Long gone are the days when bratwurst and beer dominated the Berlin food scene. As now one of the top “foodie” cities in Europe thanks to its diverse populace, Berlin holds unparalleled opportunities for global gastronomic indulgence.
This is not to say, however, that when in Germany you shouldn’t eat German food; just don’t be surprised if schnitzel or sauerkraut comes with an Asian or Middle Eastern twist.
To kickstart your morning, go to House of Small Wonder for (irony noted) a big, bad breakfast with French and Japanese inflections. The lovely croissant French Toast drowning in fruit, maple syrup, and whipped cream doubles as dessert; if you’re looking for protein-packed brekkie opt for the croquet madame (a toasted sandwich layered with ham, gruyere, and béchamel) or the Okinawan Taco Rice with ground pork, Parmesan cheese, chopped veggies, and crowned with a fried egg.
Java addicts will feel at home at Distrikt Coffee, where strong brews set the stage for equally hearty fare such as “superfood bowls” composed of granola, goji berries, nibs, and chia seeds or thick sliced avocado toast with beets and tangy feta.
Break your fast al fresco at Café am Neuen, which offers a three-tiered tray of traditional German goodies (cold cuts, cheeses, bread, jam) that you can nosh on at picnic tables overlooking the lake.
The mid-day repast for most Germans is a large, leisurely, sit-down meal, and one of the best places to slow down and relish each bite is Nobelhart & Schmutzig. Its Michelin star attests to the creativity and exemplary presentation of the simple locally-sourced dishes (e.g., cabbage with parsley sauce and blood sausage) as well as the thoughtful wine pairings.
Equally fine but slightly less fussy food can be found at Musashi, where Tokyo expats get their (cheap) fix of sushi, sashimi, and soup.
However, those looking to keep up the sight-seeing momentum will more than satisfied with one particular on-the- go option in Berlin: the ubiquitous döner-kebap shops and stands that line so many Strassen. My go-to is Tadim, which stuffs its fluffy pitas with heaps of shorn, unctuous lamb and chicken, chopped lettuce and tomatoes. Go with a friend and also split lahmun, Turkish “pizza” topped with your choice of protein or vegetables and laced with olive oil.
Fierce competition among restaurants means it’s hard to have a bad supper in Berlin. Among the restaurants that frequently make those “not-to- be-missed” lists, Zur Letzten Instanz is my favorite. Apparently, it’s many other people’s favorite, too, because this restaurant has been serving diners (including, allegedly, Napoleon) stick-to- your-ribs regional dishes such pork knuckle and pickled herring since 1621.
Much newer kids on the block also worth visiting include Ula, whose sake list will threaten to distract you from their equally well-curated menu, highlights of which include monkfish tempura and pumpkin soup.
Finally, you will easily forgive Cookies Cream for their misleading name after trying their elegant botanical entrees such as grilled leeks with horseradish and black sesame seeds or celery with macadamia nut butter and grated egg yolk.
DESSERT & DRINKS
For country in which beer is king, Germany manages to find alcoholic balance in its largest city. Case in point, Vin Aqua Vin, a tasting room and shop that presents dazzling array of sophisticated German and Austrian wines in low-key, rustic atmosphere.
Even non-beer- drinkers can’t help but in the spirit at any one of Berlin’s amazing biergartens. Although debate rages as to which is “the best” and “the most authentic”, most agree that Prater, Berlin’s oldest beer garden, has endured for good reasons, including but not limited to its rotating selection of seasonal brews and well-executed home-style dishes such as roast goose, potato salad, and apple strudel.
Fun fact: German chocolate cake is not actually German, but rather was invented in the mid- nineteenth century by an American named Samuel German. Another fun fact: Germany, and Berlin in particular, has absolutely terrific chocolate shops where cocoa-lovers will be overwhelmed in a good way with dessert possibilities. Rausch is the most famous, the most expensive, and totally worth it: linger over one of their many flavors of tortes (passion fruit, Nutella, and dark chocolate are standouts) and hot chocolate in their café, then pick boxes of truffles for the folks back home.
I was born in Alexandria, Virginia, grew up in central Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, and now call Houston, Texas home. After graduating from Harvard University with a degree in English, I earned a PhD in Victorian literature from Rice University. I currently serve as a culinary consultant, food historian, and travel/food critic for various print and online outlets. My exploits can be found at www.brideyoleary.com.