The Best Restaurants In Crown Heights
photo credit: Gee's Caribbean Restaurant
Crown Heights sprawls across around five zip codes in central Brooklyn. In other words, it's big. So when it comes to finding somewhere to eat in this neighborhood, you might feel like a baby penguin looking for its mother at feeding time. But whether you’re searching for the area’s best Caribbean food, a nice place to pair a bottle of wine with roast chicken, or a cafe named after someone’s grandma, don’t just wander around looking for the nicest signage. Instead, refer to our guide to the best places to eat in Crown Heights.
Oxalis feels like a casual local restaurant where you’d go for roast chicken and sauvignon blanc after a shitty day at work. Though it calls itself a neighborhood bistro, what you’ll actually get at Oxalis is a $150 tasting menu of upscale American dishes that somehow manage to be familiar and novel all at once. You might get scallops that seem to dissolve in your mouth, or a chuck steak as tender as filet mignon as part of the constantly changing menu. There’s also a charming backyard that’s exclusively reserved for walk-ins.
No matter what time it is, this popular Trinidadian bakery is probably going to have a line. Luckily it moves fast, so come prepared knowing what you want to order. Aside from coconut rolls, raisin buns, doubles, and a goat roti the size of a rolled up sleeping bag, this place also serves a bunch of Chinese-American dishes like lo mein and fried rice. Keep in mind there’s nowhere to sit, and they only take cash.
It’s hard to neatly categorize this addition to the Winner mini-empire. It’s an all-day cafe, but also a wine bar. It has American and Italian dishes, but also Japanese and Caribbean ones. We’ll just call it one of our favorite places to eat, drink, and not keep track of time. Grab seats at the long bar, or in the skylit back room, and quiz your server about what natural wines they’re into. Then pair a glass—or a bottle—with a cheeseburger that drips down your hands or duck terrine with spongy, crusty bread, which has our vote for best sourdough in NYC.
If you want to spend an upsetting amount of money on dinner, omakase is generally a good way to go. While $105 is not nothing, the omakase at Uotora is a relatively good deal for 10 pieces of high-quality fish, plus assorted sashimi, a handroll, and more. You can also order à la carte if you don’t sit at the bar, and they offer a few different sushi/sashimi plates. Uotora is certainly nicer than your average neighborhood sushi spot, but it’s still casual and friendly.
When you’re in the mood for Burmese food, head to Rangoon (even if you’re nowhere near Crown Heights). The all-white dining room feels more like a laid-back coffee shop, so it’s a great spot for a casual date, and there’s also some garden seating surrounded by a bamboo fence. When you take your first bite of mohinga with a giant onion fritter, you’ll want to come back as soon as possible. And after tasting the prawns in tomato curry, and the fresh oysters with tamarind mignonette, you’ll want to become a regular.
Ras Plant Based is one of the only spots in the city specializing in plant-based Ethiopian food, like tender mushroom tibs and meat-free dulet. From the flaky sambusas and crispy cauliflower wings to the huge platters of Ethiopian classics like kitfo made with pea protein, all of the dishes at this restaurant are memorable. Like Rangoon, this place works well for a date. It’s dimly-lit, and all the colorful murals make you feel like you're in a multisensory art exhibit.
Cafe Rue Dix is where you should meet friends for dinner and drinks before a night out in the neighborhood. This French-Senegalese spot is covered in West African masks, the bar is painted with geometric patterns that look like Senegalese textiles, and there’s always loud afrobeat music playing. It’ll be hard to not dance a little in your seat while you order the beef mafe, or a whole branzino. There’s outdoor seating in front, in case you feel like people-watching while you eat.
People come to this all-day cafe for all sorts of reasons: drinking horchata lattes, catching up with friends, and working on spec scripts (which is just another way of saying catching up with friends). But the main reason to come is for the Latin-American food. The menu has everything from light salads and lentil soup to dulce de leche pancakes, pork shoulder sandwiches, and the best tacos we’ve eaten in the neighborhood. The ones made with chorizo and egg restore your faith in New York’s breakfast taco abilities.
