On Brooklyn’s southern shores, Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay offer some of the borough’s best dining options, heavy on Eastern European and Central Asian restaurants. It’s also no surprise that as Brooklyn’s most popular cuisine, there are a number of Italian-American restaurants. The neighborhood’s enclaves feel removed from the clamor of the city but retain a vibrance all their own, tight-knit communities composed primarily of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Gastronomically, the area offers a microcosmic taste of food from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, which makes it a destination for the hungry and intrepid masses. From Russian pelmeni and vareniki dumplings to roast beef sandwiches and plump fried clams, here are our 10 Best Restaurants in Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay.
10. Kashkar Cafe (1141 Brighton Beach Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-743-3832) Khasiyat Sabitova emigrated to New York from China by way of Uzbekistan in the 1960s, and credits himself with introducing the United States to Uyghur cuisine. The aromatic and assertive food comes from Turkic people whose ancestors settled across Central Asia, primarily in Xinjiang, China. Kashkar’s menu splits its offerings between Uyghur and Uzbek fare, offering platters of supple manti dumplings and juicy kebabs skewered onto steel rapiers. Colorful woven curtains and hanging beads spruce up an otherwise understated room in which diners slurp hand-pulled lagman noodles, stir-fried with onions and peppers or served in a gamy broth with carrots.
9. Cafe Glechik (1655 Sheepshead Bay Road, Brooklyn; 718-332-2414) At this Brighton Beach mainstay, opened in 1998 by Ukrainian expat Vadim Tesler, find Eastern European specialties prepared according to heirloom family recipes. A homespun touch yields hearty yet delicate thin-skinned vareniki and pelmeni dumplings. They come stuffed with meats both red and white, and vegetables like cabbage and potatoes, always with a sauceboat of sour cream on the side. Other menu highlights include holodets, a meat jelly, and 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. With so much starch and lip-glossing fat at play, relieve your taste buds with 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.
8. Delmar Pizza (1668 Sheepshead Bay Road, Brooklyn; 718-769-7766) Slinging cheese-topped bread since 1957, this Sheepshead Bay pizzeria claims to have introduced sauceless “white” pizza to New York. Owner Gus Martuscelli resuscitated the neighborhood staple after it was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, and thankfully it’s retained its charm (check out the murals and vintage menu posted on the walls). The homey shop ranks among the city’s finest old-school pie parlors, serving up white pizzas with a nice balance of ricotta and mozzarella, and grandma and cheese pizzas whose sauce registers more savory than sweet. While the focus is on pizza these days, entrees like chicken boscaiola and shrimp parmigiana shouldn’t be overlooked.
7. Cafe At Your Mother-In-Law (3071 Brighton 4th Street, Brooklyn; 718-942-4088) 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, and this nondescript restaurant in the heart of Brighton Beach is one of the few places in the country that specializes in it (there’s a sibling café in Bensonhurst). Owner 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). Standard Uzbek dishes like samsa, 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: marinated eggplant, beef tripe, or chewy, cured chunks of tilapia in chile-spiked vinegar. 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.
6. Jay & Lloyd’s Kosher Deli (2718 Avenue U, Brooklyn; 718-891-5298) Best friends Jay Stern and Lloyd Lederman opened this Jewish deli 22 years ago, and in that time the eatery has been visited by bigwigs like Anthony Bourdain and former Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz, who celebrated the restaurant’s eighteenth anniversary during his tenure. With a facade as pink as the corned beef and pastrami served inside, there’s more than enough chutzpah to go around at this place. In addition to standard deli fare, check out the gonzo signature sandwiches like brisket slathered in chopped liver, or that vintage Catskills favorite, the Chinese roast pork sandwich served with duck sauce on garlic bread. It may not have the centuries-old bones of its competitors, but as Brooklyn’s delicatessens fade away, Jay and Lloyd do the tradition proud.
5. Nargis Cafe (2818 Coney Island Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-872-7888) This polished Uzbek restaurant at the southern end of Coney Island Avenue has wowed locals with its Central Asian dishes since 2007. Find generously filled samsa, pastries stuffed with chicken, lamb, or vegetables, as well as fluffy rice pilaf and lagman noodles. Don’t miss kitchen specials, like chicken drumsticks surrounded by a layer of ground chicken and baked dough. Dumplings like manti and chuchvara, plump with ground meat or mashed potatoes, make for hearty main courses. Chef and owner Boris Bangiyev prides himself on his shish kebabs (especially anything with lamb) scented with aromatics like toasted cumin. When temperatures rise, a plate of narin, chilled noodles with thinly sliced beef, hits the spot as well as any iced coffee.
