Berlin, a city with such fresh sordid history, lacks identity. A friend described it as a “tossed salad,” a place with so many different components that haven’t quite melded yet.
It’s a city in recovery, rebirth. It’s a city whose hip wine bars and Thai restaurants are built into the first floor of apartment buildings where people were “deported” from their homes and sent to concentration camps. They’re marked by small gold tiles in the sidewalks - and now we eat curry wurst and spill ketchup on them.
Locals tell me that Berlin’s bare bones post-war made for cheap rent (it’s rapidly rising now) and an influx of immigrants and young people looking to reinvent themselves. The result is a city that feels like New York in the 80’s — loud, bright, and renegade — and a place as eager to move forward as it is apologetic for its past.
In the last 5-10 years, the city’s gone from an empty food landscape to a bustling multicultural one whose restaurants deserve more attention than they get. My four days in Berlin were equal parts exploring its harrowing historical landmarks and eating and drinking at some of the most exciting spots I’ve been to in a while.
Here are some of my favorites. What’d I miss? Let us know in the comments.
The Barn Coffee House
Very delicious coffee, including single-origin drip coffees if you’re into that kind of thing. They also have solid sandwiches on rye bread and a pastel de nata that rivals every other one I’ve had, though I’ve never been to Portugal so maybe that’s irrelevant. It’s one of the cutest spots in Berlin’s Mitte neighborhood with a lovely little outdoor space, and my friends and I found ourselves there almost every morning for breakfast.
Wonderful natural wine selection with a few good options by the glass and an interesting list of small plates like burrata with black garlic and truffle – also an enormous portion of olives for 3,50 euros. Reasonable prices and you can drink bottles from their huge and diverse list in-house or take them to go at a 30% discount. It’s a great place to convince strangers to share multiple bottles with you and then sink into the hole of Berlin night life (speaking from experience).
Khwan is a treat: a sort-of-hip-sort- of-not Thai restaurant with some of the most authentic food I’ve had outside of Thailand. They focus on Northern Thai and Isaan grilled meats and salads like green papaya salad and braised mushrooms with mint and toasted rice. Get the chef’s tasting for 2: you get nearly everything on the menu and it’s enough to split between 3.
This is killer authentic ramen in a space that feels like Tokyo (save the automated ticket machines and the pools of Japanese people slurping noodles like it’s a sport). This place is popular – we waited about 20 minutes on a weekday – and it’s the sister restaurant to their more expensive sushi bar next door. Ramen is around 10 euros and beer is cheaper than water. Get the spicy one & an order of gyoza.
Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap
Döner kebap is a kind of German-Turkish fusion street food birthed from the massive influx of Turkish immigrants in post-WWII Europe – and they’re all over the city. Rumor has it, Turkish immigrants tried to make their food more appealing to Germans by using crusty bread and chicken. This spot is among the most popular in Berlin, and even though it boasts long lines (we waited 45 minutes - I’ve heard it can be up to 2 hours), it was worth the hype. I feel comfortable saying that as someone who ate 4 different kebabs in 4 days. It’s legal to drink beer on the street, so grab one at the craft beer bar up the street and drink it while you wait.
Berlin Beer Academy
These kinds of craft beer stores / bars are popular all over the city, but this was my favorite. They have a strong selection of local beers that you pick from the fridge that you can take to go or sit down to drink. The owner is a badass – he makes his own cider in the back and knows every beer producer on the planet (it felt that way, at least).