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Berlin’s Diverse Restaurants

One of Berlin's many Kebap restaurants.
Photo © Beebe Bahrami.

Berliners seem to be having a love affair with Indian, Thai, and Turkish cuisine. Every other restaurant seems to be Indian or Thai. Even the “fast food,” which is still locally procured and made with healthy ingredients, reflects an eastern twist: try the Turkish Döner Kebaps of lamb or chicken, or the Berlin sausage specialty, Curry Wurst. Curry Wurst? It’s the perfect marriage, based on a sausage like the Bockwurst, enhanced with tomato sauce, curry and paprika and can be had anywhere in the city at neighborhood stands and subway kiosks. Beyond these offerings falafel joints and sushi bars also abound. I also ate in one of the best Iranian restaurants anywhere (see Shayan, below), including those of my childhood from summer visits to Tehran before 1979. And the Russian vegetarian food was sublime, using local ingredients like just-gathered forest mushrooms and fresh winter spinach.

Berlin is a living museum collection of every food tradition and it reflects the huge diversity of people who have made Germany’s new capital their home. Here restaurants range from Tex-Mex, Mexican, Russian, Italian, Turkish, Iranian, Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Polish, to Balkan and beyond. Originally I thought that this diversity was an influx of peoples from around the world after the Wall came down. I was profoundly mistaken. This rich diversity of peoples in Berlin is a result of the Cold War and the Wall.

When the Wall went up in 1961, many jobs sat vacant on both the east and the west sides as their former occupants could not make the commute to work. The vacancies were filled on the east side by peoples from around the world who were under the Soviet sway or shadow. The same happened on the west side where job vacancies were filled by migrants from other capitalist countries, including Turkey. By the time the wall came down in 1989, all these people were as much Berliners as they were natives of their ancestral places. And so, Berlin is now incredibly culturally diverse and this diversity is well-established rather than recent. Recent statistics count 183 nationalities in Berlin.

It is also in Berlin’s restaurants, cafes, and bars where you will best find the warmth of Berliners. In these third places—as Ray Oldenburg (Celebrating the Third Place) calls places we go to be with others that are not the sanctuary isolation of home or the professional requirements of work—Berliners really relax, enjoy the moment, share space and time with others, and take their time over a coffee or a beer. Third places in Berlin are created for such lingering, with incredibly hospitable servers, warm colored walls (rust red, ochre, burnt sienna, café au lait brown), white candles on every table, warm wooden floors, chairs, and tables, and all natural greens or flowers infusing the spaces.

Below are places where I have had a great meal or cup of coffee and enjoyed the society of the place. I can only hope these places are still open. One of the common features of Berlin is the opening and closing of restaurants, cafes, and bars in the blink of an eye. The reasons seem to have nothing to do with how good they were but are simply about making it in an economy that is still building itself up. So, take the below as a guide and do be sure to follow your instinct: if you wander by a place that calls to you, go in. Chances are it will be a good third place to inhabit.

A cool cultural note: Don’t be surprised if people ask to share your table when a restaurant is packed and there is a spare seat or two where you’re seated. It is a very common practice and most people proceed to respect your space by not speaking to you, and they expect the same from you. It makes dining alone a little more communal while still being non-invasive.

Restaurants Reflecting Berlin’s Diversity

In Prenzlauer Berg:

Donath, Schwedter Strasse 13 – 10409 Berlin – Prenzlauer Berg, tel. 448-01-29. This is an earthy and very warm northeast Italian (Friulan) bistro. A dish I kept getting each time I visited was homemade papparele pasta with porcini mushrooms and truffle oil. This earthy dish is served in a dining area of warm wood and stucco in browns and mustard yellows, earthy wooden tables, and a staff deeply dedicated to creating the best atmosphere for eating, meeting friends, and relaxing. Expect to spend around 12 euros for an entrée and drink.

La Esquina, Danziger Strasse 35 – 10435 Berlin – Prenzlauer Berg, tel. 030/442-71-26, offers great breakfasts. One of the things I love about Germany is that I can hunt down a hearty breakfast. La Esquina serves up some great German breakfasts, as well as those of other culinary cultures. I had the Italienesches Frühstuck, Italian breakfast, which was a plate of cheeses, cold cuts, seasonal fruits, fresh-baked breakfast rolls, nutella, butter, and honey. Paired with a kaffee mit milche, I only spent around 6-7 euros and had enough fuel to explore the city on foot for the rest of the day.

Restaurant Himalaya, Lychener Strasse 3 – 10437 Berlin – Prenzlauer Berg, tel. 441-25-01 and 442-21-78, offers an excellent selection of classical Indian cuisine for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. ~10-12 euros for an entrée and drink.

Hecht Club im Prater Garten, Kastanienallee 7-9 – Berlin – Prenzlauer Berg. This is a wonderful large hall. In winter, dining takes place in the warm all wood interior with comfortable small and large tables bringing both communal sharing as well as privacy to each gathering. A tiny stage with thick curtains stands in the back of the large room where diners sit, announcing that at times music and theatre alike unfold here. In summer, there are concerts outside with the open outdoor beer garden. The beer garden dates to 1837. The food year round is one-hundred per cent traditional German and shows off German cuisine at its best and freshest. As soon as I sat down and ordered a beer, the friendly waiter brought me a basket of fresh-baked dark-grained traditional breads and a ramekin of a lard spread with caramelized onions. I was dubious about the lard but realized my danger when I tried it and fell in love with this little thimble of pork fat and dark, rich onions, especially on the healthy, fibrous bread. For entrees, I recommend you try, when it is available, the wildschweinpfeffer (peppered wild boar with red current sauce and red cabbage). Another wonderful entrée is the forelle gebraten, pan-fried trout with toasted almond slices in butter and lemon sauce. Their fresh greens salad was also delightful, topped with red cabbage, cucumbers, and toasted sunflower seeds. Be sure to finish off your meal with one of several brandies (Calvados, Osborne Veterano, Cognac…) and a serving of apfelschrudel with real whipped cream and vanilla sauce. For all this—a salad, entrée, beer, dessert, and brandy—expect to spend around 20 euros.

