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Jan 7, 2008 09:42 PM

Other than cheesecake, what does Brooklyn do better than LA? (cheap eats query)

See link from Manhattan board for my main post:

Bottom line....

Aside from hot dogs, pizza and Americanized Chinese food, what excellent, cheap food (say $8 or under per person) does Brooklyn do well that is not commonly found in Los Angeles?

(this criteria would eliminate virtually all Asian cuisines, as well as Mexican/central american, which is commonly regarded as being both cheaper and better in Los Angeles


To get things, started, I am curious about the Caribbean corridor on Flatbush. There is hardly a Caribbean community to speak of in LA, and therefore only a couple of Caribbean restaurants. Certainly that would be a great please to find cheap, delicious food not commonly found in LA? (I do know about Junior's insanely yummy cheesecake, which certainly blows away LA's best offerings)

Other possibilities:
- Spanish (very small Spanish community in LA)
- Italian (LA has lots of superb fancy white-tablecloth Italian, but hardly any excellent red-checkered tablecloth Italian)
- African (not including Ethopian, as LA has many excellent Ethiopian restaurants)
- Indian (Although LA has a Little India in the city of Artesia, I have heard that Indian is by and large better and cheaper here in NY)

Thanks for your suggestions

Mr Taster

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  1. The Islands for Jamaican, Karam for shawarmas, Lomzynianka for incredible Polish food, Di Fara for one of the world's best pizzas. Nostrand also has excellent smaller jerk shops which are highlighted in a recent "best Jamaican restaurant" post. Those are better and cheaper for chicken, but The Islands is great for anything but jerk chicken. I swear by Lomzynianka and the meals there are great for this season. Di Fara is Di Fara and needs no introduction; it's religious.

    Two Tom's or Red Rose offer decent Italian in Carroll Gardens, but I can cook close to what these places put out (if not better) so I'm just not an Italian restaurant kind of person. Our Russian food in Brighton isn't bad, but it's out of your range. Given your range, Brooklyn can be a tiny bit limiting, but Queens is incredible. However, the above places easily fall into it (except maybe The Islands.)

    If you want to sample some good African food then Deback Malick serves up dirt cheap and delicious Nigerian food in Bed Stuy. I'm a big fan, but I've had little to compare it with as far as Nigerian food goes.

    You can find anything in the boroughs. Anything.

    If you expand this to Queens then I can tell you some Asian spots and a Mexican place or two which gives LA a run for its money. South Asian food is also amazing in Queens; far better than what you'd find in London, Brooklyn or the city.

    I posted a bit of a Queens preview in your Manhattan post. Also, my favorite Trini/Guyanese roti places are all in Queens. Brooklyn has better jerk spots though.

    21 Replies
    1. re: JFores

      Hi JFores-- thanks for an excellent post. I certainly am familiar with DiFara and love it. However remember, I'm looking for something that is cheap (under $8) and NOT pizza, NY style Chinese food or hot dogs.

      I would like to expand my criteria to include Queens, however please bear in mind that I'm not looking for something that would give LA a run for its money (i.e. Mexican or Asian). I'm looking for something that LA simply does not have, like great cheesecake, bialys, jerk chicken, etc. Certainly Polish restaurants would be a welcome addition to this list, however we do have a significant Russian population in my neighborhood (though admittedly not as much as NY) so I'm less interested in that cuisine.

      Thanks again and I very much look forward to your response.

      Mr Taster

      1. re: Mr Taster

        In the case of Queens you've got Uzbek (Cheburechnaya or Arzu though the latter's wait staff has ice for blood), Bengali (Ghoroa for good solid food, Sagor for good solid food with less selection and Spicy Mina for a dice roll which can result in a meal trumping the previous two or failing miserably), Romanian at Acasa in Sunnyside, Istrian at the Istrian Football Club in Astoria (think Italian meets Serbian), Kebab Cafe in Astoria is not my favorite place but its worth a shot especially if you like offal, Egyptian food
        and a real character behind the stove, Ozone has two really excellent roti shops (one Trini and one Guyanese) but I forgot the names (there's a really recent post on them. I think it was my ENY and Ozone post.)

        La Economica in the Bronx for Dominican! It's only a tiiiny bit past Washington Heights. It's a trek but it's really really really good chicken.

        .......and go to Chengdu Heaven and Chao Thai regardless, because I need to hear how they compare to LA in your opinion. I've never had better Szechuan food anywhere than the former...

        Oh and get a pandebono at the place on 82nd St in Jackson Heights. Those are delicious. Sunnyside also has some pretty good burgers in its Irish pubs if you want one of those.

