Tel: 49 30 323 8730
Chef Karl Wannemacher's charming restaurant, a Berlin classic, has been delighting Berliners since 1982, and over the years, his cooking has evolved in tandem with the city's increasingly cosmopolitan tastes. Among the banquettes and oil paintings that decorate the dining room, you can feast on fare inspired by traditional Alsatian recipes, but which occasionally borrows from Asian kitchens. Wannemacher's wife, Ingrid, is your host; she manages her staff with warmth and generosity as well as precision. Wannemacher's menu changes often, but dishes like his smoked-eel-and-horseradish terrine, pan-fried foie gras, and monkfish with saffron sauce show off his imagination and technical skills.
47 Französische Strasse
Tel: 49 30 2038 7110
Though the service can be a little snippy—the waiters are used to dealing with ambassadors, presidents, and prime ministers, you see—it's worth ignoring for the pleasure of a good meal in one of the favorite haunts of Berlin's power brokers. The current restaurant is actually a re-creation of the original, which was next door at No. 48 and destroyed during World War ll. Happily, the reconstruction was done with an eye to authenticity; you'd barely know this place wasn't bona-fide 19th-century. Restaurateurs Roland Mary and Marina Richter run the place like a well-oiled machine, and the kitchen sends out traditional German and French dishes of the highest standard. Start with some oysters—go for the ones from the German North Sea island of Sylt if they're available—and then try the featherlight Wiener Schnitzel (which comes with a delicious hot German potato salad), a steak, or maybe some perch in herb sauce. Since it's open late and the crowd is often glamorous, Borchardt is ideal for a post-theater supper.
The Mandala Hotel
3 Potsdamer Strasse
Tel: 49 30 5900 51234
Despite a pricey concentration of architectural statements by famous names, it's taken some time for the Postdamer Platz, for so long a no-man's-land in the divided city, to become a real part of Berlin again. Now, with the opening of several sleek new hotels, including the Mandala Hotel, a certain vitality is returning, and part of it is explained by the popularity of Facil, the Mandala's restaurant. Germans love in-your-face modern architecture, which is why the glass-cube dining room here, surrounded by a bamboo- and maple-planted terrace and sporting a retractable roof, has instantly become so popular with the city's fashion set. Even more important, chef Michael Kempf is whipping up some of the most interesting food in town. Kempf's menus change regularly, but dishes like his terrine of vegetables with cod-and-basil ice cream and bison steak with chanterelles and apricots are not only nervy but delicious. The young waiters get a little carried away with the fabulousness of it all from time to time, and occasionally Kempf gets a little too complicated, but overall, Facil does dazzling dining for a sexy international crowd.
Closed Saturdays and Sundays.
45 Budapester Strasse
Tel: 49 30 2502 1020
Ever wonder what happened to nouvelle cuisine after the French became bored with it? It crossed the Rhine and found a new life in Germany, where it's currently thriving—which is amazing, since it's been a good 20 years since Aubergine, Germany's most famous nouvelle cuisine restaurant, now defunct, wowed Munich. If the use of doilies in a restaurant often exists in inverse relation to the quality of the cooking served, the First Floor is the exception to the rule. Yes, the dining room is done up with loads of silver, showy glassware, ghastly flower arrangements, and ornate candelabras. However, young chef Matthias Buchholz is a major talent; his cream of watercress with glazed calf sweetbreads is a revelation, as is his venison with mushroom crêpes and celery root. Desserts are impressive, too, including an airy mascarpone mousse with lavender-scented honey.
Tel: 49 30 20 33 63 63
Housed in the luxe Regent hotel, Fischers Fritz is a redoubt of old-fashioned plush, wood paneling, and hushed voices. Christian Lohse's cooking, which specializes in fish and seafood, somehow manages to exceed the setting's refinement. Diners eat from oddly shaped bespoke china, and the food resembles Bauhaus architecture in its clean lines and minimal forms. Lohse creates stunningly complex flavors in his dishes, such as a tartare of smoked eel that delivers an ethereal smokiness, or a filet of red mullet that comes in a bouillabaisse-style broth that beats the original for concentrated flavor. Odd ingredients like chipirones (tiny dwarf octopus) and lily flowers abound, and the only negative may be a tendency to take things a step too far—diners may scratch their heads when comparing what's on their plates with the menu descriptions. This is, however, a good thing in the land of currywurst. For those hoping to partake of Lohse's cooking but pay less than the standard Michelin-star tab (this is the only restaurant in Berlin to have two stars), try the business lunch special.
