For the most part, annual “best of” lists tend to compile themselves. But the painful whittling we had to do this year in order to get to 10 is solid evidence that, despite the host of hardships involved in opening a Brooklyn restaurant, legions of incredible talents are continuing to take the plunge. And while (after a lackluster showing in 2015) Williamsburg is predictably back on top, with a two Michelin-starred tasting room, a bi-level all-day eatery, and a duo of star-fronted establishments, destination-worthy spots have proliferated all throughout the borough, from Olmsted in Prospect Heights, to Gowanus’ Freek’s Mill and more.
Aska: Even chef/owner Fredrik Berselius’ couldn’t have predicted the instant, enviable success of his long-anticipated reboot of Aska, which, in its current reservation-only, 19-course strong iteration, is probably the closest stateside approximation of the New Nordic deity, Noma. But while Michelin swooned over endless progressions of pig’s blood petit fours and chamomile-smoked shrimp (tagging the tasting room with an unprecedented two stars right out of the gate) Aska actually aims to be all things to all people, containing a drop-in cellar bar and garden as well, offering beer, cocktails, and a la carte bites.
47 S 5th St., Williamsburg
Olmsted: Thanks to a steady outpouring of critical love, you’re bound to wait for a table at Greg Baxtrom’s Olmsted; but that’s an integral part of the experience. Instead of being sequestered at the bar, patrons are plied with herb-infused cocktails and bouquets of gobi pakora cauliflower in the (effectively winterized) garden, plotted by Atera horticulturist, Ian Rothman. As you sip on sage lassi’s or rosemary-mezcal concoctions, it’s a kick to get up close and personal with components that will eventually find their way into your dinner—from tubs of darting crustaceans, which lend their shells to the cause of crawfish boil crackers, to rounds of rutabaga, stripped and dissected into strands of brown butter-drenched tagliatelle.
659 Vanderbilt Ave., Prospect Heights
Freek’s Mill: In truth, this wood fire-warmed Gowanus boite underscored our frustration with small plates — why should we be expected to share squares of barbecued kohlrabi on pillows of glossy grits, pouches of sunchoke-padded agnolotti baptized with hazelnuts and smoke-permeated oysters, anointed with breadcrumbs and lemon? The only true incentive for dining with a group at Freek’s Mill is the ability to split esoteric bottles of wine, plucked from a list favoring Gamay from Beaujolais and Loire Chenin Blanc.
285 Nevins St., Gowanus
21 Greenpoint: Once the mania surrounding Bill Murray’s opening night cameo as bartender died down (his son, Homer, is co-owner) what remained at 21 Greenpoint Ave. was a really great restaurant; borne of an assembled team of distinguished, non-celeb scions. Extra Fancy’s Sean Telo runs back-of-house, deftly transforming under-utilized food fragments into craveable, daily-changing dishes, while (Homer) Murray splits managerial duties with punk rock goddess Syd Silver, the formative founder of Brooklyn’s Roebling Tea Room.
21 Greenpoint Ave., Greenpoint
Sunday in Brooklyn: While every bit as innovative as the restaurant that came before it (the unbridled Isa), Sunday in Brooklyn is considerably more accessible—with chef Jaime Young assimilating seemingly oddball ingredients (fig leaf oil, celtuce brine, beer whey) into cunningly conceived dishes, that you can actually imagine eating every day.
348 Wythe Ave., Williamsburg
Gristmill: Olmsted may have upped the ante by growing fruit, herbs and veggies in their garden, but Gristmill aims to go even further than that. Working in tandem with over 30 area purveyors (including owner Jake Novick-Finder’s mother’s upstate farm), and even fermenting their own vinegar, Park Slope’s turbo-charged pizzeria intends to locally source up to 90% of their ingredients—i.e., pretty much everything but olive oil and salt.
289 5th Ave., Park Slope
Llama Inn: This stunner of a space serves as a swelteringly sexy showcase for upscale Peruvian cuisine, which heretofore, has been largely represented by rotisserie chicken chains. Sure, you’ll frequently find whole roasted birds paired with fat-basted potatoes amongst the large format mains, but you’ll also spy an inspired play on lomo saltado. Where has scallion pancake-wrapped beef tenderloin stirfry—accessorized with pickled chilies, avocado, and soy sauce-spattered french fries—been all of our lives?
50 Withers St., Williamsburg
Butterfunk Kitchen: Year-end lists tend to get mindlessly stoked with a certain type of restaurant, calibrated to catch the eye of Michelin guides, destination diners and the New York Times. But it’s a dire mistake to undervalue honest neighborhood establishments, and Butterfunk Kitchen is a paragon of form. Run by Windsor Terrace champions, chef Chris Scott and wife Eugenie Woo (also of Brooklyn Commune) it’s a spot to bring the family for cornmeal crusted corn on the cob, ham hock sausage sliders, and chicken-fried tempeh any day of the week, plus gospel music on Sundays. Which is to say, it’s not a special occasion restaurant — precisely what makes it so special.
1295 Prospect Ave., Windsor Terrace
El Atoradero: Due to a late December opening, this Crown Heights cantina missed our 2015 list by a manner of days, an omission we intend to rectify this year. After Denisse Lina Chavez had the lease rates jacked on her intensely popular Bronx taco spot, superfans Josh Kaplan and Noah Arenstein did residents a solid by helping finance her passage to Brooklyn, thus providing easy access to bouncy albondigas, 20-ingredient moles, and huitlacoche quesadillas made from house-nixtamalized blue corn.
708 Washington Ave., Crown Heights
Leuca/Lilia: What’s proved particularly exciting about Brooklyn’s newest roster of restaurants is they boast such a clear cut point of view, providing an intimate look into the minds of stars-on-the-rise like Berselius, Baxtrom and Young. We must admit it tempered our opinion of Andrew Carmellini’s Leuca and Missy Robbins’ Lilia, which—despite being high profile openings from certified celebrities—don’t feel especially specific to either. Still (knowing full well we’re in the minority on this) we’ve saved them some good-faith space on our list, confident the Manhattan vets will eventually get into the Brooklyn spirit, exhibiting not just admirable technical prowess, but a bit more panache.
111 N 12th St., Williamsburg, 567 Union Ave., Williamsburg