Budapest's restaurant 'scene' improves noticeably year by year. Slick, modern eateries have mushroomed in the centre of the city, and in 2010 one of them (Costes) earned Hungary's first-ever Michelin star. Italian, French, Asian, South American, Jewish, Greek, Spanish - all and more are represented in some shape or form. Perhaps the only shame is that, while many restaurants feature Hungarian dishes on their menus, there aren't that many places focusing purely on good, traditional, home-grown classics. Beyond the restaurants, coffee houses offer caffeine hits and wonderful cakes.
Traditional Hungarian cuisine is typically rich and meat-heavy. The best-known dish is goulash (gulyás), which is actually a soup rather than the stew that western Europeans often assume. Stews (pörkölt) are, however, popular and are served with pinched pasta. While things are improving swiftly, you'll find that vegetarian options at some restaurants are pretty unexciting - fried mushrooms or fried cheese being favourites - although you might be tempted by the cold fruit soups that are popular summer starters. Fish courses are often based on river and lake fish such as the pike-perch (fogas), and have an earthy taste that takes some 'acquiring'. Recipes amost always include paprika (which ranges from mild to peppery) and food is often topped with sour cream.
Breakfast features salami, peppers, tomato and bread, while lunch is the main meal of the day for Hungarians at home (although this isn't likely to affect tourists, of course, because restaurants cater equally for lunch and dinner diners). As a large, increasingly cosmopolitan city, you can find somewhere to eat at most hours of the day. Many restaurants offer set-price 'tourist menus', and you'll also find some good-value two- or three-course lunch menus. On occasion, there's the opportunity to order smaller portions and pay a lower price (typically 70% of the price of the full-size main course). A service charge may or may not be included in the bill; when tipping (10-15% is fine), tell the waiter or waitress precisely how much you want to pay (including your tip) - you should not leave a tip on the table, and if you say 'thank you' as you pass over payment then it will be assumed you do not want any change.