At the risk of tipping off disgruntled restaurant owners to where they can find us, a good clue is that we spend most of our days within 100 meters of the Arigato Japanese restaurant, near the Hungarian State Opera on District VI’s scruffy Ó utca. Because of its proximity, and the fact that we loooove sushi, we always feel like we’re not spending as much time at Arigato as we should. Not to mention the fact that, every time we do go, the only other people in the place are Japanese.
We first visited Arigato (it means “thank you” in Japanese) when the restaurant was in its former premises in the back of a small shopping arcade on Teréz körút, near Oktogon. We were brought there by a half-Japanese friend of ours who said it was the only Japanese place he patronized. While we weren’t particularly thrilled with what we had, we were certainly happy when the restaurant picked up and moved to the long-empty space once occupied by the apparently legendary “Café Saigon.” Who doesn’t want a Japanese restaurant right on their doorstep?
Unfortunately, what followed was a year or more of almost comic frustrations. Often we would show up only to be informed by the invariably cheerful Japanese proprietor that “sorry, no sushi today.” And when there was sushi, we invariably found the whole experience more convenient than compelling.
But maybe that’s just because we’re not Japanese!
With sushi bars being seemingly added to half the new high-end “international” restaurants in town, and more than a few delivery-only sushi specialists just a click away, Japan’s most famous culinary specialty is no longer a curiosity in Budapest.
But you are unlikely to ever see Japanese eating sushi at White Heaven or Callas. In fact, you generally don’t see them eating sushi at “authentic” (i.e., Japanese-run) Japanese restaurants in town, like Arigato or Daikichi. Instead, what they always seem to be digging into are meat-and-rice dishes, or bowls of the soba (buckwheat) noodles being slurped up by our companion, which go for around Ft 1,500 (€6) depending on the extras, or the gyoza (crispy fried pork dumplings, Ft 1,180) pictured above.
Meanwhile, if you’ve been scared off of Arigo because of the somewhat cramped and charmless dining area visible from the street, note that there is a much roomier downstairs section that, while not super-atmospheric, generally has a table or two full of Japanese helpfully demonstrating that there is more to their national cuisine than raw fish.