Open daily noon to 2 pm and 6:30 to 10:30 pm.
Tel: 49 30 6188 098
The Goldener Hahn ("golden rooster") is a prime example of the Kreuzberg's recent transformation into Berlin's hippest shabby-chic neighborhood. Goldener Hahn's exposed-brick interiors and loud alt-pop soundtrack give the place an international boho feel. But the food is straight-up rich and flavorful Northern Italian, with Venetian-influenced seafood and rustic roasts and ragùs that are deeply satisfying. As starters, both caponata and octopus carpaccio are winners, the ingredients intensified by brining and lots of lemon. The pork loin roast is earthy and garlicky, and rabbit appears both as a pasta sauce and as a meat course on an elegant pile of vegetables and polenta. Definitely reserve, and dress your casual best: This is one of Berlin's more self-consciously hip spots.—Ralph Martin
Open daily from 7 pm.
Tel: 49 30 2887 9288
This luxe steakhouse in the trendy Mitte neighborhood, has none of the smoky patina and careworn charm of West Berlin restaurants, or the hyper-modern, chilly air of Berlin's gourmet establishments, but seems to have been created by three Berlin nightlife and art-world impresarios to give Berlin's casually elegant set somewhere to go. The look is decidedly un-Berlin: Rather than the typical cavernous space, it's a low-ceilinged room with plush dining chairs. The only design elements are red lamps and mirrored pillars, as well as a view of the Spree River. The food is not just an excuse to watch the beautiful people, however: Argentinean and French steaks are the stars, available in portions from six ounces and up; other meat specialties include organic pork roast and herbed veal chop. Sides, mainly varieties of fried or mashed potatoes, are elegantly prepared but are tiny by German standards; a full range of salads and oysters fill in the rest of the mix. Stick around: A raucous atmosphere sets in as the night wears on, with champagne corks flying—a taste of the decadent Berlin of what now seems like ancient history.
Tel: 49 30 442 9229
An institution in this now-gentrified East Berlin neighborhood of art galleries, parks, and smart boutiques, Gugelhof can attribute its fame to one fateful day in the year 2000, when President Bill Clinton asked his host, Gerhard Schröder, to take him to Prenzlauer Berg for dinner. After a frenzied hunt for a suitable place, Clinton came to Gugelholf, where, legend has it, he had the choucroute. The Alsatian restaurant is doing fine seven years later: Its decor perfectly evokes a central European bistro, with sconce lighting and finely carved stucco pillars. While the service is occasionally slow, the French/German cuisine is solid and often surprisingly sophisticated. Besides choucroute, menu standards include Backeoffe, an earthy herbal stew baked in an individual pot that is sealed with a crusty ring of bread, as well as flammkuchen, a flat pizza-like crust topped with sour cream, salmon, bacon, or vegetables. Fish and seasonal specialties appear on the daily menu as well. The wine list is expansive and thoughtful, with well-selected rieslings and a trove of old Bordeaux.
Tel: 49 30 6120 1003
Hartmann's is a semiformal spot just below street level. The restaurant is a few discreet rooms lit by candlelight, where starched linens and heavy silver are offset by friendly, well-informed service (English is no problem here either). The tasting menus, from three to seven courses, are the way to go. Tiny, delicately prepared Nouveau German dishes include deliciously rich smoked pork belly with langoustine and celeriac, two lamb choices (saddle or shoulder, the latter served with tall upright mushrooms that look like something out of a Lewis Carroll story), and an amazing poached pear dessert. The restaurant's suggested wine pairings include elegant French and German vintages that might otherwise escape notice.—Ralph Martin
Open Mondays through Saturdays from 6pm to midnight.
Hotel InterContinental Berlin
2 Budapester Strasse
Tel: 49 30 2602 1263
A glassed-in sliver of a dining room on the InterContinental's 14th floor, Hugo's looks out over some dramatic architecture—including the Brandenburg Gate and the illuminated-at-night Victory Column. If you're lucky enough to snag one of the coveted 42 seats, you'll find the view of your dinner plate equally compelling. Thomas Kammeier's French-Mediterranean cuisine—especially his delicate seafood preparations—have been dazzling diners since he took over the kitchen in the late 1990s. Kammeier drizzles crayfish with a cucumber-wasabi vinaigrette; he pairs crisp-fried sea bass with carrots in an orange-coffee broth, and serves monkfish with ratatouille cream and artichokes. Sample some vintages from the extensive wine list along with the view; at this place, nearly every table is next to or within clear sight of a window.
