Cheap eats in Downtown Brooklyn, minus the fast food

Skip the fast food, you've got better options! Via Flickr's Evan Mulvihill.

Downtown Brooklyn, at first glance, can seem inhospitable to the hungry pauper-gourmand. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court looms, a reminder of what might be; the brightly-lit fast food outlets and vaguely biblical-sounding Joralemon Street can suggest a kind of food hell. This, I learned after a good deal of exploration, was a false suggestion. You can eat cheap and well in downtown Brooklyn — it’s just a matter of finding the right spots and doing a little walking. Here are a few restaurants that will keep your wallet and stomach full. 

No food tour of Downtown Brooklyn is complete with a visit to Golden Fried Dumplings at 192 Duffield Street, with four-for-$1 dumplings and meal-sized noodle dishes for $3-4.75. Stay tuned to Brokelyn for an upcoming full review!

Speciality pizza, via Serious Eats,.

Café Catania
193 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Price: Sicilian slices run you $2.75-4.25, calzones are $3.75, other entrees   are  mostly under $10
Hours: 8am-10pm, every day

Skirting the southwest corner of downtown Brooklyn, Café Catania is worth the short walk from Borough Hall. For my (limited) money, the unpretentious storefront’s hearty Sicilian pizza is one of Brooklyn’s best values. The crusty, deep slices have a creamy richness that makes for an unusually satisfying meal, and the specialty pies, which often involve peas, have yet to disappoint. Law & Food’s Noah Arenstein sounded the alarm about this place’s insanely cheap, insanely tasty calzones, but I now find myself ordering slices every time I go in, despite a long-standing plan to explore more of Catania’s expansive menu.

Damascus Bakery via Flickr's modage.

Damascus Bread & Pastry Shop
195 Atlantic Ave.
Price Falafels are $4, but don’t leave without buying a pastry (baklava is $1.50-$2)
Hours: 7am-8pm, every day

Damascus, next door to Café Catania, has been serving high-quality baked goods and prepared foods since long before I was born, and they clearly have figured things out. The falafel sandwich, a hefty, tahini-rich pocket that comes stuffed with crisp cabbage, tomatoes, and other vegetables, surely amounts to more than $4 of flavor. Use your savings to buy something from the glass bakery display. There are no wrong choices, but baklava is a very, very safe bet. If you’re in the mood for more Middle-Eastern cuisine, make sure to check out Sahadi’s, which is on the other side of Café Catania.

Tio Pio
119 Court St.
Price: You can get a quarter chicken, rice, beans, and plantains for $7.75
Hours: 6am-10pm M-Th, 6am-11pm F, 8am-11pm Sat, 10am-10pm Sun

A row of flirtatious cartoon chickens beckons from Tio Pio’s awning. Legs crossed, hip thrust out, the mascot beguiles, and before you know it, you are in love. And why not? You could spend the rest of your life with that tender rotisserie chicken, those perfectly salty beans, that jarringly spicy green sauce. In many ways, Tio Pio is the ideal spouse: comforting, dependable, financially sensible, and totally cool with you watching the flatscreen while you eat (a pair of these, facing the seating area, entertains customers). Just when you think you’re bored, you bite into the plantain, whose gentle, unfolding sweetness redeems your faith in lifelong partnerhood.

Not to be confused with Mr. Fusion. Via Flickr's SeppySels.

Mr. Fulton
589 Fulton St.,
Price: 3 dishes for $7
Hours: 11:30am-8pm Mon-Sat, closes at 7 on Sun

Mr. Fulton serves unapologetically heavy food from a small, triangular storefront at Flatbush and Fulton, and they do it for crazy low prices. A row of dishes — some soul food, some Chinese — sits behind a condensation-beaded wall of glass, and for $7, they’ll fill up a large to-go container with any three of them. The mac and cheese will satisfy you better than anything else on the menu, but the fried chicken, topped with hot sauce shaken from a 20 oz. soda bottle, was the best thing I ate.

Follow Sam: @samhandler.


  1. Good to know about Golden Fried Dumplings. I’m going to have to check that out later this week. If we’re extending Downtown Brooklyn to Atlantic Ave., I would also throw in Mile End’s “smoked meat deluxe.” It’s $18, but it’s massive and comes with pickles and fries. Great to split with another person for a filling lunch. Or you could eat it all by yourself. Not like I’ve ever done that before…

  2. Duckie

    Another downtown eatery worth mentioning is Metro Star Cafe, which seems, at first glance, like an unassuming pizza take-out place on Jay Street.  But go past the the pizza counter and up the stairs to the full-service cafeteria.  The portions are huge and well-priced.  Instead of eating off of plastic, they have real plates. 

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