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American dream: The best US food in Berlin

Berlin is blessed with some serious comfort food classics from the United States.

Photo: Fine Bagels

From apple pie to BBQ and from greasy burgers to buttery cookies, Berliners have no trouble finding some truly authentic American eats. Here are our top picks.

Best milkshakes: Route 66

Photo: Martin Popp

In all its kitschy glam-rock glory, Route 66 serves up American diner classics. They have an impressive menu of burgers and sandwiches, but their milkshakes are certainly the highlight. With classic flavours like chocolate and strawberry, they also offer indulgent peanut butter and brownie flavours.

  • Route 66, Pariser Str. 44, Wilmersdorf, details.

Best hot dogs: The Big Dog

Photo: The Big Dog

The renaissance of the hot dog is in full swing. The most recent example: The Big Dog on the ground floor of the Marriot at Potsdamer Platz, which offers an excellent alternative to the franchise monotony of the tourist mile. Their classic ‘Straight Dog’ comes in a stylish plastic basket in an aromatic, toasted sourdough roll, pickles and artisanal sausage. There are also more lavish variants, such as the Surf’n’Turf hot dog ‘Dogzilla’ and a large selection of craft beers. Don’t worry, vegetarians will be happy too, and so will children.

  • The Big Dog, Marriott Hotel, Ebertstr. 3, Tiergarten, details.

Best steaks: Midtown Grill

Photo: Ricarda Spiegel

With Australian Wagyu and Black Angus hanging in the aging cabinet, there’s no doubt this is the classic American Steakhouse. But it’s not only the ambience that reflects the tradition of American steakhouses, because the Midtown Grill actually produces excellent steaks. While waiting for your food, you can watch the hustle and bustle in the open show kitchen while sipping a martini in a relaxed atmosphere.

  • Midtown Grill, Marriott Hotel, Ebertstr. 3, Tiergarten, details.

Best bagels: Fine Bagels

Fine Bagels. Photo: Alice Connew

After almost a decade Fine Bagels, the in-house bakery and café at bookstore Shakespeare & Sons, still makes the best New York-style bagels in Berlin. Hand-rolled and boiled before baking, with a glossy, snappy skin that gives way to a chewy, soft interior, Laurel Kratochvila’s creations are best eaten fresh – or immediately frozen, then reheated in the oven the next day. Take a batch straight home, or have one on the spot topped with avocado, hummus, fancy cream cheese or the classic lox and a schmear.

  • Fine Bagels, Warschauer Str. 74, Friedrichshain, details.

Best BBQ: Lino’s

Lino’s Barbecue. Photo: Clemens Niedenthal

Chicago Williams and Big Stuff are the Berlin BBQ veterans, but the best pitmaster just might be Lino Brandi, a US-born German who honed his craft in Austin before relocating to Wedding. The style is Texan, of course, meaning brisket (from US Angus beef), spare ribs (from German pigs) and homemade jalapeño sausage, long-cooked over oak logs till delectably smoky and tender. Your best bet is a plate piled high with everything, to be consumed caveman-like with pickles, onions and spicy-sweet sauce. Next, come back for Pastrami Friday, a monthly (and always sold-out) event starring peppery brined-then-smoked beef, homemade sauerkraut and dill pickles.

  • Lino’s Barbeque, Malplaquetstr. 43, Wedding, details.

Best chicken: Humble Pie

Photo: Humble Pie Berlin

Crunchy fried chicken (or halloumi), coated in a crimson spice mix and served in a flaky biscuit with honey butter and pickles: this is Southern comfort at its best, even if the heat level is enough to make your tastebuds cry for mercy. Original founder, Tennessee native and new mom Sarah Durante recently handed her food truck’s keys over to DC-born chef Chris Haskins, but you can bet those Nashville-style sandwiches will stay on the menu, as will the namesake pies, whether key lime, apple or pecan. Look for the red wagon at street food events throughout the summer.

Best beer and sandwiches: Plus Kitchen

Photo: Plus Kitchen

One-time Humble Pie head chef and DC native Chris Haskins doesn’t only fry a mean chicken – he also puts together one heck of a deli-style sandwich, bursting with fillings like brisket, pastrami, pulled chicken or vegan fried cauliflower. At his restaurant-within-a-bar at Manifest Taproom, you can accompany it with sides like mac ‘n’ cheese topped with Flaming Hot Ch**tos, and wash it down with one of the 20-plus craft beers on tap.

  • Plus Kitchen, Manifest Taproom, Oderberger Str. 15, Prenzlauer Berg, details.

Best groceries: AmericanFood4U

Photo: AmericanFood4U

“Fuck off with your craft beer; where’s the PBR?” It’s here, underneath the S-Bahn arches across from Alexa, at this brick-and-mortar outlet run by the bluntly named online importer. The shelves are erratically stocked, but with any luck you’ll be able to find Lucky Charms, Hidden Valley ranch dressing, Old Bay seasoning, and Barq’s root beer alongside the expected selection of sugary candy and even a non-food section for those craving Bounce dryer sheets and Reese’s-flavoured lip balm.

  • AmericanFood4U, Dircksenstr. 97, Mitte, details.

