When you come to Berlin you have to eat a Döner Kebap, it’s as simple as that. The warm meat sandwich with Turkish origins, in all its messy and juicy glory, is an integral part of Berlin’s food DNA. And with over 1000 Döner restaurants (some say 1500) scattered across the city, the next Döner shop is never more than a stone’s throw away in Berlin. Be it for a quick lunch, between work snack, or the 5am stomach filler after a night out, you can always count on the Döner to save you.
Be it for a quick lunch, between work snack, or the 5am stomach filler after a night out, you can always count on the Döner to save you
My personal relationship with the Döner Kebap is a very intimate one - some might even call it an obsession. I’ve spent the last decade combing every Berlin district for great Döner sandwiches, trying far more than 100 of them, and for this 2020 update of the best Döner Kebaps in Berlin, I left no stone unturned and no lead unexplored. I travelled to Munich and to Nürnberg and even as far as to Turkey to understand the origin of the mythical meat skewer dish, only to learn that the actual origin of the dish is a lot more unclear than Turkish-Germans claim. I went down a Döner rabbit hole of research (the longer summary of that can be found within my article “A brief history of the Döner Kebap”) but in a nutshell it can be concluded by saying the Döner Kebap was most likely not invented in Germany - as the common story in Germany goes - and that the Döner Kebaps sold in Berlin differ a lot from what you’ll find in Turkey.
The classic Berlin Döner consists of thinly sliced beef and/or veal from a vertically rotating skewer (occasionally laced with lamb fat), served in a triangularly cut and toasted pocket of flat bread with the (optional) condiments of salad, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, red cabbage and your choice of three sauces: Kräuter (herbs), Knoblauch (garlic) or Scharf (spicy). The beef döner can also be split into subcategories of “Kıyma”, which refers to ground meat (the most common variety, since it’s cheap) or “Yaprak”, which translates to “leaf” and refers to the practice of stacking thin slices of meat onto one, large skewer. Yaprak style is usually the sign of a quality Döner, especially in Berlin, so as a rule of thumb you want to look for skewers with visible layers of meat and somebody cutting meat off these skewers with a knife, not a machine.
Since the late 90’s, there has also been the increasingly popular subcategory of Chicken Gemüse Kebap, where Yaprak chicken döner is served with salad, tomatoes, onions, sauce, fried vegetables (potatoes, peppers, onions etc.), crumbled cheese and lemon juice in a pide bread. And although we’re talking about two very different dishes, I have decided to lump classic beef döner and chicken gemüse kebab into one list.
...these mayonnaise- and sugar-laced monstrosities serve no purpose other than disguising low-quality, dry meat...
Having eaten at over 100 döner shops in Berlin and over a dozen in Istanbul, I have, over the years, developed a strong aversion to the kräuter-knoblauch-scharf trinity of sauces used in Berlin. Even when made in-house, these mayonnaise- and sugar-laced monstrosities serve no purpose other than disguising low-quality, dry meat and hydrating the overly thick and crunchy döner bread style that’s common in Berlin. Over the years, I have developed a habit and principle of eating and testing döners the same way: meat, tomatoes, onions and chili flakes - nothing else. This is also the common way of eating Döner in Turkey. No salad, no sauce and definitely no red f-n cabbage. One mayor issue eating your Döner the Turkish way in Berlin is that the pide bread usually are very thick and dry as they are designed for the use of salad and sauce. Breads used in Turkey are usually softer and thinner, and for a Berlin Döner without sauce and salad not to be exorbitantly dry, you need to look for unusually high meat and bread quality and this is the case for only a very small percentage of Döner kebaps in Berlin. Most of them, you will find on the list below.
How you eat your Döner is, of course, up to you, but I encourage you to consider stepping outside your regular Döner habits. Why not skip the sauces next time? And why not skip the salad another time? Consider eating the Döner as it was meant to be eaten, with a full focus on the quality of the meat and without any distractions.
This list is a guide to the very best Döner restaurants in Berlin, from Neukölln to Wedding and Charlottenburg to Friedrichshain. As always with a BFS top list, there is no ranking between the places on the list. They are all great in their own ways and you have to read the descriptions for the nitty gritty details. Go forth, eat kebaps and hold your local döner joint accountable in terms of quality. But do remember: the strongest mechanism towards a better Döner culture is your willingness to pay just as much for your Döner as you pay for your gourmet burger.
Pursuing a style that’s pretty much identical to Imren, Tekbir in Kreuzberg has been selling hand-stacked Yaprak beef since 1979 in its tiny shop on Skalitzer Straße. The meat at Tekbir is arguably juicier than many and your chances of getting a good döner at this shop, which is run by Sahin and his business partner, is exponentially higher. A great and iconic place that deserves a lot more attention.
