There’s something about Brooklyn these days that has inspired me to eat well above my means. With skyrocketing rent and rampant gentrification at every corner, neighborhoods like Prospect Heights and Crown Heights are becoming increasingly difficult to afford.
So what do I do to counter these woes, when the majority of my paycheck goes towards keeping a roof over my head, paying off student loans, and covering that pesky monthly $112 subway card? Why, I take an Uber to a Michelin star restaurant and drown my sorrows in some of the worlds best food and drink.
Needless to say, Brooklyn is a hell of a place to live if you’re a foodie…and just about everyone I know who’s moved to Brooklyn has embraced this reality in some form. Since the cost of eating out is a prohibitive factor for many, I’ve put together a list of Brooklyn Restaurant Power Rankings that culminate my personal opinions of some of Brooklyn’s best restaurants (primarily in Prospect and Crown Heights) based on the following criteria:
1. Taste – The food will always be the most important factor at any meal
2. Affordability – Prices matter. This is not a list of the best values in BK, but at some point a $40 meal that is an A- is not as good as a $10 meal that is a B+
3. Ambiance – this includes both the physical setting of a restaurant as well as the quality of service
Without further adieu, I present to you my Spring, 2014 BK Restaurant Power Rankings:
20. Moo Burger – this might be the best burger in Brooklyn. Similar to the ones found at Bare Burger, but without as many screaming children. Their classic cheeseburger is the simplest and most delicious item on the menu, for only about $10. Somehow their shredded lettuce adds a subtly fantastic touch. I once complimented the owner that he had the best burger in Brooklyn and he gave a free round of drinks to our whole table. Never mind that we were running late for a movie at Cobble Hill Cinemas across the street, I chugged my brew down and proceeded to thoroughly enjoy The Dark Knight Rises.
19. Tom’s Restaurant – Great old-school style diner food for brunch and lunch on Washington Ave. On the weekends, the line wraps well around the block, but the overall ambiance and kitsch of the place helps make up for a generally non-experimental flavor palette. I will say they have an excellent Eggs Benedict that’s delicious with their homemade spicy sauce on the side.
18. Mayfield – their meat entrees for both brunch and dinner err on the gamey side, but this is an above average American-style restaurant on Franklin Ave. with a great gourmet burger. I also hear they have an excellent Venison Stew entree with polenta, which they refused to serve to me during brunch (the nerve!), hence the #18 ranking.
17. Shake Shack – Purely a value play here. The burgers are cheap, greasy, and delicious. Don’t be afraid to order extra shack sauce. This is my favorite fast food in the city. I didn’t mention anything in my criteria about healthiness, but you may want to keep an eye on the ole’ arteries if you hit this place up too much.
16. Saul – Did you know a Michelin rated restaurant is hidden within the confines of the Brooklyn Museum? The serving sizes leave something to be desired, the service vacillates between obtrusively attentive to non-responsive, and no one in your party will get out for less than $50 each, but there is a meticulousness to the preparation and a delicacy to the flavors that explain why this spot has a Michelin star in the first place. For special occasions only, and it gets bonus points for the cool location, but you can find better for those prices.
15. Applewood/Rosewater – Yes, I’ve wrapped two restaurants into one tidy ranking here at #15. Both are farm to table style, high-end American restaurants in Park Slope. Great duck entree at Rosewater, and a bunch of 4-5 star level entrees all around at both locations. I’ve been to each spot only once, but it was clear to me then that while pricey, both of these places are lovely spots to take a date or bring the family.
14. James – More high-end fare nestled within Prospect Heights on St. Marks and Dean. They have an excellent burger at reduced prices on Mondays “burger night” for $4 off the regular cost. Hint: get the truffle fries on the side.
13. Franny’s – Excellent, high-end pizzeria. The calzone is sneakily tucked away at the end of the menu, but is well worth splitting with someone in addition to one of their delicious pizzas.
12. Buttermilk Channel – Makes this list on the merits of two outstanding items 1) the deep friend pork chop and waffles brunch entree (I’ve never been so satisfied with a brunch order before) and 2) the “Court Street” Bloody Mary, with rosemary-infused vodka and actual little bits of salami and antipasti floating around in there that you can slurp up, chew on, and swallow with delight.
11. Brucie – A constantly changing menu puts this farm to table above the rest. Big oak tables in the back and a dim, intimate lighting help enliven the mood.
10. Marco’s – A trattoria with the same owners as Franny’s, and while it’s equally as lacking in portion size and perhaps slightly more expensive, the overall flavors are amazing and well-worth a splurge for a special occasion.
9. Barbonicno – Really fun flat bread pizzas that always hit the spot. A lot of unique flavor combos, right on Franklin Ave. with a lively indoor seating area. Overall a slightly better value than Franny’s.
8. Sunshine Co. – Underrated, but also somewhat inconsistent. Having moved in only about a year ago, across the street from the always-busy Tom’s, Sunshine struggled to establish its niche. For some time, they had a brunch-time DJ spinning tunes in the back. Nothing like looking up from your morning Mimosa to see some dude getting into it with the throwback hip-hop tunes before noon. Since then, they’ve refined their menu and now offer a nice array of entrees at slightly more affordable prices than some of the other fancier brunch spots nearby.
