The Lower East Side is one of the best neighborhoods to eat in New York City, not simply because the restaurants are great and often full of interesting people, but because there’s a near-endless variety of them. Want a classic New York sandwich? Covered. A tasting menu that will feel special for an anniversary? A party scene for your birthday? An excellent vegetarian restaurant? All covered as well. Here are the LES spots you should know about.
Walk into this legendary Cantonese restaurant on East Broadway and you’ll be greeted by tanks filled with giant crabs and waiters carrying steaming bowls of wonton soup. The dining room is full of big, round tables topped with delicious pea shoots, salt and pepper prawns, and crispy fried Dungeness crabs spinning around on lazy Susans. Of all of the places on the Lower East Side, we consistently recommend group dinners here the most. If you haven’t been convinced why yet, know that Wu’s has a BYOB policy.
There are a lot of places in Manhattan you could go for a scene, but very few of them serve consistently good, affordable food and $24 carafes of house wine. That’s what makes this Greek restaurant rare - it’s where you should bring a group the next time you decide to unleash that new shirt you bought, but they serve quality grilled lamb, lemony roasted potatoes, and briny-rich taramasalata you can feast on for around $25-30 a person. The catch? Kiki’s only accepts walk-ins and a solid percentage of people in the neighborhood (and beyond) already know about it. Prepare to kill time at Clandestino or Forgtmenot next door until your table is ready.
This Malaysian cafe on East Broadway serves food all day, and we feel so strongly about their dishes that we can’t possibly list all of our favorites in one measly paragraph. Come for breakfast and order Malaysia’s national dish - nasi lemak. It involves a big bowl of coconut rice topped with fried anchovies, peanuts, cucumbers, and hard-boiled eggs. Stop by with a friend for a casual dinner and split extra sweet French toast dusted in sugar and a big bowl of pan mee soup with hand-pulled noodles, dried crunchy anchovies, ground pork, and sweet fishy broth. The pan mee is the Sunday HBO programming of the Kopitiam menu in that you’ll feel left out if you miss it.
Le French Diner feels like a secret bistro only you and your dinner companion know about. They can only seat about 20 people total (inside and out), mostly on black leather bar stools squeezed into a small, chalboard-wine-list covered room that looks a lot like it’s supposed to exist outside of America. The short menu is as simple as the set-up itself: bistro classics like escargots, duck rillettes, scallops, mussels, grilled rabbit, and beautifully cooked hangar steak served with a square hunk of crispy cheesy scalloped potatoes. If we had to cut this list down to five places, Le French Diner would still be on it.
This Vietnamese restaurant opened on Orchard Street at the beginning of 2020, and we’ve continued to eat their bún chả and garlic noodles with fried shrimp once a month since then. Stop by for casual sidewalk seating, and make sure to try their excellent bánh mì burger in addition to a spread of noodles, spicy soups, and fried chicken sandwich. It’s hulking, and covered in slightly-numbing lime leaf aioli, pickled cabbage, lemongrass, and jalapeños.
Contra originally opened in 2013 with a $55 five-course set menu. In both price and temperament, the Orchard Street restaurant’s experience went against the grain of typical fine dining - with a rotating menu of seasonal, experimental dishes offered for under $100. Fast forward to 2021 when Contra reopened with an a la carte menu for the first time including dishes like a skate wing with zingy curried cherries on top, or a dry-aged striploin slathered in rhubarb mole. The restaurant still looks like a goth minimalist den where a rave may have presumably happened, flooded with low lighting and wine that’s cooler than you are. But now it’s your choice whether to opt for two dishes per person or do the whole damn menu. Know that nothing costs more than $30, with portion sizes ranging somewhere between a few bites and a full entree.