        Make sure to check out Lomzynianka which I recced in the above post. It's in Greenpoint on Manhattan right where Bedford finishes. It's really close to you.

        1. re: JFores

          Fantastic, fantastic list.... it will be a bit of a long shot for me to make it out to Chengdu Heaven, not only because we have excellent representation of the cuisine in LA but also because my wife & I spent 2 months backpacking all over China last year (and 5 months elsewhere in Asia), and Sichuan province had my least favorite food of our whole trip. But if for some reason we do get there, I'll be sure to post.

          Thanks again for everything... really, your posts have been fantastic.

          Mr Taster

          1. re: JFores

            Great post, Jfores - but to be honest, Economica on 231st (my nabe) is more than a tiny bit north of Wash Heights. It's over the Bway bridge from Inwood - which, as you know, is north of the Heights. BTW, we recently got a chicken and an order of maduros from the Malecon across Bway from Economica and it was pretty good (but the best maduros I've had recently were from the Latin Kitchen way out on East Tremont).

            Anyway, if he makes it up here, he should also go to 238th and pick up an S&S cheesecake, which - IMHO - is the best in the city and flat out better than Junior's.

            1. re: Striver

              S&S eh? I've only been going up there for La Economica and I tried the Malecon across from it. I need to wander more.

              It's close in subway terms.

              1. re: Striver

                I'm so glad someone finally mentioned S&S in reply to one of the OP's posts. It is sooooooo much world's beyond Junior's. IMO, the best cheesecake in all nyc (I am most definitely not a fan of Junior's, can you tell?). And by the way, if you can't make it to Riverdale, you may be able to snag a small one at Zabar's.

                1. re: LNG212

                  is S&S related to the place in cambridge, MA near inman square? it was a huge diner which also specialized in cheesecake. loved it there.

                  1. re: bigjeff

                    OMG on a tangent, dh and I LOVED the S&S!! We did the long distance thing for a while (he was in Boston; I was in Manhattan) and we invariably wound up our weekends in Boston with the brunch at S&S. Thanks for that memory!

                    1. re: bigjeff

                      I would doubt it. They have a "factory" in Riverdale (Bronx) and they've been there for decades (more than 50 years, I think). I believe cheesecake is all that they make. They are also kosher.

                2. re: JFores

                  The state of Bengali food anywhere outside of NY is horribly depressing. Although I'm in the Bay Area, my family lives in SoCal and we always order Pakistani catering for our larger events. sigh

                  1. re: adrienne156

                    EVEN IN LONDON! IT MAKES NO SENSE! I'm an 18 year old Brooklyn Italian and just because I dated a Bengali for over a year, I cook better than any Bengali restaurant I've gone to excluding two in NY. Frustrating because I get blown out of the water by mother cooking.

                    1. re: JFores

                      Dated a Bengali for a year? Lucky you! :o) But, woah woah woah - I dunno bout the London part. 80% of the "Indian" restaurants in the UK are actually owned by Bengalies (and of those, the majority being Syhleties) and that's a whole lot of restaurants.

                      In the states, NY takes it for sure.

                      Edit: Are you referring to London city only or the UK in general?

                      1. re: adrienne156

                        London city only. I haven't sampled food elsewhere, but the Bengali food I've had here is nothing to write home about (so I don't.) This place Ma'ida was touted as being excellent Bengali for about two months and it wasn't as good as my favorite steam table place in Queens (and my favorite steam table place in Queens costs about 2-4 dollars an entree NOT 20!)

                        The Sylheti community here appears to have less food representation than they do on Church Avenue in Brooklyn, despite East London basically being Sylhet Abroad.

                        Grumble. I'll take my Dhaka Bengalis in Jamaica, JH, etc any day. And a few villagers from Church Av and Sunset Park.

                        Oh yeah, and the 80% owned and operated by Bengali thing effectively kills off any other Indian region's restaurants. NYC has the same thing where all the Indian restaurants are totally owned and operated by Bengalis. Thankfully New York still has excellent Bengali food. London, I haven't found any yet.

                        They don't seem to have the eat lunch out or eat while shopping for saris and gold culture that keep JH and 169th in Jamaica going strong. It's a home cooking kind of place here.

                        1. re: JFores

                          Well, being that you're IN London, I can't really argue, but have been told by other Bengalis and a few Brits that Birmingham and a few other smaller northern towns in the UK have some really spectacular Bengali restaurants. I know of only a handful, three mentioned regularly, in NY?

