Schnitzel, Bratwurst, Currywurst – Never heard any of those words before? You're probably a newbie to German food. But as Los Angeles is continuously expanding and including flavors and dishes from around the world, the food culture in and around the city can provide locals and nostalgic German tourists with some authentic, homemade-style sausage dishes – and, of course, some premium import beer.
The most notable but least authentic German cuisine in Los Angeles comes from the restaurant-bar Wurstküche. With two locations in Venice and Downtown and about 150 employees, it is a popular spot to get lunch with friends or have a good German beer on a weekend night. But the locations are usually so crowded that it's hard to find a spot or grab the bartender's attention for a refill.
Cousins Joseph Pitruzzelli and Tyler Wilson, a USC alumnus, own and manage the restaurant, which opened its first location more than eight years ago.
"We wanted to create a beer and sausage restaurant," Wilson said, "and a German brand made so much sense."
Wurstküche, a fairly hard to pronounce name, means "sausage kitchen." The name was the result of a coincidence: Pitruzzelli merely skimmed through a German dictionary, picked a word, and voilà. The inability of most costumers to properly pronounce the word came to feature heavily in the restaurant's marketing, including an advertisement that showcases the customers' struggles.
Wurstküche's most popular beer out of the spigot is Franziskaner, a popular German wheat beer from Munich. The bratwurst, or sausage, however, is not quite as authentic. As the managers experiment with different types of sausage to diversity their menu, they are also distancing themselves from the classic version that can be found at every beer festival or Christmas market in Germany. Typically, this sausage is eaten in a baked bread roll with mustard or ketchup, no add-ons like peppers or onions. Longing for authenticity? The plain bratwurst doesn't taste quite as it does in Germany, but it comes closest out of all the options.
Close to the downtown location of Wurstküche is another restaurant that satisfies sausage connoisseurs: Berlin Currywurst. Owned and managed by Hardeep and Lena Manak, a young couple from Berlin, the stand at Grand Central Market attracts both tourists and locals with juicy sausage draped in a thick, brown, spicy sauce and covered with sprinkles of yellow curry powder. It not only looks authentic but also tastes like it came straight from a street cart in Berlin.
Though staying authentic, Hardeep and Lena Manak also adapted to Los Angeles' food culture by choosing to serve only organic sausage and offering tofu options for customers.
"It's still traditional currywurst, but we're experimenting and developing variations, such as sausage with pepper, garlic or jalapeños, as well," Hardeep Manak said. Classic currywurst, however, remains customers' all-time favorite.
The couple's concept of delicious, authentic German food with slight tweaks and experiments paid off ever since they opened their first restaurant five years ago: Last year, Berlin Currywurst expanded to New York, adding to the already existing locations in Silver Lake and Downtown LA.
There's one thing missing at both Wurstküche and Berlin Currywurst, though: a beer garden. To many who have visited the country, this typical German restaurant image stays with many as a place of chatter, laughter, cheers and the smell of french fries and schnitzel (a breaded and pan-fried veal steak – not to confused with the fast food chain Wienerschnitzel, which mainly serves hot dogs).
Craving actual schnitzel? A visit to Red Lion Tavern in Silver Lake is your best option in the area, serving not only delicious food, but further providing a real, authentic, beer garden feel.
On a good weekend, 160 people fill the indoor bar area and the outdoor seating area, manager Stephanie Powell said. The waitresses here wear a dirndl, a traditional Bavarian dress and a must-wear for any Oktoberfest celebration or for beer garden employees in Germany.
"Our great selection of beer and outdoor patio is a recipe for success," Powell said.
Powell has never actually been to Germany, but her restaurant is hard to out-do in authenticity. It opened as an English pub in 1959 and transitioned to German cuisine in the 80's.
Since then, the restaurant shows every game of the German national soccer team and celebrates Oktoberfest, which takes place in September every year.
Can't wait until September? Stop by Red Lion Tavern, Wurstküche or Berlin Currywurst for some German beer and sausage that will get you pumped for the next Oktoberfest.