When it comes to eating, Berlin isn’t Paris or London or New York – but I don’t want it to be.
I’m a displaced taxi driver. I’m hungry. I’m poor. And some people might think I’m a little over-optimistic about finding good food in this town, but I believe there are fine, fine things to eat in the 10-Euros-or-less range. The longer I’m here, the more I think this is true.
Here are five cheap finds (4 good, 1 not so impressive) from the last few weeks of restaurant reconnaissance in Berlin:
1. Bulgarian sheepsmilk cheese from Primaria in Friedrichshain. Sandwiched between all-night liquor stores and trendy cafes on Boxhagener Strasse, this is the only place I know of in Berlin that serves Bulgarian tapas. Olives in house-made herb marinade are great here, but Sirene natur (Bulgarian feta cheese) is even better. For maximum effect, sprinkle it with Sharena Sol (a Bulgarian spice mix that varies from region to region but usually includes sea salt, summer savory, and paprika) from the wooden condiment tray on the table.
- Price: 3.20 Euros (also available in vacuum packs to go)
- Address: Boxhagener Str.26, 10245 Berlin – Friedrichshain. Tel 030/ 290 44 97 6 or 0178/ 29 60 73 8
- Open: Mo – Fr 12h-24h; Sa-Su 11h – 24h
- Note: Primaria also hosts wine tastings for 10 Euros on Friday evenings. Cheese included.
2. House-made mafaldi pasta with arrabiatta sauce from Pastapresti. Blink and you’ll miss this 6-year-old organic pasta shop in Friedrichshain. They’ve got about seven tables, and all they do is pasta. All of it’s fresh, and sauces change with the seasons. Mafaldi (similar to lasagne noodles cut in thirds) soak up red chili-spiked arriabiata sauce as if they’re thirsty for it. And no matter how good the sauces are here, the pasta is always the star.
- Price: 4.80 Euros
- Address: Wühlischstraße 39A, 10247 Berlin – Friedrichshain. Telefon: 030 / 29 04 79 38.
- Open: Mon-Fri 9.00-20.00; Sat-Sun, 10.00-18.00
3. Konya etli ekmek from Konyali in Kreuzberg. You may recognize this ‘Turkish pizza’ from a taxi adventure last summer. Last week I went back to Konyali to see if it was as good as I remembered. Actually, it was even better! The ‘pizza man’ still bakes each pie to order in the brick oven near the entrance (which means you may have to wait longer than you’d like), and the crust is as thin-crispy as a good New York slice. But this time around there was more meat and more seasoning in the meat than I remembered from last year. I’m going to be craving Konya etli ekmek more frequently now.
- Price: 6 Euros (easily feeds two)
- Address: Reichenberger Str. 6, 10999 Berlin – Kreuzberg. Tel. 030-690-04567.
4. Bánh mì Special at Cô Cô in Mitte. This sandwich has the makings of a good báhn mì, but the bread is a total disappointment. All the flavor in the middle – Vietnamese chicken pate and marinated pork, fresh carrots and cucumbers and cilantro and plenty of spicy red chili – isn’t enough to overcome the dry, air-filled bread that frames this sandwich. There must be better báhn mì in Berlin (If you know where it is, please chime in! If you don’t, I’ll let you know when I find it.)
- Price: Bánh mì Special, 4.50 Euro
- Address: Rosenthaler Straße 2, 10119 Berlin – Mitte. Tel. 030 24630595
- Open: Mon-Thurs, Sun: 11:00-22:00; Fr-Sa, 11:00 – 1:00
5. Cold appetizer plate from Knofi’s in Kreuzberg. If you’re looking for goodies from the Mediterranean, most food-savvy Berliners will send you to Knofi’s. I tasted their gozleme (meat or vegetable-stuffed Turkish crepes) at their cafe on Bergmannstrasse in Kreuzberg for the first time last summer and became an instant convert. They also sell spices and wine and oils that are over my budget.
At their mini-store on Oranienstrasse (also in Kreuzberg), they serve a range of cold appetizer platters for less than 6 Euros. It’s a good day when 5.50 Euros gets you a salad, two spreads, two kinds of olives and a basket of pita. Hummus here is my favorite in Berlin so far. They also really know their way around an olive. But next time I’ll skip kisir (couscous salad with tomato, chili, scallions and flatleaf parsley) and sun-dried tomato and quark cheese dip – you can find better versions of both at the Turkish market on Maybachufer.
- Price: 5.50 Euros
- Address: Oranienstr. 179, 10999 Berlin – Kreuzberg. Tel. 030 614 030 96
- Open: Mo-Sa, 9:00-23:00; Sun, 14:00 – 22:00
- Note: Knofi’s has 2 other locations – one at Bergmannstr.98 (10961 Berlin – Kreuzberg) and the other at Dieffenbachstr. 59 (10967 Berlin – Kreuzberg).