7. Cheryl’s – Is this the best brunch in BK? My friend Zeb would say so. He recently came back from a 6 month stint in South America and didn’t even try to eat somewhere else for brunch. Not once. They thrive on keeping it simple, and their pancakes are probably the best I’ve ever had. It’s not just the chantilly cream on top that does it, but the way they seem ever-absorbent of the syrup that you drench them in. A coffee/tea + mimosa/bloody mary inclusion with any brunch entree is a great value as well, coming in at or under $20/person.
6. Bar Corvo – Homemade Italian food, just a few minute walk from the Brooklyn Museum. They have had off nights before, but generally their brunch (get the polenta!) and dinner (get the ricotta/wild mushroom pasta!) is excellent. Fresh ingredients and a cozy atmosphere make this place one of my favorite spots in Brooklyn.
5. Kaz An Nou – A personal favorite of mine, tucked under the looming shadows of the Barclay’s Center. It’s labeled as a French and French Caribbean restaurant, and I come here mainly for two things: either their jerk chicken entree, or the duck confit. Both come with an incredible coconut rice and green bean/tomatoes side. Both are outstanding (especially the chicken, drenched in a creamy goat cheese, tarragon, and honey sauce). The ambiance is also top notch, albeit a little loud, as it is a dimly lit, small space where the owner (who also takes and serves your order) plays music from a record player nestled in the back. It’s also a BYOB, which means you’ll save a ton on alcohol. Can’t recommend this place enough.
4. Hometown BBQ – My last experience there was simply amazing. Their moist brisket had me thinking this must be the best BBQ in NYC. I’ve had Fette Sau and Mighty Quinn’s and Morgan’s BBQ — none have been as satisfying or gorge-worthy as Hometown. It’s all the way out in Red Hook, but well worth the trek. Grab a few friends and splurge on some of their delicious sides (great corn bread & mac’n’cheese) and dessert (bread pudding, key lime pie) as well.
3. Kimchi Grill – This is the most consistently delicious delivery Korean BBQ spot probably on earth. Some of my friends have given me a hard time about my obsession with this place. Sure, when the delivery arrives it smells kinda like “hot garbage” but when the first bite of that fish taco or short rib burrito hits your tongue, those strange kimchi smells will be of little import. Kimchi’s high ranking on this list is heavily a result of their affordability and the consistency of their product. They almost never have an off night, as they’ve perfected their recipes. You can also fill up on this for $10, easy. Some might argue it’s not even as good as Guerro’s Tacos just a few blocks away off Franklin Ave., but this is my list and Guerro’s didn’t make the cut. Sorry. All I have to say is that Kimchi Grill is a dope value play and you never have to worry that you’ll be satisfied with what you get. If you are a true Kimchi-hater, how about we just replace Kimchi on this list with another really tasty Korean BBQ spot out in Williamsburg called Dokebi? I’ve been there twice now and their Bulgohki angus ribeye entree, which you cook on a hot stove yourself, is truly outstanding. Happy now?
2. Vinegar Hill House – The ultimate brooklyn farm to table spot. Off the beaten path (actually off a cobble stone road in Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn), it’s the type of place that feels at the forefront of culinary innovation. I’ll never forget my first time there, getting this bone marrow bow-tie pasta small plate. It was a life-changing experience, and I’ve been ravenous for bone marrow ever since. Their pork chop waddle with cheddar grits is amazing, as is just about any entree you’ll find on their menu. It’s definitely expensive, but not exorbitantly so. They also have a great cocktail bar. I’d happily bring a group here for my birthday every year. And my half birthday. And my quarter birthday. And so on.
1. Chuko – And finally we come to the #1 on the list. Chuko is a wonderful ramen spot on the corner of Vanderbilt Ave. and Dean St. While waits for large tables can exceed an hour, they run a tight ship and won’t forget you. You can simply perch out across the street at Dean Street Bar while you wait. Their miso ramen with pork is my favorite dish, but they also have an incredible brothless ramen called “Mentaiko Mazeman”. It’s like a Japanese ramen version of a traditional Italian carbonara dish. Covered in scallions and bacon bits, it can be shared as an appetizer or consumed as an entree for someone who already filled up on apps. Their kale salad, which features bits of tempura-fried kale in with the fresh kale, is the best kale salad I’ve ever had. And their steamed pork buns are 3-4 bites of amazing melt-in-your-mouth goodness. It’s not cheap, per se, but at $13 for a ramen bowl, it won’t break the bank. They are consistently delicious, simple, comfortable, and affordable enough to end up as the #1 restaurant in Brooklyn on these power rankings.
Don’t agree? Agree tremendously? Leave a comment. The list will be in a constant state of flux (note: “power rankings”) and I’ll issue my late Summer edition sometime in August, so stay tuned and eat up.