Dalston is an area of East London in the borough of Hackney and begins in the west with Kingsland Road and ends in the East at London Fields. In recent years it has become one of London's premier centres for entertainment and nightlife as many people working both in media and in the city moved there because of the relatively cheap house prices. This has left Dalston a vibrant place mixing those who have recently arrived with the varied communities (large Caribbean and Turkish communities exist in Dalston) that have inhabited the area for years. Most things that happen in Dalston are centred around, or very near, Kingsland Road. If you can get past the skinny jeans and funny hair-dos of some residents there is alot to offer here.
Eating and drinking in Dalston is as interesting and varied as its inhabitants. Turkish and Vietnamese restaurants are commonplace and usually very good. Most have unassuming interiors and service but the food is exceptional. Of these I can recommend for Vietnamese Huong Viet (12-14 Engelfield Road) as a real treat with wonderful, classic Vietnamese dishes cooked with excellent, fresh ingredients at reasonable prices. It's just off Kingsland Road and is structurally and decoratively inconspicuous - in fact from the outside it's hard to know that it's a restaurant - but don't be fooled. Upon entry you will notice the walls plastered with magazine and newspaper recommendations and reviews. This is not a new discovery by any means but still a fine place to dine.
For Turkish I can recommend two places. The most well known would be Mangal on Arcola Street. There are 3 Mangal restaurants in the area but this one is the best and again cheap, especially if you bring your own booze. The usual array of kebabs is on offer and all are of fine quality and portions massive. I can strongly recommend the Chicken Beyti but make sure you go with an empty stomach. It is rich and hearty! The second restaurant pick is on Kingsland Road itself and is called Evin Cafe. They do great set menus that are various meze dishes (veg and meat options available) which are all very fresh tasting and average at under £10 per person for a feast. The hunkar begendi (aubergine dip to us in England) is exceptional!
Honourable mention must also go to two wonderful examples of Britain's favourite restaurant types: fish & chips and Chinese. Faulkner's Fish on Kingsland Road is widely regarded as one of the best in London and I personally don't think I've had better, and Shanghai is an exceptionally good Chinese restaurant housed in a beautiful old art deco former pie and mash shop. The latter is void of noticeable traces (i.e shiny food) of Monsodium Glutamate and does a great Peking duck and crispy shredded beef .
Dalston also has its share of excellent pubs, my favourite being the Prince George on Parkholme Road off Queensbridge. This pub is vibrant and has a mixed clientele. Some are put off by the strange brand of lager they have (Litovel) but I like it. On a Monday they have a pub quiz but don't take part unless you're a genius. I thankfully didn't but listened to all 20 questions. Lucky I didn't enter as I would have surely taken home the wooden spoon by being able to answer a staggering zero from twenty. London Fields also has a number of good pubs especially on nearby Broadway Market (not sure this strictly counts as Dalston).
Other nightlife of note would be the new Dalston Superstore (Kingsland Road) which I must confess to not having been to yet but hear reports of great fun to be had and the queue outside would certainly suggest it's popular. Not far away on the same road is the conspicuous Moustache Bar (it's a small doorway with a moustache above it) which is a small basement bar, often filled to the rafters and trendy as hell but usually doesn't take itself or it's 80's ironic electro too seriously. And finally, I must mention Cafe Oto (18 - 22 Ashwin street) for its diverse and often very experimental music nights. If you're after something unusual then it is worth a look. Apparently the Sun Ra Arkestra has played there so they certainly pull big names.
Shopping in Dalston is a curiosity and not something I do often. Some are fond of the shopping centre which houses a Sainsburys and Matalan but I've never really got on with it. Otherwise there is a strange mix of dodgy looking clothing or furniture shops. Oxfam here however is supposedly one of the best in London for clothing finds. I've never got lucky with clothes but always do well on 99p CDs and books.
For Museums Dalston has the fantastic Geffrey Museum (136 Kingsland Road) which charts the history of the domestic living room in Britain from 1600 to present day and is housed in a delightful 18th century almshouses and is a great getaway from both the city and Kingsland Road. The best part is that it's very peaceful and free. Visit the cafe too in the summer and enjoy the gardens.
Finally, we have London Fields which is one of Hackney's 2 major parks (the other being Victoria Park). This is a great family friendly park just large enough to feel like you are getting away from bustling east London. The park famously has the Lido which is great for a summer swim. In addition there is a cricket pitch, tennis courts and after a hard days sport, a wonderful pub.
So, that's Dalston in a nutshell. If you're in town, swing by. It can be easily reached by bus from Liverpool Street (242 or 149 off the top of my head but there are others) or on the London Overground network.