Almost a century ago, a French tire company called Michelin decided to put restaurants in a book that it figured it could sell to drivers. Soon, it turned out there were too many restaurants and getting on the list became a great source of pride. Now, there’s even a bonus list where the company lists what it calls “good little restaurants” or bib gourmands: lower-key restaurants selected by “guide inspectors for their very good value for money.”
According to the tin, that means that a meal should cost under $40 for dish and a drink, though food blogs like Eater like to also report on the list as a list of restaurants that have failed to get an actual place on the main list itself, since Michelin makes a point of not including any restaurant on both lists and it releases this list before it dramatically announces the other one. The only Bushwick restaurant to earn any actual Michelin stars last time around was a pricy loft called Blanca, which is normally contained in a hidden room inside Roberta’s but is currently shuttered amid the pandemic. Even if it were open, it would likely not qualify for this list, however, as the tasting menu over there goes for about $198 a person, according to Yelp.
But the ongoing pandemic is also the real story of this year’s bib gourmand list. Ridgewood, once home to the Bib-regular Houdini’s, is absent from the list entirely. This is likely no fault of the pizzeria whose hipness to the food world’s pizza trends once gave cause to the Times to name the entire neighborhood “Quooklyn.” Houdini’s is no more, according to the Infatuation, which took note of its permanent closing last September.
There’s a focus on new restaurants in this year’s list — two of the local spots that made it opened amid the ongoing pandemic. Many of them cling close to the border with Williamsburg. A search on the map itself reveals a curious aversion to southern Brooklyn on the part of the brand’s top-secret and anonymous reviewers. In fact, this year’s list goes no further south than Chavela’s, a Mexican spot in Crown Heights that opened a decade ago and made its debut on the list in 2018. Michelin calls it “an absolute riot of color.”
Other restaurants that lost their footing include Falanasai, a long-celebrated Vietnamese spot that made the list in its original incarnation back in 2016. It also shuttered this year but reopened with a new chef a month later. But no luck with Michelin set, apparently. Surviving Bushwick regulars on the list, however, do include celebrated names like Bunker and Roberta’s, the latter of which just opened an outpost in Williamsburg’s new Domino Park this year.
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When Mexico City-native and restaurant industry vet Reyna Morales opened Gordo’s Cantina on St. Nicholas Avenue, our Matt Fink called its take on mole “flat out ravishing.” Michelin’s secret reviewer must be an avid Bushwick Daily reader, as the guide’s writeup also made space for the “satisfying mole” at “this Bushwick hangout.” According to the menu, its main mole dish — an enchilada stuffed with chicken and drenched in the stuff — will cost you $18. Also celebrated by the Michelin crew: the black tiger shrimp tacos (“delicious both with or without the tortilla”; these go for $16).
Gordo’s Cantina is located at 140 St Nicholas Avenue.
“One gets the impression that there are few rules inside this easygoing establishment,” the guide opens on Gentle Perch, another new face on both Michelin’s list and on the western edge of Bushwick. A Korean-Southern BBQ fusion spot that opened shortly before the pandemic, the guide handsomely celebrates the eatery’s poppy millennial colors, the work of a Brooklyn ad agency called All Good NYC (“a dive bar-like riot,” says the guide). Entering a food scene that made careers out of the kung pao pastrami at Mission, the fusion options at Gentle Perch seem filled with the same spirit: kimchi baked beans! ($6), eggplant fries steeped in hickory mayo! ($7). Recommended eats from the guide include a colorfully chic ramyun dish called the “hungover Seoul” and, from its rich menu of Korean-friendly Southern Americana, a rack of short ribs dipped in galbi sauce ($15).
Gentle Perch is located at 112 Graham Avenue.
At little up Graham Avenue, you’ll find a diligent line waiting at Win Son. Soon after it opened in 2016, it quickly drew in crowds for its danzi noodles, oyster omelettes, and pork buns. In late 2019, the buns at the Taiwanese-American hot spot got on Michelin’s list for the first time and on the list they remain: “The exterior pays homage to New York’s beloved bodegas, but the light-filled interior has a crisp, modern vibe,” says this year’s little French book. The buns that make the cut include the sloppy bao ($11) and, for the more adventurous, a plate of clams & basil ($18).
Win Son is located at 159 Graham Avenue.
Ammazzacaffè is a trattoria on East Williamsburg’s western edge that’s been on the list for a while but has remained low-key: Eater rates it as “chill,” and the Infatuation even more frankly declared that it “doesn’t look like much.” The guidebook is more charitable and alerts travelers that the corner pasta joint is “bound to surprise.” What everyone agrees on is the patio, which Michelin promises “will transport you to a trattoria in Umbria—on a dime.” The menu’s recommendations include a plate of housemade reginette, which comes stewing in a pork shoulder ragù ($21). What you won’t find in the guidebook, however, is that if you swing by Grand Street on Sundays, you will get to enjoy some live jazz.
Ammazzacaffè is located at 702 Grand Street.
The second restaurant to make the list that opened during the pandemic, the Thai restaurant-slash-occasional Thai movie theater likely got Michelin’s attention by looking “nothing like a restaurant.” Online, the place promises customers that they will be transported to “1970s Thailand.” The book says this is “real-deal” Thai, pointing to the “northern style” Thai beef ($14) and the plates of tilapia that come in leaves of mint ($12). The downstairs movie theater—whose opening has been sporadic amid the pandemic but has featured Fa Thalai Chon’s action classic Tears of the Black Tiger and the legitimate ’70s kaiju movie Tah Tien—is, perhaps, nodded at obliquely in Michelin’s promise that dinners will be “eating along to the beats.” Prospective indie filmmakers and producers can also book the theater to show their own movies, if they would like.
Mao Mao is located at 1000 Broadway.
When Bunker first opened in Ridgewood in 2013 it was the neighborhood’s first Vietnamese joint, and by 2015 it was a regular on the bib gourmand list and was featured on Guy Fieri’s Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, where the American gourmand declared that he could eat from its menu until “[his] head falls off.” Sometime afterward, it opened a second location in East Williamsburg and then closed its Ridgewood home. But it’s no matter: in the time since, the neighborhood has blossomed with likeminded banh mi joints that carry the spirit on, like Beaucoup Banh Mi, Ama coffee and the recently opened Nhà Mình, near the Halsey L. The newer Bunker is near the Jefferson Street L and the guide labels it “a fun and fresh space.” Its lovely rolls don’t rate mention, unfortunately, but the book guides diners to a bowl of its beef pho ($22), which reportedly comes with oxtail.
Bunker is located at 99 Scott Avenue.
When the pandemic started, Vogue reported on the oxtail tagliatelle boxes that Roberta’s owner Carlo Mirarchi started selling to make up for the lack of dining sales. But the Bushwick brand that’s become a cookbook, a pop-up at a spa in the Florida Keys and a less successful maker of soft serve resumed operations quickly. Too quickly, perhaps — they had to shut down again in November after several employees caught COVID-19. But they were open long enough to catch Michelin’s attention yet again, painting a charming picture of calzones that are “beautifully browned.” Among the pies, this year’s guide from Michelin recommends the Four Emperors, though it doesn’t appear to be on the menu at the moment at the Jennifer Aniston-approved pizzeria. The honey splattered and rather delightful “Bee Sting” is, however, and that currently goes for $21 a pie.
Roberta’s is located at 261 Moore Street.
Top photo credit: Matt Fink
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