Looking for a delicious and authentic Turkish meal? Look no further than Tekbir Döner in the heart of Kreuzberg. This eatery offers some of the best döner kebab in Berlin, with juicy meat and fresh veggies wrapped in warm, fluffy bread. Don't forget to add some flavorful sauces to your meal for that extra zing! With its affordable prices and friendly service, Tekbir Döner is a must-visit for anyone craving tasty Turkish cuisine.
The lamb yaprak-style döner is the move - go later in the day as they've cracked into the new one by then.
The old-school champion of beef döner and the only Berlin chain which grills hand-stacked yaprak döner. The Imren-style of beef is a very specific one, where the meat is marinated in onions, yoghurt and unusual spices such as cinnamon and cumin. It’s also laced with lamb fat which gives the Imren döner its very rich taste. This used to be my go-to place but deteriorating quality and increased competition has catapulted the Imrens to the lower end of my list. The sesame-yogurt sauce is actually one of the few Döner sauces in Berlin I’d recommend though. Imren has six outlets in Berlin but the best two are the original location on Boppstraße in Kreuzberg and the one on Haupstraße in Schöneberg.
The old-school and former champion of beef döner and the only Berlin chain which grills hand-stacked yaprak döner. The Imren-style of beef is a very specific one, where the meat is marinated in onions, yoghurt and unusual spices such as cinnamon and cumin. It’s also laced with lamb fat which gives the Imren döner its very rich taste. This used to a go-to place for BFS but deteriorating quality and increased competition has catapulted the Imrens to the lower end of the Döner list. But many locals still swear by their secret sesame-yogurt sauce. Imren has six outlets in Berlin and the best two are the original location on Boppstraße in Kreuzberg and the one on Haupstraße in Schöneberg.
Go for the Döner and have onions, tomatoes and sesame sauce
K.W.A. Kebap with Attitude
The new-age trailblazer among the Berlin Döner shops. Based in Mitte, K.W.A. started in 2019 with the bold mission to elevate the Döner Kebap onto the level of gourmet burgers and pizza. Hand-stacked, free range beef and chicken döner are served as both classic and progressive options at the very cool venue on Gipsstraße. The 8€ price tag of the K.W.A. Döner is subject to constant, public debate but they have created a loyal following with their product. Personally I miss a touch of salt and umami with the beef meat and I would love to see this meat in a smaller bread. That said, the beef döner meat served here arguably comes closest to what you would get at the best Döner shops in Istanbul and it’s also one of the few places where the sauces are great.
K.W.A. Kebap with Attitude
Venture into the cosy quarters North West of Hackescher Markt for a visit to K.W.A. (Kebap with Attitude) and their contemporary interpretation of a Berlin Döner shop. Step into an energetic atmosphere where the sizzling sounds of grilled meats on the rotating spits and techno (this is in the bathroom) captivate your senses. Indulge in a Berlin kebap experience like no other as you savor their signature creations, featuring free range meat, vibrant vegetables, and bold, house-made sauces that elevate each bite to new heights of deliciousness. With its unique attitude, and a commitment to quality, K.W.A. is a unique opportunity to experience the iconic Berlin version of the Döner in a cool, modern dining setup-
Order the OG Classic with beef along with the homemade Ayran and swing by in the summer for Raki cocktails on their amazing curbside terrace.
The Wedding institution that started grilling meats in 1997. Pamfilya is a full fledged grill house, famous for their general meat quality and, specifically, their Döner Kebap. The meat is Yaprak Veal, where relatively thick slices of light veal are stacked per hand to a skewer every day. The chunky meat and the high fat content create a lot of crispy edges and beautiful texture, along with the light seasoning this is hands down one of the best Döner meats in the whole city.
Pamfilya is an iconic Turkish grill in Berlin's Wedding district, situated at Leopoldplatz. The cozy and welcoming atmosphere, combined with its traditional, Turkish cuisine, makes it a perfect spot for a lunch or a cozy dinner with friends. The menu offers a variety of traditional Turkish dishes, such as mezze plates, skewer kebaps, döner kebap and mantı. One of the standout dishes is the "Adana Kebab," a spicy minced lamb meat skewer grilled to perfection over an open fire pit, but the number one reason to come here is the hand-stacked yaprak veal döner kebap. Owner Fikri Arslan puts a lot of emphasis on quality and the lean döner meat at Pamfilya is unique and by many regarded as the best quality veal döner in Berlin.
The pro move here is to order a plate of döner meat only, ask for a plate of freshly baked lavash bread and then eat the meat in small pieces of flatbread like a taco with onions, a squeeze of lemon and chili flakes only.