A food guide to Berlin, from fine dining to kebabs

This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

Berlin’s food scene is flourishing as never before. Over the past decade or so, partly thanks to relatively inexpensive rents and the city’s reputation for fostering creativity, local culinary entrepreneurs have been given platforms to experiment and grow, and chefs and restaurateurs have been drawn here from all over the world. Danish-born, Icelandic-trained chef Victoria Eliasdóttir is currently culinary director at vegetable-focused Dóttir; Vancouverite Dylan Watson-Brawn, chef and co-founder of Michelin-starred Ernst and its minimalist ‘little brother’, Julius, was named the top chef in Germany by Gault-Millau in 2022.

From supper clubs and street food to natural wines and Levantine fare, Berlin has embraced international trends and immigrant cuisines. Newly Michelin-starred restaurants sit alongside innovative takeaway stalls, making the city’s food scene diverse and constantly evolving. For visitors, the sheer volume of options can be overwhelming. To plan a weekend in Berlin that features lots of good food, you need to know where to look — not least because you’ll often find memorable meals in unexpected places. 

In the former East German borough of Mitte, for example, there are cute cafes tucked away in courtyards, and across the city, restaurants can be found in surprising spaces. Contemporary German venue Lovis is housed within the red-brick walls of a former women’s prison; brunch spot 21gramm is located in a beautifully restored former chapel. And you can sit on the pleasant, leafy terrace at garden-to-table Café Botanico and enjoy fresh, light, Italian-influenced dishes with a view of its otherwise completely hidden permaculture garden.

Vegans are famously well-catered for in Berlin, in fact plant-based dining has led the charge for innovation in the city, from the flavourful doughnuts sold at plant-based chain Brammibal’s Donuts, founded in Berlin in 2015, to the four-course menu at Michelin-Green-starred Frea. And thanks to a recent boom in third-wave coffee shops and roasteries, bean hounds have lots of options, too: head to Distrikt Coffee, in Mitte, or Kreuzberg’s Kaffee 9 for some of the best speciality brews in the city. 

And a visit to the capital isn’t complete without sampling its two legendary fast-food staples: currywurst (fried pork sausage, served with a tomato-based sauce, curry powder and fries) and doner kebab, the sandwich version of which originated with Turkish immigrants to Berlin in the 1970s. This is a city that’s long attracted tourists with its storied past and thriving arts and music scenes, but until recently it’s never really been a magnet for food-focused travellers. But now, Berlin is the perfect place for gourmands seeking a vibrant, multicultural, creative hub where you’ll find everything from fine dining to exciting street food.

How to spend a day in Mitte

It began life as a small, 13th-century settlement on the Spree River, but Mitte is now the historical and geographical heart of the city. It’s here you’ll find some of Berlin’s best-known landmarks, historic sights and museums. So, fuel up for exploration with breakfast at the Mitte branch of Five Elephant, a modern cafe with a long terrazzo counter stocked with freshly baked croissants, cakes and pastries. Order a speciality coffee — Five Elephant roasts its own beans — and pocket a portion of its cult cheesecake for later.

A 15-minute stroll through Hackescher Markt, a lively square with cafes, shops and nightlife spots overlooked by the 1,200ft Berlin TV Tower, will take you to the DDR Museum. Its interactive displays, including a remarkably detailed recreation of an archetypal East German high-rise flat, will have you fully immersed in what was everyday life in the German Democratic Republic.

For lunch, wander over the bridge and across Museum Island (a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s home to five museums) to Liu. This small restaurant is extremely popular for its mouth-numbing Sichuan-style dishes, but the Shengjiao beef noodles, doused in homemade chilli oil, are well worth queuing for. 

Walk 10 minutes to the striking Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, for which 2,711 concrete slabs were installed along a former section of the Berlin Wall. A short distance north, on the edge of Tiergarten park, you’ll find the Brandenburg Gate, a magnificent neoclassical symbol of German unity.

Head east along the Spree to Clärchens Ballroom, one of the city’s last remaining 20th-century dance halls and a Berlin institution. Come for classic German dishes such as königsberger klopse (meatballs and capers in a cream sauce) and stay to dance the night away with a mixed crowd, old and young.

How to spend a day in Kreuzberg

Until the fall of the Wall, Kreuzberg was one of West Berlin’s poorest districts, a place also known for its alternative lifestyles and cultural diversity. Today, it’s a hub for media and tech startups, and although pockets of it have been gentrified, its creativity and diversity remain. What’s more, Kreuzberg is now home to a dynamic, multicultural food scene.

Start with coffee and a pastry at Café Dix, at the Berlinische Galerie. Housed in a former glass warehouse, the museum displays interdisciplinary collections of modern and contemporary art created in Berlin from 1870 onwards.

