99 ESSENTIAL RESTAURANTS®

IN BROOKLYN

C

Café Dushanbe

Photo by René Atchison

1788 Sheepshead Bay Road

718-676-9404

Open daily, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Among South Brooklyn's numerous Uzbek restaurants, Sheepshead Bay's Café Dushanbe stands out for its superlative renditions of native standards like rice pilaf and crusty samsa (dough pockets stuffed with meat or vegetables). It's also the only place in New York — and one of the few places outside of Central Asia — where you can sample dishes from Tajikistan, the landlocked nation that borders Uzbekistan, China, and Kyrgyzstan. One of its national dishes, qurutob, arrives at the table in a hubcap-size wooden bowl bearing a Matterhorn-shaped mound of braised lamb, sweet peppers, and herbs. Underneath you'll find a deliciously soggy mess of fatir, a flatbread, which softens in boiled yogurt sauce. Round out your meal with cold salads made from vegetables like radishes and cucumbers tossed with yogurt, or meats including sliced boiled tongue with horseradish and sweet fried onions. Kebabs sizzle away over charcoal, while tabaka chickens served with sour plum sauce fry in cast iron. The kitchen even takes inspiration from French cooking, sautéing shiitake, oyster, and button mushrooms for a side dish and serving beef bourguignon in a thick red-wine gravy. Sop up it and other delectable sauces with puffy Tajik non, a bread that looks like an oversize bialy filled with melted shallots.

Café Glechik

Photo by René Atchison

1655 Sheepshead Bay Road

718-332-2414

Open daily, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

glechik.com

Of the vast and varied dumplings available to diners in this city, vareniki and pelmeni — the doughy product of Russian and Ukrainian kitchens — are among the hardest to get right; perfect specimens are both hearty and delicate. At Café Glechik, the Brighton Beach café Vadim Tesler opened in 1998, the Eastern European dumplings are right, and they crowd every table. Their skins thin, they come stuffed with meats both red and white, and vegetables like cabbage and potatoes. Sometimes they swim in butter, and they're always served with a sauceboat of sour cream on the side. Even after a dough-pocket-filled meal, save room for dessert iterations filled with sour cherries or sweet cheese. Other menu highlights include holodets, a meat jelly, and hearty soups like green borscht with rice and eggs. Porridge-like kulesh, a millet and potato stew, eats like a cross between oatmeal and mashed potatoes. Heady braises like stuffed cabbage sitting in paprika-tinted butter, or the beef- and prune-studded “Odessa,” fill deep serving platters large enough to share. With so much starch and lip-glossing fat at play, find respite in cups of the homemade fruit punch called compote, a macerated mix of cherries, apples, and pears. Tesler's grandmother and great-grandmother were popular caterers in his hometown of Odessa. At Glechik he honors his family's history while carving out a space of his own here in New York.

Café “At Your Mother-in-Law”

Photo by René Atchison

8611 19th Avenue

718-234-1940

Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

 

3071 Brighton 4th Street

718-942-4088

Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Elza Kan grew up in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, before settling in Brooklyn in 2003 to open her first restaurant, whose Russian signage translates to “At Your Mother-in-Law” (the English signage reads “Eddie Fancy Foods,” a switch from “Elza Fancy Foods” that occurred two years ago, after Kan's grandson Eddie passed away). Luckily, the Koryo-Saram women (Kan's family members) who run the show here eschew the stereotype of mothers-in-law — they're incredibly friendly. The result of a forced migration from Russia under the Stalin regime, Korean-Uzbek food pulls elements from both cuisines to derive flavors at once familiar and unique. Standard Uzbek dishes like plov — a lamb-filled, simmered rice pilaf — and bulbous manti dumplings join a vibrant array of cold and warm Korean salads available by the pound. Go for one of the hye preparations, which marinates eggplant, beef tripe, or chewy, cured chunks of tilapia in chile-spiked vinegar. While you won't find bibimbap or bulgogi on the menu, salmon and soy soups employ just the right amount of fermented zing. Chicken cooked under a brick doesn't exactly resemble the kind you find at a rustic trattoria; here it's served smothered in sweet chile sauce, crisp and reminiscent of the Korean fried birds that took the city by storm a few years ago. Chicken wings get a similar (though saltier) glaze, hidden under a mess of red and green peppers and chopped cilantro. There's only one dessert, but it's a doozy: chak-chak, a cake of fried noodles bound with honey that tastes like a subdued funnel cake.

