Ask people about the hottest summer opening of 2023 and chances are ITA Bistro will be at the top of many of their lists. The project made a bit of a splash in the early stages of the summer with scene-y pop ups at Remi & Otto and, what felt like mere minutes later, at the end of June, the crew opened up a permanent space in Prenzlauer Berg on Helmholtzplatz. It took just a few months of renovation of an old pizza space and knocking down a wall to conjoin it with the former Eisdiele next door, and POW, the buzziest restaurant of the summer threw open its doors for business.
Owned and operated by a young culinary duo (and couple), with an upbringing and professional career spanning Latin America, along with stints in NYC, Micaela Longo (born in Argentina, raised in MX) and Javier Barbosa’s (Colombia) last stations here in Berlin were as the somm at REMI and chef at JaJa and Bar Normal, respectively.
With few exceptions, most of the food is cooked (or finished) in a wood-fired pizza oven - centered in a place of honor on (and clear inspiration for) their logo. Direction for the menu comes from the whole Latin American continent, each dish attempting to showcase a particular region’s culinary traditions - think moles and tlayudas from México and causas from the mountains of Peru and Colombia. Stepping into the place you’re met by a wave of cool, this crew is very young and very sharp looking and it’s hard to not get a “next generation of Berlin tastemakers” vibe. This was very much mirrored in the crowd, the place was packed to the last seat on a Monday night with a 50/50 mix of cool gastro and just generally cool people. It's cool. Get it?
“ Then came the tlayuda, a massive fried and crispy corn tortilla topped with coriander cream, salsa macha and summer vegetables and chiles - smash it and nibble in delicious small pieces. Looked great and tasted even better.
Food is shared plates, divided between small and bigger, so business as usual. Oven baked bread first, scorching hot and slightly under baked, but served with two mighty delicious butters (miso corn & ‘nduja). Smoked cod croquettes with horseradish were very solid - you’re talking to a croquettes super nerd though, and I like them more creamy than dry. Personal taste though. Green Gazpacho with stracciatella - sure why not. Then came the tlayuda, a massive fried and crispy corn tortilla topped with coriander cream, salsa macha and summer vegetables and chiles - smash it and nibble in delicious small pieces. Looked great and tasted even better. Then a potato causa topped with chicken and peas, again, another solid and moreish dish.
For mains (the larger plates); a roasted lamb in black mole served with three tortillas. Tortillas were good and flavorful, however lamb itself was served mid-rare which was a slightly confusing preparation method, as it was stuck somewhere between roasted and braised and didn’t really make sense to enjoy with the tortillas (even with the provided sharp knife). Next a bone-in cotoletta Milanese arrived with fanfare (looked damn good though!), topped with Bergkäse and Tomatoes, essentially representing the Argentinian-influenced (some say bastardized) way of Italian cuisine. Unfortunately, flavorwise it was a bit of a let down from its impressive presentation - not bad, but also not very special, pushing some of the same buttons as a frozen pizza with the hot tomato flavor. Same applies to the zucchini salad; spiralized zucchini with feta was 1990’s chic and honestly a bit awkward to eat as the spirals were exceedingly long. To round out their strong vegetarian offering, though, the pointed peppers with ajo blanco were perfectly cooked and paired well with the duet of sauces and elements on the plate - very scoopable if you have any of that bread left once it’s cooled down (seriously, wait, that stuff is like lava).
To drink, a round of helles on draft - a nice beer choice, one of the old-school Bavarian ones and house wine (bottled and branded for ITA) by the glass, which was extraordinary and great value for money (the white Verdejo for 6 EUR is an absolute banger).
Here at BFS, we’ve had many discussions this week about this restaurant and its opening and despite a few negative reviews in our circle of trusted eaters, I’m still leaning strongly positive. The starters were good-to-great, the vibe convivial and fun and the value for money also pretty damn exceptional. Also, the sheer fact that we have a cool Latin American restaurant with big ambitions is very cool. Yes, about half the dishes need some work and thinking through, but it’s very early days and the crew seems very capable. So go check it out for a light dinner, chances are you’ll have a great experience and feel your Berlin cool-cred factor rise by at least five points.
DATE OF VISIT: Monday, July 17th
STANDOUT DISHES: Bread and Butters, Tlayuda, Causa & Pointed Peppers
STANDOUT DRINKS: House Wine & Bier vom Fass
THING THAT STUCK WITH ME: The vibe and eating LatAm food in Berlin
TOTAL BILL: 177€ for two (ordered everything except one main)