Buffet at Gastronom Arkadia
This seemingly unassuming grocery store stretches back into a long, narrow cavern, with real estate mostly given over to an enormous, wide-ranging hot and cold prepared foods buffet.
It’s all but impossible to name everything on display, so grab a plastic tub and get to work, starting with the blintz-and-pancake area in front (look out for the triangular fried meat- and dill-stuffed pancakes), and working your way back through the onion-topped kotlety (ground meat croquettes), the baked fish in cream sauce, the pork- and rice-stuffed cabbage and peppers, the wild mushroom and chopped liver spreads, the pickled cabbage and carrot salads, and then back toward the register for a tangy sweet cheese-filled blintz to go. All of this for $5/lb, on scales that tip toward the light side: this writer walked out with two heaving tubs (one hot, one cold) of all of the above for about $8.
1079 Brighton Beach Ave; 718-934-7709
Samsa and Salad Langsai at Café Kashkar
Café Kashkar is one of the few restaurants in New York serving Uyghur food, the Muslim ethnic minority of Northwest China. Uyghur cuisine is heavy on lamb, doughy breads, and pungent spices. It’s smart to go with a group to experience it all.
For a quick, cheap snack, you can go a few ways. For a substantial bite, try the samsa ($2.50): flaky, doughy bread stuffed with minced lamb and tender onions (be careful with the hot sauce—that stuff is incendiary).
On the lighter front, try the refreshing salad langsai ($6), a vinegar-soaked mix of bell peppers, carrots, cucumber, onions, vermicelli noodles, an Asian green the waiter called suntaisa, and barely perceptible coriander seeds. Or get both and enjoy a light meal with a combination of the best flavors the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has to offer.
1141 Brighton Beach Ave; 718-743-3832
Pelmeni and Vareniki at Varenichnaya
This cute, cramped café boasts about their “Russian style ravioly” (their spelling) with good reason: for $6.50, try either the pelmeni filled with “Siberian” meat (left), a tortellini-esque dumpling with thin skin and a deeply savory, salty shredded meat filling; or the pierogi-esque vareniki (right), with fillings both sweet (cherry) and savory (pictured are mushroom and potato, topped with delectable fried onions).
Not pictured but equally delicious are the pelmeni in broth ($6.95), a chicken consommé dotted with fresh dill and a pile of pelmeni that puts chicken noodle soup to shame.
3086 Brighton 2nd Street; 718-332-9797
Sausage at M&I International Foods
M&I is a hulking behemoth of a market, a three story one stop shop for all of your Eastern European grocery needs. Inside you'll find a bakery, fish counter, meat counter, prepared food buffet, and pickle station. It’s hard to choose just one food group at M&I, but their sausage selection really shines, with cured and smoked meats of nearly every shape and size on display.
If you ask nicely, the severe-looking women will give you samples, and after much debate, this slender pork sausage, labeled kabanos wieprzowy, emerged as a winner: laced with garlic, black pepper and caraway seeds, it’s compulsively snackworthy. At $6 for a vacuum-sealed bag of four 18-inch links, it's a total steal.
249 Brighton Beach Ave; 718-615-1011
Bulochki S Makom at Bakery La Brioche
There’s a lot to choose from at this cramped, time-warped Jewish bakery, filled haphazardly with self-serve racks of pastries. Never mind their faux-French name: one of La Brioche’s better offerings is bulochiski s makom, essentially a brioche cinnamon roll with poppy seeds in place of cinnamon. Sold by the log at $1.25 each, they’re big enough to share, though the inner layers, where the dough is most tender, are worth fighting over.
1073 Brighton Beach Avenue; 718-934-0731