An Excellent Self-Guided Brooklyn Food Tour

It’s hard to imagine now, but years ago, the New York City borough of Brooklyn was not particularly cool. If someone at a party in Manhattan asked where you lived—as one does right away in this city—saying you lived in Brooklyn signified that you couldn’t live in Manhattan, that you weren’t successful enough, that you didn’t have the taste or aesthetics for what was hip, or that you were just not capable of keeping up with the most bustling of the five boroughs. A Brooklyn food tour would have been out of the question.

Today, all that’s changed. About two decades ago, artists, writers, and musicians started fleeing for Brooklyn for cheaper apartments and studio spaces. And slowly, hip restaurants, cafes, record stores, boutiques, and bars began to follow.

The borough has also become a gastronomy center, particularly of the craft, artisanal, and DIY variety. Some of the best restaurants in New York are in Brooklyn, including many of the city’s best destination neighborhoods for dining. So if you want to tackle the Brooklyn gastronomy world, here is a self-guided Brooklyn food tour based on cuisine type.

brooklyn buildings
Brooklyn in the place to be. Photo credit: Avi Werde

Bagels in Brooklyn

Bagels weren’t invented in Brooklyn (or New York, in general), but this dense bread product, usually slathered with cream cheese and topped with luscious lox, is very much associated with New York City, particularly Brooklyn. If you want a bagel in Brooklyn, point yourself to these spots.

Insider’s Tip: Looking for more Jewish and Kosher food in New York? We’ve got you covered.

You can’t come to Brooklyn and not have a good bagel. Photo credit: Garrett Z.

Montague Bagels

Montague isn’t a particularly legendary bagel shop, but the hand-rolled bagels here are excellent. Bonus: you get to eat your bagel and then walk around Brooklyn Heights, one of—if not the—most scenic, beautiful neighborhoods in New York City. 

Shelsky’s Brooklyn Bagels

Shelsky’s has only been open since 2011 but it has already achieved legendary status among the borough’s bagel eaters. The high-quality bagels here are excellent and the vibe (and taste) will make you feel you’re in an old mom-and-pop Brooklyn bagelry. 

Fine dining in Brooklyn

Manhattan once thought it owned fine dining in New York. Not anymore. Brooklyn has some exceptional upscale eateries—some that will go fork to fork, spoon to spoon, knife to knife with the best fine dining institutions in Manhattan. From Michelin-starred restaurants to white table cloth eateries to somewhat casual but well-executed fare, these are some of the best elegant dining options to anchor your Brooklyn food tour.

veggie dinner at a michelin restaurant
A vegetable terrine from La Vara, in Brooklyn. Photo credit: Howard Walfish


The Scandinavian dining and cooking phenomenon is represented at Aska, a Williamsburg restaurant that serves up Scando minimalism on a plate via a multi-course tasting menu and it’s delicious. The Michelin-starred spot should be on anyone’s list who likes fine dining. 

La Vara

Chefs Alex Raij and Eder Montero, who also run Txikito in Chelsea and Saint Julivert Fisherie in Cobble Hill, focus on the Jewish and Moorish culinary legacies in Spain at this Cobble Hill eatery. La Vara isn’t stuffy. It’s more casual but when the plates start hitting the table, you’ll see this is refined Spanish cooking to the core. 

Maison Premiere 

Cocktails and oysters. That’s the big draw at Maison Premiere, a lovely restaurant in Williamsburg with a romantic, leafy garden. But there’s more than oysters on the menu here: spicy clam toast, lobster rolls, and steamed clams round out the menu. Ordering a sazerac, which is theatrically made tableside, is one of the great restaurant experiences in New York. 


Named for Frederick Law Olmstead, the landscape architect who designed nearby Prospect Park (and this other park you might have heard of called Central Park), this Prospect Heights eatery serves up elevated American fare by talented chef Greg Baxtrom. Olmsted is a classic Brooklyn fine dining experience. 

River Cafe 

Restaurants with views don’t have to serve good food. And yet Michelin-starred River Cafe, set on the East River with stunning views of the lower Manhattan skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge, is one of the best restaurants in Brooklyn. 

Italian fare

In New York, in general, and Brooklyn, in particular, there seems to be an Italian restaurant on every block—almost as if it’s some kind of contractual obligation or law. There are Italian-American restaurants and places that focus on Italian regional fare. There are also some good and not-so-good Italian eateries in Brooklyn. The four below, a mishmash of elevated and old-school places, should give you your red sauce fix.

a plate of pasta with shrimp and tomatoes
Gourmet pasta? Count us in. Photo credit: Gabriella Clare Marino

Al Di La

Translated loosely as “the great beyond,” Al Di La is a longtime Park Slope eatery with a focus on the cuisine of Veneto. It’s been a neighborhood favorite since they first fired up their burners a few decades ago. Expect a wait any time of the week, but it’s worth it. 