Several seconds after biting into Fat Choy’s toasted sesame pancake sandwich filled with hearty mushroom ragu and crisp slaw, you’ll forget about all of the upsetting sloppy joes of your past. This restaurant on the Broome Street sort of just happens to be vegan - or at least that’s the effect of eating their perfectly fried salt and pepper cauliflower bites and other Chinese dishes. Between the vegan menu and casual setup, Fat Choy is a perfect place to come for a quick, memorable meal for around $15. Particularly if you like the idea of eating delicate rice rolls that taste like a jug of olive oil.
When you think of visiting an NYC food hall, do you imagine yourself sitting on a covered patio, gnawing on a smoky lamb rib served in a tin-can grill? What about the idea of soaking up green-chile-laced dal with buttery chapati in between sips of gin, ginger liqueur, and betel leaf swirled together in a martini glass? No? Then you haven’t been to Dhamaka yet. This Essex Market restaurant is from the chefs behind two of our favorite Indian restaurants in the city, Rahi and Adda, and focuses on regional specialties you may not have seen elsewhere in New York City (the website says, “This is the other side of India, the forgotten side of India”). Try their version of chicken pulao served directly in a pressure cooker, or the tender lamb kidneys and testicles in a fragrant onion-tomato stew and pao shimmering with ghee on the side, and finish your meal with a rich, souffle-like chhena poda for dessert.
Even with its new a la carte options, going to Contra still feels like an event to a certain extent. Wildair - their sister wine bar located right next door - is a more casual spot to snack and drink something incredible. We strongly endorse showing up here on a random weeknight alone, or for a night out with a few friends to share things like a pomme darphin topped with uni and jalapeño or littleneck clams in XO sauce. Wildair also started making doughnuts in 2020. These things are typically filled with cream, often inspired by various internet celebrities, and highly coveted. Good luck getting one.
This Dominican spot on the corner of Clinton and Rivington has been open in the neighborhood for over 40 years, and is one of our go-to spots when we’re looking for a sandwich that’s under $7. Their Cubano comes on a hard, crusty roll that tightly packs all of the shredded pork shoulder, ham, cheese, and pickles. When it’s 7:30pm on a weeknight and we’re still brainstorming dinner, we often reunite with this sandwich. Add on a side of crispy tostones, but know the spot is cash-only.
Since 2017, Cervo’s has been the perfect spot for dates to share Boston mackerel before a 9pm showing at Metrograph, or cool downtown people to swirl cardamom-flavored vermouth and soda at the bar. The Portuguese and Spanish food is still as exciting as it’s always been - at least to anyone who considers liking mollusks an inherent personality trait - especially since much of the menu remains unchanged from the early days of Cervo’s. Think white Louisiana prawns kissed on the plancha, half of a smoky roast chicken that’s been flattened and smothered in piri-piri sauce, and a lamb burger blanketed by four optional (read: mandatory) shimmering marinated anchovies also served at their sister restaurant, Hart’s, in Bed-Stuy. Show up early. The restaurant does not take reservations, and it’s nearly impossible to secure a table without waiting at least an hour.
The Bun Hut opened in Spring of 2020 serving exciting West Indian and Bahamian dishes like steamed bao and roti wraps stuffed with various Caribbean fillings, like juicy jerk chicken, braised oxtail, and coconut shrimp. This place is constantly in our weeknight dinner rotation, specifically when we want a generous helping of curried goat for takeout. But they also have a big dining room, where they often host live music, that works for a casual date with someone who shares your love of conch fritters.
When Gem opened in 2018, you were locked into one of two nightly seatings for an aggressively vegetable-forward, 12-15-course tasting menu priced at $155. That was cool. It really was. Even back then, the chef, Flynn McGarry, made you feel like you were dining in the future, but also in his living room. He put hyper-seasonal vegetables on display without forsaking meat entirely, all in a flower- and art-bombed space that feels more like a fun hang than a restaurant. Now you can experience all of that without committing to a tasting menu. The a la carte options change almost daily depending on the farmer’s market, and each and every dish will blow you away. Some standouts from a recent meal included emerald green ramp tortellini in broth, lamb and oyster tartare with fried capers, and an entirely vegetarian schnitzel made with cabbage and maitake mushrooms.
