Best Lower East Side restaurants
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.
Chef Amanda Cohen is 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.
Whether you’re craving a seasonally flavored muffin or a cold treat from Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, this stroller-friendly bakery-café has what you need. Fill up on soup, salad or a sandwich for lunch; a burger, fried chicken or catch of the day for dinner; and eggs Benedict during the popular (i.e., crowded) weekend brunch.
The Malaysian café is now bigger and (arguably) better in its new location, just a few blocks from the original. Because it's here that you can actually sit back and relax with their all-day menu of affordable small plates and snacks like nasi lemak.
When it was announced that Essex Market, New York's oldest public market, would close in its old 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? The new Essex Market thankfully debuted with all 21 existing vendors, which span Puebla Mexican, Shopsin's General Store, and Ni Japanese, alongside 17 new vendors, like South Williamsburg favorite, Samesa (their first expansion to Manhattan).
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 just opened another spot for spill-over seating across the street.
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, and braised chicken in stick-to-your-ribs apricot couscous.
Chef Takatoshi Nagara and Takayuki Watanabe opened Mr. Taka Ramen in New York’s Lower East Side in 2015 with no shortage of rave reviews. The restaurant is the result of a long-standing childhood friendship, many years of research and travel across Japan, and an unparalleled pedigree when it comes to ramen-cuisine, earning a coveted spot on Michelin’s Bib Gourmand list.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 where gaggles of Instagram influencers hangout. But the food can back it up, with inventive plant-based spins on Mexican favorites. There's a "chorizo" burrito made with cauliflower rice, rainbow chard bowl with vegan cotija and crispy chayote fish taco made with a seafood-substitute.
At his Mission Chinese redux, Danny Bowien has traded in beer kegs, paper dragons and a cramped, dive-punk Orchard Street basement for smart cocktails, banquet-hall booths and an ample, gleaming dining room in on a hip stretch of restaurants. That inescapable hour-long wait for a table can be spent in the downstairs bar, but the real party is upstairs—a lively hodgepodge of bespectacled food disciples spinning lazy Susans loaded with pork cheeks and turnip cakes while golden-age hip-hop pumps through the room.
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.
Some of the neighborhoods best margaritas can be found at restaurant-bar Barrio Chino. In a city teeming with increasingly priced cocktails, Barrio Chino's drinks—jalapeño lime and habanero grapefruit margaritas are their best—are all just $7. The menu also offers corn tostadas with pickled shrimp, pulled pork tacos and shishito peppers with amaranth seeds.
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.
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 midaughts soundtrack and neighborhood affability. Their snacky, à la carte menu is packed with low-key innovations.
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.
Start your day off with a little something old and a little something new at this sit-down 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.
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.
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.