Tel: 49 30 21210
At the height of the Cold War, KaDeWe, Berlin's largest and most lavish department store, played the role of never-never land for the whole Eastern Bloc, tantalizing victims of state planning with a drop-dead display of capitalist loot and lucre. Today it perpetuates this tradition with a spectacular sixth floor devoted entirely to food and wine: easily the most stunning gourmet extravaganza to be found anywhere in Europe. Happily, you don't need to spend a fortune to have a good feed here, since the 33 different stands sell everything from freshly shucked oysters to sushi, bouillabaisse, smoked salmon, shrimp sandwiches, and perhaps most impressive of all, more than 1,200 different sausages and cold cuts that can be consumed on the premises with a variety of beers and wines. Almost every major German city has a wurst (sausage) to call its own, and this is the place to sample as many of them as you can manage.
44 Shönhauser Allee
Tel: 49 30 442 7765
Imbiss is German for snack bar, and they're a vital part of the Berlin cityscape. Though these days many of them serve doner kebabs and gyros, a reflection of Berlin's large Turkish population, a clutch of old-fashioned imbissen still offer up the wurst and wieners so beloved by Berliners. Konnopke's, in a gritty but arty part of town that was once part of East Berlin, is one of the city's most famous tube-steak merchants. Run by the same family since it opened in 1930, it's particularly famous for its Currywurst, which is a flaccid hot-dog-like sausage squirted with spicy ketchup and garnished with a generous sprinkling of rather harsh curry powder. Okay, this may not sound like a grandiose gastro moment, but few things are more essentially Berlin than gobbling up one of these with a big side order of pommes frites with a dollop of mayonnaise and a beer in the shadows of the U-Bahn on a cool, cloudy day.
Tel: 49 30 202 9540
There's a whiff of 19th-century Mitteleuropean splendor at this handsome and historic restaurant on Gendarmenmarkt. In business since 1811, Lutter & Wegner is one of Berlin's most venerable wine merchants and occupies a spacious, beautifully wood-paneled room. The menu offers appetizing French, German, and Austrian dishes, but the regulars, many of whom are politicians, all go for impeccably cooked Viennese dishes like Wiener Schnitzel or lamb with a curd-cheese crust. Hankering for something light? The steak tartare is delicious. Or German? The Sauerbraten (marinated roast beef) is superb. And if the prices in the restaurant scare you off, try the bistro, which does great salads and cold-cut and cheese plates. There are branches at 52-53 Oranienburger Strasse and in the Sony Center on Potsdamer Platz.
Tel: 49 30 617 5502
The setting for the modern Berlin film classic Herr Lehmann, a nostalgic look at scruffy Kreuzberg in the 1980s, Markthalle has served as a prime slow-Saturday-afternoon spot for decades. With its glass pie-plate lights suspended on metal stems from a high ceiling, wood paneling, and thick wood tables, it's relaxed and engaging, with a similarly easygoing menu. Breakfast is served until 5 p.m., reflecting the area's longtime status as a slacker's paradise, and the long bar here is a great place to discuss the fate of the universe over a beer, a fruit brandy, or a glass of wine. For dinner, try the excellent homemade mushroom-and-barley soup in season; meal-size salads; light-as-a-feather pork schnitzels; a wurst; or roast pork with prunes and sauerkraut. Downstairs, there's the mellow Privatklub with DJs and occasional live music (try the very popular indie-pop night).
46 Alte Schönhauser Strasse
Tel: 49 30 3087 2643
When worse comes to wurst and you decide you can't eat another Kartoffel (potato), head for the hugely popular and very trendy Monsieur Vuong. Try a big bowl of bo bun (beef bouillon with noodles, herbs, and sliced, deep-fried spring rolls) or one of the other delicious Vietnamese dishes served at this snug spot, where the red walls are decorated with large photographs of the owner's father as a handsome young man (today he's the older gent with the cigarette who keeps a beady but friendly eye on the crowd). Choose from daily entrées, in addition to superb soups, and first-rate vermicelli salad. Be forewarned: Reservations aren't accepted, and this place is often packed to the rafters.