Davelle is an all-day Japanese restaurant that’s about the size of a studio apartment you’d find on Suffolk Street. But the limited space makes the list of curry options, daily breakfast and lunch, and variety of cocktails and wine all the more impressive. We typically get the uni spaghetti, thick and savory pork curry that’s been stewed for five hours, or one of their decadent Japanese toasts for breakfast. Anytime you need a spot for a calm one-on-one with a friend, consider Davelle.
La Contenta is where you want to be eating fish tacos and drinking mezcal margaritas on the Lower East Side. The tiny Norfolk Street location is perfect for when you want to have a fun night out in the neighborhood in a dark crowded space. Along with your massive, lightly-battered fish tacos, order queso with goat cheese and hanger steak served with a twice-baked potato. It’s relatively casual, and everything costs less than $25.
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). It has one major flaw, though: there’s nowhere to sit. That’s where Russ & Daughters Cafe comes in. The nearby cafe offers both seating and an extensive menu that adds eggs, platters, and cocktails to the usual bagel and nova situation.
Dirt Candy is a pioneering restaurant, in both their early commitment to paying their workers equitably and treating vegetables as the focus of fine dining. Most tasting-menu restaurants don’t easily accommodate vegetarian or vegan diners - and that’s partly what makes this vegetable-focused restaurant incredibly useful, even after a decade when it first opened. Sure, a couple of the seasonal dishes you try now may feel stuck in gastronomical-yesteryear when chefs wracked their brains to figure out how many different techniques they could use to show off a tomato in one single dish - but we think the experience feels surprising and delightful nonetheless. Plan a special night out here sans meat or fish. The $85 tasting menu comes with five courses (portioned such that we’ve been genuinely full afterwards) and includes the tip.
Scarr’s is the pizza capital of the LES. Pass by it any given night and you’ll see lines of people waiting for a cheese slice, some delivery couriers opening up their bags for the hefty Sicilian or grandma pies, and a bunch of people loitering inside and out drinking natural wine and eating vegan caesar salads. Our hack has always been to stop by and grab one of their chewy, crusty slices at off-peak hours since sometimes the waits can get long (and they’ll be out of certain options). The dough and tomato sauce are certainly flavorful - they mill their own flour in-house and the sauce is not too sweet - not to mention they make a great vegan pie.
Truly unique dining experiences are tough to come by, even in NYC, but Shabushabu Macoron qualifies. In fact, it’s not just unique for the LES or New York in general - it’s the first shabu shabu omakase restaurant anywhere in the world. Sit at the eight-seat chef’s counter, and watch as things like pork and two different types of wagyu are cooked in a pot of boiling water in front of you. It’s $148 per person, but a great option for a special occasion date.
We probably don’t need to tell you much about Katz’s Deli, other than the fact that it’s still good after 130+ years on Houston Street, and is one of the few tourist spots worth anyone’s time. Order pastrami on rye, maybe a matzoh ball soup and fries, and don’t lose your ticket. Repeat. An important note: Katz’s isn’t cash-only anymore, you can pay with credit cards if you walk to the far counter where they sell side dishes and drinks.
After operating two locations in Brooklyn, Peppa’s Jerk Chicken officially opened a third spot on the Lower East Side in early 2021. For $7, you can go to their location on Stanton and get a small portion of smoky-sticky jerk chicken (which would be considered large by most standards). The chicken comes out charred and juicy, and for a few dollars more you can make it a full meal with some sides like rice and peas, caramelized plantain, or a few festivals.
When you ask your text chain if anyone wants to go out tonight, you usually get one yes, two maybes (a.k.a. nos), and no response from everyone else. But on the rare occasion that everyone wants to join, go to Congee Village. This two-story Chinese spot just off Delancey - which has a tree growing in the middle of it and bamboo everywhere - is filled with big tables. Almost everything on the very long menu is served family-style, so you should share things like the salt and pepper shrimp, congee with salted chicken, and chicken and yam that’s served on a sizzling hot plate.