Café Courage, Saarbrücker Strasse 17 – 10405 Berlin – Prenzlauer Berg, tel. 030/41716859. A great selection of specialty coffee drinks, alcoholic drinks, noshes, snacks, and desserts, averaging ~2-3 euros for drinks and 3-5 for snacks. When there is live music, the cover, around 5 euros, is added to your drink and food tab at the end of the night.

Restaurant Parilla, Rodenberstrasse 2 – 10439 Berlin – Prenzlauer Berg. Your classic everything grilled meat Argentinean steakhouse. I strongly recommend the filet steak with thick cut french fries and a corn and kidney bean side dish, as well as the grilled half chicken, with red cabbage and apples, and mashed potatoes with a peppery gravy. A salad, entrée, drink, and dessert will cost ~12-15 euros.

In Kreuzberg:

Wirtshaus Eckbert, Maybachufer 21 – 120347 Berlin – Kreuzberg, tel.030/62725726. Near the weekly Turkish Market (Tuesdays and Fridays), Eckbert offers traditional and delicious German cuisine. I had lunch here and when I walked in there were two men at the bar talking to the woman who owned the place. All of them were working on a crossword puzzle together. Showing itself to be a comfortable neighborhood spot, a chalkboard on the wall listed the day’s lunch specials. I sat at a sunny table and ordered a Jever Pilsner and the lunch special of brotwürst mit sauerkraut und kartoffelbrot (brotwurst with sauerkraut and potato bread). Lunch will cost ~9-10 euros.

Traditional German fare at the the Eckbert Restaurant in Berlin.
Photo © Beebe Bahrami.

Lone Star Taqueria, a Tex Mex establishment at Bergmannstrasse 11 – 10961 Berlin – Kreuzberg, tel. 030/6927182, offers fajitas, quesadillas, enchiladas, and the like. It might come across as needing far more chili sauce for the true southwesterner so don’t be afraid to ask. For lunch, an entrée and a drink will cost ~10-12 euros.

In Schöneberg:

Shayan, Goltzstrasse 23 – 10781 Berlin – Schöneberg, tel. 2-15-15-47, is a great place to try Iranian cuisine if you are new to it or if you pine away for the real taste of real Persian cooking. The prices are excellent too, lunch running around 7-10 euros. I recommend anything that appeals to you on the menu. If you love kebabs, try the marinated lamb kebab with Iranian rice (kababeh kubideh ba berenj). If you are vegetarian and want to sample a rich stew that your flesh-eating friends will also find meaty, definitely try the khoreshteh esphinaj (spinach and greens stew), which comes on a bed of fragrant Iranian rice. Pair it with a Chianti offered as a house wine, and you may not want to leave. Also, the tea here is really good Iranian tea, brewed with patience to achieve the peak in flavor and color. Be sure to order tea to round out the end of the meal. This is a family run restaurant and every corner of it is run with warmth and generous hospitality.

Restaurant Potemkin, Victoria-Luise-Platz 5 – D-10777 Berlin – Schöneberg, tel. 030/21968181. A definite favorite, Potemkin serves up nouveau central and eastern European cuisine. I ordered a sunflower sprout salad for starters and then the handmade vegetarian dumplings, tiernan, which had three types of dumpling fillings: mushroom, spinach, and potato. The dumpling trio was served with two types of winter salads that arrived on the same platter. One was a salad of beets, walnuts, and white cabbage, and the other of grated carrots seasoned with white pepper. To add to my delirium, each dumpling had its own cream and butter sauce. ~16 euros for an entrée, drink, and mineral water.

Café Restaurant Lades, Winterfeldplatz 2 – 10781 Berlin – Schöneberg. This serves as a nice rest point for market goers and vendors at the market at Winterfeldplatz. Order a creamy big mug of michkaffee or a bowl of soup or salad, and sit back and watch the people. The mixture of merchants and shoppers, Germans and other nationalities that pulse in and out of Café Lades is wonderful. While waiting in line to use the women’s bathroom I had a jolly chat with a fishmonger, her fingers red from frost as she had spent her morning filleting multiple fish orders in the freezing winter temperatures. She took it all in stride and had a perennial flirtation with the young man, half her age, running the espresso machine.

In Mitte:

La Rosa Mexicana, Friedrichstrasse 209 – 10969 Berlin - Mitte. Near Check Point Charlie, this sweet Mexican Restaurant serves up basic delicious food, such as chicken fajitas, spaghetti Bolognese (okay, so that’s not a Mexican dish, but it is delicious), and great salads. The service is cheerful and so are the patrons. When I ate here, two diners were playing a game of cards while enjoying dessert and espresso. Allow ~14 euros for an entrée, a salad, and a glass of wine.

Restaurant Bar Alcatraz, Neue Schönhauser Strasse 20 – 10178 Berlin – Mitte. The walls in this restaurant will make you think you are in a Mayan temple with large murals in ochre, turquoise and white of Maya figures and wooden tables and floors lit with warming tea lights. ~2-5 euros for coffee or a drink.

Beer Stop in Mitte. Photo © Beebe Bahrami.

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