Char No. 4

Photo by Dominic Perri

196 Smith Street

718-643-2106

Monday to Thursday 5 p.m. to midnight (kitchen open 6 to 11 p.m.), Friday noon to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. (kitchen closes at midnight), Saturday 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. (kitchen closes at midnight), and Sunday 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. (kitchen closes at 10 p.m.).

charno4.com

It may be tempting to think of Char No. 4 as “that whiskey/barbecue place,” but the wonders of this Carroll Gardens outfit advance far beyond either concept. Yes, the restaurant features more than 200 whiskeys and some of the borough's best smoked meats. But here bourbon — which general manager Dave Escovitz calls “the national spirit” — is as much a part of the menu as the entrées themselves: Each dish was conceived with the idea that American whiskey would go well with it. And smoker aside (the spareribs here might be the best in Brooklyn), chef Kyle Knall's menu gives diners the full Southern treatment, including biscuits benedict with bacon gravy for brunch, bacon and brussels sprouts as a dinner side, mac and cheese, and (on Wednesdays and seasonally) a delightfully authentic, if elevated, crisp oyster po'boy. Opened in 2008 when Smith Street was still but an outpost for even casual dining, Char No. 4 now finds itself nestled in one of the hottest food enclaves in Brooklyn. But it welcomes the company. “The whole region is expanding in terms of availability of good restaurants,” Escovitz says. “But we stand out. We're a special restaurant among a now heavily populated part of Brooklyn.”

Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare

Photo by Annie Gonzalez

200 Schermerhorn Street

718-243-0050

Dinner seatings Tuesday and Wednesday 7 and 7:45 p.m., Thursday through Saturday 6, 6:45, 9:30, and 9:55 p.m. Dinner reservations are offered for parties of two or four.

brooklynfare.com/pages/chefs-table

Luxury takes many forms, but at César Ramirez's eighteen-seat chef's counter — the most expensive table in Brooklyn and third-priciest in the city — the imported ingredients dictate the price tag ($255 plus tax and service fee) of the prix-fixe meal of delicate and often decadent small plates. From within a sleek, snug storefront attached to a specialty grocer, the gifted auteur orchestrates a procession of mostly Japanese seafood and trend-proof delicacies. The menu at Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare changes daily based on seasonal availability and chef's selection. Past ingredients have included various Japanese fish, white and black truffles, Miyazaki wagyu beef, and caviar. That last culinary delight appears in a domed coupe glass swirling with applewood smoke. Such flamboyances are a far cry from the $70 tastings the chef served in this space when it launched in 2009. But his overarching vision to put product first and build clean, precise flavors has remained true since the restaurant's rebellious BYOB days. It's those qualities that have brought him into the spotlight (he was once under David Bouley's shadow), reigning over an insular fine-dining temple where he can go experiment-crazy. Wine director Michele Smith and sommelier David Chapel oversee the mainly European wine list, whose crown jewels are arrayed inside a glass case embedded into the wall. While the menu changes constantly, one thing that's lasted through the 2010 renovation that upgraded the counter from twelve to eighteen seats is the chef's collection of copper pots, which hang over the dining area like an interactive chandelier.

Cholula Deli

Photo by Dominic Perri

222 Wyckoff Avenue

718-417-0941

Open daily, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

 

Cholulita

888 Broadway

347-435-0813

Open daily, 10:30 a.m to 10:30 p.m.