Opened in 1900, Bamonte’s is a classic red sauce joint in Williamsburg. The food isn’t going to win any awards but that’s not the point. Here you just want to take in the ambience where you’ll see old Italian-American families, maybe a mobster or two, enjoying big portioned pasta dishes and straw-wrapped bottles of Chianti. The restaurant is located at 32 Withers St. 

Ferdinando’s Focacceria

Located just across the BQE from Cobble Hill, Ferdinando’s has been serving up Sicilian fare since 1904. Today the place feels like an edible museum. The one specialty to bite into is the spleen sandwich, a typical Sicilian street snack that is hard to find outside of Italy. 


Missy Robbins is the toque in the kitchen at this perpetually popular pasta palace in Williamsburg. Lilia has four or five pasta dishes on the menu at one time and they’re usually all winners. Start with the croquette-like cacio e pepe frittelle to begin the meal with a flavor-popping bang. 

Pizza: The best of the best

Pizza and Brooklyn are pretty much synonymous at this point. After all, you can spot at various places on the planet restaurants called “Brooklyn Pizza.” The borough doesn’t necessarily have its own pizza style; it’s more New York pizza: generous amounts of cheese and a crispy underside dough thanks to the gas-burning ovens. Slice shops are ubiquitous in Brooklyn but if you want to ensure you’ll get a quality pie in the borough, add one of these five spots to your Brooklyn food tour. 

Pizza and Brooklyn…name a better duo. Photo credit: Mary Kresge

L&B Spumoni Gardens

In Bensonhurst since 1939, L&B is a classic. The Italian-American fare on the menu here is rather ho-hum, but the thick-crust square Sicilian pizzas here are worth the trek from any part of the city. 


Show up to Lucali, a BYOB pizza place in Cobble Hill, at 5pm. Put your name on the list, go somewhere for a drink and wait to be called. It might be hours. But it’s worth the wait at this legendary pizzeria. 


Located in Bushwick, Ops is one of the best pizzerias in the city. They use a special blend of flour here that somehow makes the pizza dough extra tasty. Ops also has a great list of natural wines to pair with the pizzas. 

Paulie G’s

Inventive wood-fired pizzas in Greenpoint. Paulie G’s is a popular stop on the Brooklyn pizza tour of any self-respecting pizza lover. You can get pies topped with guanciale, kale, orange blossom honey, red grapes, or brisket from Hometown Bar-B-Que. 


A true Brooklyn dining institution and one of the first real hipster restaurants in the United States, Roberta’s is often mobbed by mustached, beanie hat-wearing hipsters for a reason: the thin-crust creative pizzas are excellent. 

Top-notch sandwiches

Sandwiches are universal. Take some bread, stuff some delicious things between said bread, et voila! You’e got a sandwich. It sounds easy, but sometimes a good sandwich is hard to find. In Brooklyn, there are a few edible masterpieces in the form of sandwiches. Here are some of the best.

Freshly cooked sourdough BLT cut in half from one of San Francisco's best bakeries.
Nothing beats sandwich on freshly baked slices of sourdough. Photo credit: Switching Lanes

Brennan & Carr

Since 1938 Brooklynites have been patronizing Brennan & Carr for its excellent roast beef sandwich. It’s served on a kaiser roll and then doused in pan drippings. 


Wedged between Red Hook and Carroll Gardens, Defonte’s is a Brooklyn institution on bread. Since 1922, the people at Defonte’s have been making overstuffed Italian-accented sandwiches. There are dozens on the menu to choose from. 


Is a hotdog a sandwich? It’s been debated for years and we’re not about to enter the conversation, but we needed to include Nathan’s and, well, a hot dog is more related to a sandwich than it is, say, pizza or a steak. The Coney Island location of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs is where, on every July 4, the famous hot dog eating contest takes place, the American gluttony televised around the world. The dogs here really are classic New York and Nathan’s, which has been slinging dogs since 1916, is an iconic Brooklyn eating institution. 

Stand-out steakhouses

Manhattan has a grip on steakhouses that it has yet to soften. That said, there are some excellent steakhouses in Brooklyn. Ever heard of Peter Luger? The New York fooderati love to besmirch this longtime steak-serving institution, but Peter Luger is still worth a visit. And so is the newest kid on the block, Gage & Tollner. If you have a fix for steak, no Brooklyn food tour would be complete without these spots.

