2015 was a particularly good year to be a passionate eater in Berlin. When I landed here in 2010, this was still a city where a lot of people avoided going to restaurants altogether.
And now? Berlin is a city that’s drawing more and more young chefs and restaurateurs. Compared to Paris, London and New York, the barriers to entry in Berlin are considerably lower, making this one of the most popular places in the world to make a restaurant debut.
And it’s not just a question of costs, say Stijn Remi and Lode van Zuylen, two chefs who moved to Germany from the Netherlands in 2014 and plan to open their first restaurant in Berlin next year. “Everything is a little younger and less established” in Berlin, say Remi and van Zuylen.
And this lack of a well-developed restaurant culture – along with the city’s free-thinking approach to pleasure – is translating into an experimental paradise for up-and-coming chefs.
We have yet to see — better yet, to taste — how all this experimentation will shake out. In the meantime, here in random order are my favorite food (and drink) finds from 2015 — most of which are cabby-recommended, others I discovered by just walking around. I hope you have a chance to try some of these things – and if you do, to tell us what you think of them.
1. Grilled dorado at Balkçi Ergun: “Coincidence and hunger” is how Dirk found this funky seafood restaurant under the S-Bahn tracks in Moabit. “Cult” was the word the cabby used to describe this place, which smells and looks, down to the picture menu next to the entrance, like the restaurants I remember from the fish bazaar in Kadikoy, Istanbul. Chef-owner Ergun Çetinbas, who opened this place 30 years ago, sources all his fish from his brother in Istanbul. To taste his grilled dorado — or his flash-fried sardines — is to be teleported to the Bosporus, where the quality of the seafood is such that the preparations can afford to be simple.
Lüneburger Str. 382
10557 Berlin (Moabit)
Open: Tuesday-Friday, 3pm-midnight; Saturdays, 15.30-midnight; Mondays, 5pm-midnight
2. Berliner Weisse at Marjan Grill – Marjan is a Croatian restaurant known for giant portions of grilled meat that almost anyone can afford. I wouldn’t come here for the food, but I would stop by for a beverage: this is one of the few places in the city where they mix their own Berliner Weisse, instead of serving you the sugary, premixed version of a beverage the German Beer Institute describes as “a sour, tart, fruity, highly effervescent, spritzy and refreshing ale brewed only in Berlin.”
Stadtbahnbogen 411, 10557 Berlin – Bellevue
Tel. 030 3914976
Open: 7 days, 12pm-12am
3. Jamón serrano and Malbec at Hermanas: For food lovers in Berlin, Friedrichshain – my neighborhood for five years and counting — is notorious for being a bit of a food desert. With all the tourists passing through this part of town, a lot of the restaurants here don’t seem to care enough to serve food that would inspire you to come back. Hermanas wine bar is catering to a different crowd: those of us who live here, and those of us who don’t want to have to cross town for a good glass of Malbec and a nice plate of Serrano ham and manchego cheese to go with it. Another bonus: Hermanas also hosts live music acts from time to time – everything from fado to cumbia to cabaret.
Berlin Friedrichshain – 10243
Tel. 030 29774966
Open: Tues-Thurs: 17:00-23:00; Fri-Sat: 17:00-01:00
(Note: I originally came here for the empanadas, but these can’t compare with the near-perfect empanadas de carne you’ll find at Sudaka in Schoeneberg.)
4. Spezial Dürüm Döner at Imren Grill: If you live in Berlin and you love döner kebab, you’ve heard of Imren, which is also one of cabby Aziz’s favorite places to stop for something to eat when he’s on duty. At Imren, unlike at most döner kebab stands in Berlin, they make their döner Yaprak-style and they don’t add anything unseemly to the meat — nor do they over-sweeten their sauces or overdo it on the fixings. If you want the full-fledged döner experience at Imren, try the 4-euro Spezial Dürüm Döner. The regular döner here gets stuffed into store-bought flatbread, the shawerma into store-bought pita. Spezial Dürüm Döner is Spezial because it comes to you on house-made flatbread – in almost every bite, you get a bit of meat with your lettuce and tomato and onions.
Telephone: 030 / 43027868
Open: 7 days, from 9am-3am
5. Elderflower-mint-strawberry sorbet at Eisspatz: I stumbled on this ice cream parlor last spring, while chasing up a tip from a taxi driver named Jürgen who once lived on the northern edge of Berlin, in a former Huguenot settlement known today as Französisch Buchholz. Though the bakery Jürgen recommended honestly wasn’t worth the trip, the ice cream parlor next door was. Eisspatz has since closed its location in Französisch Buchholz, but they have two other shops – one in Pankow, and one in Weissensee, where they make all their ice cream, sauces and cakes from scratch. Their elderflower-mint-strawberry sorbet is one more reason to look forward to spring.
