It was a banner year for Brooklyn restaurant openings, with big names making big splashes, exciting spin offs and sequels, pandemic-delayed projects finally seeing the light of day and enough restaurant rookies coming out of nowhere to keep us on our toes.
And while North Brooklyn continued to be the center of the eating universe here — seriously, can any more restaurants even fit in Greenpoint? — fun, homey, useful, creative, and/or delicious spots kept popping up all year, all over the borough.
I ate at least 100 new places in Brooklyn in 2023. Here were my 12 favorites, in alphabetical order.
Café Mars in Gowanus
Smoked pork ribs parm with spaghetti salad, $32 (Scott Lynch)
The new restaurant with the most eye-catching decor had to be Café Mars, chefs Paul D’Avino and Jorge Olarte’s “unusual Italian” spot that’s not maximalist, exactly, but certainly boasts a ton of cool, often quite colorful design details. More important, the food here is first-rate, with a menu of dishes you don’t see every day, like the smoked pork rib parm, the triangle penne with beef cheeks, and, most Instagrammy, the olives encased in cubes of negroni jello. It’s not for nothing that beverage director Madalyn Summers won Michelin’s Service Award this year. Definitely a party, definitely delicious.
Café Mars is located at 272 Third Avenue, at the corner of President Street
Fatima’s Grill in Ditmas Park
Clockwise from top left: Beef shawarma crunch wrap, steak and shrimp fries, asada Hot Cheeto burrito (Scott Lynch)
And the best gloppy-ass stoner food of the year award goes to Fatima’s Grill on Coney Island Avenue, the first East Coast outpost of Ali Elreda‘s L.A.-based, TikTok-famous, “Lebanese-Mexican Fusion” chain. There are some 80 different dishes to choose from here, including things like the “Flamin’ Hot Cheeto Shawarma Burrito,” or the “Mac and Cheese Beef Quesadilla.” And it’s all really good! It’s all halal — yes, even the Cheetos, which franchise co-owner Abdul Tariq’s family brings in by the suitcase-full when they visit from Pakistan. Great design too.
Fatima’s Grill is located at 964 Coney Island Avenue, between Newkirk and Websters Avenues
HAAM in Williamsburg
Sweet plantain boat, $18 (Scott Lynch)
After two years of seemingly non-stop popups, Yesenia Ramdass finally found a permanent home this fall for her vibrant, all-vegan Dominican and Trinidadian concept, Healthy as a Motha, now styled as HAAM. This stuff is excellent. The sweet plantain boat stuffed with Ramdass’s well-seasoned, lentil-based crumbles, which function as a ground beef substitute; the jaw-stretching patacon sandwich starring jerk-flavored oyster mushrooms with chewy fried “queso,” and HAAM’s fiery chimichurri steak, one of the few mock meats on the menu: all stellar. It’s a bit of a party spot too, with beer, wine, and the occasional live DJ.
HAAM, or Healthy as a Motha, is located at 234 Union Avenue, at the corner of Meserole Street
Ilis in Greenpoint
Surf clam and tomato cocktail, served in handy shell flask (Scott Lynch)
Mads Refslund, one of the world’s most famous chefs for his role in co-founding Noma, opened the restaurant of his dreams in 2023 right here in an old rubber factory in Greenpoint, and it’s an absolute stunner. Hands down the most wall-to-wall exceptional, unique, thrilling meal I had in Brooklyn all year.
The name Ilis is a portmanteau, a combination of the Danish words, “ild” and “is,” or fire and ice, and the menu’s structure follows suit. Every night there’s a list of base ingredients — mushrooms, say, or eel, or beets, or bison — and you choose which ones you want, and whether you want them blasted by the wood-burning fire roaring away in the kitchen, or served cold. Spoiler: both preparations are equally amazing. Plus there are roving carts with awesome one-offs like a smoky clam and tomato drink served, hilariously, inside a giant shell, which has been split open, cleaned out, and resealed with beeswax, so it functions like a flask.
The room is gorgeous, dominated by the huge open kitchen in the center of everything. Enormous paintings and a massive drying rack, from which hang sunflowers and chilis, bring warmth and color to the industrial space, and there’s a very Danish-looking lounge area along one wall. It’s an exceptionally pleasant and comfortable place to spend a few hours.
The caveat here is that reservations, released a month out, are usually gone in minutes, and Ilis is expensive as hell; the three-hour food experience, called the “Market Menu,” is $295 a person, and you’ll be tempted by add-ons like those clam flasks. Plus booze, of course. But if you can figure out a way to do it, you really should eat at Ilis. It’s an unforgettable experience.
Ilis is located at 150 Green Street, just west of Manhattan Avenue
La Rose in Cobble Hill
The OPP, with cheese, tomato sauce, pepperoni, and pickled jalapeños, $30 (Scott Lynch)
Brooklyn’s best new pizza of 2023 are these decadent, Detroit-style monsters from Andrew Halitski, a self-taught pizzaiolo who turned pro by selling pies on Instagram during the early pandemic. Halitski’s Smith Street shop, La Rose, is mostly a take-out operation — there are a few stools at the counter — but even if you don’t live nearby you should figure out a way to feast on these beasts. Laden with high-quality ingredients and housemade sauces, the four-slice pies feature a thick crust that’s somehow light and fluffy, and a chewy outer rim that’s basically charred cheese. Tremendous stuff.
La Rose is located at 150 Smith Street, just south of Bergen Street,
Lingo in Greenpoint
Spicy fried chicken, $25 (Scott Lynch)
The sleeper hit of Greenpoint’s increasingly-famous restaurant row, Lingo is a stylish, grown-up restaurant with an exuberant spirit and a killer menu of what chef Emily Yuen, formerly of Bessou, describes “Japanese-influenced American food.” Pick hits include the spicy fried chicken, which is actually a whole juicy quail with some ridiculously crispy skin, and the tangy octopus carpaccio, and the luscious condensed milk panna cotta, but order with confidence wherever your cravings take you. Yuen is quietly killing it down here by Transmitter Park.