Essex Market has been a central part of the Lower East Side since the early 19th century when the city was covered in mud and manure. It’s changed a lot over the years, having moved locations in 2019 to a large complex on the corner of Essex and Delancey where they share a building with a movie theater, luxury condos, and even more vendors downstairs at the joining complex The Market Line. But this is still a great one-stop-shop place to grab something to eat on the LES. Dominican Cravings makes one of the city’s best breakfast sandwiches, Dhamaka serves Indian regional dishes you’ll have trouble finding elsewhere in NYC, and the Wildair team even runs a wine bar called People’s downstairs. Check out our full guide for more specifics on where to eat, drink, and shop here.
There’s a lack of good, casual sushi on the Lower East Side. Douska fills that void with straightforward handrolls. Stop by for a date at the sushi bar where you should order a $28 set of five temaki. If you’re looking for something slightly more extravagant, we love their DIY platter where you can construct your own set of handrolls out of warm vinegar-soaked rice, crispy nori, and a selection of fresh tuna, crab meat, scallops, and the like. Douska also comes in handy for takeout, although they’ll slice up the handrolls into maki to avoid any seaweed soggage.
Regina’s is the best (and pretty much only) place in the neighborhood dedicated to making sandwiches with various cold cuts. Even though it hasn’t been around as long as some of the greats (Faccio’s, Defonte’s, etc.), this place on Orchard deserves to be recognized as one of the city’s best Italian delis. Try the “Uncle Jimmy” sub that comes with all the fixings - prosciutto, mozzarella, hot soppressata, smoked ham, arugula, hot pepper spread, roasted red peppers, and balsamic, all on floury and thin stirato bread. The walls are also lined with Italian foodstuffs, so this is where you should come the next time you need to pick up a pound of pasta or just want to casually work “gabagool” into your sandwich order.
Whenever we’re in the mood for a comforting meal that costs less than $15, we walk straight to North Dumpling on Essex Street. Their extra-gingery pork and chive dumplings, offered fried or steamed, have a dedicated following among the neighborhood so expect to see lines of skaters, NYPD parking ticket enforcers, and people who have lived in Chinatown for 50 years. We usually order our dumplings pan-fried because we love the way the bottoms crisp up, but the boiled version will also satisfy. If you insist on straying from the dumplings, try the flaky sesame pancake with chives or noodles with vegetables.
You can now order a chicken sandwich and fries at Ivan Ramen. That alone should signal to you that there have been some major changes at this iconic Lower East Side ramen spot since it opened in 2014. Lots of the menu items you might’ve seen on the glamorous Chef’s Table episode (like the Coney Island tofu, 1000-year-old deviled egg, and more) are gone. But the ramen, with silky, porky broth and thin delicate noodles, remains pretty unchanged. A bowl of any of those, particularly the shoyu or spicy red chili ramen, works great for a hearty meal. And if you’re looking for a solo dinner when you’re on the Lower East Side, check out their intimate back patio that isn’t dissimilar from eating on a spacious fire escape.
Our favorite way to visit this Basque restaurant on East Broadway is to stop by for snacks and a fantastic bottle of red wine we’ve never seen before. Unlike other date-night places in the neighborhood, Ernesto’s serves a mountain of homemade potato chips draped with jamon, as well as Basque small plates like gilda skewers and delicate potato croqueta filled with bechamel. We’d also recommend stopping by their daytime cafe next door for a jamon-egg sandwich or a flaky pastry the next time you feel like avoiding the oatmeal in your cabinet.
