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The 21 best Lower East Side restaurants in NYC

These Lower East Side restaurants are some of the hottest, most exciting and most famous in the city

Written by
Rachel Pelz
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The Lower East Side’s food scene is as diverse and dynamic as its history. Brushing up against Chinatown and Little Italy, it’s the sort of neighborhood where you can find the best New York deli just steps away from some of the city’s best sandwiches. Snack your way through some of the city’s best ice cream shops, order a slice of unparalleled pizza, and soak in the living history of New York City one bite at a time. 

RECOMMENDED: See the full guide to Lower East Side

LES spots we love so much that we welcomed them into Time Out Market

Clinton St. Baking Company
  • Restaurants
  • American
  • Lower East Side
  • price 2 of 4

If we could brunch every day, we would do it in heart beat, and you'd find us at Clinton St. Baking Company. We never tire of the pancakes and breakfast-as-dinner fare.

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  • Restaurants
  • Thai
  • Lower East Side

Located in a basement storefront on Forsyth Street, you might just miss Wayla upon first glance. With little signage pointing you in the right direction, down the steps is a cavernous Thai restaurant with a backyard oasis not to be missed. The new LES spot from Northern Tiger’s Erika Chou offers home-style dishes prepared by Chef Tom Naumsuwan.

Best Lower East Side restaurants

  • Restaurants
  • Sandwich shops
  • Lower East Side
  • price 2 of 4

With barely any signage out front, the white brick walls scrawled with handwritten notes buttressing a corrugated-tin ceiling makes the ambiance have zero frills. But it's here that you'll find one of our favorite sandwiches in the whole damn city: the chicken gravy biscuit with purple cabbage is made even better by the warm staff members. 

  • Restaurants
  • Vegetarian
  • Lower East Side
  • price 2 of 4

Chef Amanda Cohen was one of the most prominent champions of vegetarian cuisine, well before vegetable-forward was the gastro buzzword on every menu. Cohen bucks the hackneyed health-nut tenets of vegetarianism with some of the most experimental cooking around the city. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Lower East Side

Originally launched as a pop-up, Sami & Susu has found a new home on the Lower East Side. Homey favorites like Mom’s Chicken Soup (complete with matzo balls, naturally) join with fresh takes on sandwiches—try the cauliflower pita with zingy zhug or a sabich baguette with eggplant, eggs and tahini. The restaurant doubles as a market for hard-to-find delicacies including tuna conserva and matbucha with tomatoes and peppers.

  • Restaurants
  • Lower East Side

This low-key Dominican cafe first opened in 1958 with the name La Lechonera, where they served up roasted pork for the neighborhood. All these years later, they’re still making melt-in-your-mouth cubanos for locals and tourists alike. A Cubano’s only $7, leaving plenty of money in your pocket for a velvety soursop shake.

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  • Restaurants
  • Lower East Side

When it was announced that Essex Market, New York's oldest public market, would close its location that had been on the Lower East Side since the 1940s, a ripple of fear shot through New York. Would the existing vendors continue on in the space at Essex Crossing, a sprawling mixed-use mega development opening across the street? Thankfully, the new Essex Market debuted with all 21 existing vendors, including Puebla Mexican, Shopsin's General Store and Ni Japanese, alongside 17 new vendors, like South Williamsburg favorite Samesa (their first expansion to Manhattan).

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  • Restaurants
  • Greek
  • Chinatown

Kiki Karamintzas' namesake restaurant manages to be one of the neighborhood's hippest spots without maintaining an Instagram presence or photographable interior design. Which is to say, Kiki's is cool and lively without feeling like it's trying too hard. There's a Chinese sign hanging out front, but the restaurant actually only serves Greek food. Diners love it so much, the team opened another spot for spill-over seating across the street.

  • Restaurants
  • Californian
  • Chinatown
  • price 2 of 4

At this SoCal-inspired café, the lineup can change weekly. Expect colorful plates with equal parts Japanese, South American and Mediterranean influences like a bonito-chili–spiced black-rice bowl loaded with sweet potato and eggplant or braised chicken in stick-to-your-ribs apricot couscous. 

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Freemans
  • Restaurants
  • American
  • Lower East Side
  • price 2 of 4

Tucked away in an easily missed dead end, this treasure feels like it’s straight out of a Wes Anderson movie, in all of its taxidermied, vintage-wallpaper–laden, old-book–strewn glory, creating a nice atmosphere to spill the beans with pals at one of the long communal tables.

