Every time we visit Fort Greene or Clinton Hill, we feel like taking up bare-knuckle boxing or high-stakes mahjong just to make enough money to buy a brownstone there. Until we get super good at mahjong, however, we’ll settle for just getting some food in either neighborhood. Here’s a list of all the places where we like to eat. On it, you’ll find a few neighborhood Italian spots, a semi-hidden Japanese restaurant/bar with great food and excellent cocktails, and a Nigerian place where you can eat in a vintage VW van.
If you’re in or around Fort Greene, and you want to eat pasta outside, go to LaRina. Their back patio is like a secret garden with ivy on the walls and colorful tiles you’ll consider installing in your own backyard (once you have such a thing). They also do a pretty affordable pasta tasting menu, and it’s what you should order if you’re doing anything other than a casual weeknight dinner.
Kanye does music and sneakers, and Emily does burgers and pizza. They pretty much own both games in Clinton Hill, and the $27 price tag on the burger seems reasonable once you swallow part of it. This is one of our favorite spots in the neighborhood, and it’s from the same people behind Emmy Squared (and the West Village Emily). If you want to top-notch food in a nice, casual setting, come here. They only take reservations for parties of five or more, but there are plenty of bars nearby where you can wait for a table.
Walter’s is where you go for a consistently good plate of food in a setting that feels like an old-school bar. The employees might be dressed like they’re waiting for Cornelius Vanderbilt to travel forward in time and demand a plate of oysters, but don’t be fooled - this place is as casual as any other neighborhood spot. Come in a sweatshirt and eat a French dip with friends. Alternately, sit by yourself and eat something with fries while you use Google to guess your friends’ salaries.
Karasu is hidden in behind a door in the back of Walter Foods, and it’s the closest thing Fort Greene has to a speakeasy. It isn’t as uptight as your average speakeasy, however, and both the food and the cocktails are worth traveling for. Have some fried chicken, or get a ribeye if you’re there with a few friends or have recently been bitten by a werewolf. Karasu is a Japanese restaurant/bar combo, and they take reservations.
It’s a Monday, and you want to eat some pasta with a side of hummus. Or maybe it’s a Sunday and you want to get some brunch outdoors in the gym shorts that double as your pajamas. That’s what Olea is for. It’s a neighborhood Mediterranean spot, and it’s about as casual as someone’s living room. It’s versatile, however, and you can either come with your parents, bring a date, or sit by yourself and eat fried cheese.
If Fort Greene were one big house, Habana Outpost would be its backyard. This is a extremely casual Cuban/American spot where you can order some food at a counter then eat it at a picnic table on a big patio. They even play outdoor movies on a big screen outside in the summertime, and it feels like the NYC equivalent of a drive-in theater. So you can hang out here, eat a cuban sandwich and watch a modern classic like To Wong Fu or Purple Rain. And feel free to bring the kids.
Aita is a neighborhood Italian spot, and it works perfectly well for what it is. Are you going to travel to get here? Probably not. But if you live in the neighborhood, it’s a great place for an impromptu date night, dinner with the parents, or a brunch. It might be a little crowded when you go, and that’s because it’s a charming space with farmhouse vibes, and you feel good pasta here.
Buka is a casual Nigerian restaurant in Clinton Hill that’s open late. It’s lively and affordable, and it’s great place to come with a group. Just stop by, get some beers, and order a bunch of stuff for the table - things like goat stew, Nigerian doughnuts, or red snapper with a side of fufu (which is a large ball of dough made from cassava). Although if you’re feeling adventurous, you could always get the African land snail. Either way, try to get seated at the table they have inside of an old VW van. It’s cheesy, but not every restaurant has an old van, and you should go for it.
The last time we were at Dino, they were playing angsty ballads from the 90’s, and at least one employee knew every lyric. That’s the vibe of this place. It’s a little neighborhood Italian spot with a cozy, minimalist dining room, and it’s perfect for a low-key date night. Prices are also pretty reasonable, especially when you factor in the very decent portion sizes. A bowl of pasta here will put you to sleep, and if you like simple things, we suggest the spaghetti limone.
If someone asks you on a date in Clinton Hill, you’re probably going to Sisters. It’s a restaurant/bar, and it might be the best-looking place in the neighborhood. There’s also plenty of room (with a second bar in back), and they do lunch, brunch, and dinner. Although if you don’t want to eat a full meal, you can always just have a snack or sit at the bar and stick to drinks. Essentially, this is a bar with some food that’s actually good - and that’s why someone will invite you here one day to ask you what your favorite move is.
The Market feels like a nice, modern coffee shop. One that happens to serve rice bowls and noodles and also has a little booth up front where a woman makes dumplings from scratch. Order at the counter, then find a seat and hang out as long as you want. It’s perfect for quick lunch, and it’s your best option in the area for dumplings so fresh you can watch their replacement being made.
The Finch is where you go in Clinton Hill when you want to eat tasting-menu-style things without having to do a tasting menu. The food here is seasonal, farm-to-restaurant stuff, and, at any given time, you’ll be able to find at least ten ingredients here that have been considered “trendy.” Fiddlehead ferns, ramps, bottarga - you know the deal. We’d make fun of this, but the food is actually excellent, the space is beautiful, and you won’t find a better high-end dinner/date spot in the area.
Mekelburg’s has a lot of craft beer, some great wines by the glass, and one of the best baked potatoes in town. It’s in the basement of a small brick building, and it looks like a grocery store when you walk in, but there’s a dining room in the back (and an outdoor patio as well). You can sit at the bar and drink an obscure beer or grab a table and eat a good sandwich - something with duck or porchetta or wagyu roast beef.
Bar Bolinas is from the same people behind Allswell, one of our favorite places to get a burger. Unsurprisingly, this place also does a good burger. It comes on Dutch Crunch bread - crispy on the outside, soft on the inside - and they use the same bread for the fried chicken sandwich. They also happen do a bunch of foods that don’t really seem to fit together, like baos, fettuccine, and chicharrones. Overall, Bar Bolinas is a nice neighborhood spot for a casual night out (or lunch), and there’s the added bonus of a nice back patio.
This is an Israeli/Mediterranean spot in Fort Greene, and it’s where you should go if you want to eat hummus with a date outdoors. They do a few different kinds, and you can also get a bunch of other things like grilled octopus or shakshuka. Their pita could use a little work, but they makes up for it with a vibey space and a quality backyard with real live plants and murals on the walls.
This place should really be called Mike’s Diner, but that name doesn’t sound as good, and this “coffee shop” is from a pre-Starbucks time when coffee shops also served things like grits and hamburgers. Step into Mike’s, and it feels like traveling back a half century. It’s a tiny diner on quiet corner in Clinton Hill, and it’s where you should be eating pancakes and bacon on a Sunday morning when you want to reassure yourself that New York is not getting worse every year.