From old reliables to flashy newcomers, here are the 13 best spots for eating Korean out in Berlin.
Most mandatory mandu
For the most part, year-old Kreuzberg restaurant Crazy Kims is an egregious case of style over substance; that beautifully patinaed copper bar can’t make up for the overpriced mains or too-greasy scallion pancakes. But chef Hea-Yung Kim’s signature dumplings really are a marvel: filled with meat or veggies, these silky parcels arrive beneath a plate-sized cornstarch lattice that adds a loud, satisfying crunch to every bite. Split a serving or two (€6.90-7.50 for four), then go elsewhere for your real dinner.
Don’t scoff at the chili peppers beside the menu description of the tofu stew at Madang, that 10-year-old stalwart off Mehringdamm. Where most versions of soondubu in this city stick to “German spicy” Scoville levels, this one is a burbling crimson death cauldron whose searing heat is mitigated neither by the raw egg cracked into it nor the white rice served alongside. It’s delicious, but not for the faint of heart – or lower intestine.
When it comes to “classic”, Schöneberg’s Hodori tops any list as the go-to restaurant for any Korean in town. But be aware: you don’t go there for top-quality ingredients, inventive cooking or chic ambiance; you go with 10 or so BFFs (or Korean family members) to hose down huge portions of tabletop bulgogi and ketchup-smothered fried chicken, and stagger out smelling like grilled meat, garlic and booze. The same applies to Hodori’s even more stripped-down sibling Arirang, which has migrated all over Berlin but had branches in Charlottenburg and Friedrichshain the last time we checked.
Never had Hadong green tea? There’s no better place to sip this traditional royal delicacy than in the warm wooden interior of Friedenau hidden gem DaBangg, surrounded by delicate ceramics, tchotchkes and the strains of (occasionally live) classical music. Hye-Soon Park’s food is as homey as the atmosphere and includes a very decent stone-pot bibimbap, fresh (and free) banchan, and homemade rice cakes for dessert.
Neukölln newbie Ogam doesn’t look like much – or even have a liquor license – but if Preis-Leistungs-Verhältnis is what you’re after, look no further than the humble dishes served within its bare white walls. The chilly naengmyeon noodle soup rescued us from an August heatwave for just €7.50 (€6 as a lunch special). For colder weather, there are stews served on personal hotplates. Here’s your chance to have the American GI-inspired budae jigae, a don’t-knock-it-till-you-try-it mix of instant noodles, kimchi, canned beans and Spam.
Craving fried chicken, Korean-style? At Kokio, the vibe-y gastropub by Prenzlauer Berg’s Kulturbrauerei, you’ll be promptly served huge platters to share (XXL portions are for two minimum, including fries, pickled radish and shredded cabbage). Unlike at Angry Chicken and its ilk, it’s not just wings or drumsticks you get here. Instead, just like in Seoul, it’s either a whole chicken or its deconstructed parts, with or without bones, by its crispy self or smothered in finger-lickin’-good sauces like soy-wasabi or the wicked ‘Super Hot’. For anti-pollotarians, there’s fried tofu or the more exotic golbaengi (sea snail) salad. The latter is appreciated by Kokio’s many Korean hipster patrons, who wash it down with Hite bier or a shot of the many soju and other rice alcohols on offer (€12.50 for a platter of six shots!).
Best MSG-free BBQ
Want “authentic” without the ubiquitous flavour booster? Three-month-old mother-daughter restaurant Gokan in Schöneberg serves superior BBQ made from quality ingredients. Be it Argentinian sirloin, traditional bulgogi (cooked yuksu-style with broth, scallions, and glass noodles, €18.90), or the German entrecôte (Ros, €20.80), here it’s the meat, not the seasoning, that’s given the spotlight – though you might need some home-mixed gochujang-garlic dip to punch up the glutamate-free feast. This is also the place to try makchang (€24.90), a pungent dish of pig intestines that are marinated for five days, then chopped and sautéed with scallions and rice alcohol… at the table. Don’t be shy about asking for free refills of seasonal sides like kimchi, aubergines and soybean sprouts, and order the matcha bingsu for a dessert (condensed milk shaved ice, topped with nut brittle with or without green tea powder) that tastes as wonderful as it looks.
Best fusion (high)
Six years after Exberliner first reported on Kochu Karu, the Prenzlauer Berg restaurant – brought to us by a Korean soprano and a Spanish chef with a yen for Brandenburg produce – is still going strong. In February, it earned its second Michelin Bib Gourmand nod for ever-more-ambitious small plates like Iberico sausage with tteok rice cakes or grilled mackerel with marinated apricot. Dessert? Still hotteok, doughy pancakes filled with cinnamon and honey.
Best fusion (low)
Remember Korean tacos? Lauren Lee of Fraulein Kimchi still does. Two years after the closure of her restaurant, you can find her serving corn tortillas full of gochujang-marinated pulled pork and braised bulgogi-style beef versions at street food fairs and special events. Conversely, the former food-truckers of Son Kitchen now run a brick-and-mortar on Kantstraße, where they throw kimchi on everything from burgers to rice croquettes to very questionable “tacos” made with pita bread.
The oldest Korean restaurant in Berlin is Seoul Kwan in Friedenau, but the oldest one anyone cares about is Ixthys, that Schöneberg nook where the owners really want you to find Jesus. They’re still there and still proselytizing after 18 years, although the wait times are long and the bibimbap isn’t quite as good as you remember. Meanwhile, Yam Yam just celebrated 10 years since turning Korean food into a valid lunch option for Mitte’s artsy-yuppie crowd, and their signature mung bean kimchi pancakes and the jukgaejang beef soup are still among our favourite.