  • Restaurants
  • Midtown West

Daikon french fries, paripari fried chicken (paripari is a Japanese onomatopoeia for the crunch of the skin) and Instagrammable “sushi bombs'' make this seasonal izakaya-meets-NYC-faves mashup more than worthy of the Lower East Side.  Michelin-starred chef Chikara Sono has teamed up with Nana Shimosegawa, the first female bartender at the iconic Angel’s Share, to create Japanese-inspired cocktails.

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  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Lower East Side
  • price 2 of 4

There is comfort (and eastern medicinal healing properties) in congee, the Cantonese rice porridge that is the focus at this multilevel, always-packed LES standby. Choose among 29 versions—like the sliced pork with preserved egg, or chicken with black mushrooms, cooked over a low fire until bubbling. The rest of the expansive menu yields such finds as an excellent chicken with garlic sauce.

El Castillo de Jagua
  • Restaurants
  • Dominican
  • Lower East Side
  • price 1 of 4

This casual Lower East Side gem was an Anthony Bourdain favorite for good reason. El Castillo de Jagua serves up heaping portions of delicious Dominican food. Rest assured, if you have a laundry list of chores to do, the grub comes out fast.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Lower East Side
  • price 1 of 4

Order Napolitan spaghetti, karaage fried chicken and a fruit sandwich at this pint-sized Japanese café that specializes in comfort food with aesthetically pleasing plating compositions. Check out the mesmerizing jam toast, which is checkerboarded with cream cheese for an extremely Instagrammable meal. 

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Chinatown
  • price 2 of 4

This small but colorful vegan Mexican spot at the meeting point for Two Bridges, the Lower East Side and Chinatown, could easily be cast off as somewhere gaggles of Instagram influencers hang out. But the food can back it up with inventive plant-based spins on Mexican favorites. There's a "chorizo" burrito made with cauliflower rice, a rainbow chard bowl with vegan cotija and a crispy chayote fish taco made with a seafood substitute.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Lower East Side
  • price 1 of 4

This soba shop's name translates to "heartwarming," but it could also be dubbed heart-healthy for its fiber-rich, low-fat fare. Chef Yoshihito Kida, who owned a soba restaurant back in Japan, makes the buckwheat noodles in house, while Chef Mika Ohie focuses on sides and appetizers, like a cold house-made tofu with scallions, ginger and bonito.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Lower East Side
  • price 2 of 4

Some of the neighborhood’s best margaritas can be found at restaurant-bar Barrio Chino. Jalapeño lime, habanero grapefruit, tamarind and elderflower keep things interesting as you make your way through a round or two (or four). The menu also offers corn tostadas with pickled shrimp, pulled pork tacos and shishito peppers with amaranth seeds.

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  • Restaurants
  • Filipino
  • Lower East Side

Run by former Top Chef contender Leah Cohen, the joint has a familiar setup, with plenty of canned beer, hot chilies and hip-hop. Chef Leah Cohen has been turning diners on to funky Southeast Asian flavors since 2012 with a pig-centric menu. Enclosed backyard seating is available year-round, and the restaurant prepares a traditional Filipino brunch on the weekends with bottomless mimosas.

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary American
  • Lower East Side
  • price 2 of 4

The 45-seat restaurant is a sister to chef Jeremiah Stone and pastry chef Fabian von Hauske Valtierra’s avant-garde tasting-menu den, Contra, two doors down. Wildair is low-pressure, set with sardine-packed bar tables, a fuzzy mid aughts soundtrack and neighborhood affability. Their snacky, à la carte menu is packed with low-key innovations.

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  • Restaurants
  • Delis
  • Lower East Side
  • price 2 of 4

This cavernous cafeteria is a repository of New York history—glossies of celebs spanning the past century crowd the walls, and the classic Jewish deli offerings are nonpareil. Flag down a meat cutter and order a legendary sandwich. The brisket sings with horseradish, and the thick-cut pastrami stacked high between slices of rye is the stuff of dreams.

  • Restaurants
  • Delis
  • Lower East Side
  • price 2 of 4

Start your day off with a little something old and a little something new at this spin-off of iconic century-old appetizing store Russ & Daughters. All the classics are accounted for but repackaged as composed plates: silky smoked fish is best highlighted in bagel-and-schmear boards, and chocolate-webbed babka loaves are sliced and griddled as French toast. The restaurant is currently takeout only, so you can order online and pick it up for brunch at home.

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Filipino
  • Lower East Side

While other Southeast Asian cuisines have a bigger presence in New York, it was only recently that Filipino restaurants started gaining notice, with Jeepney and Maharlika being the most well known in Manhattan. Here, chef Jappy Afzelius has concocted a menu that teems with multiple options in every section. Don't skip out on the purple sweet potato aka ube pudding. 

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