The Best Places To Eat On The Lower East Side
The Lower East Side may be best known to you as a part of town for rowdy nightlife and crazy parties in dingy dark spaces but that level of adventure is prevalent in the local food scene too. Restaurants here are constantly landing on the scene from new up-and-coming chefs and restaurateurs and there’s a rarely a cuisine that you can’t find in the area that isn’t done well. The immigrant culture of the LES has led to a multitude of innovative cuisine styles (Indian-Mexican anyone?), as well as staple classics like Russ & Daughters. Here’s just a few of the ones that are worth your time:
If you love pizza, everything bagels and New York’s famous deli, Speedy Romeo is calling you. The everything bagel crust is topped with Katz’s(!) pastrami, dijon béchamel, smoked red kraut and fontina, packing pretty much the city’s favorite foods into one dish. While Speedy Romeo might specialize in wood-fired pizzas, other dishes on the menu are equally as good, including kale apple salad and grilled beets with ricotta, which you can make exceedingly less healthy with a slab of bacon.
Speedy Romeo, 63 Clinton Street.
After almost six solid years of anticipation, chef Wylie Dufresne’s dad (the guy behind Du’s Donuts), has finally opened his sandwich shop on the LES. The menu offers 6 sandwiches (one for each year we waited – just kidding), including the signature “BYGGYBEEF” sandwich that’s already a favorite: braised beef short rib, American cheese, hot peppers, pickled vegetables, pomegranate demi-glace, and “Xxollent sauce” (a not so secret sauce consisting of mayo, mustard and sweet peppers). And of course, with a little help from his son Wylie, dessert is dedicated to an ice cream sandwich made by Du’s Donuts, filled with a marmalade ice cream and topped with a chocolate cookie crumble. You would be crazy to skip dessert.
BYGGYZ, 37-39 Clinton Street.
Who would have thought an award-winning restaurant would be a vegetable restaurant on the Lower East Side? Not me. Dirt Candy has been recognized by the Michelin guide, and has been changing people’s view on vegetables ever since. With Korean fried broccoli labeled as “Crack in broccoli form”, tomato cake with smoked feta and portobello mousse on truffle toast, there’s really no reason to hate on vegetables anymore. The forward-thinking spot recently stopped doing an a la carte menu for dinner, offering a fixed menu of their five all-time favorites “The Vegetable Patch”, or ten regularly changing courses “The Vegetable Garden” instead.
Dirty Candy, 86 Allen Street.
Pig and Khao
For everyone who brags about travelling in Asia and missing all the food out there, make a reservation at Pig and Khao. The menu is full of shareable Thai and Filipino fusion dishes, including a large party pre-fix menu, but the smaller dishes are the real standouts. Get the sizzling sisig (pork head, chili, whole egg), khoa soi (red curry with egg noodles) and the pork belly adobo with soy sauce, crispy garlic and slow poached egg. It’s also an unspoken rule to order the creamy sweet coconut rice. And if someone in your group orders the jasmine rice, it’s up to you to make sure coconut rice wins.
Pig and Khao, 68 Clinton Street.
While this super small LES spot has limited seating area (there’s one table and a few seats at the bar), the food has absolutely no limits at all. The huge beastly burgers are topped with everything from applewood smoked bacon to tater tots or sliced ribeye, and the kitchen sink fries are a full-blown meal in itself: cheesy fries, roast pork, ribeye, fried egg, peppers, bacon and caramelized onions. Did I mention they do mac and cheese jalapeno poppers?
L.E.S Kitchen, 15 Essex Street.
Café Medi is everything the Lower East Side is not. Sophisticated, clean and beautiful. The large space has tons of natural light and murals on the wall, making you feel like you’re on a Mediterranean island (or somewhere in Soho). The food follows suit with the aesthetics, with coastal-inspired dishes from Spain, Italy and France. For dinner, order the cucumber tartare with avocado, and roasted oyster mushrooms with truffle aioli to share, or head straight to the pasta section for the burrata agnolotti with truffle. Yes, I like truffle, who doesn’t?
Café Medi, 107 Irvington Street.
Now that Summer is over, we can unapologetically indulge in comfort food. And nothing says comfort food more than the Southern classics at Sweet Chick. The casual Lower East Side spot is famous for their chicken and waffles, which come in more ways than one. Think bacon-cheddar, rosemary-mushroom or apple cinnamon waffles, allowing you to stick to savory or add a little sweetness, paired with three different butters (the lemon butter is the best).
Sweet Chick, 178 Ludlow Street.
The only beach you and me are really interested in – Pizza Beach. Living up to its name, the open space with white and blue décor reminds you of a beach house, with a menu that strongly focuses on pizza. So strong, it’s divided into “pizza” and “not pizza” – I know which side I’m on. It may not be the best pizza in New York, but it’s a fun spot to go with a group of friends for brunch or dinner (just make sure they like carbs). Order the pizza with mushroom & stracciatella, pink vodka or pineapple & speck. And whoever says pineapple doesn’t belong on a pizza, should move to Italy.
Pizza Beach, 167 Orchard Street.
How do you know a vegan restaurant is good? When you don’t realize what you’re eating is vegan. Jajaja masters plant-based Mexican food, which even your most carnivorous friend will appreciate. Tortillas are made out of turmeric, tomato and beet, while squash stands in for fish before it’s fried in a hemp and flax seed batter. The menu covers a broad spectrum, from traditional nachos loaded with “chorizo”, to extremely healthy options such as cauliflower rice and dinosaur kale. Jajaja even gets away with adding kale to pancakes for brunch.
