One of the few neighborhoods that still gives New York City’s its never-sleeping reputation, the Lower East Side is pretty much always alive -- and that includes its dining scene. Whether you’re looking for breakfast at a 100-plus-year-old appetizing shop or a post-drinking congee binge, you’ll find it here. These are the restaurants you absolutely need to hit.
<h2>Best for Korean-inspired bites and cocktails: <a href="http://www.ms-yoo.com/" target="_blank">Ms. Yoo</a></h2>
<em>163 Allen Street (Between Rivington St and Stanton St) </em><br />
From the ramen mastermind behind Mokbar, Ms. Yoo focuses on Asian-inspired, fruit-forward cocktails (think vodka with Korean plum and a margarita spiced with gochujang) to be paired with Korean comfort food snacks like nori-topped popcorn and crispy K-pop shrimp. Fill up on those or opt for the main event: a $32 whole chicken (that is, head and feet included) stuffed with and herb-laced rice and served with a gochujang dipping sauce.
<h2>Best for a bagel with lox: <a href="https://www.russanddaughters.com/" target="_blank">Russ & Daughters</a></h2>
<em>179 E Houston Street (Between Houston St & 2nd Ave)</em><br />
While Russ & Daughters’ sister café may be popular for weekend brunch, locals know to go to the OG, always crowded, always loud appetizing shop dating back to 1914. Take a number and choose from a range of cured fish, including Norwegian smoked salmon and fatty loin-cut lox, plus other Jewish favorites like halvah, latkes, and babka.
<h2>Best for an over-the-top food mash-ups: <a href="http://shopsins.com/" target="_blank">Shopsin's</a></h2>
<em>120 Essex Street (between Rivington St & Delancey St)</em><br />
Shopsin’s is not a place for the indecisive. The numbered, margin-free menu is loaded with 900 different options, ranging from mac & cheese pancakes and egg nachos to Frito pie and Jamaican shrimp curry. Plan your order before you get there so you can spend the bulk of your time listening to the wildly entertaining curse-filled banter between owner Kenny Shopsin and his family.
<h2>Best for red sauce-drenched pasta: <a href="http://www.saucerestaurant.com/" target="_blank">Sauce</a></h2>
<em>78 Rivington Street (between Allen St & Orchard St)</em><br />
You’re getting the full-on <em>nonna</em> treatment with a sliver of the Lower East Side at this cornerside Italian spot. Grab a seat in the cozy dining room and order from a totally unfussy Italian-American menu featuring the likes of tomato-gravy covered rigatoni with meatballs and Italian sausage and a plank of soft polenta strewn with saucy Bolognese.
<h2>Best for ridiculously fluffy pancakes: <a href="https://clintonstreetbaking.com/" target="_blank">Clinton Street Baking Co.</a></h2>
<em>4 Clinton Street (between Avenue B & Houston St)</em><br />
A café that almost feels better suited to a small vacation town than the Lower East Side, Clinton Street Baking Co. has gained neighborhood renown for its wait-worthy, fluffy yet rich pancakes, served daily along with a slew of other filling breakfast platters. Pancake options range from wild Maine blueberry to banana walnut, served with homemade maple butter. Do note that the place is cash-only.
<h2>Best for legit tamales: <a href="https://www.google.com/maps/place/Factory+Tamalfirstname.lastname@example.org,-73.9903625…; target="_blank">Factory Tamal</a></h2>
<em>34 Ludlow Street (between Hester St & Grand St)</em><br />
Traditional tamales are hard to come by in Manhattan, which is why Factory Tamal, a completely laid-back takeout spot doling out $4 handmade tamales, is such a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Get yours stuffed with fillings like spicy pulled chicken, mole poblano, rajas con queso, or bacon with melty mozzarella.
<h2>Best for soba noodles: <a href="http://www.cocoronandgoemon.com/" target="_blank">Cocoron</a></h2>
<em>16 Delancey Street (between Kenmare St & Bowery)</em><br />
This tiny temple of buckwheat noodles offers soba served both hot or cold, so you can douse (or dip) or noodles in everything from chicken meatball soup to spicy sesame broth. The menu also offers a range of curries, as well as gluten-free and vegan-friendly options.
