With gulls in the air and sea salt on the wind, there’s no mistaking Hamburg’s proximity to the sea, and for fish lovers, it’s a heavenly place to eat out. Whether you choose the old-school Hanseatic elegance of Fischereihafen or cutting-edge Japanese at Henssler & Henssler, this is a city where exquisite seafood reigns supreme. But it’s not all salmon or sashimi at the best restuarants in Hamburg. Firm local favorites Café Paris and Plat du Jour both offer top-notch French food and authentic brasserie charm; Lebanese star L’Orient seriously raises the falafel game; and Tyrolean locale Marend sets you up perfectly for a night out in St. Pauli with a hearty plate of Knödel. Mahlzeit!
The best restaurants in Hamburg
Right by the impressive Rathaus, Café Paris is Hamburg’s answer to the classic French brasserie and an unfailingly popular spot for lunch, dinner or an aperitif. It’s been delivering a fine line in French cuisine since 1882 and has stuck to what it does best; hearty servings of steak tartare, bouillabaisse, Merguez sausage and chips, with just one sauerkraut concession to its German environs. True to many a French eatery, it’s a resoundingly meat-led menu; vegetarian diners are limited to two main course options, though if you eat cheese, the platter makes for a hearty meal in itself. The restaurant now has three dining areas, but the most coveted tables are for sure in the principal ground floor “Saal”, an evocative Art Deco interior where bow-tied waiters move between simple wooden tables and the beautifully arched and tiled ceiling bears busty personifications of Hamburg’s prosperous enterprises: industry, trade, agriculture and shipping. For after-dinner drinks, Le Lion directly across the road is one of the most sought-after cocktail spots in town. Leave your name at the door before you dine for a better chance of getting in later.
Booking is a must at this talk-of-the-town Japanese restaurant, which many credit with the best sushi in all of Germany. From the spicy salmon tempura to caramelized sashimi and green duck rolls, the dishes look and taste exquisite, often bringing a surprising twist to classic flavors and textures. The black, white and red décor is a little blunt and underwhelming and some find the whole place a bit too packed and noisy for the prices, but most is forgiven with the first taste of impeccable, tender nigiri. The Henssler & Henssler Mix is a good option for two diners or more, while a selection of meat and fish courses cater to those less sure about sushi. If you want to see the sushi art in action, request seats at the bar.
[m]eatery adjoins the boutique SIDE Design Hotel and serves up its cooked-to-perfection dishes in comparable style. Clearly not one for vegetarians, this place is steak and tartare heaven, leaving guests from near and far in fully ironed-up raptures. It’s not just the juicy rib-eye or the succulent sirloin that leaves them swooning; the wines are excellent, too, and the staff both knowledgeable and attentive. The restaurant dry ages its beef on site and on display at the entrance—a raw butcher’s touch to the otherwise incongruously green and brown décor, which seems more fitting for an organic smoothie stall than this lavish fête de carnivores. If you’re a bit too full after your meal, the Binnenalster lake is just down the road and makes for a lovely postprandial waterside stroll, especially at night.
For old-school Hamburg class and outstanding seafood, you can choose no better than the Fischereihafen. Run by the same family since the 1980s, it combines formal elegance with warm hospitality and counts Prince and Princess of Wales among its more eminent guests. It may be plain from the brick façade but feels like the first-class dining room of a transatlantic liner as soon as you’ve stepped through the door, with candlelight, carpeted floors, white linen tablecloths and nautical scenes on the wall. Unchanged over the years, it’s by no means a hip joint, rather the kind of place you want to play a little vintage dapper and order a glass of champagne. The oysters, lobster soup, turbot and tiger prawns come particularly recommended, but everything here is first-class and supremely fresh. The views across the harbor are great by day or night, and service is impeccable. If it’s warm enough, book a table on the terrace.
