• Germany's news in English

Mexican foodies take Berlin's taste buds south of the border

Kristen Allen · 10 Nov 2009, 17:26

Published: 10 Nov 2009 17:26 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Before Maria Bonita set up shop in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district, the only authentic Mexican for sale in the German capital was produced by a lone man who hand-pressed tortillas in his own kitchen and delivered them by bicycle.

His name and website were whispered breathlessly between spice-starved expats indignant over the bland and bungled restaurant imitations, where ketchup with onion bits passed for salsa, pre-packaged tortillas gummed up their guts, and kraut - that's right, kraut - rounded out the garnish.

When the California-style burrito shop Dolores finally started offering some tasty solace to Berlin residents a few years ago, it in many ways only fuelled the hunger for quality tacos, tostadas and tamales.

It was around this time that the business of Adan Narvaez, the one-man victualler behind La Tortilla Atomica, began to boom. Starting with a single tortilla press, he has since expanded to a larger kitchen with two employees, a more diverse menu and even a regular catering gig at the Mexican embassy.

“Most of my clients are American and when I ask why they’re so hungry for Mexican food they tell me it makes them feel at home,” he said. “It was surprising, but they really know authentic Mexican food. Germans still think it's just nachos and fajitas.”

Narvaez told The Local he is planning to open a restaurant in central Berlin soon – but he got some formidable and unexpected competition this July when three friends opened the Maria Bonita snack shop on Danziger Strasse.

Within just a few days, the name of the pretty Mexican lass was pulsing through internet chat forums and herds of hungry hipsters were chowing down on fresh fish tacos with sublime chipotle mayonnaise, glorious green enchiladas and guacamole to write home about.

Three amigos

Ramsés Manneck (25), Trey Wright (31), and Julian Boyce (26) met while working at a Berlin tours outfit and slinging burgers at White Trash Fast Food. They came up with the idea for a restaurant that served what Manneck describes as “authentic Mexican street food” in November 2008 when they tired of working for other people.

“It was a definite gap in the market,” Wright, a gringo who grew up near the Mexican border in El Paso, Texas, told The Local.

Manneck, who grew up in Mexico City where he owned a restaurant before coming to Berlin, says he “can’t cook for shit,” but knows what’s good and insists that all their spices are imported from Mexico.

“There is no Mexican food here,” he says. “Food in general here sucks.”

As for why no one has managed to open a Mexican restaurant before, Manneck laughs.

“Mexicans can be lazy – I hate to use a cliché – but this food is labour intensive,” he says.

While Manneck mans the register and waits tables, Wright and Boyce, who hails from Sydney, Australia, cook. The most striking thing about the three is that no matter how busy their tiny joint gets, and despite working 16-hour days, seven days a week, they seem to be genuinely having the time of their lives.

“It’s pretty much the only thing we know how to do,” says Manneck.

And though Wright says he never actually made a tortilla before they started the business, they all agree it has been a success in the four months since they began. Most of their customers are expats, though they are “breaking in” the sensitive palates of their German customers.

“We thought it would be street food, but I guess it has a good vibe because people come in and stay – the restaurant on the corner has started charging to use the bathroom because all of our customers go there,” says Boyce, the most talkative of the group, as he deftly rearranges vats of freshly prepared salsa and guacamole, a task he calls “fridge Tetris.”

In addition to the challenges of operating on a shoestring budget that inspired a creative approach to the restaurant's decor, the Maria Bonita boys also had to grapple with a shortage of suitable ingredients such as ripe avocados and a very sceptical Corona beer rep.

“They gave us a crappy, leaky fridge,” Manneck says. “They didn’t take us seriously, now they come and visit all the time. We’re one of their top sellers.”

Story continues below…

Knives and testosterone

They have since been provided with a functioning refrigerator, and in their limited time off, have found a new business partner and plan to open a larger restaurant with an expanded menu and a bar featuring top-shelf tequila and mezcal.

“There will be more knives and more testosterone,” Manneck told The Local.

The three signed a new lease contract this month for their bigger place, which is expected to open next spring. They won’t say where just yet, but promise it will be in central Berlin.

“And it’s going to have toilet!” Manneck adds. “And late-night debauchery until 3 or 4 am.”

Until then, customers can keep warm and ease their anticipation with a new delivery service and a winter menu that includes chicken enchiladas with mole sauce, mushroom tostadas, lamb tacos and a chili hot chocolate.

