured during the Cold War in East Germany. It’s more of a collection of bars than a single place, so after we ordered burgers in the main courtyard and made our way to an upstairs room, we passed a bar serving pasta dishes, another with meat and cheese tasting platters, and even a wine bar with a sommelier to help you decipher the difficult-to-pronounce Hungarian wines.
If you’re in the area on a Sunday, Szimpla transforms itself into a farmers’ market for the day.
Our next ruin pub experience was at Mazel Tov (how could you not go to a place called Mazel Tov in a Jewish Quarter!?), a decidedly more upscale version serving Middle-Eastern food. We had the added benefit of a DJ and accompanying saxophonist, which was a cool and jazzy combo, as they were hosting a company event in the main portion of the bar.
Outdoor Food Courts
We happened upon a few outdoor food courts in the Jewish Quarter. We lucked out with short-sleeve t-shirt weather while in April, so these outdoor camps looked like a great idea. I’ve since seen pictures where they are tented in the colder months because, well, it’s not just cold, it’s downright freezing.
At Karaván, in the next lot over from Szimpla, we tried Lángos. We went with the traditional toppings of sour cream and cheese on this deep-fried flatbread. With this line-up, you can see why there was cause for celebration when I still fit into my pants by the end of the trip.
Gozsdu Court, once the heart of the Jewish Quarter, is a series of interconnected courtyards running from Király Street to Dob Street.The courtyards are lined with cafés, bars and restaurants, and were full of people enjoying their food and drinks on the beautiful spring day when we sauntered through.
This area also hosts the Gozsdu Antik Market every Saturday, which was a ton of fun to browse. Aaron was tempted to buy one of the vintage Polaroid cameras that ran about $80, but opted for a few Soviet era pins instead for only a few bucks.
We had to mention these two places because the food was just delicious.
Igen is a tiny pizza shop with just enough room for one person to take your order, one person to stretch your dough and scatter amazingly fresh and high quality ingredients, and, finally, one person to cook your pizza in an authentic Neapolitan oven from the world-famous pizza master Stefano Ferrara. Once you order, step outside so the next person in line can squeeze up to the counter. We had to go back for lunch the next day to confirm, that yes, this is the best pizza we’ve had outside of Italy.
We indulged in our fair share of strudel, cake, and Kókuszgolyó (chocolate coconut balls) while in Hungary, but my favorite treat was the flodni from Café Noe. Rachel Raj, named Hungary’s Pastry Chef of the Year by Budapest Week magazine, is famed for this traditionally Jewish Hungarian dessert. It’s an elaborate cake with four layers – apple, walnut, plum jam and poppy seed – heavy on the filling, and light on the cake.
If you’re looking for an exit to the Jewish Quarter as grand as the entrance, or perhaps just more cake, exit via Andrássy Avenue. This is Pest’s version of Paris’ Champs-Élysées; the street was built up in the 1800s with stately neo-renaissance and neo-baroque mansions which now feature high-end fashion shops on the street level. We made our way to the Alexandra bookstore and took the escalator up to the second floor to the book café, or Lotz Hall. We were wowed as we stepped off into what looked like a grand ballroom, with high, frescoed ceilings decorated by Károly Lotz and large, elegant hanging chandeliers. Even though we were just enjoying a simple cup of cocoa and a slice of eszterházy torta, everything felt elevated by the sumptuous surroundings.
New restaurants pop up all the time, especially in a place as happening as Pest’s District VII. If you have any recommendations, we’d love to hear from you!