Hungary has tasty national cuisine, much of it seasoned with paprika, which appears on restaurant tables beside the salt and pepper. Among the country's signature dishes: goulash, a thick beef soup cooked with onions and potatoes; fisherman's soup, a mixture of boiled fish, tomatoes, green peppers and paprika; chicken paprika; grilled fresh-water fish; and fried or grilled goose liver. Credit cards are widely accepted in restaurants. As for tipping, it's customary to tip your waiter 10 to 15 percent, but be sure to check the bill first. Increasingly, the tip is included (look for a 10 percent service charge).
Long the centerpiece of Budapest's cafe society, Gerbeaud is more than a sweet shop -- it's a Hungarian cultural institution. Known for its coffee and torte cakes, the cafe has classic high ceilings with crystal chandeliers, polished wood and marble, and thick curtains. Little has changed since it opened more than 150 years ago. The patisserie is sweetly situated on Pest's Vorosmarty Square. The neoclassical building also houses a pub with beer that's brewed on-site, as well as a gourmet restaurant, Onyx.
For elegant dining, Gundel lives up to its legend. The award-winning restaurant, open since 1910, is located in City Park, just a two-minute walk from Heroes' Square. Gundel, with its innovative menu, is known -- and deservedly so -- for creating new spins on traditional classics. It can be a little stiff, though the formality eases up a bit during the Sunday brunch buffet. In the evening, men should wear jackets.
A local favorite for special outings, Karpatia, with its medieval interiors, will remind guests of Matthias Church. Situated in the courtyard of a former monastery, the restaurant specializes in Hungarian cuisine, accompanied by traditional gypsy music.
Budapest has a surprising number of Italian restaurants, and Fausto's Ristorante is one of the best established and most beloved. This elegant restaurant is the perfect place for a splurge, featuring dishes like veal with cauliflower cream and Mediterranean fish soup. For a less formal atmosphere but equally delightful Italian fare, try its sister restaurant, Fausto's Osteria.
Hearty Jewish and Hungarian dishes -- like matzo ball soup and homemade duck sausage -- are on the menu at cozy Koleves (Stone Soup). The menu, which emphasizes seasonal and fresh ingredients, changes on a regular basis, and the wine list offers a selection of Hungarian options. Due to its popularity with visitors and locals alike, reservations are recommended.