This Burger Comes on a Fried Cheese Bun
Best place to bring a date: Elia
While there are plenty of excellent casual Greek spots in the Ridge, Elia stands above the rest with slightly more upscale versions of your favorite Mediterranean foods in a space that was practically made for a date (think white-washed brick walls, dim lighting, and cloth napkins). The flaming saganaki is theatrical, the beet salad is far more elegant than a beet salad needs to be, and main courses like milk-fed veal chop or the whole grilled fish (for sharing) are enough to make even the worst Tinder date tolerable.
Best brunch: Cebu
Since you probably left your credit card at Cebu the previous night, it only makes sense to stay for brunch when you go to pick it up. While creative cocktails and small plates draw a lively crowd any night of the week, Cebu is best at helping you pick up the pieces the next morning with its comforting brunch menu. Hangover staples like French toast with fresh berries and steak & eggs abound, but you’re here for the daily rotating brunch specials, like crispy chicken & waffles or soft polenta with poached eggs. Yes... in Bay Ridge you can get brunch every damn day, not just on the weekends.
Best pub food: The Wicked Monk
Pub culture is strong among Ridgies. We take our watering holes and our “water” very seriously, and can’t rest peacefully at the end of the week until we “inspect” multiple joints to make sure they’re still pouring proper. Of course, we need some food to keep us going on a steady crawl. That’s where The Wicked Monk, an Irish pub built with parts of an actual Irish monastery and staffed with only the friendliest locals, comes in. The Monk has been in the neighborhood for more than 20 years, but only really got serious about its food when it moved to its current location, which is about twice the size of the original, four years ago. The Reuben spring rolls are a must-order (be advised, you only get two, so plan accordingly for your party size), but mac & cheese is also its own food group at Wicked Monk, with several menu mainstays and a nightly special (like bacon, ranch, and cheddar mac & cheese with chicken).
Best Italian: Gino's
Mondays in Bay Ridge are so much worse than Mondays in the rest of the city, and that’s because on Mondays, Gino’s is closed. This long-standing, family-owned, polished-yet-casual institution is a triple threat: you can walk in and get a great slice/pie to go, sit down to have a great meal, or have them cater your next party (in the restaurant or out). The crispy-crusted Grandma pie, a fan favorite, comes topped with a perfectly sweet tomato sauce and the freshest mozzarella. The gnocchi is light, fluffy, and generously coated in a tomato basil sauce made even more rich by the same fresh mozzarella. The chicken Parm is by far the best in the borough. If it wasn’t already apparent, Gino's could probably put its sauce and mozzarella on a cardboard box and it would be great.
Best place to get a hunk of beef: Embers Steakhouse
Imagine getting a dry-aged filet, rib-eye, or porterhouse without having to put on a suit or make a reservation four months in advance. Embers is a worthy contender to any of the top steakhouses in the city, only much more affordable and in no way pretentious. Embers also turns the traditional steakhouse on its head with atypical appetizers like an antipasto platter and sides like potato pie with prosciutto and mozzarella. Also, every cut of meat on the menu comes directly from the the butcher shop next door. This is a true neighborhood steakhouse joint, and one that’s hard to find elsewhere in New York.
Best coffee shop for writers: Coffee Rx (Coffee Lab)
Whether you’re writing your memoir or reading Thrillist while trying to think about what exactly in your life has been memoir-worthy, keep yourself caffeinated and connected to Wi-Fi at this laid-back coffee shop known for its modern interiors, friendly staff, and a little thing called the Nutella Monster, which basically amounts to a frappuccino with an enormous scoop of Nutella in it. People risk parking tickets to stop in and get one to-go.
Best dessert spot: Omonia Cafe
When you’re in the mood for something honey-covered and sprinkled with nuts, this is the place to go. Omonia does Greek desserts proud, from the basic kataifi (shredded wheat with nuts and honey syrup) to the ekmek kataifi (the basic, plus two kinds of cream). But it's best known for its massive array of chocolate sponge cakes -- some layered with cream or fudge, others coated in more chocolate than one person should consume in an afternoon. The dessert case can be overwhelming, but if you have an idea of what you want and the patience to read the menu descriptions or talk it out with the server, you’ll be fine (also, take your sweet time -- it’s open ‘til 3am during the week and 4am on weekends).
