The world is in Berlin. Roughly 36 percent of the city’s 3.6 million population are first generation Germans or immigrants themselves, which unquestionably shapes the contemporary culinary culture. Cheesy Georgian khachapuri, fine-dining Thai, soul-restoring bowls of Vietnamese pho, and the Levantine delights of Israeli, Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian cooking; it’s all here. But we rarely agree with each other, which is why anybody’s list of restaurants in Berlin is going to be different. It can take years to scratch the surface.
For now, this will have to do.
START ME UP
Berlin is far from lacking in breakfast and brunch options. But the Persian-inspired Rocket + Basil offers up an especially unique, memorable, and flavorful spin on breakfast classics in the family-owned coffee shop. The recipe blogging sisters-turned-brick-and-mortar café owners, Xenia and Sophie, take inspiration from all sides of their German-Iranian-Australian roots in planning their brunch and lunch menus. There are plenty of savory options, but first-timers can’t go wrong with a stacked serving of Rocket + Basil’s mascarpone pancakes. From the caramelized bananas to the sprinkling of barberries and pistachios swimming in maple syrup, there are few better ways to start the day.
After a night of heavy drinking, my stomach craves all of the noodles. By the grace of the powers that be, we have Wen Cheng––a hand-pulled noodle spot that serves up traditional Chinese noodle specialities from the Shanxi province. Fewer places have exploded in popularity like Wen Cheng, with lines stretching down the sidewalk and friends sharing tips on when to arrive to get a quick seat. It didn’t take long for them to open a second location just a mile south with prep-side seating where you can watch in mystified admiration as they make the springy, chewy, all around soul-restoring Biang Biang noodles from scratch.
ON THE STREET
Döner has taken currywurst’s title as the most representative food of Berlin thanks to the significant Turkish and Turkish-German population in the city. Nowadays, Döner stands are a dime a dozen here. Step outside, take a deep breath in through your nose, and chances are you’ll get a whiff of döner.
But a long-time local favorite is without question Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebab. The name is synonymous with döner after 16 years of nourishing Berliners. Stop by the trailer in Kreuzberg or visit “Das Original” in Friedrichshain. (And because this is Berlin, there’s a vegetarian option.)
MAKE IT QUICK
Banh Mi Stable
Berlin is home to a substantial Vietnamese-German population, particularly in the former communist east. The legacy of this history can be felt in the city’s many pho and bahn mi shops. For an especially quick, no-frills bite, there’s Bahn Mi Stable.
The menu is wildly simple. You get three choices: grilled pork, herb tofu, chicken peanut saté. All come with the same toppings. Inside, there’s a layer of sriracha mayonnaise topped with pickled carrots, radish, and cucumber. The French bread is soft and pillowy with a crunchy exterior. It’s the best €6 you’ll ever spend.
HOLD THE MEAT
Berlin is arguably the vegetarian capital of Europe with no shortage of explicitly vegetarian or vegan restaurants and bakeries. Most restaurants these days in general are veggie-forward ranging from street food to fine dining and everything in between. Picking just one is no easy feat, but the nod goes to FREA.
The modern plant-based restaurant hits all of the progressive culinary notes. It’s a no waste, vegan restaurant with, as they say, an eco-chic vibe to set the scene for their multi-course seasonal menu. It’s the rare meal where you can be reasonably confident that you’re not so much as hurting a fly. (Unless, of course, you count your wallet.)
IF IT AIN'T BROKE
There’s a reason why Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre took Anthony Bourdain here for one of his stops in the Hauptstadt (capital city). The nearly century-old gastropub is reliable for no frills German fare. You can smell the history and tradition wafting in the air with regulars sipping away at the bar.
Billed as one of the last typical corner bars (Eckkneipen) of the city, Zum Schusterjungen is built on simple, sincere, and affordable homemade cooking without sacrificing flavor. Get a taste of the former German Democratic Republic by starting with some soljanka, a thick, sour soup built on meat, fish, or mushrooms with pickled cucumbers and brine thrown into the broth. From there you can continue with some of the hearty and meaty staples of German cuisine, like pork schnitzel, pot roast, or blood sausage, or ditch the meat for one of their "Gerichte ohne Fleisch" (dishes without meat), like the classic Senfeier mit Stampfkartoffeln, mustard eggs with mashed potatoes.
THE HOT SPOT
German food gets a bad rap. People think of gargantuan slabs of meat with a side of potatoes. That’s not entirely far off when perusing the more traditional restaurants, especially in the smaller towns and villages of the country.
But German food in Berlin is as regional and seasonal as it gets, and otto in Prenzlauer Berg exemplifies that best with an ever-changing menu based entirely on locally accessible ingredients. That whole brook trout? Caught earlier that morning in a local river just outside the city limits. But the absolute star of the menu is the rehydrated beetroot with sloe berry, labneh, and brown butter. You will absolutely fight the urge to lick your plate clean.
Levantine cuisine is all the rage these days in Berlin and it just might not get any better than this. Aleppo Supper Club is a cozy spot that feels like a Syrian family welcoming you to their living room.
Par for Berlin, vegetarians and vegans will eat well here. In fact, most of the dishes are vegetarian with meat available at request with a modest additional cost. There’s not a bad dish on the menu, but the one you’ll probably find everyone talking about is the pomegranate salad with red cabbage, fresh tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil.
LOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING
From the outside, Didi Pa looks like any other casual restaurant in Berlin. There’s one large window and a door underneath a long rectangle sign that’s probably seen hundreds of businesses come and go from within its bones.
But if there’s a God, please dear Lord, let this one grow roots.
A West African kitchen fits right into the framework of immigrant flavors so prevalent in Berlin. Open your palate to the dishes you might recognize and the ones you've never heard of but feel an allure towards anyways. There's jollof rice galore, banku (fermented corn dough), okra, and fufu (a dough made of plantains and potatoes) paired with a variety of meat, fish, or vegan soups.
Pile onto a high top table in the corner and get to work.
Berlin doesn’t really do “fancy schmancy” in the most commonly understood interpretation of the phrase. That is, getting dressed to the nines for a night out. Though you can find plenty of Michelin-starred establishments to hand your wallet over to, fine dining feels a tad antithetical to the ethos of the city. Even when you do opt for the splurge, folks still often dress casually in jeans and hoodies.
But the Israeli-inspired Night Kitchen in Mitte demands a sharply dressed audience without explicitly saying so. You could just get an affordable main and call it a night, but it’s next-to-impossible to skip over their “Dinner With Friends” menu. Starting at €52 per person, they'll whip up a personalized menu for you based on your tastes and serve it up family style for sharing. That means you can taste a healthy sampling of Israeli flavors on your night out: tahini, za'atar pesto, and amba (a kind of mango chutney) bringing a heightened experience to your favorite veggies and meats.