Brooklyn is brimming with great food, and locals aren't shy when it comes to telling you where to go for the best bagels, pizza, barbecue and cheesecake. But if you're just getting started and want to plan your own eating tour, check out our user-friendly field guide to the borough's culinary all-stars and exciting upstarts, including the haute, the hip and the just plain lovable.
Start with the classics. After more than 100 years, Peter Luger Steak House is still the boss when it comes to porterhouses, Bamonte's is unbeatable for linguine with clam sauce and Ferdinando's Focacceria remains the godfather of Sicilian-style street food—find paradise in a sandwich of panelle (chickpea fritters) with fresh ricotta. Three old-school pizza joints vie to be numero uno in your heart: Totonno's in Coney Island, Di Fara in Midwood and L&B Spumoni Gardens in Bensonhurst. Each has die-hard fans who will argue for its supremecy, but all are worth the trek. Manhattanites have also been sweet-talked over the bridge for decades for romantic dinners at the River Café and the City's most famous cheesecake at the original Junior's, which has been open since 1950.
The Next Wave
Of course, Brooklyn is not only about the old standbys. A crop of newer restaurants have contributed to the borough's ever-hipper image and established themselves as destinations. Among them: Pok Pok Ny near Red Hook, where chef-owner Andy Ricker channels Southeast Asian street food in a casual setting. The must-have dish: Ike's Vietnamese fish sauce wings. The tiny Iris Cafe, in Brooklyn Heights, is cute enough to be in a fairytale—and the New American fare (and coffee) is satisfying. Vinegar Hill House is also enchanting in design—it resembles a Victorian saloon and has a lovely back garden—and its menu includes a memorable chicken liver mousse and cavatelli with wild mushroom bolognese. Another old-timey saloon, Butter & Scotch, has brightened up the Crown Heights scene by pairing luscious desserts with potent cocktails. Mention Bay Ridge, and culinary insiders will extol the fabulous Middle Eastern home cooking found at Tanoreen via chef-owner Rawia Bishara. And everybody is sweet on Emily in Clinton Hill, furnishing thin-crust, wood-oven pizzas and a dreamy, dry-aged burger.
Eating by Neighborhood
BoCoCa, short for Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, is lined with beautiful brownstones and good restaurants—so we'll zero in on the highlights. The Franks—Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo—are local heroes for Prime Meats, a rustic watering hole featuring pre-Prohibition-era cocktails and eastern-seaboard-sourced oysters and meats. The team's Frankies Spuntino is another neighborhood gem, whose informal atmosphere belies its masterful house-made pasta and inventive salads. The duo of Walker Stern and Joe Ogrodnek are behind the world-class Battersby, whose menus change with the seasons. For tastes of southern Spain, head to La Vara; if you're in the mood for a Parisian bistro, go with French Louie. The best fried chicken with cheddar waffles? Buttermilk Channel. The most amazing smoked meat sandwich? Mile End Deli. And for an old-fashioned egg cream or ice cream sundae, there's no more endearing soda fountain than Brooklyn Farmacy.
Williamsburg is packed with interesting eateries. Traif, true to its name (which means nonkosher food), serves soulful pork and shellfish dishes created by talented Jewish chef Jason Marcus. At Brooklyn Star, Joaquin Baca dares to dish out surprisingly delicious fried pig tails with tater tots, among several other Southern-inflected specialties. Bold sandwiches don't get any better than the behemoths found at Meat Hook Sandwich. The bluesy Maison Premiere is aphrodisiacal for oysters and absinthe drinks, and just try resisting the down-home goodness of fried chicken and banana cream pie at Pies 'n' Thighs. "Brooklyn-style" barbecue makes a strong showing at BrisketTown and Mable's Smokehouse, both fun roadhouses. Fette Sau also has revelatory, wood-smoked pork shoulder and ribs—while its nearby sister restaurant, St. Anselm, offers wood-grilled steak, pork chops and whole trout. There's often a wait at St. Anselm—so why not kill some time across the street at one of the borough's best dive bars, The Commodore? With good music, a chill vibe, hot chicken sandwiches and cheeseburgers, you might end up staying late into the night.
Neighboring Greenpoint's dining scene is divided between old-school Polish places like Karczma and new wave restaurants like Five Leaves. Paulie Gee's is among the best of Brooklyn's current generation of pizzerias. For seafood, it's hard to find anything fresher than the specimens at Greenpoint Fish & Lobster. And no visit to the neighborhood would be complete without stopping for sweets at local standby Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop, which has been in the neighborhood since the 1950s (the red velvet doughnuts get most of the buzz, but you can't go wrong with the plain variety).
Bushwick has developed into an artists' enclave, but you'll see more than just the creative crowd at offbeat hangouts like Roberta's. So celebrated for its pizza and garden-fresh vegetables, the restaurant has lured the likes of Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton to the neighborhood. When the wait for a table is long, keep the nearby Sincerely Burger in mind, which sports its own quirky charms to go with its customizable patties, fries and cocktails.
Bedford-Stuyvesant has a well-preserved historic district of beautiful Victorian buildings and has seen a crop of new restaurants emerge in recent years. Sister restaurants Peaches and Peaches Hothouse produce urban takes on Southern comfort food—for example, black-skillet chicken with hoppin' John and shrimp and grits. Saraghina serves homey Italian fare like brick-oven pizzas, seasonal salads and fresh pastas. And you can't leave Bed-Stuy without dropping into Dough for fat, fluffy doughnuts with au courant glazes like hibiscus and chocolate salted caramel.
Gowanus has more of an industrial feel, and excellent new small businesses have found a foothold there. Runner & Stone, founded by executive chef Chris Pizzulli (ex-Blue Ribbon) and head baker Peter Endriss (ex-Per Se), crafts peerless seasonal dishes, breads and pastries. Four & Twenty Blackbirds, from sisters Melissa and Emily Elsen, bakes glorious, all-American pies. Littleneck reimagines—some might say even improves upon—the Cape Cod clam shack, while Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue deftly pit smokes the humanely raised meats it sources from local farmers.
Red Hook is a great day-trip destination when the weather is nice, and you can get there by water taxi. The Red Hook Lobster Pound serves up comforting seafood like amply stuffed lobster rolls, lobster mac and cheese and beer-battered fish and chips. Other local favorites include Fort Defiance for intelligent takes on cocktails and bar food, Defonte's for monster-size Italian heroes and The Good Fork for globe-trotting bliss from a mom-and-pop operation. But if you listen to critics, the main reason to save your appetite for Red Hook is the smoked meats at Hometown, a honky-tonk with mouthwatering beef ribs and brisket.
Park Slope is more of a bucolic, baby-stroller community where every breakfast should begin with dense, slightly sweet bagels from Bagel Hole, said to be Mayor de Blasio's favorite. Intimate Italian trattoria Al di Là is a go-to for date nights. For creative Asian fusion, hit Talde and immediately order pretzel pork-and-chive dumplings. If it's sushi you want, know that Sushi Katsuei offers outstanding omakase for roughly half what you'd pay in Manhattan.