Best burger: Brooklyn Beet Company
Brooklyn Beet Company is probably the only place in Bay Ridge to tout local farm-to-table fare, but it’s also home to the best burger in the neighborhood. The Original Korzo is a beef burger topped with bacon, Emmenthaler, pickles, and mustard wrapped up in a Slovak dough and fried. Yes, it’s a deep-fried burger. The house-made ketchup is made with beets (of course) and is an earthier-tasting alternative to tomato ketchup that will give new life to your fries. To go along with it all, there’s Korzo beer -- a special hoppy brew made just for Brooklyn Beet Company across the bridge in Staten Island. Now that’s local.
Best donuts: Mike's Donuts
You’re not getting any fancy or revolutionary donut flavors at Mike’s. There’s no Nutella filling or hibiscus petals coated with gold leaf -- it’s strictly jelly or glazed, or some other old-school donut variety that’s undoubtedly better than anything for which people line up for hours. Every donut at Mike’s is light, fluffy, not too sweet, and perfectly complemented by a cup of coffee. A no-frills, non-franchise donut shop doesn’t stay in business for more than 30 years (with a Dunkin' Donuts right across the street) without doing something right.
Best place for vegetarians: Shangri-La Vegetarian
Amidst all of Bay Ridge’s sushi spots, burger joints, and halal restaurants with beehives of meat spinning in the windows stands this oasis for vegetarians that will please even the most stubborn carnivore. In a neighborhood where Asian food has mediocre representation at best, Shangri-La is a welcome find, with satisfying and flavorful dishes like soba or udon noodle soup with seaweed and tofu, an all-veg mu-shoo, and the chocolate peanut butter bomb -- a towering figure that no mere mortal can (or should) finish on his or her own.
Best baklava: Antepli Baklava
The Turkish city Gaziantep is known for its pistachios, which are used to make the perfect baklava. Antep (which is what the Turks call it) claims to have more than 100 baklava bakeries, and some Antep natives have settled and brought their baklava-making expertise -- and those pistachios -- to this no-frills bakery. If it isn’t clear by now: get the pistachio baklava. Get it by the pound or by the truckload. Antepli has trays upon trays of it, and people in the back are always making more. The bakery prides itself on using all-natural, preservative-free ingredients, and you can taste the tradition and purity in each bite.
Place to go for a mini-vacation: Casa Pepe
Casa Pepe is a little off the beaten path in Bay Ridge, but it’s a block away from the waterfront and feels like you’re stepping off the streets of Brooklyn and into a welcoming casita. The seafood tapas -- calamari, gambas, and pulpo -- are authentic, and most importantly, totally filling (a rarity when it comes to tapas). If you’re a larger group, opt for the traditional Paella Valenciana, made with fresh seafood like clams and mussels and spicy Spanish sausage in golden rice. Also, don’t miss the 16 different margarita flavors.
Best food worth all the delays on the R train: Tanoreen
Tanoreen is probably the most decorated restaurant in Bay Ridge (it’s made the Michelin Bib Gourmand list, and continues to top lists for the best Middle Eastern food) and deserves every bit of praise. It’s known for taking Middle Eastern food to new levels by embracing Mediterranean influence, seen in dishes like baked Mediterranean eggplant with tanoreen-spiced ground lamb. There’s also the perfect mix of high and low here: typical street foods like falafel and kabobs are made with the same quality and care as more refined entrees like squash yogurt (squash stuffed with lamb and served with yogurt-garlic sauce). But it’s not just the food that keeps people coming back -- there’s also something about the way owner Rawia Bishara walks around the dining room in a power suit talking to every single one of her customers to make sure they’re happy. Don’t end a meal without the knafeh for dessert, which is a both sweet and cheesy, and will have you questioning whether you ever need chocolate in your life again.