In a World of Tasty Meat-Filled Starches

Map by Jason Lee
Photo: Hannah Whitaker

1. Cafe Glechik
3159 Coney Island Ave.; 718-616-0766.
With recipes cribbed from the owner’s grandmother (naturally), this busy café serves the best Ukrainian food in the city. A bowl of ruby-red borscht ($6) provides the warm-up for the epic Glechik stew—fall-off-the-bone short ribs with an oniony sauce and crisp-fried potato dumplings that gradually soak up the meat juices ($14.50).

Photo: Hannah Whitaker

2. Café Kashkar
1141 Brighton Beach Ave.; 718-743-3832.
The lamb-and-dough-centric cuisine of Uzbekistan’s Uighur community is well represented at this nook by exotica like samsa (flaky pastries with juicy, hand-chopped lamb filling, $2.50), Chinese-style lagman noodles, served either stir-fried ($7.50) or in a bracing lamb soup ($6), and the zesty glass-noodle salad called langsai ($7).

3. Vintage Food Corporation
287 Brighton Beach Ave.; 718-769-6674.
Thronged with shoppers from Russia’s southern and eastern fringes, this fragrant Turkish bazaar is one of the city’s best sources for inexpensive, high-quality nuts and dried fruits. The jars of pekmez (thick grape molasses) isn’t normally seen outside Istanbul.

Café La BriochePhoto: Hannah Whitaker

4. Café La Brioche
1073 Brighton Beach Ave.; 718-934-0731.
This Russian-Jewish bakery smells of sweet dough and fresh coffee. Buy plump vatrushki danishes, slabs of honeyed poppy-seed roll, and crumbly rugalach. The sour-cream-filled smetannik cake ($4 a pound) is the sine qua non of Russian home desserts.

5. Ocean View Café
290 Brighton Beach Ave.; 718-332-1900.
While regulars order Caesar salad with smoked eel ($14) at this vaguely nautical-themed storefront, non-Russians should stick to the comfort foods: fluffy cheese blintzes ($6.50) or the remarkably delicate stuffed cabbage in tomato sauce ($9.50). Vodka—sold by the gram, in the best Soviet tradition—should be downed with the house-cured herring ($8), coupled with dilled roasted potatoes and wisps of red onion to cut the richness.

6. Gold Label Deli
281–285 Brighton Beach Ave.; 718-743-3900.
Pirozhki are the quintessential Russian street food, and the stand here serves the best. Besides the proletarian fried-yeast dough pies with cabbage or meat (greasy but good, from $1 to $6), you’ll find khachapuri (Georgian cheese pastries, from $2), various strudels, and terrific Moldovan plachinda—flat, round pies with a tangy feta-and-scallions filling ($2.50).

7. Ocean Wine & Liquor
514 Brighton Beach Ave.; 718-743-3084.
Since so many restaurants here are BYO, you’ll need a good source for vodka. Here you’ll find more than 50 varieties—pure, or in such flavors as buffalo grass (zubrovka), birch-tree buds, and honey and pepper.

M&I International FoodPhoto: Hannah Whitaker

8. Gastronom Arkadia
1079 Brighton Beach Ave.; 718-934-7709.
Many markets have copious buffets, but this has the tastiest food, for about $3.99 a pound. Try the smoky split- pea soup, juicy minced-meat lyulya kebab, plump golden fish cakes, and the vegetable-stuffed pickled eggplant.

9. Food Heaven
239 Brighton Beach Ave.; 718-743-4700.
The neighborhood’s answer to Dean & DeLuca: There are handsome gift jars of exotic fruit compotes from Azerbaijan, rounds of smoked suluguni cheese (a kind of Georgian mozzarella), and snow-white slabs of salo—the Ukrainian answer to lardo di Colonnata. The upstairs café attracts matronly types with fancy teas (such as Kusmi) and fanciful méringue tortes shipped in from the mother country.

Photo: Hannah Whitaker

10. Brighton Bazaar
1007 Brighton Beach Ave.; 718-769-1700.
Most large delis here excel in something particular; this one, which also includes a well-curated fresh-produce section, is the best source of cold- and hot-smoked fish, whether salmon, chubs, whitefish, or the Ur-Slavic sturgeon.

11. Primorski
282 Brighton Beach Ave.; 718-891-3111.
This 28-year-old stalwart churns out consistently professional Georgian-Russian-Ukrainian-Jewish fare (don’t miss the skewered lamb riblets, $13.50, or blini, which they call a “Russian crêpe,” frosted with salmon caviar, $9.50). At night, the scene turns into a Felliniesque bar mitzvah—think burly Russian guys dancing to “Hava Nagila” with faux-Chanel-clad peroxide blondes.

12. M & I International Food
249 Brighton Beach Ave.; 718-615-1011.
Mineral water from the Republic of Georgia, Polish porcini mushrooms, acres of smoked meats and fish—it’s all here, somewhere, at this two-story food emporium. The prepared cold-food section has excellent eggplant appetizers (from $4.99 per pound), and the slender kabanosy sausages from the cold-cuts counter are great on the grill.

Photo: Hannah Whitaker

13. Varenichnaya
3086 Brighton 2nd St.; 718-332-9797.
Take a dumpling tour of the former U.S.S.R. at this small spot, named for the signature Ukrainian noodle pouches, vareniki. The flat, slippery specimens are filled with anything from potatoes ($6.50) to pot cheese ($6.95); other good choices include the round, hand-shaped Siberian veal or chicken pelmeni ($6.50), and the fat steamed Uzbek lamb manti ($8.50).

In a World of Tasty Meat-Filled Starches