24 Hours of Food and Drink in Bushwick
When you read the words "24 hours in Bushwick," what kinds of feelings did you feel? Excitement? Trepidation? Hunger? Did you hear a thrilling challenge and experience a burning desire to meet it? Good! Because this post should do all of those things, and hopefully even a little bit more.
But before you pack your sleeping bag and hop on the L train, a few words on scope. When I moved to Bushwick nearly four years ago (yes, yes, now is when you tuck away your rising venom of hatred toward all things hipster), real estate agents and Craigslist posters referred to it as "East Williamsburg," as though fancifully extending the boundary of the borough's hippest neighborhood a couple of miles east would actually rewrite Brooklyn cartography. These days, they say its name with pride and glinting dollar signs in their eyes—Bushwick rents are among the fastest rising in NYC—and travel-worthy restaurant "finds" like Roberta's* have become old news to most New Yorkers.
* No less beloved despite its absence from this particular list.
Between the rapid influx of new, higher-end destinations and the substantial landscape of excellent, predominantly Central American and Caribbean eateries that predates them, there's a whole lot of great food to be had in this corner of Brooklyn. What you'll find here are my personal favorites* for every time of day and night. So whether you're planning a day trip to the 'hood or you've recently joined its ranks, here's how to find something great to eat and drink, no matter the hour. Literally.
* As you'll note in the map below, it turns out another criteria for "personal favorite" is close proximity to my home. You can probably determine my exact address based on the distribution of pins.
Coffee: Cobra Club
Low-key coffee shop and yoga studio by day, lively bar by night, you'll find Cobra Club a stone's throw from the L train Jefferson stop. You can grab a cup of their strong-brewed Counter Culture Coffee to go, but if you have the time, settle in with a book or the paper and start your day out properly, by devouring a massive Dough doughnut from the display case. If you're more activity-oriented, be sure to check their website—Cobra also boasts an evolving schedule of events, classes, live music, dance parties, karaoke, and more.
Lunch: Arepera Guacuco
Now that you're caffeinated, it's time for lunch! This cheerful restaurant has earned a loyal local following on the merit of its small, traditional menu of affordable, exceedingly well-executed arepas. While I'd heartily recommend any of Guacuco's dishes, I'd also be lying. Despite the best of intentions, I'm unable to broaden my selection beyond the very first order I ever placed—the Pabellón ($7) is simply that good. The sandwich gets a slab-like serving of tender shredded beef, marinated with onions and peppers in a fiery tomato sauce. You'll also find your requisite black beans and fried sweet plantains, piping hot and topped off with a generous crumble of queso año. Want to dive all the way down the rabbit hole? Pair your arepa with the restaurant's Cocada ($4), aptly subtitled, "Amazing coconut milk shake."
Afternoon Snack: Elotes and Kabobs
What? Hungry again already? You'll find elote (Mexican street corn) stands studded throughout Bushwick, but my go-to just happens to be reliably installed on the corner of Knickerbocker and Starr, adjacent to Maria Hernandez park. Warm, sweet corn slathered in mayo, rolled in cheese, and sprinkled with chipotle chili powder—what's not to love?
On sunny days, pick one up ($2.50) and dig in on a bench—I like to situate myself near the dog run, so I can watch all the puppies at play. If corn's out of season or you're looking for something a bit more substantial, follow the wafting grill smoke directly across the street and place an order for a kabob of tender, dark meat chicken ($3), generously glazed in barbecue sauce.
Dinner $$$: Northeast Kingdom
You can almost smell the Vermont pine trees upon entering Northeast Kingdom, Bushwick's contemporary American tribute to New England farmland. Since opening in 2005, it's become a neighborhood institution, and with good reason. Kevin Adey's seasonal menu changes regularly, supplemented by a sizable list of specials advertised from mounted chalkboards. Intelligent, impeccably executed dishes celebrate local—often foraged—ingredients and nose-to-tail preparations of organic meats. You can't really go wrong with your order, but my personal go-to is the scallops, most recently served with tender cipollini onions, tart crab apple, smoky bacon, and a garnish of hazelnuts and greens (pictured above). If you're craving the red meat they're best known for, though, go for the burger—you won't regret it.
It's also worth noting that by $$$, I mostly mean that this is the kind of restaurant you'd take your out-of-town middle class relatives and kill two birds with one stone—a great meal for free and an environment that won't totally freak them out or leave them muttering about the sh*thole you live in (true story). In reality, you can get away with spending under $40 a person, including drinks, if you order wisely.
Dinner $$: Momo Sushi Shack
Before the team behind Williamsburg's Bozu rolled out their Bushwick outpost, there weren't many promising sushi options in the area. But Momo Sushi Shack delivers on more than just high-quality raw fish, with a broad menu of cooked appetizers, entrées, and specials, along with a selection of sakes diverse enough to please experts and newbies alike.
