Chancellor Angela Merkel recently declared that Germany’s experiment with multiculturalism had “utterly failed.” Perhaps, but in our recent experience in Berlin, the city’s multicultural landscape made eating there a treasure.
During our time in Berlin we lived near Kottbusser Tor in the Kreuzberg neighborhood, smack in middle of what our visiting friends deemed “little Turkey.” Food was fresh, accessible, brimming with flavor and typically served by folks who took pride in their cuisine, interest in us as human beings, and great pleasure in serving up an experience.
So here’s our top ten cheap eats in Berlin. Many Turkish, some German, one Asian. Mind you, this list reflects not only what is inexpensive, but more importantly what is high-quality.
1. Gel Gör Inegöl Köfteci
Köfte usually means herbed minced lamb meatballs, but Gel Gör does it with a twist by using veal instead. And the result is astronomically good. They charcoal grill the meat just tender; the aroma and taste are both unforgettable. Next up, the bread: perfectly fresh, soft, then (blow my mind) dabbed and toasted on the charcoal grill. The whole thing is topped with salad greens, red onions, arugula (rucola) and mint. Sauces are also standout: spicy red pepper sauce, garlic yogurt, and a yellow herb sauce. Go for all three. Have them top the whole thing with a dash of sumac and some red pepper flakes (for spice lovers) and your taste buds will go insane.
I’m told the proper way to down a Gel Gor köfte baguette is to drink it with ayran (drinkable Turkish yogurt). However, Gel Gor offers a formidable beer selection featuring prices only a few dimes over prices at a bottle shop.
Note: Gel Gor has a brother-location on Oranianstrasse called Doyuran. Unfortunately, the experience there can’t hold a hot charcoal to the one at the far superior Kottbusser Damm location. Not to mention, no golden herb sauce and a lackluster beer selection.
What to get: Köfte baguette (3.00€); even bigger köfte spezial (4.50€). Meatatarians take the plunge with the köfte plate.
Where to get it: Gel Gör Inegöl Köfteci, Kottbusser Damm 80, Kreuzberg / Neukölln Phone: 030 69582753. Open 24 hours.
2. Tadim Lahmacun
Lahmacun (Turkish pizza) at its best. A friend who visited likened lahmacun to the Turkish version of a burrito. But it’s much more than that. Lahmacun is a rolled, thin flatbread dough topped with an herbed ground meat and baked until crispy. Ask the guys to top it with salad (tomato, flat parsley, onion, lettuce), some hot or yogurt sauce and a bit of sumac, a squeeze of lemon; they roll it up a la burrito. You can also try it with döner meat inside, but we are fans of the lahmacun alone.
Call us purists. Turkish pizza purists.
What to get: Lahmacun (Turkish pizza) with salad (1.50€) or salad and sauce (1.70€).
Where to get it: Tadim Lahmacun, Adalbertstrasse 98, Kreuzberg. Phone: 030 61609280.
Tasty, accessible Lebanese food. Excellent falafel sandwiches stuffed with freshly fried falafel balls, salad and a surprisingly hefty dose of tahini (sesame sauce). Chicken shawarma sandwiches are chock-full of chicken and feature a tuck of French fries. Sounds odd, but the combo works oh so well. The final touch on both sandwiches: the stuffed pita is “sealed” in a sandwich press.
Open late and usually packed. We ate here so often that we became shareholders when we departed Berlin.
What to get: Chicken shawarma or falafel sandwich (3.00€)
Where to get it: Maroush, Adalbertstrasse 98, Kreuzberg. Phone: 030 61609280.
Gözleme generally refers to spinach and cheese or meat-stuffed Turkish crepes. But Knofi takes it up a notch with their gössies, Turkish-Mediterranean crepes rolled thin and stuffed with a spinach or ground meat-vegetable filling and cooked atop a circular iron.
It should be a crime to serve something so delicately crepe-like and tasty for so little money. The real secret, however, are the sauces Knofi sides with its gössies. Tatziki, hummus paste, and an otherworldly adjika-like, not-so-spicy chili walnut sauce. Our only regret: not eating here more often.
The cafe is labeled as an “art cafe” and features a segment of clientele trying very hard to fit that profile.
What to get: Gössies (3.80€), vegetarian or meat.
Where to get it: Knofi, Bergmannstrasse 98, Kreuzberg. Phone: 030 6945807. Note that Knofi has a deli location on Oranianstrasse which carries beautiful deli items and spreads, but not gössies.
5. Tekbir Döner
Like all good things, by word of mouth, friend of a friend. A tip from an Indian guy in the neighborhood who had himself been tipped off by a Turkish neighbor. This is how all great döner scavenger hunts begin.
Although the meat on the spindle may look sketchy: rougher, darker than other döner huts, don’t fear. Tekbir’s meat spindle is stacked with cut veal instead of processed or pressed lamb döner meat. As a result, the texture is very much real meat, like cut steak in a steak-and-cheese. And the taste is the stuff of beautiful, sweet mystery. Maybe some allspice, cinnamon or nutmeg. In any case, it’s elegant. The yogurt sauce is tart, as if it’s straight ayran, rather than sweetened yogurt or mayonnaise you might find lurking elsewhere.
The whole package is rolled in a Turkish style lavash-like flatbread called a durum.
Best of all, Tekbir is the real deal, real neighborhood, and everyone working and eating there is extraordinarily friendly. They served us free Turkish tea during each visit. It doesn’t get much better than that.
