Restaurants have a hard time standing out beneath the intense glow of the New York City spotlight, which might be why so many entrepreneurs in this generation have launched with a pop-up, testing out their concept in a lower-stakes environment. Some of those ventures, though, have taken on a life of their own, and the temporary dining experiences offer an air of exclusivity that becomes part of the attraction.
Williamsburg has become the de facto epicenter of pop-up nation in this town, whether it’s because experimenting without fear of failure is part of living in this ‘hood or the fact that starving artists need more creative dining outlets. But pop-ups have proliferated throughout the boroughs, and we bring you a look at our 10 favorite pop-up dining experiences happening in NYC.
10. Brooklyn Kolache, Skinny Dennis, 152 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn
Skinny Dennis quickly amassed a loyal following after its February opening, but Brooklyn Kolache is helping it net a whole new crowd: one that’s after brunch. The Texas-themed bakery, which also operates a Bed-Stuy outlet, serves up both sweet and savory stuffed pastries known as kolaches in addition to coffee and cinnamon rolls. So listen to Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler,” roll the dice, and try one.
9. Rockaway Taco, 95-19 Rockaway Beach Boulevard, Queens
Like the bell of the ice cream man signaling spring time for kids, the sight of Rockaway Taco’s open window is many adults’ notification that summer has officially begun. Beachgoers flock to this spot for Mexican food, and the shack is especially renowned for its crispy fish taco riddled with cabbage slaw. And while the location remains the same, we consider this a pop-up because of its seasonality–you only have so many nice days to slap on your swim trunks and enjoy what the spot turns out.
Smorgasburg is kind of like the pop-up world’s version of the playoffs: Only the best make the cut. However, Bolivian Llama Party outranks many of its competitors on the power of its salteñas–meat- and veggie-stuffed baked empanadas–alone. The large pastry, filled with a choice of spicy beef, chicken, or quinoa, is best when you bite off the top and sprinkle kolla cheese and their own hot sauce inside. The three brothers who own the venture also make a weekly appearance at Rockaway Beach from Friday through Sunday.
7. Brooklyn Taco Company, Donna, 27 Broadway, Brooklyn
Donna offers serious cocktails, and the Brooklyn Taco Company offers equally serious small plates to match. From Thursday through Saturday, the roving taqueria–which operated previously out of Artists & Fleas and maintains a full-time location in a stall at Essex Street Market–sets up a menu of inventive tortilla-wrapped bites, and you can pair drinks like the tequila-based fiery dame with a chilorio taco, a mix of braised beef brisket, chilorio sauce, and pineapple salsa in a soft corn round.
6. Lucy Roux, D.B.A Brooklyn, 113 North Seventh Street, Brooklyn
An unlikely respite for inventive Cajun and Caribbean fare, D.B.A. Brooklyn is a pop-up factory, and Lucy Roux is the second Louisiana-themed culinary venture to offer empanadas and po’ boys to hungry drinkers at this New Orleans-inspired watering hole. Owners Leah Word and Julio Marcial named their venture for their mothers, and they’re serving family recipes for red beans and rice and bocalaitos Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with occasional additional appearances on weeknights. Read more about Lucy Roux in my profile this week.
Whirlybird started out as a place known for offering great breakfast tacos. Then Jose Ramirez-Ruiz and Pamela Yung, formerly of the exceptionally out-there restaurant Isa, opted to focus their talents on running a vegetable-heavy weekly dinner series at this location, serving an intimate party of diners multiple seasonal courses. Meat-lovers might also want to check out the whole roasted pig party Ramirez-Ruiz throws with John Ratliff, a Greenpoint-based charcutier, on Sundays at nearby Crown Victoria.
4. Bunna Cafe, 941 Willoughby Avenue and additional locations, Brooklyn
Many pop-ups focus on securing a standing spot at a local bar. Vegan Ethiopian Bunna Cafe bucks the trend, instead appearing in a variety of businesses in Bushwick, where it’s based, and beyond. Given coffee’s importance in Ethiopian culture, the self-described traveling restaurant frequently lands at cafes like Little Skips (where it will serve walk-ins from June 19-21), though it also does a monthly vegan dinner at Pine Box Rock Shop, and has shown up on rooftops and in private apartments. Bunna also runs the Habesha Nights dinner series, which brings people together in unique locations to share music, food, and drink with one another. The next installment takes place on July 7 at the Morgan L stop.
3. Yuji Ramen, Whole Foods, 95 East Houston Street
Yuji Haraguchi might as well give college classes on the effectiveness of the pop-up as a brand marketing tool. He developed a Brooklyn following at Kinfolk Studios offering creative takes on mazeman, a brothless noodle dish he makes with goodies like sea urchin and bacon, and he expanded from there. After landing a stand at Smorgasburg, he upped the ante and is running a second show at the Bowery Culinary Center at Whole Foods for the next couple of months. Pop in for carry out or sign up for one of the chef’s omakase dinners, which sell out faster than a heavy paper Whole Foods bag rips on the subway. Yuji will soon open a standing location in–you guessed it–Williamsburg.
2. Tchoup Shop, Heavy Woods, 50 Wyckoff Street, Brooklyn
D.B.A.’s original Nawlins’ hook-up moved over to Heavy Woods in Bushwick, where it offers its menu of lump crab and okra hushpuppies, crispy chicken biscuits, and a fried catfish po’ boy seven days a week. It’s ability to move its entire operation easily afforded Tchoup Shop a recent opportunity to take its Southern fare international and pop up in a Moscow gastropub, an adventure that kicked off after a diner brought a doggy bag of the Tchoup Shop food home to Russia.
Corey Cova helped bring the Upper East Side back to culinary relevance with A.B.V. and Earl’s Beer and Cheese. Then the acclaimed Culinary Institute of America grad decided to take on an even more ambitious project: running a dinner series out of his apartment. Seating is limited and the menu changes every time Cova offers a meal (recent dishes include egg and foie croissants and cod mousse), and the allure of what Chef Cova might come up with next is reason enough to go all in on a ticket. But more than that, Flock dinners offer a unique chance to watch a celebrated chef speak, cook, and serve creative entrees in his own place. The dinner series moves downstairs to ABV in July, and there’s no telling where the flock may fly to next.