Berlin’s gastro landscape has exploded in recent years and is now more exciting than ever before. Progress has been driven by global free spirits united by a sense of experimentation, a cosmopolitan outlook and a passion for quality. From street-food parlours to vegan kitchens and gourmet haunts, here are our picks for culinary cream of the crop in the German capital. Loosen your belt and start eating!
Best cheap eats
A London transplant with family roots in Pakistan, Shabz Syed quickly won over Berliners with delectables from her mom’s treasure box of time-tested recipes at Mama Shabz. In her cheerful kitchen, made-with-love dhal, masalas, pakora, samosas and other treats cycle on and off the menu to keep regulars in a state of perpetual anticipation.
Helmed by a former Himalayan Sherpa, Holy Everest melds Nepalese street food culture with pro techniques and good-food-karma. Order a bevy of dishes to sample various tastes and textures, including such choice picks as the plump momos (dumplings) and the lentil-based dal bhat stew (the national dish). Everything tastes genuine, fresh and inflected with an authentic medley of Ayurvedic spices. Many dishes are vegan.
It’s green, ornate, over a century old and…it used to be a public toilet! Fast forward to 2006 when the original branch of the growing local burger empire Burgermeister opened in this curious spot below the elevated U-Bahn tracks in Kreuzberg. There's always a wait for the plump all-beef patties tucked between a brioche bun - but it's so worth it!
Read more: Top 20 free things to do in Berlin
Best high-end dining
Restaurant Tim Raue
Germany’s most celebrated kitchen wizard, Tim Raue’s pile of accolades includes two Michelin stars, a spot on the list of the world’s 50 best restaurants and an episode on Chef’s Table. In his flagship restaurant near Checkpoint Charlie, the street punk turned top toque serves idiosyncratic Asian-influenced tasting menus, including vegan versions. Signature morsels like the wasabi langoustine and three-way Peking duck are optional – and worthy – add-ons.
Cell’s Australian-born chef Liam Valentine Fagotter picked up a stack of culinary cards at some of the world’s top kitchens and now reshuffles them into his own interpretations of modern French cuisine. Prepare for a parade of eye-candy morsels served in an angular, Bauhaus-leaning design feast of mirrors, chandeliers and Russian contemporary art in chic Charlottenburg.
Irma La Douce
Although named for the ‘hooker with a heart of gold’ heroine in a Billy Wilder comedy, there’s nothing shady about Irma La Douce. At this shooting-star brasserie near Potsdamer Platz, a glass of champagne is merely the overture to a full symphony of next-gen French cuisine served in a sensuous 1920s-style setting. Expect plenty of unconventional flavor pairings, impeccable service and a sublime wine portfolio.
Read more: Highlights of Berlin
Best vegan and vegetarian
Punctuated by bamboo and paper lanterns, Con Tho ( ‘rabbit’ in Vietnamese) is a feel-good vegan-vegetarian burrow that gives traditional recipes a contempo workout. Dip into a pool of mouthwatering goodness with their ‘happy to share’ small plates or pick your favorite rice bowl, stuffed rice-flower crèpe or lemongrass-annato-based soup.
Bonvivant quickly catapulted to culinary toast of the town thanks to its boundary-pushing ‘vegetarian cocktail bistro’ concept. The chilled corner space in Schöneberg dishes out veg-based slow food tied to nature and the seasons alongside exceptional cocktails composed by Yvonne Rahm, Germany's best bartender of 2018.
If you’re in the mood for plant-based fine dining, call the Kopps! From turnips to carrots, the cosmo-comfy Scheunenviertel kitchen has been coaxing maximum flavor out of the vegetable kingdom long before vegan went mainstream. The beautiful nosh is matched by a wine list heavy on natural and organic bottles. Loyal locals practically mob the place on weekends for the brunch menu.
Read more: Berlin's best vegan restaurants (that carnivores will love too)
Best breakfast spots
A beloved greet-the-day fave in Friedrichshain, Silo does a roaring trade in third-wave coffee and breakfasts that fill both belly and soul. Scrumptious options like homemade pumpkin spice granola, organic eggs on mushroom toast and avo toast with a twist, will nicely kick your day in gear.
A gem of a breakfast bistro, Annelies puts zeitgeist-compatible twists on morning classics with intensely palate-pleasing results. Temptations like scrambled eggs crowned by smoked egg yolk and kohlrabi kimchi or overnight oats topped with yoghurt, basil and amaranth granola pack enough punch to tide you over until the early afternoon.
Tel Aviv meets Kreuzberg at Café Mugrabi, an neighborhood-adored charmer that doles out modern Levantine in a happiness-inducing rainbow of color. The hummus is velvety, the shakshuka dripping with tanginess and the halva-slathered brioche a sassy spin on French toast. Grab a sidewalk table with view of Görlitzer Park and dig in.
If you’re the kind of person who could eat breakfast no matter where the hands of the clock, Benedict is your kind of place. The kitchen whips up a global potpourri of sweet and savory breakfast faves, from super-fluffy pancakes to steak & eggs, shakshuka and, yes, yummy eggs benny. A basket of delicious breads, freshly baked in-house, adds crunch to each order.
Read more: How to do Berlin on a budget
Best Middle Eastern
Israeli star chef Meir Adoni’s fine-casual Berlin haunt, Layla, takes your taste buds on a wild carpet ride with its richly nuanced postmodern mashup of European and Middle Eastern dishes. The sharing is caring concept is perfect for rounding up your posse and loading up on a parade of palate knockouts streaming from the open kitchen.
Malakeh Jazmati’s eclectically furnished dining room is as warm and welcoming as a hug from an old friend. The self-taught chef from Damascus had her own TV food show in Jordan before decamping to Berlin in 2015. Now she feeds her feistily flavored Syrian soul food to Berliners, expats, homesick refugees and clued-in tourists. Don’t leave without trying the yoghurt-based lamb stew Shakrieh or any of the daily specials. No alcohol.
Unpretentious Azzam transplants Beirut’s palpable energy and convivial vibes to Neukölln’s gritty Sonnenallee (nicknamed ‘Arab Street’). The food is just as authentic and the reason the joint is usually as busy as a beehive. Drop by for their heavenly hummus, crispy falafel or crunchy fatteh – an addictive mash-up of fried pita bits, cashews and chickpeas drizzled with yoghurt. Bonus: free pickles and pita bread!
Read more: A local’s guide to Berlin
Best out-of-the-box concept restaurants
At René Frank’s posh and petite Neukölln boîte, Coda, desserts are not an afterthought but the star of the show. Crowned with two Michelin stars, the charismatic chef composes multicourse menus of desserts with passion, precision and ingenuity, but without a grain of refined sugar. Each plate propels you to another level of culinary bliss, aided by a line-up of matching craft cocktails.
With its 100% vegan, zero-waste approach, this hip Mitte outpost, Frea, pushes new frontiers in ethical and ultra-sustainable eating. Everything on the menu is made from scratch and in-house, from sourdough bread to chocolate, kombucha and hazelnut butter. Menu mains spotlight whatever is fresh and in season, while food scraps get composted and returned to the growers to fertilize their fields. Check out the cool fungus lamps.
You’ll feel like the ultimate insider once you’ve found your way inside Cantina, a culinary speakeasy carved into a railway bridge pier behind the renowned Bar Tausend. The buzzy vibe, black furniture and digital art installation prove that Berlin can do big-city sophistication very well, thank you. The sleek looks are nicely matched by the culture-clash menu that hopscotches across the globe with stops in the Middle East, Asia and the Med.
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