                          From personal experience, Bengali food's regional variations mostly suffers the same homogenization that Indian food does here in the States ("Indian" = Punjabi) so, a lot of what you get is the popular standards (e.g. shorshay elish {mustard hilsa fish}, kacchi biryani, deemer dhom, mishti doi, etc.). I have to say I'm surprised to hear that any one region (Syhletis in Queens) would get extensive recognition being that the larger cuisine itself isn’t as popular as you or I would like and the variations you will find are very minimal (usually in the spice prep – when vs. what, unlike in India), so kudos to you if you can distinguish any regional variations within the dishes that are commonly offered. My sister and I have had extensive and pretty hilarious conversations as to why we lose more weight (which invariably happens) when visiting one side’s family versus the other despite the fact that we’re mostly eating the same stuff. (Dad's family is a part of the Arab community in Sylhet, Mom's family is from Khulna in the south, most live in Dhaka. Apparently, aside from loving the coconut milk common in the south, we like the spices and onions/garlic in our curries fried in the beginning, thank you very much).

                          Anyways, NY has some really spectacular ethnic foods and I apologize profusely to the OP for the hijack.

                          1. re: adrienne156

                            Queens actually has fewer Sylhetis than one would immediately think. They're most around Church Ave in Brooklyn. Jamaica (169th) and JH are pretty Dhaka Bengali.

                            The restaurants I usually toss out are Ghoroa, Sagor and Spicy Mina's though the last one is about as hit and miss as it gets.

                            1. re: JFores

                              I meant to type Brooklyn, not Queens. sorry

                  2. re: JFores

                    I beg to differ on the Lomzynianka front. I ate there once because a Polish friend from out of town said it was their favorite place in Greenpoint, and it led me to believe it was the ONLY place in Greenpoint they'd tried (I'm also Polish). I'm sorry to say I actually thought it was pretty darned gross! Haha.

                    For one of the best meals served outside of my Babcia's kitchen head just a few blocks over to Cafe Relax on Newell St just off Nassau (one block past McGuinness). It's ridiculously cheap and ridiculously good. Their pierogi are among my faves, nalesniki also very very good, potato pancakes are hit or miss, I like the pork cutlet with sauerkraut "salad" and misere (cucumber and sour cream "salad")...that runs at just about $8, your max, but the plate of food is enormous. Be sure to get a bottle of Polish beer to wash it down.

                    I have heard very very good things about Damis up at the other end of Manhattan. I'm dying to try it myself, supposedly they have an amazing trout dish. All the Polish places are very cheap, but I think Damis is slightly pricier and slightly fancier. Relax is just a hole in the wall luncheonette.

                    Be sure to stop at Steve's Meat Market for some excellent sausage to take home, particularly the kabanos.

                    1. re: ballulah

                      I agree with ballulah on Lomzynianka. Last time we went, I had cold cut vegetables, greasy roast chicken and very obviously boxed mashed potatoes. ew.

                      1. re: chompchomp

                        I'll have to try this.

                        However, I would never order chicken at Lom (or pretty much anywhere else.) I really like their veal liver, pickle soup, Hungarian pie and boiled beef with horseradish sauce. Those are what keep me coming back.

                        1. re: JFores

                          Pickle soup as in zurek (white borscht)? That's the standard by which I measure all the Pollack joints, and mine was abysmal at Lomzynianka. Cafe Relax has its ups and downs depending on who is in the kitchen (I've been eating there for nearly 10 years), but the range runs from delicious to just Lomzynianka I couldn't eat it.

                  3. re: Mr Taster

                    Oh yeah, get a roast beef sandwich at John's Deli in Bensonhurst. Forgot about my own nabe!

                3. Other than MexicanCentral American and East Asian, EVERYTHING, especially if you lump Brooklyn and Queens together (they're all just stops on the subway to me).

                  My theory is that the cuisines follow the people, and here are some mind-boggling numbers for Queens alone (100,000 Ecuadorians???) and I'm sure NY Residents could add some tasty demographic nuggets for Brooklyn, too.


                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Xiao Yang

                    Queens is statistically the most ethnically diverse constituency in the entire U.S. It's also arguable that the U.S. is the most diverse country in the world. Queens the most diverse constituency in the world? Yes, I think so. London has nothing on NYC as far as diversity goes and aside from maybe Singapore I can't think of other runners up.

                    1. re: Xiao Yang

                      Xiao Yang- 你好. 我是 Adam :)

                      Your theory that the food follows the people is a good one. That's why I am quietly disappointed every time I walk into a new ethnic food restaurant and find it filled entirely with trendy decor and non-native people from that country. That says to me "this food will be more expensive and not as good as it could be."

