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Kopitiam
Photograph: Courtesy of Kopitiam

The best Lower East Side restaurants

This critic-approved guide to the best Lower East Side restaurants includes trusty favorites and the latest hot spots

By Emma Orlow and Time Out New York contributors
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Just like the neighborhood itself—where Jewish tenements buddies up next to Hispanic pride, where Little Italy seamlessly melts into Chinatown—the culinary offerings available in the Lower East Side are a glorious mixed bag of delectable options. The LES is home to one of the best New York delis, Malaysian breakfast foods, Neopolitan pizza powerhouses and stellar ice cream shops. Take a bite out of the best Lower East Side restaurants.

RECOMMENDED: See the full guide to Lower East Side

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

Bessou
Photograph: Teddy Wolff

Bessou

Restaurants Japanese Noho

If Bessou only offered its chicken karaage and nothing else, we'd still sing its praises to no end. But this exceptional Japanese restaurant offers stellar pancakes, pickle-accented bowls and, yes, one stand-out fried poultry dish. 

Clinton Street Baking Co
Photograph: Courtesy Clinton Street Baking Co/Mark Weinberg

Clinton St. Baking Company

Restaurants American Lower East Side

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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Photograph: Courtesy of Mr. Taka Ramen

Mr. Taka Ramen

Restaurants Japanese Lower East Side

Countless bowls of soothing ramen can be found across New York, but Mr. Taka Ramen stands out for its overall quality (the chef has Michelin cred, after all). We can't get enough of the hearty tonkatsu and basically any dish from this kitchen.

Best Lower East Side restaurants

Cheeky Sandwiches
Photograph: Ali Garber

1. Cheeky Sandwiches

Restaurants Sandwich shops Lower East Side

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. 

DIRT CANDY carrot waffles
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

2. Dirt Candy

Restaurants Vegetarian Lower East Side

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. 

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Kopitiam
Photograph: Courtesy of Kopitiam

3. Kopitiam

Restaurants Malaysian Two Bridges

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.

Photograph: Courtesy SHoP Architects

4. Essex Market

Restaurants Lower East Side

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).

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Kiki's
Photograph: Ali Garber

5. Kiki's

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 just opened another spot for spill-over seating across the street.

Dimes
Photograph: Liz Clayman

6. Dimes

Restaurants Californian Chinatown

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. 

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7. Freemans

Restaurants American Lower East Side

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.

Congee Village
Photograph: Ali Garber

8. Congee Village

Restaurants Chinese Lower East Side

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.

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9. El Castillo de Jagua

Restaurants Dominican Lower East Side

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.

Davelle
Photograph: Courtesy Davelle

10. Davelle

Restaurants Japanese Lower East Side

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. 

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Jajaja
Photograph: The Social Club x ByTheGrace

11. Jajaja

Restaurants Mexican Chinatown

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. 

Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

12. Mission Chinese Food

3 out of 5 stars
Restaurants Contemporary Asian Two Bridges

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.

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Photograph: Daniel Krieger

13. Cocoron

Restaurants Japanese Lower East Side

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.

Barrio Chino
Photograph: Ali Garber

14. Barrio Chino

Bars Cocktail bars Lower East Side

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 drinksjalapeño 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. 

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Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

15. Pig & Khao

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.

Wildair
Photograph: Liz Clayman

16. Wildair

Restaurants Contemporary American Lower East Side

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.

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Katz Delicatessen
Photograph: Courtesy Katz Delicatessen

17. Katz’s Delicatessen

Restaurants Delis Lower East Side

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.

RUSS & DAUGHTERS CAFE interior
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

18. Russ & Daughters Cafe

Restaurants Delis Lower East Side

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.

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Photograph: Courtesy Wayla

19. Wayla

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.

Photography: Courtesy of Tsismis NYC

20. Tsismis NYC

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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