East Village restaurant guide: The best places to eat now

Our East Village restaurant guide points you to critic-approved places to eat in the neighborhood, including trusty favorites and the latest hot spots.

The East Village has a knack for sprouting reasonably priced eateries that draw cult followings. No East Village restaurant guide would be complete without mention of David Chang’s enduringly popular Momofuku Noodle Bar, which spawned his mini empire, and other top toques—including Peter Hoffman with Back Forty and Daniel Boulud with DBGB Kitchen and Bar—have set up shop in the nabe. Northern Spy Food Co. has become a locavore staple for its earnest (and delicious) devotion to seasonal cooking. Also consult our curated lists of cheap eats and great brunch places.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to East Village

Back Forty

Critics' pick

Chef-restaurateur Peter Hoffman (Savoy) is behind this seasonal-eats tavern, where farmhouse chic prevails in the dining room (vintage tools adorn the walls) and on the menu. Gastropub fare—like the pleasantly gamey grass-fed hamburger or pork jowl nuggets, frozen in a crisp jacket of batter—is uniformly solid. Veggies shine too: Baby cauliflower gratin is layered with leeks and Gruyère, and the exemplary brussels sprouts are slicked with cherry butter and served with shallot puree. Desserts uphold the pub end of things: Conclude with a creamy stout float.

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East Village

DBGB Kitchen and Bar

Critics' pick

Chef Daniel Boulud doesn’t do decent, so-so or almost great. Even as he branches out around the world—with outlets in Palm Beach, Beijing and Vancouver—the perfectionist chef is forever tinkering with even his most venerable spots. Which is why it’s hardly surprising to discover that the food and service at DBGB—his first project downtown—are improving week after week. Though the affable dean of New York’s French cookery installed protg Jim Leiken to run his most populist venture, expect to find Boulud haunting the dining room until everything’s right. The manic Bowery brasserie is fast becoming a very good restaurant, but Monsieur Boulud must surely have noticed that there’s still much work to be done. Even in a city awash in unruly menus, DBGB’s stands out for its kitchen-sink scope. Until Boulud has the common sense to pare the thing down, you may want to come with a shortlist of desired dishes—and a preemptive idea of the sort of evening you’re after. DBGB exists on so many levels that various members of a party can walk out with the sense that they’ve eaten in several different places. One incarnation: an accessible brasserie, with simple soups and salads, and classics like roasted chicken, steak frites and salmon in cream sauce. This DBGB caters to Boulud’s core clientele, conservative diners making the trek to the Bowery from their uptown home base. Another side of DBGB is a response to the current mania for high-end junk food. The chef, who helped kick off the trend when he introduced a foie-gras-stuffed burger in 2001, has opened a destination for sausages, burgers and beer. The best way to get your head around the whole schizophrenic enterprise is to bring a large group and sample the range. To narrow your options, stick to dishes that play to Boulud’s strengths (he may be a New Yorker, but his food, like his accent, is still steeped in Lyon). You might kick things off with a “petit” platter from the raw bar—generous enough for a party of four—featuring miniature oysters, mussels, clams, peel-and-eat shrimp, spicy tuna tartare and tiny bigorneau snails. While those small escargots might thrill only a Frenchman, for the rest of us, Boulud serves their plump cousins in a hot appetizer—out of the shell with tomatoes and mushrooms on a rich bed of garlicky persillade custard. If you order a feast from the menu’s disparate corners, the kitchen will gladly parse the dishes out slowly in three or four courses—following fine starter plates of bone marrow and mackerel rillettes with a few sausages and a shareable burger or two. The links—there are a dozen to choose from, all made in house—cover a great deal of geography. The best of the bunch, not surprisingly, are the most typically French. While the Vermont, oozing melted cheddar, is dull and anemic, the Beaujolaise, infused with red wine, bacon and mushrooms, is a plump, flavorsome beauty. The highlight among the burgers, meanwhile, is the Gallic-themed Frenchie, featuring a grill-marked hunk of pork belly, stinky Morbier and tomato-onion compote (the Piggie, topped with Daisy May’s barbecued pork, is simply misguided, the pork overwhelming everything else on the bun). If you’re feeling particularly gluttonous, you might make those burgers and sausages the halfway point of the meal—following up with haute bistro fare like tender pink duck breast with boozy cherries, marcona almonds and creamed spinach molded like a terrine. Even after so much indulgence, you’ll certainly have room to at least share a sundae. What the savory kitchen does for burgers and hot dogs, DBGB’s pastry department accomplishes for the childhood treat. The selection includes a cherry-themed masterpiece layering cherry-flavored kriek-beer ice cream, spiced speculoos cookies, anglaise custard and mini meringues. If the dinner you’re finishing took a straight-up bistro route, you might cap off instead with the Grand Marnier souffl, textbook airy with a fine golden crust. DBGB, for now, is whatever you want it to be. Check back in six months and it may be something else. Cheat sheet Drink this: The beer list, among the most impressive in town, is as overwhelming as the menu itself. Although no beer sommelier materialized on my visits, the waiters made a valiant attempt at guidance (the menu could do with a few printed pairing suggestions). The citrusy Bitter and Twisted pale ale from Britain ($10) and dark chocolaty St. Bernardus Tripel from Belgium ($9) are among the more intriguing suds on tap. Eat this: Plateau de fruits de mer, escargots with persillade custard, bone marrow, Beaujolaise sausage, Frenchie burger, duck with cherries, kriek sundae Sit here: Try your luck, if you didn’t reserve way ahead, for a drop-in seat up front near the bar. The dining room, which can be deafening, features bistro tables and a more secluded wall ofcozy booths. Conversation piece: Beneath an eclectic collection of copper pots, which double as decor, a series of plaques reads like a who’s who of the international food pantheon. Among this collection of the world’s greatest culinary talents—Ferran Adria, Thomas Keller, Alain Ducasse and Alice Waters. {A hef='/newyork/csearch/articles/category=3&mKicker=review'}See more Restaurant reviews{/A}

