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.
Freek’s Mill is the best date spot in Gowanus. It’s full of candlelit tables, and if you want a slightly more casual situation, there are seats at a counter overlooking the open kitchen. The wood-fired American food here is meant to be shared, so after splitting some small plates like roasted oysters, try a few different pastas like agnolotti with lobster and fettuccine with rabbit.
The Cubano at My Cuban Spot is one of the best sandwiches in NYC, and that’s reason enough to get this place on your hit list. The juicy pork is super rich, and if you want to taste it without the other parts of the sandwich (you will), order the bowl with a big serving of shredded pork over rice and beans. This place is just a window on the street with two small sidewalk tables, so come for takeout during lunch or dinner.
The food at Threes Brewing is all made by Meat Hook, a Williamsburg butcher that has a permanent pop-up inside, and the highlight of the menu is a burger that you can only order rare or medium-rare. Before you throw a fit about this being a free country, know that ordering this dry-aged double cheeseburger any other way would be a waste. It’s juicy and meaty and covered in raclette, and it’s one of the best burgers in the neighborhood. In case you can’t get over being told how to eat a burger, though, there are also some salads, sandwiches, and sides. Grab food and some beers that are brewed on-site, and get a table in the big backyard.
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.
At night, this wine bar is kept intentionally dark, with a little light provided by some hanging lamps and the candles on each table. The result is that it feels like a tiny cabin in the woods that happens to have a large supply of alcohol. There’s also a short menu of things to eat, like mac and cheese, a few sandwiches, and some charcuterie. Use it when you’re looking for a date spot in the neighborhood.
Brooklyn Pizza Market is, most likely, the only pizza place on Earth that’s equal parts New York Jets and Star Wars-themed. This is a tiny spot on Smith Street (technically Carroll Gardens), and they make pizzas with names like Gang Green and C3PO. They do both square and round pizzas here, and you can customize either kind with upscale toppings like fontina, prosciutto, and sopressata. It’s a great pickup or delivery option, and it’s perfect for when you need a quick slice or some garlic knots handed to you by a person in a Jets hat.
Lavender Lake is a neighborhood bar that has lots of things going for it. First off, there’s a great beer selection, and there are a bunch of tables where you can sit and hang out with a friend or a date. They also serve a lot of food, including a fried chicken sandwich, a chopped salad, and a good burger. What really sets this place apart, though, is the big backyard. If it’s warm out and you’re in the neighborhood, this is where you should be drinking at a picnic table.
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, but our favorite thing is a bowl of clams and shredded lamb with Middle Eastern spices. Just keep in mind that this place is cash-only.
At Insa, you can grill high-quality meat and eat kimchi fried rice and seafood scallion pancakes - but 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.
Many neighborhoods in NYC have a casual Italian place like Bar Tano, but Gowanus just happens to be the one lucky enough to have this particular version. They have a solid Happy Hour menu and an outdoor area with string lights for when the weather’s good. Come here for a date, to catch up with friends over some wine and pasta, or just to hang out with the friendly neighborhood strangers at the bar. It’s also very close to The Bell House, if you need a place to eat or drink before that comedy podcast show you have tickets for.
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 like 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.
Kittery is a Maine-themed restaurant. We know this because Kittery is a city in Maine, and the bathroom wall here is covered in Maine license plates. There are also nautical flags and other maritime-related things on the walls, and they put lobster on their signature burger. The menu is pretty long, but mostly you should just come here to eat a lobster roll and some oysters while you have a drink on the patio. They do a Happy Hour from 5-7pm every day except Monday, when it’s Happy Hour all night.