At the top of a hill, through the winding streets of the Castle Quarter, or in the middle of the party district—if you’re browsing around Budapest, you’re likely to find authentic, charming places that have a story and a common purpose behind them, where hours pass unnoticed. Climb the steep hillsides with us, then wander in the Jewish Quarter in April’s Like a local episode!
1121 Budapest Eötvös Street 47-53.
Normafa is a must for every nature and panorama lover at least once, but preferably several times in their life. It may seem cliché to escape the smog of the city center, but there is indeed something breathtaking about the 21A bus, winding its way through the mountain roads as you suddenly arrive above the city. Even though I had lived in Budapest for years, I had to move to the district to visit Normafa once, in a not very cheerful mood, and yes, I found peace sitting on a bench on a day when few people were around.
But apart from the views, the hiking trails and the nearby Chairlift, there wasn’t much to do, especially on the gastronomic front. Well, there was the Csúcs Büfé and the Normafa Rétes Büfé, but neither of them was tempting enough. In 2020, however, the Normafa Delikát opened next to the buffet, bringing a whole new color to the area. Dávid Merker and Bori Koniorczyk know Budapest well—they founded Hosszúlépés. Járunk? a company that organizes themed walking tours. They discovered the closed shop on a walk and immediately fell in love with it. As usual, the renovation took a long time, but it was worth it: they paid careful attention to every detail, be it the original flooring, the counter or the modern furniture. Finally, they could have a successful opening, but the pandemic broke out, and they went into survival mode. But it was clear from the start that they had created a multi-functional space—hence the shop became a family-friendly rest stop, a specialty café, a deli and a bistro, all in one.
The vibe was also refreshed with the arrival of chef Tamás Károly Tóth, who has added dishes to the menu that give a retro buffet feel but in premium quality and present the Hungarian favorites or take us on a journey through the flavors of world cuisine. We can choose from traditional sausage or egg dishes, bite into a fresh sandwich, dig into a bowl of thick cornmeal porridge, or dunk shakshuka with fresh bread—it’s not about showing off; it’s about the pure, great flavors and the tasteful compositions.
1014 Budapest Országház Street 15.
There is something magical about sliding on the cobblestones in the Castle (especially in rainy weather) while listening to the swirling snippets of world citizens’ conversations or peering into the hard-to-hide living spaces of the residents. It’s said that those who live here at one stage of their lives find it hard to break away—Dóra Dabasi, owner and hostess of 4minutes café, could tell you a lot about it. The small café is hidden away in a tiny room that used to be a gallery but now offers the most intimate peace in the world.
Every object is important and has its place. The shelves are lined with logoed ceramics by ceramic designer Zsuzsanna Sinkovits, coffee and tea boxes from the Danish La Cabra or ZHAO ZHOU’s wild teas, glass jars, and many plants. This is no coincidence since Dóra worked as an economist, then as a florist and kindergarten teacher before opening the café and it has always been important to her to create spaces with an aura that stops time in its rush. As her children grew up, she grew to love the smell of morning coffee, the slow ritual of the drink, and when she saw the shop during a walk, she decided she wanted to come here every day to work, whatever she did. And so she finally did, she opened the 4minutes cafe—the unusual name comes from a dream she once had about someone important to her, inviting her and her family to Australia, where they could spend 4 minutes together, which can be enough time for many things.
Speaking from personal experience, it’s hard to spend “only” 4 minutes here because the love that radiates from Dora immediately melts away any tension. Although sometimes there is little space and you have to wait, it is worth it, especially on sunny days. Alongside plant-based milky or natural specialty coffees, you’ll find vegan cakes from Naspolya Nassolda, Élelem Étterem and Hearty Vegan Cakes, but there are also homemade chia pudding and jus. Get here not to work, or maybe not even to meet a friend, just sit down, ask for a matcha or turmeric latte and admire the rainbow prism play on the walls.
1072 Budapest Akácfa Street 47.
We can think of many things about the VII district: vibrant, versatile, nostalgic, tourist-hunter, crowded, half-hearted. Since it was given the ‘party district’ label for a few years now, we have to be more cautious if we don’t want to run into a fake-authentic ruin pub fiasco. But while some fashionable places are disappearing like shooting stars, some have been a sure bet for years to represent the culture and gastronomy of certain communities, with great atmosphere and real flavors.
Mazel Tov opened eight years ago to serve as a venue and meeting place for the urban Jewish culture and has been doing it at its best ever since: the laid-back, friendly, yet professional hospitality that characterizes them. Restaurant, bistro, bar, and cult spot—are just a few of the labels they can proudly wear. The light-and-dark history is present here, too, of course (the back wall is the original wall of the ghetto, for example), but instead of mourning, they show why life is worth celebrating.
On the menu, you can choose from not only Jewish but also fusion dishes that combine Middle Eastern flavors. The hummus, falafel and shawarma are quasi must-tries, but with a little twist, green pea cream soup also gets sumac (or smoke-plant) and maracuja mousse. Their M-T Pastrami sandwich is made with 14 days matured smoked brisket, homemade yellow mustard, pickled cucumber, Middle Eastern BBQ sauce and rye bread. The combination is so perfect that, on the one hand, you don’t want to ever finish it, and on the other hand, it’s rumored to rival the iconic Katz’s Delicatessen’s legendary pastrami sandwich. We might as well try the recipes ourselves, as they published their own cookbook a few years ago, but the various cultural programs are also worth a visit. Although these have been paused due to the pandemic, the team is full of plans to become an even more spectacular cultural melting pot, so it’s worth following them.
Photos: Krisztina Szalay