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East Village

Degustation

Critics' pick

Forget trying for a table at Momofuku Ko. This counter-only fine-dining operation from Jack and Grace Lamb (Jewel Bako) delivers the kind of inventive, seasonal small-plates cuisine that has fans clamoring—only without jumping through hoops to secure the impossible reservations. Talented Wesley Genovart churns out impeccable contemporary Spanish dishes that can work diners into a state of euphoria. A velvety appetizer of a slow-poached egg with serrano ham, chorizo and superbly crisp cracker-encrusted asparagus is cloaked under a smoky-cheese foam. Genovart’s palate-teasing dexterity with flavors and texture continue into a straight-from-the-Greenmarket dish of sugar-snap peas with a fiery wasabi vinaigrette, an inspired pairing. Add the professionalism of the staff and thoughtful wine list, and the result is a truly special night out.

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East Village

Desnuda

Critics' pick

Though eating out is an inherently pleasurable activity, truly fun restaurants are few and far between. Desnuda, a tiny wine and ceviche bar in the East Village, is one of those rare places. The limited bar seating puts patrons face-to-face with the personable chefs, and the ensuing friendly banter seems built-in to the experience. Dishes that followed, such as the audacious smoked-oyster shooters, were just as engaging. Right before your eyes, chef Christian Zammas burns tea leaves and Szechuan peppercorns in what is basically a gravity bong, catches the smoke in inverted shot glasses, then places them atop three freshly shucked bivalves. Lift the glass and the smoke wafts up your nose just before you down the briny goodness. We can’t decide whether the taste or the theatrics was more enjoyable. The ceviches, meanwhile, present bold interpretations of the acid-cured fish. While we’re partial to more traditional versions, Desnuda’s abandonment of custom is surprisingly successful. Mackerel is seasoned with smoked pimenton, fermented black garlic and lemon: a winning blend of exotic flavors. The mixto’s combo of salmon, tuna and tiger prawns with cinnamon, mango, hot pepper and Sprite may sound questionable, yet the flavors work. And while an experimental “dessert” of tuna in a sweet soy glaze doesn’t surpass the more standard offerings of a pastry kitchen, we can safely say it’s about as close to an after-dinner treat as fish is going to get—and a good deal more amusing. See

