99 ESSENTIAL RESTAURANTS®
Photo by Dominic Perri
292 Grand Street
Sunday to Thursday noon to midnight, Friday and Saturday noon to 2 a.m.
There was once a time, before Williamsburg was Williamsburg (hell, before Williamsburg was Bushwick), when the neighborhood had few condominiums, even fewer brunch patios, and nary a baby stroller. If you wanted a truly transcendent meal, you had your choice of maybe two or three restaurants. And if you were smart, you chose M Shanghai Bistro & Garden. Flash forward to the present, and M's (as it's known to locals) should still be near the top of your Williamsburg dining checklist. Opened and still operated by May Liu as an homage to her grandmother's Shanghainese cooking, M's has cultivated a cultlike following. Classic dishes — salt-and-pepper shrimp, kung pao chicken, the thickest lo mein noodles you'll ever see — continue to inspire good-natured debate among Liu's devoted clientele. Typically, these arguments over which entrée is best will occur over a second (or third) order of juicy pork buns, for this is a dish upon which most diners can find common ground: Few people who have called Williamsburg home will admit to trying a better soup dumpling than Liu's.
Photo Dominic Perri
195 DeKalb Avenue
Sunday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight
Mark and Jenny Henegan built Madiba pretty much from scratch in 1999, eventually expanding from a small single room into a significantly larger space — the better to invite the surrounding community of Fort Greene to partake of South African food, drink, and culture. The restaurant honors Nelson Mandela: Madiba is the anti-apartheid hero’s traditional Xhosa clan name, and portraits of Mandela and wife Winnie prominently adorn the dining room. “We started very small, not thinking it would be a restaurant in the beginning,” Mark Henegan explains. “We wanted to develop a cultural hub, a place for expat South Africans and then a neighborhood spot.” The restaurant’s tagline is “A Place of Love,” and Henegan’s home-style cooking draws on the concept of South Africa’s shebeens — informal hubs where township residents gather for a good time. Menu stalwarts include samoosas (cousin to the Indian samosa), spicy chicken wings or livers peri peri, oxtail stew, an assortment of curries, and pap 'n' boerewors: a polenta-like cornmeal mash with a long link of richly flavored beef sausage nestled atop. The wine list hews to the Henegans’ homeland, and the sound system spins South African house and jazz. Recently the Henegans opened a satellite in Harlem. “Hopefully, this place will never disappear,” Mark tells the Voice. “It’s not really a restaurant, it’s an institution, a cultural platform for South Africa, a mini-vacation. It’s the community that makes the restaurant. Harlem has a similar diversity — a concept like this would never work in an all-white neighborhood. People come from all around: rich, poor; black, white; gay, straight; families, and people looking to party late. It’s a one-stop shop.”
Photo by Nicole Franzen
298 Bedford Avenue
Monday to Thursday 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. (kitchen closes at midnight, oysters available to 1 a.m., bar to 2 a.m., except Thursday — oysters to 2 a.m. and bar to 4 a.m.), Friday 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. (kitchen closes at 1 a.m., oysters available to 2 a.m., bar open to 4 a.m.), Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. (kitchen closes at 1 a.m., oysters available to 2 a.m., bar open to 4 a.m.), and Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. (kitchen closes at midnight, oysters available to 1 a.m.)
Boasting the largest and finest selection of oysters is no mean feat in any borough, but Maison Premiere makes it look effortless. On any given day the bivalve selection here can run north of twenty different specimens from both coasts, including connoisseur fare such as Belon oysters from rivers in Maine. But that’s not the reason this restaurant is perpetually packed. As compelling as the shellfish are bartender Maxwell Britten’s cocktails, dapper concoctions served in antique glassware. Then there's the absinthe list — order a pour and enjoy the theatrical ceremony that comes with it. Owners Joshua Boissy (a former model) and Krystof Zizka opened Maison Premiere in 2011, and they created a space that looks like a disregarded soundstage from Boardwalk Empire. Servers sport thin suspenders and heavy tweed pants and wear their hair slicked back, as if they got ready for work in 1920s New Orleans. While Maison's dining room is usually filled with daters sharing seafood, the most lively spot to sit is at the bar, and one of the best times to commandeer a stool is during happy hour, which runs from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. That's when you'll find $1 oysters, served by the dozen (or several dozen). Be prepared for a wait: The locals know this is one of the best happy-hour deals in Brooklyn, and they line up for it.
Photo by Jennifer Spengler/Creative Commons
97A Hoyt Street
Monday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m., Tuesday to Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. to midnight, Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. to midnight, Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.
Five years ago, Noah Bernamoff had scant restaurant experience, but the Canadian native was tired of delicatessens that focused on quantity rather than quality. Inspired by the straightforward Montreal-style kosher fare he grew up eating, and determined to bring the lunch counter into the 21st century, he opened Mile End in Boerum Hill. Bernamoff started with a menu of about eight specialties from his hometown. The poutine (gravy-soaked, cheese-curd-speckled fries) and the dry-cured brisket in the sandwiches, in particular, drew famously long lines. Those items still command a fervent following, but Mile End has since morphed into a full-fledged restaurant, complete with outstanding assortments of craft beers and boutique wines. Menu offerings have expanded to include more Jewish staples and Middle Eastern–tinged selections. (For our money, the chicken schnitzel is an especially excellent addition.) Although Bernamoff sees Mile End as a comfortable neighborhood joint, he considers himself and his concept a disrupter of the status quo — and the fact that he’s right is evidenced by the dozens of similar concepts that have opened throughout the nation. That's fine with him; he's pleased to have started a conversation about modern delis. “People are interested in how we've given it a facelift," he says.
Photo by René Atchison
1827 Coney Island Avenue
Open daily, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Between Romania and Ukraine lies Moldova, a modest, landlocked Eastern European republic with a knack for winemaking — and a few thousand expats who live in NYC. For those curious about his home country’s cuisine, Radu Panfil created Moldova, the restaurant, which he opened in the summer of 2012 on Coney Island Avenue in Midwood. Though his intention was to build a “casa mare” — a kind of grand banquet hall or meeting room — for Moldovans to celebrate their culture and history while indulging in rib-sticking Balkan fare, the rest of the city took notice. Indigenous mamaliga, a cornmeal porridge that forms the base of several starchy small plates and side dishes, alone justifies the trip. Boiled, formed into orbs, and fried, the fritters hide chunks of soft bacon and feta cheese. Start with cold cuts and house-made pickles — lusciously tender veal tongue takes a proper lashing from horseradish sauce — then turn your attention to grilled mititei pork sausages covered in sautéed peas and onions. Main courses are hefty and include crisp chunks of fried pork neck, whole grilled trout, and rabbit smothered in white gravy. End your meal with sour-cherry crepes or baba neagra, a burnt sour-milk cake flavored with sour cherries.
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