Cocktails and fried chicken sandwiches make for a solid blueprint and combination at any bar or restaurant. Double Chicken isn’t your average dive slinging out plates of bar food to soak up the alcohol though. They have a whole menu of on-tap cocktails featuring ingredients like Italicus, Cocchi Americano, and different teas, along with three different chicken sandwich versions and a fried tofu one with rich peanut sauce that is just as deserving as its poultry counterparts. The “Hot Honey” is where you should start, though, as the pickles, craggy breaded chicken, and buttermilk-Thai basil sauce on the puffy bun make for a slightly spicy, herbaceous, and crispy combo. They recently opened up a back section of the restaurant that offers craft cocktails and a sit-down menu - we’ll be back soon to check that out.
The original Cocoron in Nolita is one of the most underrated restaurants in the city. This location on the LES is very similar, but it’s a slightly bigger space. It’s not quite as homey and cozy as the one on Kenmare, but the food is exactly the same, so if you are coming from slightly further east, or encounter a wait in Nolita, walk across Bowery for another place to get some phenomenal soba. For something different, try the yuba dipping soba - it’s not always available at the other location and is a lighter alternative to the legendary Mera Mera.
No honest guide to the neighborhood would be complete without Dimes. This all-day cafe is less of a singular restaurant as it is a player in the LES cultural zeitgeist. When someone refers to Dimes Square as an area, what they’re really talking about is this restaurant’s bucket-hat-models-who-eat-acai-bowls energy. It’s true that Dimes always seems to be full of people who make a living off of selling clothes on Depop and act like they kind of hate you, but it’s also true that they serve reliable healthy-adjacent food like alfalfa sprout grain bowls, escarole caesar salads, and BLTs with cilantro mayo. If you want something on-the-go, Dimes Deli across the street also serves filling, vegetable-forward breakfast burritos and quick snacks.
Come to Pig & Khao on Clinton Street prepared with a small army of people who talk about “fun,” and also actually have it. This Thai and Filipino restaurant specializes in pink cocktails, very loud music, and shareable portions of things like pork belly adobo and a whole fried fish covered in curry coconut cream and Thai basil. Try to sit in the back and order plenty of coconut rice on the side with your meal.
Wayla’s space outshines nearly every other restaurant in the neighborhood. The dark Forsyth Street dungeon space connects to a beautiful back garden filled with plants, wicker furniture, and twinkling string lights. The next time you want to appear cool and in-the-know, bring a group here and enjoy a bunch of shareable Thai dishes. The food here, 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.
This is an excellent option to remember when every place in the neighborhood is overflowing with people on weekends and you need a table as soon as possible. The Greek food here has gotten us through many busy workdays and otherwise boring weeknight meals. Including taramasalata that should come with two little yellow strips of mouth caution tape for after you eat it (it’s intensely fishy, amazing, and we think about it all the time). Aside from the fish dip, we rely on the Greek wraps and other mezze at this place for a quick and sub-$30 meal that’s consistently good. If you don’t want to deal with the two hour wait (or, frankly, the scene) at Kiki’s, use this as an alternative.
Both of Factory Tamal’s LES and EV locations serve about twenty-five different sandwiches on ciabatta heros, including an excellent torta de quesillo with avocado, Oaxaca cheese, and papalo herbs. But you should also know that no meal from Factory Tamal is complete without a tamale. They’re relatively small, $5 each, and you’ll disappoint yourself (and us) if you don’t try at least one. We like the slightly spicy rajas con queso and the salsa verde with chicken. Most importantly, the masa on these are smooth, hold everything together, and are never mealy.
If you’re looking to spend under $15 on a very filling, delicious meal in the neighborhood, Sandy’s Coffee Shop needs to be on your radar. This Dominican, takeout-only spot under the Williamsburg bridge on Delancey serves all types of fried fish and chicken, empanadas, and different stewed meats. On a recent visit, we opted for two types of pork - hunks of the roasted variety and pig’s feet in tomato sauce - over rice, peas, and beans. The roast pork was citrusy and charred with extra crispy skin, the pig’s feet were pleasantly gelatinous and rich, while the rice, peas, and beans soaked up all the flavors. We even added on a pasteles en hoja and a couple of empanadas to our order and our total still clocked in under $15.