Brooklyn's dining scene has become very distinctive and very terrible, despite the howls of trendsters and their mouthpieces in the media. But there are some great places that were around before the fad and / or will outlast it.
The name sounds hip, but this Polish eatery in far Bay Ridge is anything but. The food of Poland is bland, filling, and wholesome, and that's just what you get at Polonica. Go for blinzes, pierogis, and kiebasa, or if feeling like stretching the limits of the kitchen, a chicken cutlet with mushroom sauce. All the sides are winners, especially the mashed potatoes, so make sure to get them for the table.
There are a handful of Russian restaurants, mostly in Brighton Beach and Gravesend, devoted to the art of making the various Siberian, Georgian, and Russian dumplings: pelmeni, chebureks, vareniki. Glechnik is one of the nicer ones, with big platters, cold vodka, and more than a few homey dishes to enjoy if you have any space left after eating all those dumplings.
Brooklyn eating at its best, this is the classic mom-and-pop eclectic bistro, serving a very good, very limited menu to a knot of loyal neighbors, The Good Fork deserves respect and even affection. Best known for its dumplings and Korean steak and eggs, I always loved it for its burger. This is a pleasant, relaxed place to be and by far Red Hook's best.
Brooklyn's let-it-roll style works well in the case of barbecue, which is best served in dressed down, funky environments. Unfortunately, it also requires a lot of precision, which Fette Sau doesn't always lay down. The food is excellent, and there are meats smoked here you won't find elsewhere, but they sometimes sit around too long. Go early when they first open, and look for the pork belly if they have it.
A simple, unpretentious Italian restaurant on the border between Williamsburg and Bushwick, Il Passatore does Italian simple food in a way you generally need real Italians to produce. It's not improved or adjusted in any way; it tastes just like what you'd get if you were driving around in Italy, for better or worse. The prices are low and the food is good. The place is just cool and a great find.
Secluded, rustic, and romantic (it's in an area so secluded you can hear birds chirping outside), Vinegar Hill House doesn't seem likely to have great food. After all, why bother? But the food is, amazingly, the main reason to go. The wood oven is, for once, used as an engine for cast-iron cooking and simple food made with the best possible ingredients. This is one of the best restaurants in New York, period.
Universally hailed as one of the greatest exhibitions of culinary genius in the USA, this small chef's counter (there are only 18 seats) showcases Cesar Ramirez's exquisite food, but it also asks a lot from its customers, who are required to sit in reverential silence for hours, barely talking, never taking pictures, etc. etc. By all accounts it's the sort of meal nobody goes to twice -- more a touchstone for gastrocrats than a meal to look forward to. At the same time, by all accounts Ramirez is a genius.
A straight-up trattoria serving classic roman dishes, Broken English does one thing and does it very well. It has the usual exposed brick walls, mismatched plates, and etc., but the real reason to go here if for exemplary spaghetti carbonara, saltimboca, and other standards.
The epitome of what people want from an urbane, of-the-moment bistro, circa 2012: twee and rustic surroundings featuring local and seasonal food prepared with surgical precision, each leaf tweezered into place with an almost religious respect. The costs are moderate, the service attentive, and the food superb, even by Manhattan standards.
One of the best dim sum houses in Brooklyn, if not the best, World Tong Seafood is packed at all times with Chinese customers who flock there for siu mai, soup dumplings, sticky rice in lotus leaf, and other Cantonese standards. Everything's fresh because there's so much volume, and for the same reason, you never have to wait too long to get in.