If you ever get in a random taxi in Berlin – or anywhere in the world – and ask the driver to take you to his (or her) favorite restaurant, you can usually divide your adventure into two parts: the taxi ride and the restaurant the cabbie recommends.
Sometimes the journey in the taxi is the best part of the adventure. Sometimes it’s the food.
In the case of last week’s adventure with Huseyin — whose family comes from Izmir (on the west coast of Turkey) and who’s dating a Chinese-Indonesian girl who’s taught him to love the flavors of Asia — the journey overshadowed the destination.
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During our trip from east Berlin to his favorite noodles in west Berlin, Huseyin told me how much he likes his job – even though he studied civil engineering, he’s sticking with cab driving: “Every day,” he said, “You meet different kinds of people, from different countries. They’re all in love with Berlin.”
Like any great city, Berlin is constantly changing. He’s seen “more tourists, more hotels, more new clubs” since he started driving a cab here four years ago.
Though some of his passengers – especially people from what used to be East Germany – insist that things were better before the Wall came down, for this cabbie, Berlin is, and will always be, home — high unemployment and all.
Though he and his girlfriend haven’t found any decent Indonesian food in Berlin outside their own kitchens, Huseyin recommended two restaurants on Kantstrasse – one Thai and one Taiwanese – when I asked him about his favorite thing to eat in the city.
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Kantstrasse, in the west Berlin district of Charlottenburg, is known for having a high concentration of Asian restaurants and import stores. Though I haven’t found any really outstanding flavors here yet, I’m convinced that there’s delicious food somewhere on this street, so I was thrilled that Huseyin gave me what sounded like good leads.
Last week, I tasted the cabbie’s first recommendation: Pad Thai at Sakorn, a Thai ‘snack bar’ with lime green walls and a Buddha shrine, where every dish costs 5 Euros.
I had high hopes for this Pad Thai – especially after catching a glimpse of the ladies in white shower caps who were preparing it – but it turned out to be a greasy, over-sweetened disappointment.
A couple of days ago, convinced that I’d ordered the wrong dish at Sakorn and determined to try out Huseyin’s second restaurant recommendation, I dragged a co-adventurer back to Kantstrasse for what I hoped would be a good Asian feast. He could order anything he wanted, I told him, except Pad Thai.
We started with red and green curries at Sakorn – both swimming in what looked like broken sauces, both populated with vegetables that were either under- or overcooked. My co-adventurer took two bites and said, “There’s no love here.”
He was right. I transferred my hopes to Huseyin’s second recommended restaurant: Lon Men’s Noodle House. We moved on.
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Lon Men’s, where they serve cabbie Huseyin’s favorite noodle soup in the city, advertises hand-made noodles and house-made dim sum, Taiwanese-style. You can smell the beef broth the moment you walk in – and watch the cooks work the dough and stir the pots in the tiny open kitchen near the door.
None of the dishes on the misnumbered menu costs more than 7 Euros. Even though it was past peak lunch hour when we got here, almost every one of the 10 or so tables was full, and practically everyone was face-deep in a bowl of noodle soup.
I ordered wanton noodle soup (4.20 Euros) – since Lon Men’s is also supposed to be famous for dumplings, I wanted to try those, too – and my co-adventurer got a small bowl of vegetable noodle soup (2.90 Euros).
In both soups, one-dimensional beef broth was the backdrop for overcooked noodles that didn’t have the springiness of being hand-made. There were hardly any vegetables in my co-adventurer’s vegetable soup. I counted just three bland-tasting wontons in mine. Napa cabbage was the best part.
“What do you think?” I asked him.
He raised an eyebrow.
I watched a steamed pancake stuffed with meat and vegetables sail past our table.
“Should we try that?” I said, “It looks good!”
He shook his head. I relented. We were obviously on some kind of gustatory losing streak. Better to taste another day.
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Have you tried dim sum at Lon Men’s? Do you have any favorite restaurants on Kantstrasse in Berlin? Feel free to fill us in…no taxi license required.
Kantstraße 105, 10627 Berlin (Charlottenburg)
Tel. (not listed)
Open: Mon-Sat, 11am-8pm (closed Sundays)
Recommended: You tell me – haven’t found anything here I like yet.
Lon-Men’s Noodle House
Kantstraße 33, 10625 Berlin (Charlottenburg)
Tel. +49 315 196 78
Open: Daily, 12pm-12am
Recommended: Maybe dim sum (Taiwanese sandwiches filled with shrimp or pork – numbers 33-35 on the menu)