Admit it – food isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Berlin. You shouldn’t feel badly – until recently, Berlin was a city where people actually avoided eating out.
But eating habits are changing as fast as everything else in the German capital, and restaurants in Berlin are growing more vast and varied every day. More and more, locals and expats are diving into new flavors like Sudanese falafel and bulgogi and tamales.
After the reunification of Germany, people, especially young people, started traveling and bringing back cravings for things they tasted on the road. Many of them opened restaurants (though some have been more successful than others at replicating flavors from abroad).
Still, reverence for traditional German food is alive and well in Berlin. (Among other places, you’ll find it at Rogacki, the paradisaical West Berlin deli where they make more varieties of potato salad and leberwurst than you can count on two hands.)
I got a taste of Berlin’s changing foodscape during my taxi adventures this summer. Yes, I ate a lot of Turkish food, but it went way beyond döner kebab.
The Turkish community is one of many in Berlin that’s growing more entrenched as new generations are born there. As a result, the dishes they’re serving in Turkish restaurants are getting more sophisticated and more regionally distinct – and locals are responding with appreciation.
This list of my top 10 cabbie-recommended dishes in Berlin isn’t exhaustive – a few months in a city of four million isn’t enough to penetrate all of its culinary layers. Still, it reflects the transformation that’s happening around food – and so much else – in Berlin. Look at it as a snapshot of some of what’s exciting to eat there right now.
1. Kuzu Pirzola at Adana Grill House: If you go to Adana Grill Haus, the first thing you’ll notice is the 6-foot grill right off the entrance, where its master tends meat and heats flat bread before your eyes. You can taste the grill master’s skills in the lamb chops (kuzu pirzola, 12 euros). They’re perfect – juicy, pink, and cooked to the point where the fat melts through the meat. Order them with a side of yogurt (they serve a wonderful Turkish brand called Enfes Yogurdu) and acili ezme (spicy tomato and eggplant relish). (Manteuffelstraße 86, 10997, Kreuzberg, Berlin, Tel. 030 612 7790 – Map it)
2. Red curry at Hamy Café-Foodstore Vietnamesische Speisen: Fresh basil, kaffir lime, spunky chili peppers – they’re all spoken for in this dish (4.90 euros), along with fresh cabbage and fennel, big chunks of chicken and coconut milk. Berlin is home to one of the largest expatriate Vietnamese communities in the world, and competition between Vietnamese restaurants is growing more fierce. This curry – which happens to be TaxiBerlin‘s favorite – is a contender for the best in the city. (Hasenheide 10, 10967, Kreuzberg, Berlin, Tel. 030 61625959, hamycafe.com – Map it)
3. Kidney beans [kidney bohnen] at La Bandida: There are no empanadas on this Argentine-Mexican-Italian restaurant’s menu, but their steaks are solid (and you can order them in 180 gram, 250 gram or 350 gram portions). The real highlight here is the kidney beans. Sautéed with speck [bacon], caramelized onions and jalapeño peppers, they’re smoky, spicy, and perfect with 180 grams of entrecote. Who cares if they’re not Mexican, Argentine or Italian? (Langhansstraße 144, 13086, Weissensee, Berlin, Tel. 030 925 1623/030 960 64762 – Map it)
4. Kunefe at Hasir Restaurant: This restaurant may be all about döner kebab (legend has it that the great sandwich was invented here, and I had several Turkish cabbies recommend this spot). But one bite of kunefe will shake you out of your döner kebab stupor. It’s an amazing dessert: shredded filo (a.k.a. kadayif) soaking in butter and honey, filled with soft Turkish cheese, browned to a crisp, and dusted with walnuts. Softness and crunch converge. The cheese checks the sweetness. You’ll hope the last bite never arrives. (Adalbertstrasse 10 & 12, Kreuzberg, 10999, Berlin, Tel 030 616 59 222, www.hasir.de – Map it)
5. Kofte at Gel Gör Inegöl Köfteci – Cabbie Ergan’s favorite Turkish snack bar is serious about sausage: they use only veal to make their kofte, and they butcher the meat on site. Tender and grilled to perfection, it’s similar to cevapi but it’s richer than the tasty version at Cevabdzinica Sarajevo in New York. You almost don’t want the rest of the sandwich to interfere with the sausage, but the rest of the sandwich is about as glorious: toasted French bread, red chili sauce, sumac, tomatoes, arugula and a squeeze of lemon. And it’s only 5 euros! According to cab drivers, you can also find the best kunefe in Berlin here, too. (Kottbusser Damm 80, 10967, Kreuzberg, Berlin, Tel 030-69582753 – Map it)
6. Strangalopreti at Trattoria a’Muntagnola: All of the pastas at this classy Italian restaurant in West Berlin are made in house, including sage and butter-covered strangolapreti (12.50 Euros). Made with potatoes, spinach and ricotta and sprinkled with pecorino cheese, they can double as gnocchi, but since they’re stuffed with raisins and pine nuts, they go beyond the deliciousness of gnocchi. This is sweet and savory in a beautiful balance – a lot like the lady cab driver who led me there. (Fuggerstraße 27, 10777, Schoenberg, Berlin, Tel. 030 2116-642, muntagnola.de – Map it)
7. Espresso at La Vigna Italienische Weine und Spezialitäten: The food at this little Italian restaurant is ho-hum, but they serve some of the very best espresso in Berlin. Close your eyes – it’s almost like tasting a caffe macchiato in Rome. This is cabbie Zille Quitmann’s favorite coffee spot in West Berlin (Bregenzer Straße 9, 10707, Charlottenberg, Berlin, Tel. 030 8835416, lavigna-berlin.de – Map it)
8. Red lentil soup at Öz-Samsun: Also known as mercimek corbasi, this red lentil soup (3 euros) is cabbie Fazil’s favorite thing to eat when he’s on duty. Seasoned with carrots, tomato, and crushed red pepper, it’s just the thing to keep you going on the road – or after a hard day. Note to cabbies: this restaurant gives drivers a discount. (Donaustraße 99, 12043, Neukölln, Berlin, Tel. 030 68089508 – Map it)
9. Dead Grandma at Kaese Koenig: If you’re suffering from Ostalgie (i.e. a longing for all things East German), this is the dish – and the place – for you. Kaese Konig is where TaxiBerlin goes when he can’t get home to eat Mom’s cooking. It’s an East German cafeteria that’s outlasted the fall of the Wall and serves up Berliner classics in the shadow of the TV tower on Alexanderplatz. One of their signature dishes is Dead Grandma (Tote Oma), a combination of blood sausage and liverwurst spiked with paprika and nutmeg that’s comforting and hearty despite its terrifying appearance. When you scoop it up with caraway-studded sauerkraut and boiled potatoes, it’s even better. (Panoramastraße 1, 10178 Alexanderplatz/Mitte, Berlin – Map it)
10. Spaetzle at Die Feinbäckerei: The sizeable population of Swabians in Berlin means that there are a lot of spots in the city where you can find spaetzle, the wonderful noodles that come from their region in southern Germany. Outside of Swabia, der Feinbäckerei is probably one of the best places in the world to feast on this fabulous starch. The restaurant serves spaetzle several different ways, but it doesn’t get much better than the version with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and cream (8 euros). (Vorbergstrasse 2, 10823, Schoeneberg, Berlin, Tel. 030 81494240, feinbaeck.de – Map it)
For more Berlin food finds, check out this taxi driver’s food and drink map.