Jajaja, 162 East Broadway.
There’s a reason Prune has been around since 1999 and still drawing long lines to this day. In the hands of chef Gabrielle Hamilton (awarded Best Chef NYC in 2011 by the James Beard Foundation), who also happens to be a New York Times bestseller (talk about life goals), dishes balance simplicity with sophistication. Brunch involves soft ricotta with raspberries, figs and toasted pine nuts; a large oven-baked pancake topped with blueberries, and a custardy triple-decker ham, turkey and Swiss cheese sandwich. At dinner, you’ll find duck breast with braised lentils, smoky eggplant with sesame flatbread, or a mussels and leek stew. Prune takes no notice of food trends, and instead, remains timeless and effortlessly in style.
Prune, 54 East First Street.
Chef, model and Insta-famous – no, you’re not looking at your dream dating app-profile, I’m talking about the man behind Baby Brasa. The menu features a healthier take on traditional Peruvian dishes, from organic rotisserie chicken to spicy hummus with banana chips and “pollo montaditos”, small slices of toasted baguette with a topping of your choice (pulled rotisserie, grilled Portobello or avocado with pickles onions). And when there’s La Colombe espresso on top of the tiramisu for dessert, you order it – no matter how healthy you are.
Baby Brasa, 129 Allen Street.
Russ and daughters
What do you do when your parents are in the city? You scare them with the Lower East Side, before surprising them with an exceptional breakfast spread at Russ and Daughters. The 100-year-old Jewish deli that finally opened a sit-down-café serves everything from potato latkes to pickled herring and $130 caviar. Instead of eating your bagel on the go while inhaling pollution, enjoy your bagel on a fancy board with smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers. Order the rich chocolate babka French toast or the blintzes with fruit compote to share. Or even better, get both – your parents are paying.
Russ and daughters, 127 Orchard Street
If you’re looking for a breakfast that will make up for last night’s drunk pizza decisions, Dimes has you covered. Dimes is as healthy as it gets. Think acai bowls with hemp granola, toast with tahini and pancakes with matcha to increase your energy levels. More substantial dishes include the power bowl with black beans and rice, tacos with scrambled eggs and avocado, or the Encino man with sweet potato, sunny side egg and bacon.
Dimes, 49 Canal Street.
Clinton Street Baking Company
No, this isn’t a tourist trap. Clinton Street Baking Company really does the best pancakes, and since the restaurant has moved into a bigger space, the wait isn’t so bad. The pancakes have that perfect golden-brown crisp outside, while the inside is as soft as a pillow. And the side of warm maple butter will have you questioning why you’ve been eating pancakes with syrup all your life. But the famous brunch spot does more than just pancakes, including buttermilk biscuit sandwich with scrambled eggs and melted cheddar, huevos rancheros with chorizo or a healthy country breakfast.
Clinton Street Baking Company, 4 Clinton Street.
You won’t find traditional Mexican tacos here. Goa Taco replaces thin corn tortillas with paratha shells, creating a thick and buttery bread that wraps around your filling of choice. From slow roasted pork belly with chipotle mayo, to garam masala fried chickpea with spinach pesto, or beef with plaintain chips – the fillings are just as innovative as the taco holding it together. Don’t be put off by the price, because one is more than enough.
Goa Taco 79 Delancey Street.
The story behind Ivan Ramen is a unique one. It’s not often a guy from Long Island starts cooking ramen in Japan, and ends up being noticed as one of the top ramen chefs in Tokyo. After successfully running two ramen shops abroad, he opened Ivan Ramen in the LES, allowing us to enjoy the famous ramen closer to home. Beyond the traditional classics, the menu features specials (made with chewy whole wheat noodles) and small plates of inventive Japanese dishes (this is New York after all). Highlights include the Spicy Red Chile Ramen (be warned, it’s very spicy), Shoyu Tonkostu Tsukemen (shoyu glazed pork belly, pickled collards, soft egg, chives, whole wheat noodles) and the Japanese fried chicken with toasted garlic caramel.
Ivan Ramen, 25 Clinton Street.
Wild Air is a wine bar, where the small sharing plates aren’t just an added attraction. Run by the chefs behind Contra (known for their impressive tasting menu), Wild Air is a slightly more affordable and casual space to enjoy their dishes. And what may seem like simple dishes at first glance, turn out to be very creative and full of flavor. Take the perfectly crunchy fried squid with lemon for example, or the spicy tuna on toast with tomato and nduja. Wild Air even manages to make little gem lettuce mind-blowing, topped with crushed pistachios, chili and a buttery dressing.
Wild Air, 142 Orchard Street.
Tucked away in an alley, Freemans is adorned with string lights and greenery that make you want to see what the restaurant has in store. Once inside, the charm continues thanks to the rustic chic décor and intimate ambiance, while the food focuses on simple American fare. For dinner, order the hot artichoke dip to start, followed by pan-seared chicken breast with seasonal veggies or roasted pork chop. Sweet dishes are the real winners at brunch, including buttermilk pancakes with chocolate chips and French toast topped with fruit and whipped cream.
Freemans, Freeman Alley.
Words By: Siobhan Gunner