Generally speaking, fast-casual bowls are about as exciting as the transcript of a filibuster. But the Nigerian food at Brooklyn Suya is different. This is a tiny spot with a few stools, and only enough room behind the counter for a single employee, a rice cooker, a cash register, and an oven full of incredible smoked and grilled meats. Each bowl comes with your choice of protein, a rice or kale base, add-ons (plantains are essential), and spice level (even the mild is intense for those sensitive to heat).
Agi’s is named for the owner's Hungarian-Austrian grandmother, and we’d like to thank her for inspiring this all-day cafe. Some things—like the confit tuna melt and palacsinta crepes—are only available during the day, so if you’ve been looking for an excuse to take a personal day, you now have one. A lot of people grab and go, but this place also has counter seating and a few tables. Head to nearby Prospect Park or the Brooklyn Museum afterwards if you don’t have plans later.
Chavela’s is where you go for Mexican food in Crown Heights. It’s been around for years, and you’ll pretty much always find a crowd here. That’s because the food is good, it has plenty of room for groups, and most things cost less than $20. Also, margaritas. People like to drink them. It has something to do with tequila, lime juice, and brain chemistry (but mostly tequila). Get a few along with queso, shrimp and crab empanadas, and some chicken with mole. They also have a weekday brunch, in case you want to do a doubleheader with Agi’s.
Things happen at a relaxed pace at Joenise, a Haitian restaurant on Rogers Ave. People drop in, order some fried turkey with black rice along with a house-made juice, and decide to hang around for a while just to socialize. This place has a different menu every day, so check to see what’s available. Two of our favorites are the lalo and the cow feet soup with shredded beef and dumplings. You’ll see multiple folks order a literal tub of the soup to go, and you should do the same.
Besides a share of Apple stock in 2005, one of the best ways to spend $6 is the jerk chicken at Peppa’s. Like the original in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, this location serves a few different Jamaican dishes like oxtail and curry goat. But as the name suggests, the main attraction is the juicy, smoky bird with perfectly charred skin. Even though a “small” is a lot of food, make sure to add a few festivals to your order.
Take a cue from the name, and get something (anything) with crab. For a quick and easy meal, go for the overstuffed crab roll seasoned with just a little salt, so you taste pure crabmeat. If you’re willing to get a little messy, the snow crabs in a buttery, sweet-and-spicy sauce are even better. You order at a counter, and there’s lots of seating in the nautical-themed room, which is slightly nicer than a Long John Silver’s. If it’s not February, order one of the four frozen cocktails on tap, and eat in their covered outdoor structure painted with Keith Haring-like squiggles.
The staff at Gee’s want to make sure you’re happy, and this means they’ll let you try almost anything on the menu, as if you’re at an ice cream shop. Can’t decide between oxtail and goat curry? Two bites from little jello shot containers, and you’ll know the clear answer is goat. You’ll have to decide on what sides you want too. We always go for the callaloo and either the mashed pumpkin or creamy potato salad. There’s not much more to the space than a handful of tables and CNN on a screen, and most people get their food to go.
95 South Soul is a bit of a party spot. Regulars hold court along the big bar for 2-for-1 Happy Hour and there’s always a DJ. But don’t just come for drinks, because they also have some of the best soul food in Brooklyn. We usually go for the jerk chicken or the fried catfish, which is fluffy inside with a crispy crust. You can get both of those as a sandwich with salad or fries, but if you get a plate, you can add sides like candied yams and a big portion of mac and cheese.
Between the metal walls, barrel tables, and decorative luggage hanging by the bathrooms, Puerto Viejo looks like a shipping container that crashed on land and started serving really good Dominican food. Which, now that we think about it, would be an excellent Pixar short. This spot works especially well for a fun date night, or anytime you and five friends want to get together and drink a little too much. Just make sure that the garlicky mofongo is on your table.
This slice shop has serious pizza pedigree. Joe worked at places like Una Pizza Napoletana, while Sal is from the family that ran the now-closed Little Louie’s Pizzeria. But what they’re doing together here is decidedly unique. You’ll find very good examples of grandma slices and burrata pies, as well as more experimental stuff, like a pie that combines the flavors of BBQ chicken and jalapeño poppers. There’s limited seating, and a whole wall of name tag stickers. We don’t know why, but it’s fun.