From here, it’s a 20-minute stroll through a quiet residential neighbourhood to Ora, an elegant wine bar and restaurant located in a former 19th-century apothecary. With its bottle-green banquettes and antique wooden cabinetry, the restaurant offers respite from busy Oranienplatz outside: the regularly changing, producer-led menu offers dishes such as North Frisian lamb with fregola, turnip and peas.

After lunch, head towards the Landwehr Canal, either via chaotic Kottbusser Tor U-Bahn station or, if you’re a fan of street art, detouring to see Victor Ash’s Astronaut Cosmonaut, purportedly the largest stencil drawing in the world. Cross the Kottbusser Brücke: on Tuesdays and Fridays, a turn left along the leafy Maybach embankment will take you to the food and handicraft stalls of Kreuzberg’s Turkish market.

Continue through the pretty Gräfekiez neighbourhood, stopping for a pre-dinner drink at gastropub St Bart (there are draught beers, a widely praised wine list and some inspired cocktails), until you reach Turkish barbecue restaurant Fes

This is the spot for some refined grills: lamb, chicken or beef that you cook yourself on your table’s built-in electric hob, with plenty of mezze to accompany, and finish with irmik helvasi — warm semolina cake topped with shredded filo pastry, chocolate rasps and ice cream — best accompanied by a glass or two of rakı.

Three of the best all-day brunch spots in Berlin

1. Two Trick Pony
Located on a wide street in Kreuzberg’s Bergmannkiez neighbourhood, Two Trick Pony is a breakfast and brunch spot with a regularly changing menu. The Full English features locally made bacon and black pudding; vegetarian options include poached egg on rye bread with grapes, roasted walnuts and hollandaise with pul biber (dried Turkish chilli flakes). Wash it down with a pink grapefruit mimosa. 

2. Annelies
A relaxed neighbourhood cafe popular for its excellent single-origin filter coffee and Insta-famous for its stacks of thick buttermilk pancakes served in a pool of maple-berry syrup, topped with butter, granola and a quenelle of cultured cream. 

3. Isla Coffee Berlin
A bright, minimalist refuge in a noisy part of Neukölln serving excellent third-wave coffee and brunch dishes such as almond granola with clementines, and smoky mushrooms on toast. There’s a focus on sustainability here: to minimise waste, leftover foamed milk is made into ricotta to go with brioche, honey-baked pumpkin with thyme. Isla Coffee Berlin

Three must-visit street foods in Berlin

1. Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap
Berlin takes its kebabs seriously, and Mustafas has reached cult status for its chicken doner: grilled chicken layered with roasted vegetables and a choice of homemade sauces, all stuffed into a toasted pitta. Avoid peak mealtimes if you don’t want to risk waiting in a long queue. Mehringdamm 32, 10961 Berlin

2. Thaipark
What originated in the 1990s as a gathering of Asian immigrant families has evolved into an official Thai street food event. On weekends from April to October, tree-filled Preussenpark hosts around 60 food stalls serving everything from fried grasshoppers and papaya salad to corn fritters and pad thai. 

3. Markthalle Neun
The best known of Berlin’s 14 historic indoor markets is held on Friday and Saturday. Stop by at lunchtime for a focaccia stuffed with stracchino cheese from Italian bakery Sironi, or head over on Thursday evening for Street Food Thursday where you can sample specialities from all over the world. 

Ingredient-led restaurants

Of all the trends that have shaped Berlin’s culinary evolution in the past decade, the one that’s arguably had the greatest influence on upscale dining is a focus on seasonal, regional ingredients. This is partly thanks to Markthalle Neun, which acts as a central supplier, sourcing from small producers in the surrounding state of Brandenburg and beyond, making it easier for city restaurants to use ethically sourced ingredients.

With its uncompromising ‘brutally local’ approach to dining, Nobelhart & Schmutzig is considered the ground zero of this movement. The 10-course menus at this one-Michelin- and Michelin-Green-starred venue are a celebration of high-quality ingredients, the origins of which are shared with diners as they receive each dish. Velvet Bar Berlin has won awards for its inventive weekly cocktail menu, which is determined by seasonal fruits, plants and vegetables, from mirabelles to magnolia petals, foraged in and around Berlin. At one-Michelin-star Kin Dee, head chef Dalad Kambhu combines the flavours she grew up with in Bangkok with locally grown produce to create innovative contemporary versions of traditional Thai dishes, including white asparagus with lemongrass and pickled egg yolk, and mussels with wild garlic and chilli paste.  

Published in Issue 21 (autumn 2023) of Food by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

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