The ethnic diversity of Bensonhurst is well reflected in its diversity of restaurants.
From traditional Italian eateries, pizza places, sandwich shops and pasticerrie to a myriad of restaurants offering Asian cuisine from many countries, to Mexican, Russian, Turkish and, yes, American restaurants, the neighborhood is a diner’s delight, with many tastes available within a short distance.
The community has its share of sit-down restaurants, but many of the eateries that line its streets are more casual, so you have your choice – linger over a leisurely meal or graze and walk – and they both have their advantages.
We have our favorites in both groups.
New Ruan’s Chinese Restaurant (1955 86th Street; 718-266-8888) is a community gathering place for good reason: Both food and service are excellent. The traditional Brooklyn Chinese cuisine is excellent – prepared with high-quality fresh ingredients – resulting in flavorful comfort food that has its many devotees returning time and again. On our visit, we particularly enjoyed the Singapore Style Mei Fun, the Scallion Pancakes and the Fried Bananas, but that is only a small selection of everything this cozy restaurant has to offer.
For classic pizza, you can’t do better than Da Vinci’s Pizzeria (6514 18th Avenue: 718-232-5855), a family business where tradition is a mainstay along with both round and square pies, plus those addictive pizza place go-alongs such as rice balls and potato croquettes.
Of course, probably the best known pizza purveyor in Bensonhurst is L&B Spumoni Gardens (2725 86th Street; 718-449-1230), where the square pie is legendary. On a nice day, its ample outdoor seating area is mobbed with families and groups of friends sharing a pie or two. For a more sedate meal, and a broader selection of options, L&B also offers indoor seating with a full menu in addition to pizza and salads.
Another Bensonhurst legend is Villabate Alba (7001 18th Avenue; 718-331-8430), whose cannoli are renowned far beyond the borders of the borough. The crispy shells of its most famous creation are filled with a cream made with Sicilian ricotta, and are well-worth the journey. But, the riches of this beloved pasticceria go way beyond the cannoli. Try the Italian-style gelato, or any of the myriad of baked treats – from Cannoli Cake to pastry horns filled with Zuppa Inglese.
And, speaking of legends, if you are looking for a hero of truly heroic proportions, the neighborhood’s go-to spot is Lioni’s (7803 15th Avenue; 718-304-0385). The shop offers some 150 massive heroes on its menu, nearly all of them named after famous Italian-Americans, from Frank Sinatra (salami and fresh mozzarella flavored with olive oil, salt, pepper and oregano) to Joe Pepitone (made with smoked mozzarella, fried eggplant, roasted peppers, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and oregano). These heroes are prepared on 13-inch-long Italian breads. Bring a friend or a huge appetite if you want to finish one.
Of course, if you want classic diner food, you have a great option nearby – the Vegas Diner (1619 86th Street; 718-331-2221) which opened in 1982 and is still serving up everything from burgers and grilled cheese, to Greek salads and gyros, to copious breakfasts (think eggs any style, waffles, pancakes to blintzes) 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Of course, these tried-and-true eateries are just the beginning for any explorer of Bensonhurst’s culinary landscape.