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April 17, 2010 – Hungarian Food in Los Angeles

17 Apr

10 am

2 strawberry Pop Tarts

1 glass of water

1:30 pm

Csardas Hungarian Restaurant

shared order of fried camembert

chicken paprika

diet Coke

“What did we get ourselves into?” Abigail asked when I met her at Csardas, a nondescript Hungarian restaurant on the corner of Melrose and Vine. And I could not answer her question. The restaurant was completely empty, fussily decorated in the classically ornate style that Hungarians prefer and Abigail sat for over 10 minutes by herself before anyone even acknowledged her existence. And that was only acknowledged because she walked up to the hostess to get her attention.

Budapest is a city that’ll knock you off your bearings for several days. It’s a sprawling metropolis, neatly vivisected by the Danube River, with a huge subway system that’s only convenient for half the city. People are initially gruff and aloof, and places open and close at odd hours. As we slowly settled into the city, we fell for the city’s firm grasp of history, their classical architecture, their love of sweets, and their cuisine in general. We’ve always talked about finding a Hungarian restaurant once we got back to LA, but the options are pretty slim. Hortobagy’s in Studio City was the only decent Hungarian option in LA for the longest time, but they closed three years ago and the chef moved on to Maximillian’s in North Hollywood, which is now the best Hungarian place in LA.  Outside of that, there’s really three options I know of, Transylvania Cafe in Hollywood which mostly serves burgers and a couple of Hungarian-Romanian dish with a painfully cheesy Dracula theme, the United Magyar House, which is actually a Hungarian community center that sells dinner (you get to eat with elderly Hungarians playing chess), and Csardas, the restaurant that I’ve driven by many times without any signs of life. But curiosity got the better of Abigail and I, so we made plans to meet for lunch.

Sure enough, the place was completely empty except for two gossipy Hungarian women. The interior design was appropriately fussy and old-fashion and the food, well, the food tasted like it was still cooked under the communist János Kádár era. The food was bland, indifferently prepared and the chicken was as cheap as you can get. The fried camembert was in fact, swiss cheese breaded and fried to a cement brick. The chicken paprika was decent, but it was only substantial because of the side of tasteless spaetzle. Even though I’m not Hungarian, I can confidently say that I could prepare a much better chicken paprika. But was the meal terrible? Not really. For better or for worse, it was authentically Hungarian and we got what we wanted, a chance to relive our time in Budapest. Csardas was nowhere close to some of the restaurants we tried in Budapest. But our waitress was both aloof and funny, the setting was weirdly posh and we good-naturedly complained about the lack of green vegetables outside of a parsley for garnish. Ah, memories.

7:30 pm

spaghetti marinara

2 glasses of water

10 pm

chocolate chip cookie

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