In this paradigmatic age of hyper-local eating and easy access to formerly exotic treats via your corner bodega, it can be difficult to focus on what actually makes certain foods feel season-specific. Because when tomatoes grace supermarket shelves in the depths of winter and lobster rolls can be found at local food trucks stationed far from the Maine coastline, a concept like summer food becomes about more than just the ingredients: It’s about the feeling you get when eating. Much like the season itself, summer food should be about simplicity and freedom.
Mile End Deli
97A Hoyt Street, Boerum Hill
There are hot dogs and then there’s the Hoyt Dog. Mile End’s version of this Coney Island classic is in every way an upgrade from the kind you get out of a cart. The dog itself is made from a fatty, flavorful brisket blend, the buttery roll is the perfect starchy vehicle for the meat, and the whole thing is topped with a mess of tangy mustard, peppery relish, and exemplary sauerkraut. It’s a flavor bomb of a summer food, and one we would gladly eat year-round.
Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co.
114 Nassau Avenue, Greenpoint
You could indulge in anything at Greenpoint Fish & Lobster and feel pretty damned seasonally appropriate. But don’t overthink this: Get the fish tacos and relish the crisp-skinned chunks of beautifully fried fish, spicy chipotle-lime mayo, peppery radishes and slivers of cabbage, all on a warm corn tortilla. You’ll instantly feel transported to a beach in Baja.
241 South 4th Street, Williamsburg
Watermelon is the quintessential summer fruit: It’s sweet and hydrating and can’t, as a food, really be improved upon. Sure, it gets tossed into salads with tomatoes and feta cheese sometimes, but that’s kind of gilding the lily, you know? So break out of the old watermelon rut, and drink it instead. The watermelon aqua fresca at Xixa is luridly pink but subtly sweet, and it’s without question one of the most refreshing things you’ll enjoy the whole season. Added bonus: Your hands won’t get too sticky.
Hard Times Sundaes
5700 Avenue U, Mill Basin
Tucked away in a parking lot behind a Walgreens, the Hard Times Sundaes food truck is run by Andrew Zurica, who serves up the kind of burgers that could fairly be called life-changing. The patty—or patties; single, double, and triple options are available—is given a hard sear on the grill, rendering its exterior perfectly charred and keeping its interior juicy. Crisp iceberg lettuce, tangy pickles, spicy jalapeños, and ripe tomatoes are the perfect foil for the richness of the meat and cheese.
757 Fulton Street, Fort Greene
Easily one of our favorite street foods, elote is a great example of how you can eat your vegetables while also indulging in one of the creamiest, most unctuous treats ever. First, the corn is grilled just enough so that it maintains its sweetness while also developing just the right amount of char, then it’s smothered (and we do mean smothered) in mayonnaise and cotija cheese, and finally it’s sprinkled with smoky paprika and spicy cayenne for a sweet-smoky-savory-spicy flavor explosion that you won’t soon forget.
288 3rd Avenue, Gowanus
Perhaps no food says “summer” more than the lobster roll. The interplay of the warm bun and the cool lobster meat is reminiscent of cold ocean waters and hot sandy beaches. Littleneck offers up our favorite version: sweet chunks of lobster are lightly bound with a slick of mayo and piled high in a toasted hot dog bun. A single squirt of lemon elevates it even higher, and we swear that if you close your eyes while eating, you’d think you were on Maine’s rocky coast instead of the shores of the Gowanus Canal.
345 Smith Street, Carroll Gardens
Fact: Fried chicken skin should make an audible crack when you first bite into it. Fact: The meat should be tender and juicy. Fact: If you’re not licking your fingers at the end of your meal and picking up all the fallen crumbs of crispy skin, then your fried chicken was not among the best in Brooklyn. Happily, the version at Smith Street’s Wilma Jean meets all these criteria and then some. The skin is a deep, burnished gold and redolent of spices, and the bird’s interior is as succulent as any chicken we’ve ever had.
Ample Hills Creamery
623 Vanderbilt Avenue, Prospect Heights
Brooklyn has a lot of great options where ice cream is concerned. But if you want the best, head over to Ample Hills. Standout flavors include the sweet-tart Blueberry Limoncello sorbet, light as air Cotton Candy, luscious Strawberry, and mouth-watering Snap, Mallow, Pop!, a combo of marshmallow ice cream and with a brown butter Rice Krispie swirl. Get one flavor, get a bunch at a time, just remember to pile them all on a salty pretzel cone. Why? Why not. It’s summer.