Eat your way around the world with our best Berlin gastro picks
By Andrea Schulte-Peevers
Berlin Local Expert
Foodies take note: you can indeed eat very well in Berlin. While restaurants in London, Paris and Copenhagen have hogged the headlines in recent years, the culinary quality and breadth in Germany’s capital has quietly taken a quantum leap forward. In 2014 alone, the city gained four Michelin stars, pushing the total to 19 spread over 14 gourmet temples, including newly crowned Pauly Saal featured on our list.
But it’s not just in the top echelon of restaurants where you can send your tastebuds into orbit. Berlin’s vibrant pastiche of people from 184 nations has also generated delicious culinary diversity. Apple pie to zebra steak or Vietnamese street food as at featured District Mot – you will find it here, along with plenty of authentic German food.
Lest you think of ‘authentic German’ as football-sized pork knuckles paired with boiled potatoes and greasy gravy, you’ll be in for a surprise. Today’s maverick chefs have seriously expanded their repertories, relying on seasonal and regionally sourced ingredients prepared in nutritious and yummy ways. Just try La Soupe Populaire or Restaurant am Steinplatz to see for yourself.
Berlin has also finally embraced the street food trend with the fervor of a religious convert. Food trucks pop up all over town and the biggest food event of the week is Street Food Thursdays, held in a historic market hall. Aspiring hobby chefs from around the world lure hungry hipsters with an exotic smorgasbord that might include New Zealand meat pies, Argentine pulled pork sandwiches or Korean tacos. It’s a first-class journey at economy prices.
10 Bar Raval
German actor Daniel Brühl (best known internationally for his lead role in Good Bye Lenin!) has a stake in this modern tapas bar, but the celeb cred is hardly the reason this place has garnered most-favorite status with local foodies. The menu has a great selection of impeccably prepared standards such as patatas bravas (fried potatoes) drizzled with garlic-mayo, and crunchy pimientos de padron (fried peppers). But it's innovations like tataki de presa iberica (tender pork slices) and avocado-mushroom tartare that let the chefs' talents truly shine. First-timers should bring along their posse to sample as many tastes as possible. The modern and sparsely decorated dining room (no Spanish folklore kitsch!) and, in season, the summer terrace get mobbed night after night, but the service manages to remain fast and friendly and the wines are tops to boot. (030 5316 7954)
9 Sauvage Paleothek
If the concept of eating like cavemen only conjures up visions of gnawing massive bones and munching boiled acorns, it's time to visit Sauvage. Since 2011, owners Rodrigo and Boris Leite-Poço have treated curious palates to their Paleo-inspired dishes, thereby staying two steps ahead of a trend that has started to gain worldwide momentum. Modern Paleo cuisine is completely devoid of processed foods like sugar, pasta or rice, relying instead on meat from grass-fed animals, wild-caught fish, organic seasonal produce and plenty of nuts, seeds and fresh herbs. Try their signature dish, the Charolais beef, or go for more exotic morsels such as curried frog legs, cocoa-coated lamb liver mousse or grilled octopus in banana vinegar. The original bistro proved so successful that the Leite-Poços opened a fine-dining branch in 2013. (030/53167547)
8 District Mot
One of Berlin's most adventurous restaurants, District mot may well trigger flashbacks in anyone familiar with Vietnamese street food parlors. Tiny rainbow-colored plastic stools orbit rickety tables where plastic trays are filled with Sriracha hot sauce, chopsticks and napkin dispensers containing...toilet paper rolls. Dangling power lines and a cart billowing with packaged snacks add further sidewalk cred without a hint of cheesiness. The menu consists of numerous small plates, making it easy to sample a variety of flavors without eviscerating one's wallet. There are familiar choices like green papaya salad, steamy pho soups (beef noodle) and fresh summer rolls along with more adventurous tastes like stewed eel, chicken foot salad and deep-fried silkworms. Also fun: the DIY-at-your-table meat or seafood barbecues. (030 20089284)
7 Brasserie Lamazère
This French outpost on a decidedly unglamorous square deep in western Berlin has been one of the most celebrated new arrivals since cutting the ribbon in late 2013. Don't let the Hanky Panky table dance bar next door deter you: Brasserie Lamazère is a class act all around. Not of the stuffy mind-your-manners variety, though, but the kind of down-to-earth brasserie where the cooking is authentic and the wines hand-selected. A grown-up clientele that includes the occasional celebrity and off-duty Michelin chef squeezes into the tunnel-shaped space that's tightly packed with small wooden tables. A blackboard lists are whatever palate teasers the chef's whipped up that night; a rich ratatouille, perhaps, a velvety brandade (a potato-fish puree) or tender filet mignon. An entree plus either appetizer or dessert costs �24, three courses �30. (030 31800712)
6 Jäger und Sammler
This neighborhood-adored restaurant packs savvy eaters into a classic Berlin space: high ceilings with church-worthy stucco ornamentation matched by creaky plank floors, white walls and sturdy wooden tables accented with vintage silver candlesticks. Instead of art, a large bookcase catches the eye, crammed with colorful cookbooks from around the world. The menu is just as international and features a nightly changing selection of Leibgerichte (favorite dishes) that might include coq au vin, wild boar burger or oxtail risotto. Everything's prepared to order, giving you plenty of time to scan the happy crowd, munch on the complimentary crusty bread or leaf through one of those pretty cookbooks. (030 7009 4084)