Tel: 49 30 313 3162
The space is intimate, but the flavors here are big. Cooking for only a limited number of diners—and only in the evenings—allows chef Arthur Schneller to get picky with all the details: He ships in produce (like blood sausage and pumpkinseed oil) from his hometown village of Ottenthal, and other ingredients, such as cheeses and meats, come from local organic farms. In the tiny kitchen, he cranks out his own noodles, rolls homemade flaky Apfelstrudel pastry, and pounds out a mean Wiener Schnitzel, the size of which laps the rim of an already oversize plate. Less traditional fare includes foie gras with a fig and rhubarb mousse, and homemade lamb sausage with truffled potatoes. A few dishes across the menu are spiced up with bärlauch—a sort of wild leek, native to Germany, that has a strong, garlicky flavor. The wine list includes some 250 vintages, representing 16 different Austrian wine regions. An added plus: Schneller's is practically the only good restaurant in central Charlottenburg that keeps its doors open Sunday night.
Tel: 49 30 313 8052
Few places showcase the underlying Gestalt of the old West Berlin better than the Paris Bar. The decor was assembled by the late painter Martin Kippenberger, a star of the demimonde of artists, writers, wealthy ne'er-do-wells, and celebrities who continue to drink, eat, and soak up the smoky atmosphere. Loyal patrons, rumor has it, have been keeping the place afloat since it officially declared bankruptcy in 2005. The food, in the idiom of an old-fashioned French brasserie, is acceptable (stick to steaks and simple bistro classics like escargots), and service is often snooty and slow. But like Paris's Brasserie Lipp, that's not what keeps the crowds coming: Paris Bar is as authentic as they come, and an enduring testament to a cool Berlin that has now all but disappeared. An extensive list of fancy Bordeaux and Burgundies helps complete the picture of bygone decadence.
Tel: 49 30 448 5688
Berlin's oldest biergarten (it dates to 1837) seems like it could seat half of Berlin: It encompasses nearly an acre of blond-wood tables and benches. Its neighborhood, Prenzlauer Berg, once teemed with Marxists and East German noncomformists; now, families and trendy hipsters gather beneath the soaring chestnut trees to eat and drink. Prater serves up light, dark, and wheat beers; lightweights can try the local concoction known as a Radler (a cloying mix of beer and Sprite). The kitchen hut has the most diverse offerings of any Berlin beer garden, from grilled wursts and German-style ravioli (known as Maultaschen) to corn on the cob and Mediterranean olives. There's a rustic indoor restaurant, too—but really, who comes to a biergarten to sit inside?
44 Augburger Strasse
Tel: 49 30 2201 02288
A sleek modern room with dark parquet floor and funky modern art on the walls. Restaurant 44 exudes modern haute cuisine chic. Former head chef Tim Raue put the place solidly on Germany's map, exemplifying "Neue Deutsche Küche," or new German cooking—organic, locally sourced, high-end takes on German favorites. Among the offerings you won't find elsewhere: crayfish with goat's quark (soft cheese) and fresh apple jelly, veal with pumpkin-filled ravioli, and lobster with bell pepper foam, star-anise marmalade, and sorrel. An outstanding selection of wines by the glass and first-rate service make this an exceptionally pleasant restaurant.
Tel: 49 30 280 7121
Occupying a neo-Gothic 1878 brick building that once housed a brewery, this popular spot with an eclectic menu plays the art card in a major way—which is why the people-watching's just as good as the eating. The menu is traditional, running to dishes like smoked duck breast with ratatouille or potato soup as starters, followed by main courses like roast wild boar with prunes, veal goulash with noodles, or perch with sauerkraut and puréed potatoes. Finish up with the mocha parfait with dates, and choose one of the many excellent German wines from the fairly priced list.
101 Friedrich Strasse
Tel: 49 30 306 454 980
The newest combatant in Berlin's celebrity restaurant war, this Italian eatery is owned by the same folks who run Borchardt. Elaborately inlaid tile floors, brocade banquettes, and look-your-best lighting make the ambience work, while classico and moderno menus are both intriguing and subtle. The moderno features quite a bit of coffee and other modish flavorings, but a ricotta and salsiccia ravioli is tender and deeply satisfying. As you head into the main courses, the steaks are a dependable choice, but a tender veal chop prepared with sea salt and olive oil wins out. The seasonally available white Alba truffles enliven the simplest of dishes in true northern Italian style. The wine list is heavy on Italian bottles, making San Nicci a fine spot to rejuvenate taste buds worn out by heavy German cuisine.