                      Mr Taster

                      1. re: Mr Taster

                        The corollary is that the more recent the in-migration, the more authentic and affordable the popular cuisine will be. That's what makes Queens such a great hunting ground for true chowhounds.

                        1. re: Xiao Yang

                          I never liked Queens before I became a full blown worshiper of food. My family's traditionally from there but I'm pretty much a Brooklynite. As soon as I get back from the wasteland of London, I'll be moving to Queens for sure. JH or Flushing here I come!

                    2. Mr. T., if you don't know it already, I highly recommend chowhound davecook's blog "eating in translation" and its ancillary flickr photo stream. He's the Energizer Bunny of ethnic food noshing, having sampled over 1,800 different bites in three years, covering all five boroughs, New Jersey, and half the rest of the world, and just keeps going and going. If it's out there he will find it -- got any Bulgogi Dogs in LA?



                      1. Brooklyn has regional Middle Eastern. There's the row of them on Atlantic Avenue- my favorite is Waterfalls, for Lebanese. There's also Sahadi's for a unique, old-school market featuring amazing nuts, olives, dried fruit, prepared Lebanese food, and Damascus Bakery for Lebanese baked goods. In the same area you'll find Yemenite joints, check chowhound or Robert Sietsema in the Voice for more on those. Also, there's Egyptian places like Siwa Grill, 5th Ave bt. 69th and 70th in Brooklyn, which is held highly by a source I trust (haven't been yet).

                        Random Brooklyn shout-out for something truly obscure: Upstate NY cuisine!

                        Bonnie’s Grill ($5th ave and 1st Street): All by two guys from Buffalo: Best hot wings in town, great fries, beer, and beef on weck (roast beef and horseradish sandwich).

                        1. . The Bay Ridge and Sunset park (5th Ave) sections of Brooklyn have a lot of Small, Middle Eastern and Spanish/Domenican places that are pretty inexpensive. You mention a $8 price pp limit. I'd have to ask, what you expect the $8 to cover?.
                          We definitely do Greek and Turkish, for that mattter all Middle Eastern food, and Eastern European food better than LA., EG: Spartan Chicken on a fresh pita is a BIG sandwich and is both very satisfying and inexpensive, or Theresa's Polish Ameican on 8th and 46-48 st. ?
                          As for Junoir's Cheesecake... .Pffittt! Highly overrated.If you're willing to go over budget for Junoir's, you'd be much happier with a cream cheese cheesecake from Angelo's Bakery on 86th St and 25th Ave, Their "Lobster Tails" filled with french cream are outrageous and come in under your $ criteria.
                          Also better in NY:... Cannoli.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: Tay

                            Mmm... lobster tails. Good point on the Italian bakeries, too. You'll be hard pressed to find a decent sfogliatelle (orange-ricotta filled flaky pastry) in LA like you can say at Court St. Pastry or cannoli like at Rocco's in the West Village or Veniero's in the East.

                            1. re: Spoony Bard

                              I really wanted to mention sfogliatelle, but was too lazy to look up the spelling:-}

                              I should have mentioned to the OP that Brooklyn bakeries also make the best 'Italian' Ices.
                              I don't know if it's still there, but Rispoli's Bakery had the best homemade ices and outstanding cannoli, both chocolate and vanilla.

                              1. re: Spoony Bard

                                IMHO, 18th Ave bakery has better sfogliatelle than Court St (though Court St's is fantastic)

                                (Great Bronx recommendations in that thread too, btw. There is indeed fantastic sfogliatelle to be had here).

                              2. re: Tay

                                Lomzynianka is pretty much amazing for Polish as I said above. I neglected to include anything Asian in the Chinatowns or any Sunset spots due to the price and food type constraints. Similarly, I only recced Karam out of the Arab joints, because the others would go over.

                                1. re: Tay

                                  Junior's Cheesecake is like Dunkin' Donuts coffee: Some marketing person started calling it the best based on nothing other than wishful thinking and before long, history rewrites itself. Say it enough and it becomes, if not true at least accepted.

                                  1. re: HankyT

                                    I agree! (Except that I like Dunkin Donuts coffee.) I think Junior's is horrible cheesecake!

                                    Actually, speaking of which, and considering that my previous post was about Greenpoint and Polish food, there is excellent cheesecake to be had in Greenpoint. It's not the creamy NY style cheesecake, it's the cakier European version with raisins. Jubilatka Bakery (and the bakery a few doors north) on Manhattan Ave past Greenpoint Ave has a great one.

                                    1. re: ballulah

                                      Totally second Jubilatka. I love that place!