The Best Restaurants On The Lower East Side
From old-school staples to restaurants changing the dining landscape of the neighborhood, these are our favorite spots on the Lower East Side.
The Lower East Side is filled with fun bars, but it’s also one of the best neighborhoods to eat in if you’re looking for a wide range of restaurants. Want a classic pastrami sandwich on rye? Covered. An innovative tasting menu for a special night out? The best Neapolitan pies in all five boroughs? A warm bowl of ramen that will make you forget it’s snowing outside? All covered as well. Here are the LES spots you should know about.
photo credit: Teddy Wolff
Le French Diner
Le French Diner feels like an underground dining club that you wish was a lot more exclusive (as long as you get to be one of the lucky ones with a membership). This tiny bistro only seats about 20 inside and out, mostly on black leather bar stools. The short constantly-changing menu has a lot of bistro classics like tender duck confit, garlicky escargots, and spicy grilled octopus, all of which are pretty close to perfect. If we had to cut this list down to five places, Le French Diner would still be on it.
Una Pizza Napoletana
This pizzeria on the Lower East Side is the sixth version of this restaurant, and we know exactly why this place won’t die. It’s serving the best Neapolitan pies in NYC—and possibly the world. Una Pizza Napoletana has five pies on the menu (plus any daily specials), and you should always have at least one margherita pizza on your table. But since all the pizzas have the same otherworldly crust, you really can’t go wrong. Anthony Mangieri, the owner, never stops tinkering with the recipe for the crust, but he should just stop. It’s hard to imagine the pizza here getting any better.
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Contra started out serving only a tasting menu, but these days they have an à la carte menu with seasonal, experimental dishes. You can also get a variety of items selected by the chef for $120 if you don’t want to make any decisions. Expect things like a mushroom tart and boudin noir in a low-lit space that looks like a goth minimalist den where raves used to happen on a regular basis. The menu changes constantly, but you’ll be impressed with whatever’s available.
Shu Jiao Fu Zhou Cuisine
As a resident of NYC, you’re expected to have an answer ready when someone asks you: “Where should I go for dumplings?” H Mart is actually a perfectly valid answer, but for a place that involves no cooking, send them to Shu Jiao Fu Zhou. The decor couldn’t be more basic, but that’s fine because the main reason you come here is for the relatively-inexpensive food. A plate of 10 dumplings will run you $4.50, and you can add on some great peanut noodles for $3. The more-famous Vanessa’s is right down the block, but the dumplings here are better. You should know this place is cash-only.
Yes, Dhamaka is technically located at a food hall, but it happens to be one of the best Indian restaurants in the city. This colorful Essex Market restaurant is from the team behind Semma and Adda, and meals here often consist of dishes associated with four or five different regions of India—some of which are virtually impossible to find elsewhere in the city. Try their version of chicken pulao served directly in a pressure cooker and the gurda kapoora in a fragrant onion-tomato stew.
If you don’t have reservations, getting a table at this Spanish and Portuguese restaurant is a pain in the butt. On any given night, you’ll be told to come back in an hour, or if it’s the weekend, you could put your name on the list, watch a movie, and your table still might not be ready. Don’t give up. Once you’re sitting with a martini and a plate of crunchy shrimp heads, you’ll be glad to be part of the scene. Your efforts will be rewarded with manila clams in vinho verde, a block party feel, and all the vermouth you can handle.
From the team behind Contra (right next door), Wildair feels like a Parisian bar that focuses on interesting wines and shareable small plates. The casual space is filled with high tables and chairs and is ideal for a first date, but the space is relatively small, so we don’t suggest trying to walk in. The rotating seafood-heavy menu includes things like spicy grilled prawns and scallop crudo, and they make some of the best doughnuts in the city, but they’re only available on Saturdays at noon sharp.
We don’t really have to sell you on Katz’s. It’s been around for 130+ years and is one of the few touristy spots worth your time. Bring a friend and get the matzo ball soup and a three-meat platter so you can sample the pastrami, brisket, and corned beef. Be sure to tip the person slicing your meat, and don't lose the ticket handed to you as you walk in. Even though the dining room is huge, you’ll still be competing for seats with plenty of people who have flown in just to try this place. They’ll all be glad they made the trip.
We make a note in our mental calendars (and sometimes our electronic ones) to not let too much time pass between visits to this Vietnamese spot to eat their bún chả and garlic noodles with fried prawns. Stop by for a casual meal, and if the weather’s nice, try and grab one of their sidewalk tables. Their bánh mì burger is one of our favorites, and you can also get spicy soups and interesting cocktails made with ingredients like lemongrass vermouth and sambal chili paste.