4. Skovorodka (615 Brighton Beach Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-615-3096) Toast your glass of kvass — the fizzy, fermented beverage made from pumpernickel or rye bread that also shows up in a summer soup called okroshka — and celebrate this charming Russian and Ukrainian restaurant, which sits in the shadow of the Brighton Beach Q stop and serves regional cuisine from all over the Caucasus; call it pan-Caucasian cuisine. From the lengthy menu, delight in all manner of smoked fish, appetizing salads, and soups both hot and cold (borscht is particularly good). The kitchen also excels at more involved larger entrees, like robust stews cooked with beef or pork. There’s also the massive boat-shaped cheese bread called khachapuri, and thick links of kupati pork sausage, both from Georgia. If you can manage a weekday trip, the lunch specials are outstanding: $5 main courses or $12 for a choice of three plates.
3. Toné Café (265 Neptune Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-332-8082) Since 1997, Toné Café has produced incomparable versions of the Georgian bread called khachapuri: one a flattened, pie-shaped concoction; the other molded into the shape of a boat and filled with bubbling farmer cheese gratin. For years the circular toné oven was cared for and tended to by a grizzled man named Badri, whose elongated loaves of shoti flatbread were as crusty as the best French baguettes. He has since retired, and the new owners have entrusted Lasha Chikhladze to carry the flour-covered torch. The breads accompany Georgian meals featuring sumptuous kebabs grilled over charcoal, or khinkali, fat dumplings filled with a mixture of beef and pork. Vegans can dig in to pkhali: minced vegetable salads stirred with ground walnuts, cilantro, and pomegranate seeds (the spinach version is a standout).
2. Randazzo’s Clam Bar (2017 Emmons Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-615-0010) When this red-sauce shanty opened in 1932, it was a waterfront fishmonger and bar. In the decades following, it became a Sheepshead Bay icon, thanks in part to its expansion into a full-fledged restaurant serving matriarch Helen Randazzo’s Italian-American recipes. It’s still a family operation; fourth-generation owner Paul Randazzo weathered Hurricane Sandy from inside the restaurant. Bivalves draw the crowds, but it’s the kitchen’s famed sauce, made with tomatoes stewed for hours, that keeps folks coming back for more. Ladled over steamed, fried, or raw seafood, the sauce’s chile heat creeps to a low rumble. Pastas arrive in heaping portions, stained red and hiding a bevy of shrimp or calamari. Saddle up to the bar in search of chowder, and a waiter’s likely to demand, “Red or white?” Either’s a safe bet, though the Manhattan red hits with a tangy tomato zest, like that of the sauce. Savor the namesake mollusk slurped raw, fried, or baked in the shell, chopped and tossed with breadcrumbs and herbs. These days the restaurant’s neon lobster sign cycles through a rainbow of colors, lighting up Emmons Avenue like an undersea rave.
1. Roast beef heaven at Brennan & Carr/Roll-n-Roaster (3432 Nostrand Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-646-9559/2901 Emmons Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-769-6000) Brennan & Carr, Gravesend’s perennial king of dipped sandwiches, has served the borough’s hungriest carnivores for more than 75 years. Its low-slung brick building looks stuck in time, a better fit amid the farmland that used to surround it than the paved roads that flank it now. A small wooden sign advertises “hot beef sandwiches,” which arrive at your table saturated in a murky jus shimmering with liquid fat. Soggy and leaking, it’s not the prettiest sandwich, but the flavor payoff of concentrated bovine musk more than compensates. Resist the urge to use a knife and fork: making a mess is part of the plan, as essential to the experience as slurping is to ramen. Also look out for the Gargiulo burger, in which the kitchen plunks a helping of roast beef onto a cheeseburger. Down the street from Randazzo’s, Roll-n-Roaster — Brennan & Carr’s fast-food kindred spirit — serves jus-less sandwiches that are still plenty succulent, piled high with rosy roast beef submerged under a coating of molten cheese. There are other items on the menu, like a $5 personal pizza, but it’s the beef that has kept this nostalgia factory going strong since 1970, washed down with homemade lemonade. And as if you needed another reason to go, there’s always this classic TV commercial.