This gastronomic jewel pegs its inception back to 1853 when August FW Borchardt opened a delicatessen and wine store and quickly became a caterer to the bourgeoisie, the aristocracy and even the royal court. With such an illustrious pedigree, it's not surprising that today's incarnation, open since 1992, is again regularly invaded by a mob of A-listers like George Clooney, Madonna, Leonardo DiCaprio and Barack Obama. Fortunately, thanks to a sterling kitchen team, there's plenty of substance behind the buzz. You can't go wrong with yummy cuts of aged steaks matched by a choice of such soulful sides as horseradish-laced red beet salad, creamy celery puree or thyme-infused savoy cabbage. The fragrant bouillabaisse is a dependable staple, as is Borchardt's most popular menu ambassador: the Wiener schnitzel. Served with a side of warm potato salad, it's reportedly the best in town. (030 8188 6262)
4 Restaurant Richard
The young chefs at this restaurant may not flaunt a Michelin star, but perhaps they should. Solidly rooted in the fine French tradition, the fare here is so exceptionally orchestrated that you'll be tempted to lick your plate (or at lease use the crusty bread to wipe it clean). Only the finest ingredients make their way into such flavor-packed dishes as rack of lamb that gets a Middle Eastern touch from cumin and eggplant, or the warm red beet salad that pairs harmoniously with snowy frozen goat cheese. Competing with the food is the venue itself, a design feast of stained-glass windows, vaguely risqué art work, bubble chandeliers and, perhaps most impressively, a grand coffered ceiling. The site looks back on a century of history that included stints as a Nazi lair in the 1930s and as a lefty student hangout in the 70s. (030 49207242)
3 Restaurant am Steinplatz
At Restaurant am Steinplatz, the glamorous 1920s get a 21st century makeover both in the kitchen and the decor. Black-and-white photographs of cabaret dancers set cheeky accents for the classic dining room whose elegant tables are orbited by mustard-yellow chairs and lit by contemporary-floral chandeliers. At the far end is the open kitchen where veteran chef Marcus Zimmer and his team orchestrate modern interpretations of time-tested German and Berlin recipes. The signature dish, called 'Königsberger Klopse', pairs feathery veal dumplings with a light sauce subtly laced with lime and capers. Bordering on genius is his take on Eisbein (boiled pork knuckle), a dish normally found on beer hall menus, which here is freed of its slippery fat with only the succulent meat finding its destination in spring roll-sized croquettes. Most ingredients come from regional suppliers and that goes for the drinks as well. The beer, for instance, hails from the Rollberg microbrewery across town and the bottled water from a regional spring. The wine list too is dominated by handpicked German wines from nearly all growing regions. Nice touch: in addition to an amuse geule from the kitchen, diners are also treated to a small welcome cocktail from the bar. (030 554 4440)
2 Pauly Saal
It took Pauly Saal only one year to enter the pantheon of Michelin-starred food emporia in 2013. Its chef, Michael Höpfl, is known for his bold interpretations of hearty German fare wrought from locally hunted and gathered ingredients. There are a few vegetarian choices but, by and large, robust meat dishes dominate. The seasons stir the menu, which might feature fall-off-the-bone Pomeranian ox ribs or hazelnut-encrusted wild duck. The setting in the former gymnasium of a Bauhaus-era Jewish girls' school is as memorable as the food, thanks to a high ceiling, custom-designed Murano chandeliers and eye-catching art. The giant red rocket by Cosima von Bonin and Daniel Richter's stuffed fox sculptures should provide plenty of conversation fodder. (030 3300 6070)
1 La Soupe Populaire
Berlin star chef Tim Raue has a knack for capturing the city's culinary zeitgeist. In his latest venture, he has ditched his Michelin-starred Asian crossover cuisine in favor of honest-to-goodness German comfort food and camped out in a disused 19th-century brewery. Amid raw brick walls, exposed pipes and shiny steel girders diners sit at vintage tables overlooking an art gallery. Don't expect beer hall-style pork roast, though. Raue's interpretations are all carefully calibrated modern spins on beloved classics such as Königsberger Klopse. In this perennial bestseller Raue pairs caper-laced meat balls with shredded beetroot and places both in a pool of Riesling-reduction sauce. The beautiful dish was even part of the state dinner he served to President Obama on his 2013 Berlin visit. (030 44319680)
About Andrea Schulte-Peevers
Andrea has made a living as a travel writer and photographer for over 20 years, visiting some 70 countries in the process and authoring a similar number of guidebooks, mostly for Lonely Planet. Add to that hundreds of articles in print and online, magazine editing, travel consulting, developing content for travel apps, translating from German to English and vice versa... Andrea’s destination expertise is especially strong when it comes to her native Germany and especially to Berlin, where she makes her home. She also has extensive knowledge about Crete, Dubai and the UAE, California and various Caribbean islands.
Read more about Andrea Schulte-Peevers here.