Hamburg’s culinary scene is ready for prime time and not only because it’s basking in more Michelin stars than ever before. The true soul of this city isn’t measured in fine-dining accolades but in the imagination and dedication of its local kitchen maestros.
To connect with this spirit, you’ll want to plunge straight into Hamburg's neighbourhoods, where artisans, innovators and DIY types are forging an exciting mash-up of global food trends and native traditions and ingredients. Read on for a day-to-night culinary journey around four of Hamburg’s most charismatic quarters.
Global treats in St Pauli
Hamburg’s infamous nightlife district is not all about sex, clubs and rock ’n’ roll but actually fields plenty of Zeitgeist-capturing eateries away from the Reeperbahn drag. Start the day by restoring balance to your bleary-eyed self at locally adored Kraweel with high-octane java, crunchy breads, fine cheeses and homemade jam amidst a hotchpotch of vintage furniture.
Late sleepers might prefer to skip straight to a soul-restoring bowl of luscious ramen from urban-hip Kokomo Noodle Club. With a rainbow-coloured choice of toppings – boiled egg and seaweed to pork belly – this is Japanese comfort food at its finest. Follow up with the ultimate good-weather treat: natural ice cream from Luicella’s, created by a homegrown team with a knack for unusual flavour pairings. Bring some patience to brave the inevitable queue, then get lickin’ on such glorious scoops as strawberry-mint or blueberry-lavender.
Once you’re ready to get back into the drinking game, head over to Standard. Nomen definitely non est omen at this stylish bar with a mission to bring Italian aperitivo culture to Hamburg. Just as in Milan or Venice, classic after-work drinks like Aperol Spritz or Negroni are accompanied by tasty nibbles called stuzzichini.
Be strong and leave some room for dinner at hyper-hip Salt & Silver, one of several new hot spots to ride the global Latin American food wave with kick-ass ceviche, tacos and pisco sour.
Trends and tradition in the city centre (Altstadt and Neustadt)
Hamburg’s canal-laced city centre is sightseeing central with its bevy of museums, the mighty neo-Renaissance town hall, venerable medieval churches and early-Modernist brick-clad office complexes, all anchored by the placid Binnenalster lake.
Gear up for a day on the tourist track at Hej Papa, a contemporary joint where you can devour scrambled eggs, croissants, and sandwiches amidst a stylishly stripped-down Nordic aesthetic. Light and healthy lunches await at Urban Foodie Poké Bar. Hamburg’s first restaurant to offer these colourful Hawaii-inspired bowls is fiercely dedicated to using only sustainable fish and meat and also offers vegan potpourris. For a primo afternoon coffee jolt head to Public Coffee Roasters, a young local company that roasts its third-wave beans on a houseboat moored in the Elbe.
Proof positive that Hamburg also does traditional Hanseatic cuisine well, book in for dinner at Alt Hamburger Aalspeicher, a knick-knack-filled canalside lair on the city’s oldest street. ‘Aal’ means ‘eel’ which, unsurprisingly, is a specialty here (especially the smoked version). Put a liquid lid on your day at the classy Le Lion bar, whose master-mixer Jörg Meyer first concocted the Gin Basil Smash.
Emerging food concepts in the Schanze & Karoviertel
Once cauldrons of counter-culture, the Sternschanze (“Schanze”), and especially the adjacent Karolinenviertel (“Karoviertel”), are gradually shedding their grittiness and in favor of millennial verve with the requisite line-up of local-designer boutiques, co-working spaces, wine shops and artisanal anything.
On the main drag called Schulterblatt, a branch of the local café mini-empire Schmidt & Schmidtchen now rubs shoulders with the Rote Flora community centre, the ultimate bastion of the radical old days. Aside from great coffee and homemade cakes, it also slings fabulous breakfasts, including a vegan spread with antipasti, guacamole and tapenade. Speaking of vegan, one of Hamburg’s best plant-centric lunch destinations is Happenpappen. In her snug burrow decked out with potted ivy, wooden tables and a forest-green accent wall, Cathy Bernhardt dreams up different thoughtful dishes daily – from bowls to burgers, curries to lasagna.
If your feet need a break from poking around the ‘hood, one mindful option is to settle down for a flat white and homemade carrot cake at In guter Gesellschaft, Hamburg’s first zero-waste café. An urban-chic alternative is Elbgold, a roaster-cum-cafe up the street in the Schanzen-Höfe, a historic cattle market that’s been upcycled into a creative and culinary hub. This sprawling compound also shelters several restaurants, including the famous Bullerei helmed by German celebrity chef Tim Mälzer. A more casual place to wrap up the day is the affiliated Altes Mädchen. The urban-industrial beer hall serves hearty classics from sausages to burgers alongside 60 craft beers, including those concocted at the attached Ratsherrn brewery.
Cross-cultural dining in Ottensen
West of Hamburg city centre, Ottensen’s industrial DNA has evolved into a bustling beehive of boho cafes, boutiques and cultural venues while still nurturing its multicultural roots. On your wanderings, skip the pedestrianised main drag, Ottenser Hauptstrasse, and instead get lost in the spider web of cobbled side streets. There, you’re free to stumble upon such greet-the-day favourites as Knuth, which has supplied strong coffee, bountiful breakfasts (including gluten-free rolls) and smiles for over a decade.
An exotic midday option is Restaurant L’Orient, which generates buzz with its sassy next-gen Lebanese fare, including an outstanding mezze (appetizers) sampler and weekday lunch specials. If you’re visiting Ottensen on a Friday, check out the action at the farmer’s market on Spritzenplatz square, which is also where Liebes Bisschen whips up made-with-love cup cakes and tortes, many of them vegan, right in the bakery behind the airy café.
Wine o’clock? Ring in the evening at Il Garage, which pours delicious reds, whites and pinks in feel-good retro surrounds (including great outdoor seating in the summer). A glass or two make a fitting overture for the creative wood-fired pizzas at nearby Restaurant Eisenstein, which has defied the odds and stayed popular even after four decades in business. Its ammo is not only the sparkly Italian cooking but also the industrial-elegant setting in the Zeise Hallen, a 19th-century ship propeller factory turned cultural and culinary centre.