What to get: Durum döner, 3.50€.
Where to get it: Tekbir Döner, Skalitzer Straße 23, Kreuzberg
6. Hasir Restaurant
The godfather and supposed birthplace of the döner sandwich (1971). Hasir is also the place where Anthony Bourdain ate when he came to Berlin. So does Hasir live up to the hype?
While we wouldn’t count Hasir durum döner the best in Berlin, it is good. The key is the meat, possibly some of the best standard lamb doner around: nicely flavored, cut by hand, thin slices. Our only beef with Hasir is that their sauces tend to be a bit on the sweet side, particularly the funky hot sauce. Also, Hasir suffers a bit under the volume of tourist traffic, so expect occasionally brusque, yet slow service.
What to get: Durum doner (3€) to go. If you sit down, share a döner plate and some fried artichoke hearts stuffed with cheese (4.50€) or kunefe (4.50€) for dessert.
Where to get it: Hasir Restaurant, Adalbertstraße 12, Kreuzberg, tel: 030 61659222 (note: Hasir has several restaurants around town, but this is the original.)
7. Doyum Grillhaus
It’s always a good sign when a Turkish restaurant is packed with Turkish people round-the-clock. The döner meat (lamb) is spot on, piled plentifully and topped with lots of fresh salad. Great sauce with a roasted chili taste. The adana kebab (pictured above) looked pretty nice, too. Next time.
What to get: Durum döner (3.50€).
Where to get it: Doyum Grillhaus, Admiralstraße 37-38, Kreuzberg
Supposedly Vietnamese, but when a place is serving red curry, I’d say it’s Thai. Let’s split the difference and call it Southeast Asian fusion or Berlin’s version of Vietnamese meets Thai meets cole slaw. Red curry is tasty, features enough spice (as in, they didn’t cheap out on the curry paste). And the fresh vegetables and nuts on top are a nice touch.
What to get: Chicken red curry lunch special (4.50€).
Where to get it: Hamy, Hasenheide 10, Kreuzberg, Phone: 030 61625959
The vastness and deli-liciousness of this place makes it worth a stop just to look and poke around. But to eat, try the huge hunks of whitefish, the sauerkraut or dive in for the wurst lunch special. “This is the food of freaks,” we were told by a Berliner eating lunch at the next table over. After some explanation, it became clearer: what we were eating – blutwurst (blood sausage) and leberwurst (liver sausage) is only eaten nowadays by enthusiasts. And freak tourists like us.
What to get: Blutwurst and leberwurst with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut lunch special (4.50€). Break the budget and get a glass of white wine to cut the meat.
Where to get it: Rogacki, Wilmersdorfer Straße 145 Charlottenburg
9b. Käse König
Audrey and I are split on whether Käse König or Rogacki has the best blood sausage. I like the dog food-looking pile at Käse König because of that sweet little something like star anise or allspice inside. Or maybe I was just expecting it to taste like dog food and was pleasantly surprised.
The staff are very friendly as well. Worth an order, if only for the nostalgia value.
Where to get it: Käse König, Panoramastrasse 1, Mitte
Note: Another round of thanks to Taxi Gourmet for introducing us to both of these places.
10. Requisite Currywurst
Do I think currywurst is the highest quality food going in Berlin? Um, no. But I know it’s in the hearts and on the minds of just about everyone visiting. So, here’s my take.
The “best currywurst” argument is a storm in a teacup, but if sausage served with a dusting of curry powder and ketchup sounds like your thing, then it’s time for currywurst. In truth and fairness, my best memories of currywurst date back to the early 2000s and in particular, a rain-soaked R.E.M. concert in 2004. But those days — and eating currywurst at every stop from Zoologischer Garten to Nollendorfplatz — are long since over.
These days, the “best currywurst” battle rages between two places: Curry 36 and Konnopke Imbiss. Although I favor Curry 36′s marginal generosity with their curry powder and their fries (with a dusting of red pepper powder), I appreciate the less firm sausage link from Konnopke Imbiss.
But like I said above: storm in a teacup.
What to get: At Curry 36: two currywurst and French fries (4.50€). At Konnopke Imbiss: currywurst and French fries (4.00€).
Where to get it: Curry 36, Mehringdamm 36, Kreuzberg. (If you are a group and want to smorgasbord it, get a gemüse kebab from Mustafa — it should probably be on this list — just down the street.)
Konnopke Imbiss, Schönhauser Allee 44A, Prenzlauer Berg.
Honorable Mention: Türkenmarkt at Maybachufer
It’s no wonder that food in Berlin is so good, fresh and tasty. The produce coursing through all its markets is impressive. For a glimpse and taste, check out the Turkish outdoor market (Türkenmarkt) along Maybachufer and the canal in Kreuzberg. It’s open Tuesday and Friday afternoons from 12:00-6:30.
Just about everything is sold here, even open-air haircuts. In the food department: fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, spices, olives, nuts, cheese and an array of Turkish breads. And for a walk-away comfort food snack, try the gözleme from Chez Su (right side, on the way towards Neukolln) for 1.50€.
The Best of Berlin Food
If you don’t have a high-speed connection or you would like to read the captions, you can view our Berlin food photo essay.
NOTE: The original intent of this piece was to include bakeries, breakfast, brunch and a few gems between 5€ and 10€. But it was simply too long. If there’s interest, we will cover that in a separate piece.