A Middle Eastern-food craving in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, will most likely lead you to Tanoreen—an unpretentious, family-owned restaurant that’s been getting an increasing amount of buzz over the past few years. And Tanoreen is admittedly pretty solid, even if a Middle East transplant might take issue with the sometimes timidly flavored dishes. But Bay Ridge’s tinier, lowlier Karam is bolder and arguably better on the whole, if you’re willing to contend with a cramped room where you can’t really sit (there are just a few stools, and the whole operation is designed mainly for takeout). The Lebanese food here—especially the outrageously juicy chicken shawarma rolled up in fresh hot pita, or the sujok (spicy lamb or beef sausage), or the lentil-rice-onion moujadara stew, or the classic parsley-and-lemon-jammed tabbouleh, or the rotissserie chicken with creamy toum (garlic sauce)—is as authentic as it gets, and hard to beat anywhere in the city. The place doesn’t look like much, but foodwise it’s most definitely not just your basic falafel-and-hummus stand. Karam bears repeat schleps out to Bay Ridge, and a little courage to taste your way through the entire repertoire—including some of the down-home and hard-to-find dishes, like the traditional preparation of lemon-spiked, linguini-like brains (cow brains, to be exact). Note: Karam now has another branch in Midtown West—in the space where Bread and Olive used to be—and it’s also very good, though it has a more limited menu. But the Bay Ridge branch is still the one to visit if you want to make a whole Middle-Eastern-eating-and-shopping day of it.
If you’re walking along Henry Street to Lucali, you might consider bailing on your plans and stopping in at Bocca Lupo instead. You won’t find much pizza here—and certainly not the beautifully blistered, oozing Neapolitan pies Lucali does so well. Still, if Italian small-plates and poppingly fresh-tasting cocktails will do the trick tonight, do yourself a favor and pull into Bocca Lupo. The short list of entrees changes daily (you might find asparagus risotto; bucatini with pork sausage; and an arugula-and-Iberico-ham pizza one night), and there’s always a slew of terrific panini and tramezzini sandwiches and bruschettas to kill anything from a hunger pang to an intense Italian jones.
There’s something endearing about a menu that lists only one dessert. At the new, antiques-filled Brooklyn Heights pub Henry Public, that dessert pulls its weight, and more: It’s a plate of six Wilkinsons (“What are those?” you’ll ask the waiter, on cue). These turn out to be hot, puffy spheres similar to beignets, but doughier and more flavorful. Dip them into the caramel sauce on the side and watch all six puffs magically disappear. But you’re probably here for the pub food and for the comfortably lived-in, 19th-century vibe, not the dessert really. So how’s the food? The grass-fed burgers “sandwiches” are oozingly delicious; the fries are hot, crisp, and salty. Next visit might call for the turkey-leg sandwich. Cocktails are exceptional too: The Public Smash, made with bourbon, bitters, mint, and maple syrup, is a smooth, strong, and just-sweet-enough potion. Fans will also want to hit the owners’ other atmospheric hangout, Brooklyn Social in Carroll Gardens.
Vinegar Hill is one of the most startlingly quiet, out-of-the-way little neighborhoods in the city. And Vinegar Hill House gets plenty of charm-mileage out of its setting, enough to forgive the sometimes inconsistent food. But even if every course may not be a home run, a night here is a night well spent. The short menu of Americana changes constantly, but you might luck into the fluffy chicken liver mousse with vinegary onions and pistachios, or the wood-fired tart topped with bacon, leeks, and scallops. The house feels like your own—if you lived in a little cottage on a tree-lined street, decorated it with quirky-ironic hillbilly knicknacks, hired a staff of friendly hipsters, and filled the dining room with locals and curious Manhattanites (but not the obtrusive kind).
Is there a mysterious underground tunnel running between Fort Greene and Williamsburg? (Besides the regrettable G train, aka the Ghost Train)? How else to explain the influx of Williamsburg restaurants into the neighborhood? No one is complaining so far though, especially as long as Fort Greene doesn’t actually turn into Williamsburg; one Wburg is enough, non? Cutting to the chase: Walter’s is the latest Williamsburg outpost to open along DeKalb Avenue, and yes, it’s helping to ratchet up the food scene here, at long last. Finally, a place to get a dozen great oysters and a Bloody Mary, or one of the heartier offerings from the fairly straight-ahead, intuitive Americana menu: a short-rib burger, fried chicken, a grilled bar steak, a seaf00d-loaded fisherman’s stew. Of course those all come with very-now flourishes: That burger sits on a brioche bun, with the inevitable bacon slab; the fried chicken is laced with spicy honey; the bar steak has a chimichurri sauce. But retro garlic mashed potatoes are rife all over the menu too, as is horseradish sauce (on the flashback French Dip sandwich). Just in for a snack? The bar menu pretty much nails it: deviled eggs, duck buns, spicy wings, and a luscious Dark and Stormy.
Purbird looks deceptively like a café from the outside, but inside is a serious little kitchen serving up some of the best chicken sandwiches to be found anywhere. If that sounds like faint praise, consider how outrageously good a real chicken sandwich, made with real chicken, can be. Better yet, go find out for yourself. Purbird’s menu is all about chicken: all-natural, hormone-free chicken chargrilled over a flame until it gets that beautiful crunch on the outside, giving way to intensely juicy meat. Choose a sandwich made with thigh meat (and pickled onions and cabbage) or breast meat (with avocado and turkey bacon), or a chicken burger made with dark and white chicken Sixth meat—or just dive into a whole or half grilled chicken. Eat at one of the few tables or the long counter inside, or take out. Plan to be back, again and again.
Purists may balk at Zuzu‘s unorthodox ramen—a recent special involved a broth made with dashi and beets, and hunks of sweet-tender duck confit—but that would be the wrong approach to take here. This small, cozy Park Slope noodle shop seems intent on busting free from the usual ramen repertoire, but it does so with focus and restraint, not to mention terrific ingredients. Ramen options range from one made with miso-green curry broth and piled with pork belly, or a garlic-soy broth with bok choy, bamboo shoots, and slow-cooked egg. And sides like the mini pork buns stuffed with braised pork shoulder and sweet chili sauce round out the meal nicely. The house hot sake is a generous pour at $8; it comes in a ceramic carafe kept warm in a bath of hot water.
Tacos Matamoros in Sunset Park is about as atmospheric as the south Texas border town it’s named after: Not very. But with tacos this good (at $1.25 each; $2.25 for the large size), you’re not going to gripe about the ho-hum vibe. Take some tacos to go and walk a few blocks up the hill to Sunset Park, where you can sit on a bench and eat while staring at a spectacular, underrated view of Manhattan, the East River, and the Statue. But if there’s a big soccer game on, you’ll want to be firmly nestled into a seat here, double-fisting carnitas (spicy pork) and lengua (tongue) tacos. Or settle in with one of the heftier dishes: From tortas stuffed with chorizo and eggs to heaping plates of mole poblano.
Maison Premiere doesn’t have the most memorable name, but don’t let that deter you. Here you’ll find an oyster menu to (almost) rival the Grand Central Oyster Bar, plus waiters in retro suits, and a vintagey dining room with lots of leather, wood, marble and steel. Sometimes this is just what you want, and Maison Premiere delivers it. You could feast endlessly on the daily-changing oyster menu, but don’t miss out on the delicious little raw-fish crudo creations—or the cocktails, meticulously mixed and riffing on New Orleans fixtures like the Hurricane, the Sazerac, the French 75, and more. The garden out back is lovely on warm-ish nights, and you can stretch out your arms without knocking over a passing oyster tray.