 

Cholula Deli Grocery

1481 Myrtle Avenue

718-497-4982

Open daily, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Cholula Deli is the archetypal Bushwick taqueria, or, more accurately, family of taquerias — there are three of them. Angelo Tapia and his family opened the first on Myrtle Avenue more than a decade ago. It started as a grocery selling Mexican ingredients like locally made tortillas, paletas (fruit ice pops), and bundles of cilantro, and it sprouted a taqueria not too long after. Tapia opened the second location on Wyckoff in 2008 and a third on Broadway shortly after that. All of the Cholulas now operate as grocery stores, with deli cases, dry goods, and kitchens turning out classic Mexican: tacos, tortas, huaraches, cemitas, and stews with rice and beans. Pork, in all its guises, is particularly good here — look for it in carne enchilada stained a deep orange, as al pastor with flecks of pineapple, as humble carnitas, and as chorizo perfumed with cinnamon. The Cholulas are true neighborhood institutions, multifaceted hubs to pick up toilet paper and a milky coffee, sit with a plate of guacamole and a book, or treat a cheap date.

Chuko Ramen

Photo by Dominic Perri

552 Vanderbilt Avenue

718-576-6701

Sunday to Thursday noon to 3 p.m. and 5:30 to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday noon to 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to midnight

barchuko.com

Prospect Heights ramen shop Chuko Ramen aspires to be “the Levi's of ramen shops. We want it to have a very comfortable, timeless quality,” says Jamison Blankenship, who owns the place with James Sato and David Koon. The trio met at Morimoto and became noodle-obsessed. In 2011, they opened what was supposed to be a regular old neighborhood ramen shop on Vanderbilt Avenue, immediately endearing themselves to the area's families while drawing ramen aficionados from across the city. These days queues are all but guaranteed (though at least now you can drink while you wait at the affiliated Bar Chuko right down the street), and the team makes more than 2,000 bowls of soup a week for the cozy 30-seat shop. The chefs wanted to represent ramen styles beyond the ubiquitous pork-bone-based tonkotsu, and their menu features shoyu, kimchi, and vegetarian soups, too. That vegetarian is the sleeper hit, laced as it is with miso and market vegetables. Blankenship says the kale salad, littered with crisp sweet potato, is surprisingly popular, as are the cans of sake, a highlight of the short drink menu. Look for Chuko Ramen to expand out of the neighborhood in 2015: Blankenship says a Bushwick outpost is due this spring.

The Commodore

Photo by Dominic Perri

366 Metropolitan Avenue

718-218-7632

Monday to Friday 4 p.m. to 4 a.m., Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 a.m.

Five years strong, The Commodore remains a vital hub in food-focused, restaurant-saturated Williamsburg. Cheers is a tired analogy, but it's a good one for this local drinking hole, which succeeds in shooting past dive-bar aspirations of beer-and-shot combos, drunken flirting, and cheap, greasy food. Stephen Tanner — who did time at other neighborhood staples such as Pies 'n' Thighs, Egg, and Diner — puts out a menu that's an all-hits list. Even if you stray from your regular order for green-chile pozole or seasonal vegetables, disappointment is unlikely. And when you can't decide between the superlative nachos, the painfully spicy hot fish, the cheeseburger pinned together with a paper drink umbrella, or the fried-chicken platter (three crunchy thighs lashed with black pepper and served with sweet vinegar and buttery biscuits), you may as well order one of each and call in reinforcements — or ask for another round of Schlitz. With maroon banquettes, dark wood paneling, Road House on loop, and a taxidermied fish hanging on one wall, it's a bit like your crummy uncle Skip's basement bachelor lair, but with exceedingly better blended piña coladas. Sweet, boozy, crowned with a maraschino cherry, and finished with a long float of amaretto, the drink makes for an excellent dessert that will knock you on your ass.