“If it doesn’t taste like what I had in Mexico we wouldn’t do it,” Manneck says.

Related links:

Kristen Allen (kristen.allen@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

11:11 November 11, 2009 by Portnoy
Those guys rule. The food is as good as the atmosphere. Worth a stop even if you're only in Berlin for a few hours (I recommend the carnitas or the shrimp/fish tacos).

But let's not forget our buddies at Dolores too! Kick-ass California burritos that are also worth a try (Chipotle chicken). Both places have made my life in Berlin so much better (and it was pretty good to begin with).
21:17 November 14, 2009 by rfkolbe
¦quot;Mexicans can be lazy ­ I hate to use a cliché ­ but this food is labour intensive,¦quot; he says.

Nice bit of bigotry here. One can say that about ANY group of people.

Perhaps one day Mr. Manneck will take a sociology class. This is an intro topic.
22:15 November 14, 2009 by Rolf100
As a German American - Mexican being lazy is an ignorant statement! I have found, as a group, the people residing in the US being of Latin American heritage are the hardest working people I have had the privilege to work with. I am not speaking of the illegal immigrants; but I am speaking of people who work harder and longer than any other generally identified group of people.
22:54 November 16, 2009 by Portnoy
He was making a joke. Saying they're "the hardest working people" is just as racist as the other way around.

Their food rocks.
14:48 November 18, 2009 by LeahG
This is exciting! Dolores is the only place I know. All the other "Mexican" restaurants are so offensively bad. I will definitely check it out. As for those so sensitive about a Mexican guy calling Mexican people lazy. You need to take it in context. We (Mexicans) can do that to our own culture. Maybe you guys need a sociology class. Let me guess, you're all guilty feeling white people aren't you? Of course it was a joke and juvenile of him to say, but he's young and that's his prerogative.
16:48 November 18, 2009 by The skeptic expat
I am American and lived allot of my live around people from Mexico. Working with them they work super hard working people
21:18 November 18, 2009 by wpfaeffle
Nice story, but I haven't yet encountered a lazy Mexican. They are workaholics at unfortunately low pay.
03:52 January 11, 2010 by gherhardt
Mexicans have a self-deprecating sense of humor( and a wonderful sense of taste), so I don't think Ramsés meant any wrong by his comment. I've been living among them for many years, and I've found them intelligent, warm and fun as well. To my tastebuds, there is no better food than Mexican food with hundreds of tastes and variations. Cheers and good luck to Maria Bonita.
Today's headlines
This is how much startup geeks earn in Germany
Photo: DPA

A comprehensive new survey of 143 startup founders shows how much you are likely to be earning at a German startup, from entry level all the way up to sitting on the board.

Man dies after beating for peeing near Freiburg church
The Johannes Church in Freiburg. Photo Jörgens Mi/Wikipedia

A middle-aged man from southern Germany has died after being attacked by a group of men who took umbrage with the fact he was urinating in the vicinity of a church.

The Local List
Seven German celebrities with uncanny doppelgängers
Former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and actor Alec Baldwin. Photo: DPA; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Check out these seven look-a-likes of well known German figures - we admit that some are more tenuous than others...

Israel seeks to buy three new German submarines: report
A Dolphin class submarine. Photo: DPA

Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of €1.2 billion, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday.

Here’s where people live the longest in Germany
Photo: DPA

Germans down south seem to know the secret to a long life.

More Germans identify as LGBT than in rest of Europe
Photo: DPA

The percentage of the German population which identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new study.

'Reichsbürger' pair attack police in Saxony-Anhalt
File photo: DPA.

A "Reichsbürger" and his wife attacked police officers on Thursday, just a day after another Reichsbürger fatally shot an officer in Bavaria.

Five things not to miss at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Photo: DPA

From consulting a book doctor to immersing yourself in an author's world with the help of virtual reality, here are five things not to miss at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.

Parents who don't get nursery spot for kid entitled to pay
Photo: DPA

The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) ruled on Thursday that parents whose children don't receive placements in nursery care are entitled to compensation.

Eurowings braces as cabin crew union proclaims strike
Photo: DPA

A union representing cabin crew for Lufthansa's budget airline Eurowings announced that strikes could take place at any time over the next two weeks, starting on Monday.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd