I grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and I never really felt like I “fit.” The neighborhood was largely Caribbean, but the only people I had interactions with were my fellow Haitians. Most of the kids in my school were either Irish or Italian, and I was one of three black students in my class. It’s safe to say I didn’t identify with any of my peers on a cultural level — especially where food was concerned. New York is America’s little melting pot, and there are dozens of restaurants that represent each respective country. But this has never been the case with Haitian restaurants.
Once I got to college, I made it my duty to throw house parties for my friends whenever I came back home to Brooklyn between semesters. I would beg my mother to prepare a buffet of traditional Haitian food for my friends to try. Everybody loved those parties, and I’ve wanted to share the food with friends and strangers ever since.
Good Haitian food takes love and time— from cleaning the meat, to seasoning it using authentic imported spices, to ritual meals like soup joumou, a yellow pumpkin soup we eat on New Years’ Day. And while I’d love to have my mom cook you all some Haitian food, it’s much easier to share my secrets about where else you can get the good stuff. So here’s a list of the best Haitian restaurants in Brooklyn. If you’re feeling really adventurous, double down (get it?) with our Caribbean snack crawl picks along the way.
279 Flatbush Ave.
Tuesday – Saturday 5pm- 11:30pm
Kombit is in Prospect Heights, where it opened in 2003. The owner, Pascale (not me), is the most hospitable restaurateur I’ve ever met. The ambiance is chill, the lights are low and there is always Haitian music playing in the background. They have live bands on Friday nights, too. As far as food, try the kreyol style wings ($9) as an appetizer. As a main course I’d recommend my all-time favorite meal: black rice, goat and plantains ($16). If you want to sound local, order it as diri djon djon avec kabrit tassot avec banan pezè! But don’t worry, no one will judge you for sticking with the English version.
Either way, the food here is so good that I purposely don’t finish my meal. That way I can take the leftovers home and eat it in the middle of the night, as you do after one too many glasses of Port au Princess punch ($12), the restaurant’s signature cocktail. It uses Rhum Barbancourt, Haiti’s signature spirit.
2816 Church Ave. or 1738 Flatbush Ave.
Hours vary by location
Both locations of Kreyole Flavor are pretty much the same. It’s a far less formal restaurant, and the “menu” is really just (delicious) food displayed behind glass. There’s also a menu behind the counter with English translations to describe each food item. There’s seating in the restaurant if you’re just stopping by for lunch, but don’t expect anybody to serve you. The staff speaks primarily Creole, too. If you speak in English and explain to them what you like, however, they’re happy to guide you toward something you’ll like.
If you’re shy and would rather keep a low profile, just take my menu suggestions: macaroni ($3) or bouillon ($7) to start, and calalou, diri blanc avec pwà (stew goat, white rice and stewed peas, $11) or legume avec diri blanc (braised vegetables and meat over white rice, $12) as an entrée. So good. Cash only.
35 Lafayette Ave.
Monday – Wednesday: 4:30pm – 10pm (bar until 11pm)
Thursday – Saturday: 4:30pm-12am (bar until 1am)
Sunday: 12pm – 10pm (bar until 11pm)
Opened in 2002, Fort Greene’s La Caye feels more like an upscale date spot, albeit with a relaxed Caribbean feel. They do brunch on the weekends from 12-3:30pm where they serve a delicious menu including that soup joumou ($5) I mentioned earlier, a dish created to celebrate Haiti’s independence. The restaurant doesn’t serve hard liquor but they have a decent selection of wine, champagne, signature sangria and beer including Haiti’s Prestige $6, which beats out Brooklyn brews for the perfect summer beer any day.
As an appetizer, get the chiktay herring ($12), a smoked herring served with bread. If you’re hungry enough to eat for two, try the fritay platter ($22), which comes with your choice of goat, pork or fried tilapia. It’s served with akra (malanga fritters), Plantains and pikliz, a spicy slaw. Pair it with a sakpase mojito ($10), made with brown sugar and sake instead of the traditional ingredients. Live bands every Thursday!
826 Church Ave.
Hours: Monday – Sunday 11am-9pm
There’s nothing fancy about Bebe Fritay, but it’s probably the easiest place to find in Flatbush for authentic Haitian food on-the-go. Bebe has breakfast, lunch and dinner. For a few bucks, their oatmeal or cornmeal to start the day is pretty dope. But no matter what time of day, these guys will pack your plate for under $10. The store is small and the menu is large on the wall with the translation of every meal, so no need to worry about how to find what you want. Cash only.
La Baguette Shop
2705 Church Ave.
Hours vary by location
La Baguette shop is a Haitian barkery that you’d be visiting strictly for a pate (meat patty), cake, baguette, Haitian bread or pastry. It’s a very small store and simple space. Coffee and tea are also served. There are 5 locations in Brooklyn, so check out their website to find your closest one.
Go wild here! Everything’s so cheap, so this is the place to try it all. Order a box of every kind of pate: beef, herring, saltfish and chicken. They’ll give you three of each and it’ll only run you about $11 total. Otherwise, it’s $1.25 per patty. And while it’s modest in size, they do take credit and debit.
The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and the way to Pascal’s stomach is through Twitter: @p_cal