Grilled steak with baked potato and gravy
Steak and baked potato is another fabulous combination to try while in Brooklyn. Photo credit: hiwarz

Gage & Tollner

Gage & Tollner first fired up its steak-cooking burners in 1879 and went through the 20th century as one of the most popular restaurants in Brooklyn. It shut down in 2004 and the space became a TGI Fridays and then an Arby’s. But in 2021 something miraculous happened: the original Gage & Tollner reopened in the space and today is serving up some of the finest steaks in the borough. 

Hometown Bar-B-Que

This Red Hook meat mecca isn’t a steakhouse but we’d be remiss to pass on Hometown Bar-B-Que anyway. After all, it’s the best barbecue in the city, if not north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Peter Luger

The legendary Peter Luger is a must-visit for anyone who loves steak. New Yorkers seem to take pleasure in kicking Luger when it’s down—it recently lost its Michelin star—but don’t let that stop you: the famously gruff waiters and the top-notch steak are still there, as they have been since the 19th century.

St. Anselm

Nearly everything at this superlative Williamsburg restaurant is cooked over an open fire. Including the stunningly delicious steak. St. Anselm’s ax-handle ribeye is a mountain of meaty goodness. 


Brooklyn does sweet stuff too. There are ample amounts of ice cream parlors, bakeries, and sweet shops—you could do a Brooklyn food tour on dessert alone. But if you want classic Brooklyn desserts, here are two spots to put on your radar.

cheesecake with fruits on top
Nothing like a good New York cheesecake on your Brooklyn food tour. Photo credit: sabotrax


Junior’s didn’t invent cheesecake. But now this downtown Brooklyn diner is synonymous with the dessert. You can’t walk out without dipping a fork into this soft, delicious Brooklyn sweet treat. 

Junior’s has been dispensing world-famous cheesecakes for almost 75 years. Photo credit: Junior’s

Peter Pan Donuts

For over six decades family-owned Peter Pan has been baking and frying excellent doughnuts in Greenpoint. The blueberry buttermilk doughnut has become legendary here. 

Miscellaneous foods

Not every restaurant can fit into a neat Brooklyn category—unless of course we were publishing a print doorstop-sized guidebook to eating in Brooklyn. But one cannot pen a dining guide on a Brooklyn food tour without including the below restaurants. They’re too good to ignore and if you’ve come to New York to eat, these are—to borrow the famous phrase from Michelin—”worth a special journey.” Even if you’re done with your Brooklyn food tour.

ceviche with avocado and shrimp
The options for great places to eat in Brooklyn is truly endless. Photo credit: Kelpgreen.D

Aunts et Uncles

Not that you’ve ever thought of the phrase “Caribbean vegan cuisine” before but after a visit to Aunts et Uncles in the Little Carribean swath of Prospect Lefferts Gardens, you’ll never think of the phrase again without Aunts et Uncles. The kitchen has mastered making plant-based versions of Caribbean classics. 


This impossible-to-get-into inventive Chinese spot in Williamsburg has become an instant classic. Bonnie’s Cantonese-American menu has dishes like fuyu cacio e pepe mein and a cha sui mcrib, a play on the McDonald’s classic.


Located in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge, Diner was one of the first restaurants in Brooklyn that inspired Manhattanites to venture into the borough because they’d heard there was good food there. Housed in a pullman dining train carriage from the early 20th century, Diner serves up inspired American fare. 


Michelin-starred Mexican fare is on the menu at this elegant Mexican restaurant in Greenpoint. Oxomoco’s wood-fired oven means there are plenty of dishes sporting fork-tender meats that are worth the trip to Greenpoint alone. 

Llama Inn

This Williamsburg restaurant demonstrates how great Peruvian cuisine really can be. Llama Inn has a menu loaded with ceviche, smoked meats, roasted chicken, and tender meats on a skewer.


Persian cuisine is one of the most overlooked cuisines on the planet. And it’s incredibly memorable. Sofreh, an elegant restaurant in Prospect Heights, is one of the great dining experiences in Brooklyn. While the menu can be very vegetarian friendly, the meat dishes here are sublime. 

Taqueria Ramirez

With just a handful of counter stools and an insane demand from hungry taco lovers, it’s not always easy to get a space at Taqueria Remirez. But once you get one, be prepared to eat well, as this Greenpoint spot serves up some of the best tacos in the Big Apple. 

Ugly Baby

There once was a time, when you had to go deep into Queens to find excellent Thai fare. Not anymore. Ugly Baby, located between Carroll Gardens and Gowanus, is one of the best Thai eateries in Brooklyn. It’s also one of the most incendiary. The spice levels are through the roof, so be prepared to leave with singed taste buds. 

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About the author

David Farley is a West Village-based food and travel writer whose work appears regularly in the New York Times, National Geographic, BBC, and Food & Wine, among other publications. He’s the author of three books, including “An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town,” which was made into a documentary by the National Geographic Channel. You can find Farley’s online homes at and

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