Berliner Straße 3
Open: 7 days, 11am–8pm
Telephone: 0178 6082117
Open: 7 days, 12pm-8pm
6. Lahmajun at Boğaziçi: Here at cabby Osman’s favorite lahmajun parlor in Berlin, they make their flatbread from scratch and bake it to order in a clay oven. What comes out is a wafer-thin, beautifully blistered, generously topped disc of dough that makes a good snack for 1.50 euro — or a great snack, when you squeeze lemon and sprinkle chili over it before you roll it up and eat it like a burrito.
10551 Berlin-Tiergarten (Moabit)
Telefon: +49 (0)30 – 39 52 932
Open: Daily, from 7am-2:30am
7. Maultaschen Soup at St. Mauli: Every neighborhood deserves a good dumpling spot, and we finally found ours in St. Mauli. Maultaschen (handmade, Swabian-style dumplings stuffed with beef and spinach) are the only thing on the menu at this tiny storefront in Friedrichshain. They also serve vegan dumplings, but my heart belongs to the classic ones, served in a vegetable broth you can smell from a block away.
Phone: 030/52138621 or +49 151 27032903
Open: Tues-Sun, 4pm-11pm
8. Lamb Kebab #6 at El-Reda: Cabby Christoph Knaack has been driving a taxi in Berlin for 41 years and eating at El-Reda, a Lebanese-Persian restaurant he found thanks to a tip from some Lebanese passengers, since the 1990s. Though Christoph calls it a fast-food restaurant, El-Reda feels more like a world than a restaurant to me: This is the kind of place where women in burkas sit next door to expats delivering soliloquies on existentialism, where kids play peek-a-boo with bussers who never stand still, where neighbors greet each other in Arabic or German or Farsi.
Lamb kebab #6 (9.50 Euros) is my favorite thing on the menu here — juicy and grilled to pink, it comes with a pile of basmati rice and a ‘salad’, which is actually a pile of fresh parsley, mint and basil, a wedge of raw onion, a few radishes and some green chili peppers, all of which tastes marvelous with a glass of house-made ayran with mint.
Huttenstraße 69, 10553 Berlin – Moabit
Open: 7 days, 10am-3am
9. Hazelnut Hot Chocolate at Pepita: Scrappy-looking outside, decadent inside, this Italian delicatessen in Kreuzberg is where I like to go for hot chocolate made from scratch, melted to order – in hazelnut, milk or dark flavors. You’ll also find beautiful edible things to take home here, like pan forte from Siena and capers from Lipari and handmade tagliatelle, along with a chocolate bar and truffle selection so vast and so thoughtful it’ll either delight or overwhelm you. If you’re hungry for lunch, they serve two or three different pastas at midday for 6-7 euros.
Kohlfurter Str. 2, 10999 Berlin – Kreuzberg
Phone: 030 61656223
Open: Mon-Sat, 11am-8pm
10. Brioche, or any pastry, at Barcellos: Eric Muller is a pastry artist – and when I say artist I mean artist. Every item in his display case is a thing of beauty: éclairs, passion fruit and pistachio tarts, croissants, pain au chocolat, brioche, you name it. But his artistry goes beyond appearances – when you bite into his pastries, you can taste the care, precision, classical training, and pursuit of perfection that go into each one, not to mention a lot of high-quality butter.
Born in Strasbourg, just over the German border in France, Mr. Muller and his partner Katia started this pastry shop cum hair salon* across from Görlizter Park seventeen years ago. Back then, they were open 6 days a week. When I asked him why he’d reduced his hours of operation, he said, “In the beginning, I was working 120 hours a week. Every four years, I decided to subtract a day of being open. Now, after 17 years, I work Friday to Sunday. 42 hours. Like a normal person.” As the years pass, I assume he’ll continue to cut back on his opening hours until he won’t be open any longer. Let’s enjoy his beautiful pastries while we can.
Barcellos Salon Sucré
Görlitzer Str. 32A, 10997 Berlin
Phone: 030 6122713
Patisserie Hours: Fri-Sun, 10am-6pm
Hair Salon Hours: (By appointment only) Wed-Sat, 10am-6pm
* A pastry shop cum hair salon may sound like a weird, even a disgusting, combination — but it’s not. Mr. Muller’s wife Katia is a hair stylist from Brazil who cuts hair, by appointment only, next door to the pastry shop. They explain it this way on their website: “Tucked away at the end of Görlitzerstraße is a place where you can indulge in delicious culinary delights and let yourself get styled. A strange combination that you can also enjoy separately.”