While highly subjective and a little bit arbitrary, “best of” restaurant honorifics provide an illuminating snapshot of the year that was, from major themes (a welcome, borough-wide return to authentic, multi-cultural cuisine), to neighborhoods to watch (Clinton Hill killed it, Williamsburg laid low). So from spots peddling everything from Chinese dumplings to Caribbean curry and Catalonian confit, here are the eateries that defined 2015.
The Finch: Brooklyn has only recently begun to register on Michelin’s radar, so a local spot getting starred in its very first year is practically unheard of. But evidently, the guides were as won over as we were by Gabe McMackin’s highly imaginative salads (lambs tongue lined with green olives and orange, beets and burrata spiked with pine nut brittle, and mackerel swabbed with buttermilk and concord grapes), followed by unexpectedly user-friendly mains, such as rustic pork and polenta, roasted chicken with soldier beans, and artic char paired with honeynut squash and apple cider sauce.
212 Greene Avenue, Clinton Hill
East Wind Snack Shop: After kicking around Manhattan’s flamboyant fine dining scene for the better part of his career, Brooklyn’s own Chris Cheung finally returned home last winter with this intimate (read: three table) project. Not only is East Wind Snack Shop situated on his home turf of Windsor Terrace, but it eschews the flashy fare Cheung was formerly tasked with making for pan-fried pork dumplings and Hong Kong hot cakes, fashioned after the teahouses of 60s-era Chinatown. That being said, you’ll still find flashes of Cheung’s time spent at Nobu and Jean-Georges—think wads of 28-day dry-aged beef poked into the potstickers, and whispers of foie gras inside fluffy, ivory-colored bao.
471 16th Street, Windsor Terrace
Faro: They may serve a mean plate of spaghetti alla chitarra, but don’t even think of cubby-holing Faro as an Italian joint. Owned by longtime Northeast Kingdom chef, Kevin Adey, this Bib Gourmand honoree’s driving focus is locally-grown and house-milled grain, corn and wheat, transformed into everything from wood-baked rolls to rye spaccatelli to a seasonally changing porridge, comprising nutty emmer and upstate oats.
436 Jefferson Street, Bushwick
Mekelburg’s: Thanks, Mekelburg’s, for haunting our every waking hour with visions of butter-basted baked potatoes, oozing forth with raclette, smoked sable, pork belly and sour cream. Well, save for the spare seconds spent fantasizing about sambal-roasted oysters and wagyu-compte sandwiches piled on ‘everything’ baguettes, and paired with a series of esoteric drafts (Dark Horse Scotty Karate, BFM 225 Historic Sour Saison), comprising Brooklyn’s best new restaurant beer program.
293 Grand Avenue, Clinton Hill
The Food Sermon: Is it preaching to the (already perfectly well-fortified) Crown Heights choir to open a spot specializing in goat curry and roti? Perhaps, but this family-run eatery has quickly attracted both discerning locals and destination diners alike, for mix-and-match “Island Bowls” of coconut-enriched and chickpea-studded rice, heaped with bone-in lamb shank and cubes of cumin-crusted tofu.
355 Rogers Avenue, Crown Heights
Cassette: Cozy, classy and uncomplicated, Cassette is the quintessential neighborhood restaurant. Except, instead of merely visiting a couple of times a week, you might want to consider holding court at one of the communal tables for up to three meals a day. Start with egg sandwiches topped with country ham at breakfast, transition to quinoa salad with house-preserved tuna for lunch, and cash out with tender, grilled dorade and superb duck confit during dinner, accompanied by funky wines from Catalonia, Sud-Ouest and Roussillon.
113 Franklin Street, Greenpoint
Chiang Mai: Kanlaya Supachana actually debuted two of our favorite restaurants this past year; Red Hook’s Kao Soy (which all but imploded in the wake of relationship complications with her partner), followed by the plucky Chiang Mai, a pop-up just down the street. Here, her famous chicken stew keeps company other, authentic Northern Thai specialties—don’t miss the tum kanoon, a fiery mash of tomatoes, pork belly and jackfruit; crumbly sai-ua, diamonds of herb-verdant sausage; and pla muk yang, char-grilled rings of squid.
293 Van Brunt Street, Red Hook
Bar Bolinas: Serving, in our estimation, the very best burger in all of Brooklyn (all hail the Dutch crunch roll!) more than cemented Bar Bolinas’s inclusion on this list. Extra credit goes to the pasilla-rubbed chicken and other NorCal-inspired items from native son Nate Smith, as well as the blessedly straightforward sweets from his not-so-secret-weapon wife—the pre-eminent pastry chef, Sophie Kamin—including a spectacularly moist pistachio cake, inundated in coco noir.
455 Myrtle Avenue, Clinton Hill
Willow: You can reliably find great eats in even the unlikeliest of places in Brooklyn—and in the case of Willow, we’re talking a polygon-shaped, former tax prep storefront, huddled under the elevated “C” tracks in Bed Stuy. Here, chef John Poiarkoff (who continues to pull double duty at the Pines) couples an admirably ambitious menu with totally equitable prices, including 75 day-aged beef tataki and chicken liver cannoli; or go for the veggie-focused, seven dish tasting menu, for only $45pp.
506 Franklin Avenue, Bed Stuy
Cozinha Latina: Granted, Shanna Pacifico’s Greenpoint restaurant is barely a month old. But considering it’s basically a reboot of Pacifico’s Fine Foods—an unqualified contender on our “Best Of 2014” list, before the owners all but neutered the Brazilian concept—we’ve got a lot of faith in Cozinha Latina, as well as a passion for its pork trotter pancakes (a Latin spin on okonomiyaki), collard green and delicata salad, and puffed rice and yucca-thickened bobo de camarao.
37 Greenpoint Avenue, Greenpoint