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East Village

Hecho en Dumbo

Critics' pick

Beyond to-go tacos and bulging burritos, New York’s Mexican options were once pretty bleak. And the more ambitious restaurants were pricey and fussy. In the past few years, however, a new breed of cantina has helped bring life to the genre. These rollicking places—serious about cooking, yes, but also devoted to tequila-shot benders—aren’t Tex-Mex or Cal-Mex; hip-Mex is more like it.Hecho en Dumbo joins Cabrito, La Esquina and Barrio Chino in this new pantheon. Like its compadres, the spot on the Bowery favors authentic South of the Border cuisine over college-dive gringo fare. The restaurant started out three years ago as a weekend-only pop-up in Dumbo (though its precursor is closed, the name endures). The Manhattan version, building on the Brooklyn one’s considerable following, is a full-fledged hot spot, with killer drinks, an ear-splitting soundtrack and very good food.Young chef Danny Mena, a Mexico City native—and a veteran of Blue Hill and the Modern—proves his country’s cooking is about more than just heat. Instead of throwing down the gauntlet with chilies, he plays up the nuance of a cuisine that deserves respect.Working in a showcase kitchen at the far end of the industrial dining room—bare pipes and warehouse lights overhead—Mena prepares an eclectic mix of street eats and urbane composed plates. The high-low menu has every dining scenario covered.Tiny tacos—fresh corn tortillas filled with garlicky rockfish or fire-licked Niman Ranch short ribs—make great snacks, and bubbling crocks of queso fundido—asadero and Oaxaca cheeses hiding superior house-made chorizo—help keep the effects of the margaritas in check. Shake off the day-after fog at the restaurant’s daily brunch with a rich red rendition of Michoacn-style posole soup thick with guajillo chilies and pulled Berkshire pork.Mena’s most opulent cooking, while not quite in sync with the setting, would certainly be at home in the affluent precincts of Mexico City. Cold hearts of palm soup—tropical vichyssoise—is light yet beautifully creamy, despite having no cream. A delicate crpe, stuffed with lobster hunks in a smoky pasilla cream sauce, pays homage to the bygone French presence in Mexico, a Napoleonic outpost in the late 19th century. The chef’s spin on carnitas turns out to be an epic platter of pig: a refined rustic hybrid featuring Berkshire shoulder and ribs alongside confited skin and roasted belly from a boutique-farm porcelet. The succulent meat, as gorgeously blistered as pit-roasted swine, comes with griddled tortillas and an uncharacteristically fiery avocado puree (for everything else, you’ll need to add your own heat from the tabletop salsas). Although there is no pastry chef, the restaurant still serves some of the most sophisticated Mexican sweets in New York—including pillowy almond cake with intense spiced-chocolate ice cream and a top-notch key lime tart, topped with fluffy meringue (all right, that one’s not really Mexican).In its first incarnation—when the name made more sense—Hecho en Dumbo was an off-the-grid pioneer. These days, fully formed as a restaurant, it’s en route to becoming a new Mexican classic. Cheat sheetDrink this: The fresh grapefruit-and-Cazadores-tequila Paloma ($12) is among the most refreshing of the potent mescal- and tequila-based drinks, while the spicy Michelada Cubana ($8)—Bohemia beer with iced lime juice and hot sauce—will put hair on your chest.Eat this: Hearts of palm soup, short-rib tacos, carnitas, lobster crpeSit here: The windowless dining room can be deafening. The most sedate seats are at the kitchen counter, which offer great views of the food going out. Conversation piece: Danny Mena moved to the U.S. to pursue an engineering degree, before switching gears and enrolling in the French Culinary Institute in Soho.See more Restaurant reviews

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Downtown

Ippudo NY

Critics' pick

This sleek outpost of a Japanese ramen chain is packed mostly with Nippon natives who queue up for a taste of “Ramen King” Shigemi Kawahara’s tonkotsu—a pork-based broth. The house special, Akamaru Modern, is a smooth, buttery soup topped with scallions, cabbage, a slice of roasted pork and pleasantly elastic noodles. Avoid nonsoup dishes like the oily fried-chicken nuggets coated in a sweet batter. Long live the Ramen King—just don’t ask him to move beyond his specialty.

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Downtown

Kajitsu

Critics' pick

Diners often compare eating great food to a religious experience, but at Kajitsu—possibly New York's only kaiseki restaurant to offer the centuries-old Zen Buddhist vegetarian cuisine known as shojin, from which modern-day Japanese cooking is thought to have developed—there's something literal in the restaurant's connection to the divine. As you step through the sliding paned-glass doorway, the sparse, hushed interior—earthy beige walls, a stone floor and weighty dining tables each made from a unique wood—suggests a reverence for nature that is also expressed in the food. After we selected the eight-course tasting menu, which changes monthly, a procession of small plates was delivered by attentive yet unobtrusive servers. For those accustomed to bold flavors, the preparations can at first seem understated to a fault. But with each jewellike course, the meal emerges as an artful meditation on simplicity and seasonality. Flavors are clean and subdued: a clear soup with neutral white yam harbors grassy yomogi (Japanese mugwort) paste; a mochi orb, speckled with bits of crisp lotus root, contrasts nicely with a dab of preserved-plum sauce; wedges of grilled fresh bamboo shoots leaning against their own husks are mildly sweet; glistening rice cradles fragrant roasted-corn puree. Often, texture upstages taste, especially in the case of the delightfully chewy wheat gluten called fu (Kajitsu's owners import it from their 250-year-old Kyoto shop that once supplied the Imperial Court).