Despite the long communal tables, I have yet to feel overcrowded or packed in, and though it's usually relatively quiet inside, you can get away with intimate conversation without feeling like you're part of someone else's. Start with the rich, fatty slabs of wasabi cream-topped pork belly known as Pork Betty ($10) and don't hesitate to gild the lily with a poached egg. It's worth it. And if you're dining on a bit of a budget, opt for the Party Bomb ($19) as your main—the mixed platter of their signature "bombs" (think an open-faced roll rather than traditional sushi pieces) feeds two and provides enough variety to satisfy most palates.
Dinner $: Tacos, Tacos, Tacos
You can't talk Bushwick without talking tacos. And, in true New Yorker fashion, you also can't talk Bushwick tacos without getting into heated debate. Some swear by Tres Hermanos, others won't hear a work against El Fogon. Then there's the widely acclaimed Cholulita, the ever-lauded Cocoyoc, or, for the more sit-down-dinner-inclined, the bright and cheery Mesa Azteca.
I could tell you what I think, but wouldn't it be so much more fun to make a night of it and decide for yourself?*
* For those of you lacking the patience or time for a taco tour, here's a helpful hint: they're all tacos, they're all cheap, they're all damn delicious. Though I will say that Tres Hermanos will never steal my heart until they get some al pastor up in there.
Drinks: The Narrows
When it first opened, The Narrows couldn't have been more aptly named—it was little more than a dark, though stylish, narrow corridor leading to a refreshingly open backyard. But they've since expanded into the space next door, so there's actually quite a bit of seating to be had these days, along with that same summer-friendly outdoor patio. With its low-lit Art Deco interior, all-star lineup of craft brews, a daily $1 oyster special (on offer until 7 p.m.), and a unique collection of house cocktails, it's a great spot to bring a date, or just a gaggle of friends.
More Drinks: The Rookery
Despite its high wood-beamed ceilings and a rather stunning 16-foot horseshoe bar, The Rookery manages to put off a warm, cozy vibe. This is partially thanks to the wood-fired stove and the comforting smell of smoky campfire that permeates the room. But it's also the general vibe of the English-style pub, which serves up self-described "comfort food with a British and West Indian twist," along with a selection of hard-to-find brews. Grab a booth for your pint and a Scotch Egg ($8); you may find yourself staying well into the night.
Late-Night Snack: Arancini Bros.
When late-night hunger strikes, the crowds strike out for Arancini Bros. The tiny storefront, adjacent to the appropriately named Wreck Room, specializes exclusively in arancini—the classic Sicilian deep-fried stuffed rice balls that seem expressly engineered to fuel the feral, greedy drunk living inside you. Here, you'll find daily specials ranging from classics like ragù in a saffron risotto to Americanized creations like the Philly Cheesesteak, the Thanksgiving Special, or Chocolate with Peanut Butter Mousse.
Are they actually good? I honestly can't ever recall, but for what it's worth, I just keep coming back for more.
More More Drinks: Pearl's Social & Billy Club
I first fell in love with Pearl's when I ordered the Uncle Touchy, so creepily named, I simply had to have it, no matter its contents. (It turned out to be a citrusy, refreshing mix of tequila, lemon, honey, ginger beer and bitters.) Or maybe it was when I spotted the wooden compartment boxes lining the walls, filled with tiny dolls and trinkets. And I keep coming back for the cheap-by-neighborhood-standards beers, strong cocktails, and social atmosphere. Suffice it to say that Pearl's is the kind of place to end your night in inebriated but imaginative style.
The Latest Night Snack: Tina's Place
So, all the bars have closed, and with them, the last of your go-to food options. Fear not! There's always Tina's Place to light the way. The old-school diner operates on trucker hours (3 a.m. to 3 p.m.)—believe it or not, Bushwick still houses its fair share of warehouses as-yet unoccupied by 20-something artists—making it the perfect (as in, only) spot for a super late-night grilled cheese or, god forbid you've actually gone to sleep at a reasonable hour, an early morning omelet on the cheap.
Your 24 hours in Bushwick are nearly complete! All that's left is the requisite brunch and, lucky for you, the options are limitless. Then again, you were out until 4 a.m. chowing down at Tina's and what you really need is a place around the corner from
my your apartment. Enter Tandem. If it already looks familiar, that's probably because you were actually also there the night before for a dance party and just, er, "forgot." But let's move on; it's a new day.
I have brunch at Tandem on a near-weekly basis, and while the food is quite good, it's the excellent Bloody Mary selection that ensures my fidelity. The Garden Bloody Mary ($8) is my favorite of the lot, coupling horseradish-packed heat with the subtle, vegetal sweetness of beet-infused vodka. A rim of paprika rounds it out with some smoky warmth, and a generous serving of pickled vegetables--most recently carrot, green bean, and cauliflower--adds a bright, spicy, hangover-shattering slap to the whole shebang. As for food? I consistently opt for the Chilaquiles ($9), mostly because I have trouble making up my hazy, hungover mind and it comes with two sides, so I can order my real favorites: the cheesy grits and the tenderest, lemoniest kale salad you'll ever meet.
About the author: Niki Achitoff-Gray is the associate editor of Serious Eats and a recent graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She's pretty big into oysters, offal, and most edible things. You can follow her on Twitter at @eatandcry.