Currywurst is the elder statesman of Berlin street food. Where the döner's exotic, worldly allure has propelled it to unrivaled popularity amongst Berlin's cosmopolitan youth, the humble currywurst remains the conservative, reliable street snack of the working German. If döner is the German-speaking child of Turkish immigrants, then currywurst is the German traveler who's finally returned home after seeing the world. A typically German food, a pork sausage, gets dipped in the exotic—a curry-scented bath of ketchup.
Currywurst can be found all over the city, served steaming on a paper tray with a mound of fries and an adorable little plastic fork.
Bratwurst im Brötchen
For about €1.20, you'll get a juicy Thuringer Bratwurst that's nestled in brötchen, a warm, fresh bread roll. They're often sold by "grillwalkers," who are literally freestanding food operations with a grill strapped to the operator's front, balanced by a propane tank in the back.
Schnitzel at Fleischerei Domke
In Germany, traditional Fleischerei operate in a space somewhere between a deli, a diner, and a butcher shop. In addition to selling all manners of sausages, salamis, and raw meats, Fleischerei Domke serves up real, traditional East German and Polish meals.
Huge portions and low prices ensure that the same loyal customers, mostly working-class Germans, turn up day after day to stand at the bar-like counters eating staples like pickled red cabbage, potatoes, and of course, pork. The pork schnitzel is crunchy on the outside and perfectly juicy inside, while the tangy Rotkohl and hearty potatoes make this a perfect cold-weather meal.
Fleischerei Domke, Warschauer Straße 64, Berlin-Friedrichshain
Falafel Sandwich at Falafel & Falafel
All this meat can really weigh someone down. That's where Falafel & Falafel comes in with their lovely, you guessed it, falafel. Three balls of freshly fried falafel, spicy and green with parsley, are placed in a pita with mango-curry sauce to brighten the flavor. The sandwich is topped with a salad of parsley, mint, and sliced carrots. The crowing jewel, a beautiful scoop of lemony couscous salad makes this supremely satisfying for vegans and non-vegans alike. For the latter group, you can add some fried haloumi cheese on top.
Falafel & Falafel, Skalitzer Straße 102, Berlin-Kreuzberg
Rotisserie Chicken at City Chicken
That falafel was nice, wasn't it? Now back to the meat. City Chicken serves up a supremely juicy half rotisserie chicken, pita-style flatbread, crunchy salad, crisp fries, and more pickles than you can handle. Seriously, these portions are huge.
But what sets this place apart from the dozens of other rotisserie chicken places in Berlin are the two pools of sauce that decorate every plate: freshly made hummus and a silky, pearly white garlic sauce. Its cloudlike texture and lemony spiciness takes this chicken to the next level.
City Chicken, Sonnenallee 59, Berlin-Neukölln
Foccacia Romana at Garda Pizza
You'll notice the unusual popularity of long, oblate pizzas displayed in the windows of pizza shops across Berlin. Locally known as "Neapolitanische Pizza," (as opposed to the more accurate "Foccacia Romana") the pizzas are par-baked and sliced into rectangular portions, then reheated as necessary. Popular varieties are arugula and tomato, tuna and onion, and of course, marinara (pictured). Quality varies widely, but turn to Garda Pizza in the quiet streets of Schöneberg for Berlin's best.
Garda Pizza, Crellestraße 48, Berlin-Schöneberg
Higher-Quality Pizza from I Due Forni, Il Casolare, and Il Ritrovo
If you want to step it up from that rectangular slice, check out the trio of restaurants run by a gang of Italian punks. Don't let the graffiti-covered walls and brash service discourage you: here, thin, perfectly charred crust is topped with high-quality ingredients, and with roughly 30 pies to choose from, everyone can find something they want (pictured: Pizza Romana).
Pro-tip: In the summer, go to Il Casolare in Kreuzberg and order your pie to-go, then enjoy it sitting in the sun next to the canal.
I Due Forni, Schönhauser Allee 12, Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg
Il Casolare, Grimmstraße 30, Berlin-Kreuzberg
Il Ritrovo, Gabriel-Max-Straße 2, Berlin-Friedrichshain
Cheeseburger and fries at Burgermeister
Behind Burgermeister's oddly ornate facade lurks a surprising past. Before it was a burger shop, the building was a public restroom (!). Where fidgeting businesspeople once impatiently queued up, there's now a line of a different sort. Hip young internationals come looking for Berlin's best burger here. Most everything here, from the sauces to the heavily-peppered, slightly crumbly burger patties is handmade onsite. Crisp pickles and crunchy lettuce round out the classic cheeseburger, and you should order fries with that. Don't bother asking if there's a restroom though, it's occupied.
Burgermeister, Oberbaumstraße 8, Berlin-Kreuzberg
Club Mate is a nonalcoholic beverage made from yerba mate tea. Though it's existed for a very long time, the rise of Berliner club culture instilled hypercaffinated Club Mate into the city's psyche, and no trip to Berlin would be complete without trying one.
It's light, not too sweet, and nicely bubbly. Don't worry—the alcohol deficiency can be circumvented by ordering one at a bar, having a few sips, and handing it back to the waiting bartender, who will gladly fill it back up with vodka or rum.
Obviously this had to make an appearance on the list. You didn't actually think we'd round up Berlin's best cheap eats without including döner, did you? San Franciscans will endlessly argue which taqueria rolls up the best burrito, while New Yorkers will attempt to triangulate exactly where to find the best slice. But Berliners, by and large, seem to defer to simple proximity for their döner needs. It seems that the optimal formula of bread, meat, salad, and sauce has already been perfected.
Some döner places elaborate on it, adding fried vegetables to the usual mix of sliced cabbage, cucumber, and tomato, or they make a small departure from the holy trinity of döner sauces—garlic, yogurt-herb, and spicy—but, as the city's thousands of döner chefs will surely tell you, innovation isn't necessary to sell döner. It's more a matter of being close to one.