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East Village

Kyo Ya

Critics' pick

The city’s most ambitious Japanese speakeasy is marked only by an open sign, but in-the-know eaters still find their way inside. The food, presented on beautiful handmade plates, is gorgeous: Maitake mushrooms are fried in the lightest tempura batter and delivered on a polished stone bed. Sushi (we tried the salmon) is pressed with a hot iron onto sticky vinegared rice. The fish is topped like a still life with its own microgreen forest. The few desserts—including an extra silky crème caramel—are just as ethereal as the savory food. Hurry in soon; word’s getting out.

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East Village

Momofuku Ko

Critics' pick

Make it through the reservations ringer (the system mandates booking six days in advance, at 10am, only via momofuku.com) to gain access to chef David Chang’s minimal 12-seat spot. Here, the chefs double as waiters, serving eight or so dazzling courses from behind a counter. The ever-evolving menu features raw fluke, in a coating of tangy, mellow buttermilk, poppy seeds and sriracha chili sauce. A frozen foie gras torchon is brilliantly shaved over lychee puree and pine-nut brittle. Ko’s embrace of dessert may signal Chang’s high-end arrival. A panna cotta made from milk that’s been mingling with cornflakes is nothing short of genius.Read our full review of Momofuku Ko.

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East Village

Momofuku Milk Bar East Village

Critics' pick

Pastry whiz Christina Tosi conjures up homey sweets at this bakery spin-off down the block from Momofuku Ssäm Bar. East village hipsters, fawning foodies and in-the-know tourists line up for the cultish goodies, including crack pie (toasted oat crust with a gooey butter filling), cereal-milk soft serve and compost cookies made with pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, butterscotch and chocolate chips.

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East Village
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Comments

3 comments
JM de Jesus
JM de Jesus

Mi Casa es Su Casa Restaurant 140-142 Orchard Street Bet. Rivington St. and Delancey Street. This is the revenge of fine dining in the East Village. The Latin American (Ecuador, Spain, and Caribbean) cuisine takes on a whole new dimension at this new and cozy little restaurant. Operated by Head Chef and owner Jairo Morales, and Sous Chef Extraordinaire Sabdiel Cortez, the restaurant brings fine dining back to an area loaded with cheap, fast food, offerings. This ain't the cheapest meal in the area but it was well worth the money. Try the Iberian Ham and shrimp stuffed garlic tostones appetizers. The Chuleton is a pork chop filled with mashed yucca over a bed of Asian rice is exquisite. The aged steaks and the Churrasco platter (named entrañas in Ecuador) just melt in your mouth. For dessert, I had a trés leches cupcake that was absolutely mouth watering and sublimely delicious. These are home baked on premises by the chef's wife. Now I have heard from some of my white acquaintances that it's all the same $% to white folks, but I refuse to believe that there are no sophisticated palates among all of the trendy and affluent Caucasian twenty something’s roaming that area of the LES at night. If you want a cheap taco, go elsewhere ( I hear there's a great truck on 14th Street off of 8th avenue) but if you really want to impress your significant other and have an amazing culinary-and dining-experience, then head on over there. It's well worth the money. JM de Jesus

Matt Murry
Matt Murry

man, east village is the BOMB! alphabet city also has some pretty legit stuff too. if you know someone who lives there itd be better since they can show you around, if not check out this listing of awesome places to eat at I loooove going to the East Village to eat, seriously one of my favorite places to hang to grab some unique eats. I actually read this yahoo article that this guy listed for cheap places to dig that are actually good, pretty informative check it out here: http://voices.yahoo.com/10-best-cheap-eats-yorks-east-village-12116782.html

Arthur Ashby
Arthur Ashby

Wacky Wok on Avenue D at 9th street in the East Village is a special place to eat and deserves attention. All the ingredients are there for enjoyable meals: An imaginative menu full of healthy, tasty and wholesome food choices at extremely reasonable prices.