Open daily 8 am to midnight.
18–20 Köpenicker Strasse
Tel: 49 30 7554 94071
Sage is one of Berlin's latest restaurants specializing in traditional German dishes gussied up with high-end ingredients. Chef Sebastian Leifer serves meltingly tender beef shoulder that is braised, roasted, and paired with hazelnut mashed potatoes, while sea scallops are served atop a crunchy, almost raw green asparagus salad with salmon caviar. The classic menu features Wiener schnitzel and steak tartare, but the surprise lineup is the one to go for: three courses offering a twist on whatever's on the regular menu (that beef shoulder may be replaced with wild boar, for instance). Opened at the end of 2009, the long, narrow main dining area is housed in a repurposed silk factory featuring vaulted ceilings and brick walls left lovingly unrestored. Like many Berlin restaurants, Sage is not content to merely serve food. Set right on the Spree, the spot also functions as a riverfront beach club, complete with a sand bank, beach chairs, and umbrellas. —Ralph Martin
54 Wartburg Strasse
Tel: 49 30 784 2059
A cheery, high-ceilinged warehouse, Storch serves excellent Alsatian fare and is an anchor for its Schöneberg neighborhood, an area not known for its cuisine. In the early evening it's a family gathering spot, but it picks up sophistication as the night wears on. Diners are greeted with a discreet welcome and handshake from the red-faced owner, Volker Hauptvogel, who's also likely to check up on the progress of their dinner more than once (in English or French, as necessary). Once considered the quintessential Alsatian joint of Berlin, Storch has lost its lock on French-German cooking and recently stopped serving flammkuchen, the "Alsatian pizza" that is now all the rage elsewhere in town. The menu changes daily, with the only constant being the famous house choucroute; other selections are bound to be heavy on meat and strong herbs. Try the ox-calf fillet in a red-wine reduction, the epitome of solid French bourgeois cooking. Game makes an occasional appearance, such as sautéed quail fillet on a mâche salad. This dish is typical of what works here: solid German-friendly fare, prepared with a delicate flourish.
Tel: 49 30 202 9730
Fashion and food intersect at Vau, generally considered the most interesting contemporary German restaurant in the capital. Count on dining in this long, brightly lit room with terra-cotta walls amid a curious mix of earnest gastro-intellectual types wearing weird eyeglasses, flashy Russian fat wallets, local Do-you-know-who-I-am? (No) film and media personalities, and a sprinkling of government ministers and tourists. Animating the place is chef Kolja Kleeberg himself, a culinary character with an unruly mane of hair, the requisite bizarre glasses, and an ostentatiously flashed tongue stud. Happily, Kleeberg's outstanding cooking justifies this scene and prevents it from becoming insufferably pretentious. Following Kleeberg's restless and often brilliant imagination, the menu changes often, but dishes like cold Jerusalem artichoke soup with quail-egg yolks and a side of venison tartare; lobster with mango and black olives; and slow-roasted pork belly with grilled scallops are honestly thrilling. Reservations are essential.
Tel: 49 30 242 5528
Because it is Berlin's oldest restaurant, founded in 1621 and hidden away in an improbably quaint warren of medieval lanes, you might conclude that this place is a "George Washington ate here"-style tourist trap to be avoided. Wrong. Despite the restaurant's notoriety, service in the small dining rooms is friendly if not always efficient, and the kitchen turns out solid, tasty Berliner favorites like Eisbein (pork knuckle), the house specialty, which comes correctly accompanied by sauerkraut, pea purée, and boiled potatoes. Though nowhere near as overpriced, this cozy spot plays the same role in Berlin as L'Ami Louis does in Paris: It's an old-fashioned bolt-hole beloved of powerful people when they get an urge for something simple. Thus it's no surprise that Mikhail Gorbachev popped in for a beer in 1989, or that Chancellor Gerhard Schröder hosted French president Jacques Chirac at a bons vivants' meal here in 2003. The menu is a hearty roster of eternal German favorites, including pickled herring rémoulade with fried potatoes; Rinderroulade, braised rolled stuffed beef with red cabbage and potato dumplings; and calf's liver with apples, onions, and mashed potatoes. On a chilly night, cozy up to the 200-year-old Majolica-tiled furnace in the tap room.