There are a few other Korean spots on the LES, but 8282 serves anju and banju that operate in a different, more upscale lane. Yellowfin tuna tartar gets tossed in sesame oil, topped with uni and egg custard, and served alongside puffed nori chips, and the dakgalbi kimchi-bap is a full crock of cheesy rice and tender chicken thighs. Portion sizes run a bit small, so the plates here should be split between two people max. Or just order two of everything.
Dirt Candy was one of the first restaurants in NYC to treat vegetables as the focus of fine dining. Most tasting-menu restaurants don’t easily accommodate vegan diners, but almost every dish here can be made with only plant-based ingredients. The seasonal dishes might include zucchini soup dumplings with squash blossoms or eggplant with black sesame tahini, which you can enjoy in an industrial-looking space with black plants painted on a white brick wall. The $90 tasting menu comes with five courses, and the price includes gratuity.
Pass by this pizzeria on any given night and you’ll see people waiting for slices, delivery couriers stuffing their bags with hefty grandma pies, and crowds drinking natural wine and eating vegan caesar salads. Our hack is to stop by and grab one of their chewy, crusty slices (made from flour milled in-house) at off-peak hours, since the waits can get long and they sometimes run out of certain options.
photo credit: Okiboru House of Tsukemen
Okiboru House of Tsukemen
If you see a quick-moving line of people on the sidewalk around Orchard and Delancey, it’s probably for Okiboru, a noodle shop with a few other locations in Georgia. Only counter seating is available, so you’ll get to hear everything going on in your neighbor’s life as you eat one of the two types of ramen offered here. The tsukemen comes with udon-like cold noodles that you dip in a warm chicken and fish broth, and the ramen made with a super rich, milky broth will immediately conjure images of pork bones in your head.
This tiny omakase counter only has eight seats, so you have slightly better odds of booking just one instead of two. The 13-course meal is $85 per person (with an optional $55 beverage pairing), which is a pretty decent deal considering the fact that it contains some of our favorite individual pieces of fish at any price point. People tend to strike up a conversation across the counter here, so don’t be surprised if you leave with a new favorite sub-$100 omakase spot and a new friend.
The next time you’re looking for a place to meet up with your most fashionable friends, head to Corner Bar in Dimes Square’s opulent Nine Orchard hotel. Open all day, this spot from the Estela team offers a memorable upscale breakfast and a top notch burger that’s only available at lunch. At dinner, straightforward and solid French and Italian bistro classics like caesar salad and steak au poivre make up the tight menu. Sure, you might pay $50 for a fancy plate of buttered noodles, but they will be some of the best buttered noodles you’ve ever had.
photo credit: Russ & Daughters Cafe
Russ & Daughters Cafe
The original Russ & Daughters on Houston is an over-100-year-old institution that’s absolutely worth a visit for the smoked fish alone (not to mention smoked fish on chewy bagels). That location has one major flaw, though: There’s nowhere to sit. That’s where Russ & Daughters Cafe comes in. This full-service restaurant offers both seating and an extensive menu that adds things like eggs, platters, and cocktails to the usual bagel-and-nova situation. Note that this place isn’t open for dinner.
photo credit: Flynn McGarry
Gem Wine, which is around the corner from its sister restaurant Gem (another spot in the neighborhood we love), is a great middle ground between a restaurant and a bar, and it’s an ideal place for a date. The menu changes frequently, and it’s full of interesting small plates, as well as more substantial options like lamb tartare tossed in a creamy oyster emulsion. They only serve wine (mostly from low-intervention producers), but there’s no printed list, so you'll have to discuss what you're looking for with your server.
photo credit: Teddy Wolff
There’s a lack of good, casual sushi on the Lower East Side. Along with Gouie, Douska fills that void with straightforward handrolls. Stop by for a date at the sushi bar, and order a set of temaki with crab, scallop, toro, and more. If you’re looking for something slightly more extravagant, Douska has a few omakase options ($50 or $70) as well as some sushi and sashimi combinations that start at $29. The sushi here is straightforward, so you won’t see a lot of truffles, edible gold leaves, and the like.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
Wayla’s space outshines nearly every other restaurant in the neighborhood. The dark dining room connects to a beautiful back garden filled with plants, wicker furniture, and twinkling string lights. The next time the weather’s nice and you want to appear cool and in-the-know, bring a group here and enjoy a bunch of shareable Thai dishes. The food—like the crispy fried chunks of branzino, slightly sweet noodles spilling out of a lobster’s head, and crunchy noodle-wrapped meatballs—will always make you feel just the right amount of deluxe.