Welcome to the borscht belt.
Take the B train to the end of the line for an afternoon of beach and babushkas. New York’s Little Odessa is as authentic as it gets.
A trip to Brighton Beach is always fun – and yet most Manhattanites have never even been there. Personally I don’t know what more you could want. Loud Russians – check. Being addressed in Russian, not English – check. Store after store selling pickles – check.
Brighton’s beach is as good as its gonna get in NYC, that is, the sand is clean and the dark blue-green water is crisp and usually clean, save for the odd cigarette butt. There are touts selling piva (beer), cocktails, even kites. There’s a good chance a Russian man seeking a Green Card may sidle up to you to make your acquaintance. It’s part of the charm.
Tatianna on the promenade does not serve the best food, like any restaurant with a “view,” but it’s a decent option for a plate of pickles, shot of chilled vodka and people-watching.
Away from the beach, there’s good street food to be had here. Get in line with the babushkas outside Best Buy for piroshki, fried yeast dough stuffed with cabbage, potato, peas and other simple fillings. Or try the thin unpronounceable flatbreads rolled with spinach – just point and pay.
The best Brighton Beach restaurants, cafes, bars and shops:
- Kashkar Cafe is a brightly decorated spot specializing in Uygur and Uzbeki dishes like lagman soup, a clean lamb broth with potatoes and vegetables that’s particularly fortifying on a winter’s night, and halal kebabs – get the mixed kebab plate so you can try the beef, chicken and lamb. 1141 Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn.
- Elza Fancy Foods/Cafe At Your Mother-in-Law: in typical Eastern European fashion, there’s confusion even in the name of this nondescript cafe just off Brighton Beach Ave. But the Korean-Uzbeki food is simple, home-style comfort at its best: don’t pass up the delicate manti, boiled dumplings filled with lamb and onion and served with a dollop of sour cream. 3071 Brighton 4th St, Brooklyn.
- Grab a cold one at Kebeer Bar & Grill on the corner of Coney Island and Brighton Beach Aves. The beer menu is refreshingly void of artisanal, craft brews. 1003 Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn.
- La Brioche Bakery is the place for all kinds of Russian pastries. Just follow the steady stream of locals picking up slices of Napoleon, poppyseed and jam cookies, strudels and huge meringue kisses with hazelnut cream. 1073 Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn.
- Berikoni Bakery (Brick Oven Bread on the awning) is a spartan Georgian deli famous for kachapuri, boat-shaped bread filled with egg and cheese. They come fresh out of the oven all day long. They also have a fridge full of dips: the walnut and herb is great with roast chicken, as well as khinkali, fat dumplings so juicy that they dribble down your chin. 125 Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn.
- Brighton Bazaar is a cornucopia of Russian food. Remember Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson? “Coffee…coffee…coffee…coffee!” – that’s what it’s like here with its endless assortment of cured meats, smoked fish, prepared foods and every kind of pickle you can imagine. 1007 Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn.
- Cafe Glechik used to be the best on the Soviet bloc(k), and it still serves a superior Napoleon (flaky layered custard cake), but its signature pilmeni (boiled dumplings) have fallen flat lately, not even served in the traditional glechik (pot). 3159 Coney Island Ave, Brooklyn.