Best sliders: Crackbuns

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Crackbuns. Photo: Crackbuns

The most unique offering at this fast-food outpost from the House of Small Wonder crew might be the mochi fries, but let’s not forget about the Japanese-American fast-foodery’s signature mini-burgers. If Harold and Kumar lived in Berlin instead of New Jersey, they’d be making a beeline for those ethereally fluffy buns, stuffed with browned beef or veggie patties, fried chicken or shrimp croquettes. 

  • Crackbuns, Auguststr. 63, Mitte, details.

Best smashburger: Goldies

Goldies Smash Burger. Photo: Goldies Burger

Forget the bleeding-rare steakhouse-style burgers of years past: the must-have patty of today is thin, browned and deliciously crisp, the result of being “smashed” on the griddle such that it’s forced to fry in its own fat. If you haven’t tried it yet, think McDonald’s – not the actual fast-food behemoth, but your rose-tinted childhood memories of it. At this Graefekiez stand operated by the French fry maestros of Goldies, it’s been upgraded with locally butchered beef, homemade pickles and squishy potato rolls from cult US brand Martin’s. Though not exactly gut-busting, the wee burgs are worth their €7-10 pricetag (that’s before adding a side of fries, which at this location are almost shoestring-thin). For vegetarians/vegans, the plant-based patty tastes meatier than McD’s real one.

  • Goldies Smash Burger, Graefestr. 93, Kreuzberg, details.

Best NY slice: Magic John’s

Magic John’s. Photo: Magic John’s

You don’t have to fold these thin-crusted, oversized triangles in half, as the New York cliché goes, but at least don’t use a knife and fork. NYC-bred Israeli chef Jonathan Margulies (brother of Crackbuns owner Shaul) opened his Mitte pizzeria during the depths of lockdown 1.0, and comfort-seeking Berliners instantly began flocking there for the small but potent selection of cheesy, meaty and vegan pies – including one with real US-style pepperoni, and an Ottolenghi-inspired meatless number with butternut squash, caramelised onion and za’atar. Also not to miss are the Detroit-style squares, thick-crusted with cheddar cheese, and the knots of leftover pizza dough slathered in miso or garlic butter.

  • Magic John’s, Oranienburger Str. 48, Mitte, details.

Best casual dining: Estelle

Estelle. Photo: © The Dude for Food

The seasonal vegetables and meat at this casual Prenzlauer Berg eatery might be German, but the vibes (and insanely friendly service) are pure US of A. Bring the whole family for veggie-forward sharing plates, Caesar salad and creatively topped wood-fired pizzas – like the triple-onion version with roasted, charred and pickled alliums. Finish off with a salted caramel ice cream sundae.

  • Estelle, Kopenhagener Str. 12 A, Prenzlauer Berg, details.

Best cocktails and Korean fusion: Mr. Susan

Boozy Bingsu at Mr. Susan. Photo: Bettina Grabl

When it opened in 2018, the corner bar across from Monbijoupark was supposed to be a temporary waystation for Susan Choi, teasing a full-fledged restaurant patterned after her hotly attended Korean-American fusion pop-ups. Instead, the drinks took on a life of their own – like the instantly iconic Kimchi Michelada, which arrives accompanied by a tomato-kimchi ice pop, or the Makkeolli Spritz, a fizzy, apricot-tinged drink based on the traditional rice wine. That isn’t to say you’ll go hungry. There’s usually some kind of food pop-up going on, whether it’s gourmet hot dogs or a brunch with Korean fried chicken and waffles, and if all else fails you can crack open a jar of Choi’s homemade kimchi.

  • Mr Susan, Krausnickstr. 1, Mitte, details.

Best bar bites: The Neighborhood

Photo: The Neighborhood Berlin

Friendly vibes, frozen margaritas, barely a wisp of cigarette smoke or a word of German to be found… amid the glassy Neubauten of Möckernkiez, this corner gastropub proves that you don’t need country music or trucker decór to be a real American bar. Aside from those slushy machine-mixed margs, owners Melissa and Christian Günther, from New York and Potsdam respectively, have amassed a collection of bourbon, rye and agave spirits seldom seen this side of the Atlantic, to be sipped straight-up or in speciality cocktails like the mezcal-hibiscus concoction “El Jefe”. But most come for the food. Here at last are homemade tater tots, those crispy-creamy potato nuggets made famous by school cafeterias and Napoleon Dynamite. Then there are the Buffalo wings – made with fried chicken or cauliflower, coated in a finger-licking hot sauce and served with the requisite blue cheese, carrots and celery – and Mexican-influenced snacks like fresh-fried tortilla chips with guac and homemade salsa, elote-style roast corn and, at Sunday brunch, a very legit breakfast burrito.

  • The Neighbourhood, Möckernstr. 91, Kreuzberg, details.

Best desserts: Katie’s Blue Cat

Photo: Katie’s Blue Cat

The women behind this café-bakery are Canadian and Vietnamese – but for fudgy brownies, chewy chocolate chip cookies and other sweet treats that owe their texture to the alchemy of baking soda, look no further. A Reuterkiez outlier when it opened 10 years ago, the cheery blue spot now fits right in among the chic eateries and coffee shops that line Friedelstraße (including its own sibling restaurant, the Middle Eastern-themed Kitten Deli), and remains as popular as ever with Neuköllners and US expats craving carrot cake, whoopie pies, bagels or BLTs.

  • Katie’s Blue Cat, Friedelstr. 31, Neukölln, details.

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