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.
Rebel Restaurant and Bar
On any given night at Rebel Restaurant and Bar, there's either a live band or a DJ with rainbow globe lights going every which way. This Haitian restaurant feels like a party, so we wouldn't recommend bringing someone for a quiet discussion about "your future together." Think of this place the next time you want to skip any pregaming and get right into a fun night, and be sure to order the Barbancourt mussels in a pool of spicy and garlicky broth.
photo credit: Emily Schindler
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, showered with grated egg, and served alongside puffed nori chips, and the dakgalbi kimchi-bap is one 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—but sometimes things are best shared with just one other person anyway. Scalding hot gossip, for example, and all the exciting dishes from 8282.
There are always new omakase options in NYC, but it’s harder to find sushi openings that focus on high-quality, relatively affordable stuff (read: under $50 per person). Gouie falls into this bucket, and it’s a spot anybody should try if they like raw fish. Their sweeping counter in The Market Line on the LES not only fills a large, sushi-related hole in said market, but they also have a $30, seven-piece-and-half-roll special that’s just that: special (and not only because of the price point).
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 that tend to be 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 need more convincing to eat here, know that Wu’s has a BYOB policy.
There are a lot of places in Manhattan where you can find 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. They some quality grilled lamb, lemony roasted potatoes, and briny-rich taramasalata that 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. Bring a group the next time you decide to unleash that new shirt you bought, and 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 the 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 that 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, chalkboard-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: Expect 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. These days, however, Contra serves an à la carte menu, with dishes like a lobster tart and boudin noir. 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 $40, 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 how it feels when you're 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, Semma 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 get the tender lamb kidneys and testicles in a fragrant onion-tomato stew.
Even with its newish à 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 stopping by for a night out with a few friends when you want to share things like pommes darphin topped with uni or littleneck clams in XO sauce.
This Dominican spot on the corner of Clinton and Rivington has been open in the neighborhood for over 40 years, and it's 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 packed with 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 that this 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. The Portuguese and Spanish food here is still as exciting as it’s always been—at least for anyone who considers liking mollusks an inherent personality trait. Much of the menu remains unchanged since the early days, with items like 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) marinated anchovies. Make a reservation, or prepare to face a long wait.
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-filled space that felt more like a fun hang than a restaurant. Now, the menu is pared down to 10 courses (for $140), and it changes three times a year—with exclusively vegetarian dishes during the summer. Expect your dinner to have a theme (traditional Japanese Kaiseki-Ryori, e.g.), and assume that you will be eating some very fresh produce in a highly charming space.
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. When 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 a fun night out in a dark crowded space. Along with your massive, lightly-battered fish tacos, order queso with four kinds of cheese and hanger steak served with a twice-baked potato. This place is relatively casual, and almost everything costs less than $25.
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). 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 terms of both their early commitment to paying their workers equitably and also how they treat 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. Sure, a couple of the seasonal dishes you try 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 the experience feels surprising and delightful nonetheless. Plan a special night out here sans meat or fish. The $90 tasting menu comes with five courses, and the price includes gratuity.
Spicy Village’s big tray chicken is one of the city's most iconic dishes. Big bone-in hunks of chicken and potatoes come stewed in a rich sauce made with Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, and other spices—and you have the option of adding hand-pulled noodles. Always get those noodles. This place is BYOB—so stop by with a few friends for a fun, delicious meal that probably won’t run you more than $20 per person. Get that big tray chicken (with noodles), and supplement your order with some plump, bell-shaped soup dumplings. Just be aware that Spicy Village can’t accommodate parties larger than six.
Scarr’s is the pizza capital of the LES. Pass by 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 has always been to stop by and grab one of their chewy, crusty slices at off-peak hours, since the waits can get long (and they sometimes run out of certain options). The dough and tomato sauce are flavorful—they mill their own flour in-house—and they also make a great vegan pie.
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. 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.
Peppa’s Jerk Chicken
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 that 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," 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 extensive 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, and order a set of temaki with crab, scallop, toro, and more. If you’re looking for something slightly more extravagant, Douska also has a few omakase options as well as some sushi and sashimi combinations that start at $29.
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 (Faicco’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.
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.
Lots of the menu items (like the Coney Island tofu) you might’ve seen on the glamorous Chef’s Table episode set at this iconic Lower East Side ramen spot are gone. But the ramen, with silky, porky broth and thin delicate noodles, remains pretty unchanged. Any bowl of ramen here, 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 the intimate back patio.
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 croquetas filled with bechamel. We also recommend stopping by their daytime cafe next door for a plate of chorizo 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 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 chicken sandwich options in addition to a fried tofu one that's just as covetable 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. There's also a back section of the restaurant where you can sit down and enjoy some dishes like prawn ceviche and chicken liver mousse.
Cocoron is one of the most underrated restaurants in the city. They specialize in soba here (but also have ramen, curry, and a bunch of small plates), and we’re particular fans of the “dipping” soba that involves a plate of lukewarm soba and a little hotpot of soup/sauce that you dip the noodles in. For traditionalists, there’s also cold soba served with various mix-ins and a selection of noodle soups. Whatever route you choose, be sure to order the silky tofu appetizer.
No honest guide to the neighborhood would be complete without Dimes. This all-day cafe isn't so much a 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 place'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 offers filling, vegetable-forward breakfast burritos and quick snacks.
Pig And Khao
Come to Pig & Khao on Clinton Street 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 Hainanese duck 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 dining room 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—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 for 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 we always order the 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, 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. The tamales are relatively small and $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.
Sandy's Coffee Shop
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 the rice, peas, and beans soaked up all the flavors. We even added a pasteles en hoja and a couple of empanadas to our order, and our total still clocked in under $15.