This is next level falafel. Booking ahead is a must at L’Orient, an excellent Lebanese restaurant on Hamburg’s northern Osterstraße thoroughfare. It’s an ordinary street largely made up of banks, hairdressers, tanning salons and copy shops, but the food inside is quite something. Things kick off with the spectacular Mazza, delivering phenomenal flavors in individually-dished delights; for many, a bountiful meal in itself. Mains include meat, fish and vegetarian options, each beautifully aromatic, from duck breast on fig carpaccio with walnut-anise sauce to the spicy eggplant casserole with dates, almonds, raisins and pomegranate. Even when super busy, service is warm, gracious and very accommodating of any dietary needs.
Rainville is actually a hotel, though with just six bedrooms and restaurant space for 150, the emphasis here is very much on fine dining as much as overnight hospitality. The somewhat unassuming street entrance is fully compensated by the restaurant’s contemporary interior, and, above all, by the large terrace looking directly across the docks in all their gritty glory (look out for the prow-like Dockland Office building, a gateway to the Hamburg harbor and one of the city’s most iconic waterfront structures). This is the kind of place where you might meet your in-laws for a Sunday lunch, or just as easily take a date for sunset dinner; elegant design, attentive service, fresh sea air and a cracking view. The menu is succinct, refined and French-leaning.
Tucked away off an uncharismatic main road, Le Plat du Jour has no big claims when it comes to location, but nevertheless enjoys a long-standing and loyal clientele, mostly led by its excellent word-of-mouth reputation. Down to the red gingham napkins and closely-lined tables, it’s a true brasserie experience, with all the snail, duck, rabbit and foie gras dishes you might expect. A great choice for anyone doing business lunch in Hamburg, Le Plat du Jour is equally jovial of a weekend evening, with warm wall lighting and a three-course dinner menu—if you have room for dessert, the profiteroles are a win. Service is consistently great.
As the name implies, this laid-back locale is more café than restaurant, but it wins a place on the list as a Schanzenviertel staple since the early ‘80s, when the now heavily gentrified neighborhood still retained true counter-cultural credentials. It’s a great place to stop by while exploring the neighborhood, with a classic run in continental breakfast platters, a small selection of soups at lunchtime and an impressive vitrine of Kuchen. The coffee is old-school rather than third wave, the leather banquettes are faded, and service is strikingly hit or miss, but if you’re out for a classic German café with patina charm and an excellent stock of international papers, this is your place. Ask for the Apple Strudel — it may not be on display in the vitrine but it’s available every day. On sunny mornings, the terrace is lovely.
Tyrolean locale Marend may look out onto the flashing neon and screeching roller coasters of the Hamburger Dom fun fair, but inside it’s all soft lamps and candlelight, simple pinewood furnishings and flowers as diminutive and delicate as an Alpine posy. The menu is slim; the dishes are not. Hearty mountain Knödel (dumplings) are the name of the game here, with a simple choice between cheese, spinach and beetroot flavors, each served with a crunchy side salad. It’s perfect stomach-lining fodder before a night out in neighboring St. Pauli, but Marend is just as popular for cozy date nights and relaxed group get-togethers at the central table. If you do want to hit the town after dinner, the imposing grey stone building across the road was once an over ground bunker and is now home to the hot (in every sense) Uebel und Gefährlich club and concert venue.
Huge schnitzel, chilled beer, no-nonsense service and open all night; Ericka’s is a Sternschanze institution, serving up giant portions from 5pm to 2pm the next day, or 9am at weekends. With hours like these, it’s a natural favorite for the post-club crowd, who roll in around sunrise in desperate need of a salutary dose of salt of carbs. Don’t come here for the décor–musty carpet, dark wood, game machines–and don’t expect vast gastronomic choice; the biggest decision here is how to take your schnitzel—with mushrooms, fried egg, pepper sauce or “Hawaii” style with pineapple and cheese. Note that Ericka’s is a place of proud neighborhood tradition and staff don’t always take kindly to drunk and rowdy tourists. Try to be polite and patient, and try to speak at least a little German.