Where To Eat In Gowanus
photo credit: Jean Schwarzwalder
With its big canal running through the middle, Gowanus is kind of like the Venice of Brooklyn. You probably don’t want to swim in the canal or even get too close to it, but it’s still nice to look at, and there are a bunch of great places where you can grab some food on either side. Here are our favorites.
The excellent food at Claro is Oaxacan-inspired, and if you get a table in the backyard, you can watch them make a lot of it in a big outdoor oven. You’ll want to sit out there anyway, since it’s a great little space with hanging vines and string lights. The menu changes often, but it always includes things like tostadas, aguachile, and memelas (which come on thick housemade masa cakes). There’s also always a mole available, and it’s always a must-order. Bring a date or anyone who likes good food.
Baba’s looks like a place that would serve grain bowls in Soho or Midtown—a bright, all-wood space with speakers playing alt-rock and a menu by the register showing how to construct your order. But instead of zucchini noodles or ancient grains, this place does build-your-own pierogies. Choose your type (boiled or fried), your filling (standard ones like sauerkraut or unusual ones like mac and cheese), and your toppings (sauteed mushrooms or smoked bacon bits). Our go-to order is potato and cheese, fried, with caramelized onions and sour cream.
Runner & Stone is a casual spot that’s half restaurant, half bakery, and it’s worth making a visit just to try their excellent bread. The cozy space is filled with little tables, exposed brick, and the constant smell of something being taken out of the oven. We’re obsessed with the sandwiches here—the menu changes often, but there’s usually something with fish, whether it's an Italian-style tuna melt or something a little more exciting, like mackerel and bluefish. This is a great pick for a nice lunch or an early dinner.
This cult-favorite pie shop is also our favorite place in the neighborhood to post up with a laptop and get work done or have a coffee date with a friend or colleague. The space is rustic-chic and sunny, they brew Variety coffee, and there’s reliable WiFi. If for some reason you don’t like pie, they serve great sweet and savory baked goods in addition to pie by the slice. You can also get whole pies here—we almost always find a reason to leave with a lemon chess pie in tow.
Public Records is a big restaurant/bar in Gowanus that feels like a communal space you’d find in a utopian condo building. It has high ceilings and a huge skylight in the middle, there’s a great sound system, and the ceilings are lined with shelves of records (which seems impractical, but looks cool). There’s also a venue in the back that hosts ticketed shows (DJs, mostly), as well as a full vegan menu in case you want to sit down for dinner. Try this place when you want to have some casual daytime drinks and listen to good music with a group, or stop by on a weekend night when you’re looking for a place where you can potentially dance.
Public Display of Affection is a Neapolitan slice shop that feels like the interior of a tavern from a trendy Millennial’s D&D campaign, and the food is great. The centerpiece of this tiny restaurant is a wood-burning oven that churns out great vegetable dishes in addition to excellent pizza. The noteworthy pepperoni pie has a chewy crust and fresh mozzarella, but they also add red chili flakes that are far superior to whatever comes out of those free little packets. And like an exclamation point, this small touch makes a huge difference.
Maybe while scanning WebMD to find out whether you have a cold or the bubonic plague, you also read an article about the benefits of omega-3s. Or perhaps you just like raw fish and don’t want to get delivery sushi for the fourth time this week. Check out Surfish, a Peruvian spot on 3rd Avenue that serves 10 different types of ceviche. Our favorite is the mixed seafood one, which is a big portion of fish, shrimp, mussels, and octopus covered in citrus and red onion. Come for a low-key date, or eat a quick, healthy solo dinner at the bar while doing more award-winning medical research on your phone.
Littleneck looks like a spot you’d find in a town on Cape Cod where locals in wool sweaters casually use terms like “squall” and “windward.” It may sound gimmicky for a place in Gowanus to have buoys and rope knots hanging on the walls, but the seafood here is good enough that you won’t see it that way. They have a raw bar, and a solid lobster roll.
At Insa, you can grill high-quality meat and eat kimchi fried rice and seafood scallion pancakes. In case you’re not already convinced by those things, know that there are private karaoke rooms here as well. This big Korean BBQ spot is ideal for groups, so invite everyone who you’re comfortable singing TLC or Journey in front of, and spend a night eating really good food and getting laughed at by your friends.
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que’s Gowanus location (there’s a big outpost in Harlem, the original in Syracuse, and a few others throughout NY state) is a useful place to know about. It’s in a huge space that looks like a converted barn, so it’s big enough for your most popular friend’s birthday party, but it’s also good for a casual lunch or dinner with kids—or even eating pit-smoked chicken wings alone at the bar and watching sports on TV. Regardless of why you’re here, make sure to get the crunchy, cheesy fried green tomatoes.
F.O.B. is a Filipino restaurant on Smith Street that feels a little like someone’s living room. There are plants, exposed brick walls, and, if you look closely, even some old family photographs on the walls. The menu here consists of things like grilled skewers, pork belly, and chicken adobo, and there also a bunch of sides, including garlic rice and sliced-up tomatoes with a duck egg. We particularly like that tomato side and the Filipino barbecue, which comes with either chicken or pork skewers. If it’s nice out, you should eat those things on the big back patio.
The Gowanus outpost of Nene’s Taqueria is even better than the original Bushwick location, because this location isn’t bogged down by hour-plus wait times. Even though it's small, their system is highly organized and efficient. It’s not the kind of place where you’ll want to linger, but you can definitely grab a seat at the red subway-tiled counter and eat as much birria as you please. It comes in taco, ramen, empanada, and even pizza form. We also love their horchata.