Lingo is located at 27 Greenpoint Avenue, between West Street and Transmitter Park
Radio Bakery in Greenpoint
Pastry heaven (Scott Lynch)
Rolo’s in Ridgewood, one of my favorite restaurants in the city, expanded into Greenpoint this summer with Radio Bakery, bringing with them an incredible array of sweet and savory croissants and pastries, as well as stellar sandwiches (the muffuletta is one of the best things I ate all year), and slabs of dreamy focaccia topped with all kinds of goodies. Loaves of bread too! The operation is run by Kelly Mencin, and she is pure magic. I’d eat at least one thing from here every single day if I had the opportunity.
Radio Bakery is located at 135 India Street, just west of Manhattan Avenue
Radio Star in Greenpoint
From left: Condiment jars, served with pita; smoked short rib with tomato sauce; labneh, pig cheeks and date (Scott Lynch)
Every neighborhood deserves a place like Radio Star, the delightful, retro-looking cafe with a Mediterranean flair that Glasserie owner Sara Conklin and chef Yusef Lovett opened next to Transmitter Park last month. (There is no connection to Radio Bakery, other than the similar name.) Looking for a light breakfast? A pastry? A sandwich? Some coffee? A healthy lunch? A big salad? A hearty dinner? A cocktail or four? Radio Star has got you covered. Everything I ate here was terrific, from the snacky marinated feta spread over oily, seedy pita to the phenomenal pig cheeks, dates, and labneh entree. Very chill vibe too. Another big win for a neighborhood that got a lot of those this year.
Radio Star is located at 13 Greenpoint Avenue, between West Street and Transmitter Park
Sailor in Fort Greene
Roasted pork loin with fennel, $27 (Scott Lynch)
One of the toughest tables in town right now is at Gabriel Stuhlman and chef April Bloomfield’s spiffy new Sailor, an elegant, elevated neighborhood cafe that vibes like a Ralph Lauren ad and stars one of the best roasted chickens you’ll ever eat in your life. One reason for that: there simply aren’t that many tables here; the whole place seats only 38, and 18 are set aside each night for walk-ins. But more compelling for Fort Greene-ers and (far) beyond, Sailor marks Bloomfield’s return to the NYC dining scene she helped define back in the aughts and teens, at places like Spotted Pig, before sexual harassment allegations against her business partner at the time, Ken Friedman — as well as complaints that she hadn’t done enough to protect her employees — brought the whole thing down. Bloomfield mostly stays inside the kitchen at Sailor, but the food she sends out speaks for itself. Don’t miss the sweetbreads, or the stuffed radicchio, or the fish pate, or the pork shoulder, or that chicken. It’s all pretty phenomenal. And get the profiteroles for dessert.
Sailor is located at 228 DeKalb Avenue, at the corner of Clermont Avenue
Super Burrito in Williamsburg
The carne asada burrito (Scott Lynch)
The Brooklyn restaurant at which I ate most often in 2023 was almost certainly Super Burrito, Eugene Cleghorn’s Bedford Avenue spinoff of his Rockaway Beach hit. It made me really happy, and really, really full, every time. The headliner here are the superb San Francisco Mission-style belly bombs, a La Colonial flour tortilla stuffed with your choice of meat (the carne asada is my go-to) plus rice, beans, jack cheese, avocado, sour cream, salsa … all kinds of good stuff. The daily specials rule too, like the bacon cheese “Zing Burger,” and the eggy breakfast burrito, and, maybe my favorite thing of all, the gloppy, crunchy, meaty, cheesy Dankwrap Supreme. Plus there’s a whole “secret” cocktail lounge in the back. Just glory and goodness all around.
Super Burrito is located at 320 Bedford Avenue, between South 3rd and South 2nd Streets
Swoony’s in Carroll Gardens
Swoony’s burger and fries, $25 (Scott Lynch)
Chef Sal Lamboglia’s follow-up to his great Cafe Spaghetti is an “American Bistro” located right aro und the corner and, no surprise really, is also really great. The Swoony’s double-patty cheeseburger is, predictably and correctly, the biggest early hit here, rivaled perhaps by the short rib au poivre. But don’t miss Lamboglia’s deeper cuts like the killer crab Louie, the whipped goat cheese with chili crisp, and the slab of dorade served “Manhattan clam chowder style.” “To me, this is comfort,” he says. “It makes you feel good.” That it does. Bonus: It’s the most immediately welcoming and comfortable room of the year.
Swoony’s is located at 215 Columbia Street, between Union and Sackett Streets
UnTable in Carroll Gardens
WHAT THE HELL!! fried rice, $26 (Scott Lynch)
Any restaurant with a dish called “WHAT THE HELL!! fried rice” followed by a dozen little chili peppers icons on the menu is definitely going to get me in the door. And chef Un’s creation, featured prominently at his casual Isan Thai spot UnTable, is, indeed, fiery as hell, and also completely delicious. But that’s just the start of the adventure in store for you here: the crackling crab croquettes bathing in a tom yum puree, the chicken thighs drenched in green curry, and Un’s sea bass “e-san style” are all big winners as well. Un’s buddies Meen Srisopa and Jessie Jaisean are also partners in the venture, and all three are alums of places like Ugly Baby and Somtum Der, so the pedigrees are strong. The neighborhood got really lucky with this one.
UnTable is located at 529 Henry Street, between Union and Sackett Streets