<h2>Best for a classic pastrami on rye: <a href="https://katzsdelicatessen.com/" target="_blank">Katz's Delicatessen</a></h2>
<em>205 E Houston Street (between Avenue A & Norfolk St)</em><br />
Dating back to 1888, Katz’s still offers one of the city’s best <a href="https://www.thrillist.com/eat/new-york/best-pastrami-in-nyc" target="_blank">pastrami</a> sandwiches, stacked high with well-spiced, juicy meat between two slices of rye bread. Don’t forget to enjoy it alongside a plate of pickles and a Cel-Ray soda.
<h2>Best for gourmet vegetables: <a href="http://www.dirtcandynyc.com/" target="_blank">Dirt Candy</a></h2>
<em>86 Allen Street (Between Broome St and Grand St)</em><br />
Chef Amanda Cohen’s groundbreaking all-vegetable restaurant recently transitioned to a tasting menu format (save for brunch), giving the kitchen the freedom to cook up whatever seasonal bounty so inspires their cheffy minds. A five-course menu runs at $57 (tip included) and includes a range of vegetarian dishes like Korean fried broccoli and portobello mousse, as well as unexpected veggie treasures.
<h2>Best for a guilt-free brunch: <a href="http://dimesnyc.com/" target="_blank">Dimes</a></h2>
<em>49 Canal Street (at Orchard St)</em><br />
One of the OG spots that made eating multicolored bowls of vegetables trendy, Dimes is a standby for fruity breakfast bowls and protein-packed savory brunch items like tacos with scrambled eggs and spicy mango salsa. It’s also got a full dinner menu that includes meat and seafood options, should you be opposed to an all-veggie meal.
<h2>Best for a big salad: <a href="http://www.elreynyc.com/" target="_blank">El Rey Coffee and Luncheonette</a></h2>
<em>100 Stanton Street (between Ludlow St & Orchard St)</em><br />
Equally perfect for a lunchtime meeting or an after-work bite, this airy, open-windowed cafe raises the bar for coffee shop fare with a range of enormous, rainbow-colored salads all day long, alongside coffee made with Counter Culture beans, plus wine and beer.
<h2>Best for Indian-style tacos: <a href="http://www.goataco.com/" target="_blank">Goa Taco</a></h2>
<em>79 Delancey Street (between Allen St & Orchard St)</em><br />
Plenty of restaurants have fallen into the trap of throwing ingredients into a soft tortilla and calling it a taco, but Goa successfully reverses the trope, using paratha (a flaky Indian bread) as the vessel and filling it with fusion-style ingredients like house-made chicken chorizo, garam masala fried chickpeas, and pickled tomatillo.
<h2>Best for hip French food: <a href="https://www.dirtyfrench.com/" target="_blank">Dirty French</a></h2>
<em>180 Ludlow Street (between Houston St & Stanton St)</em><br />
Major Food Group’s opulent ode to the French bistro is less stuffy than your traditional duck a l'orange-serving French spot (see the neon pink sign and theatrically illuminated mirrors for evidence) but still nails the classical French dishes with a bit of New York flare. Expect elevated renditions of the classics, like beet salad with Roquefort and candied cashews and trout meunière with dried apricots. If you’re looking to go all-out, pre-order the suckling pig feast to share.
<h2>Best for an eccentric Chinese feast: <a href="https://www.missionchinesefood.com/nyc/" target="_blank">Mission Chinese</a></h2>
<em>171 E Broadway (at Pike St)</em><br />
This SF import introduced New York to a whole new world of Chinese-themed cuisine, utilizing ingredients and techniques from around the world. Expect unique dishes like Malaysian beef jerky fried rice, beef tartare lettuce cups, and thrice-cooked bacon with rice cakes. To make the most out of the extensive menu, come by with a group of friends to share communal dishes, like the drunken-style wood-oven roasted fish and the order-in-advance (call the day before) roast chicken, stuffed with sausage and eggs.
<h2>Best for ramen: <a href="http://www.nakamuranyc.com/" target="_blank">Nakamura</a></h2>
<em>172 Delancey Street (between Attorney St & Clinton St)</em><br />
Japanese chef and ramen master Shigetoshi “Jack” Nakamura’s eponymous restaurant serves 10 types of traditional ramen inside a tiny, exposed-brick-lined shop. First-timers should opt for the signature torigara, made with a soy sauce-based chicken broth, tender chashu pork, and plenty of thin, bouncy noodles. For a change in your ramen routine, go for the Jidori mazemen, a dipping-style ramen topped served with chicken and thick, curly noodles.
<h2>Best for retro pizzas: <a href="http://www.scarrspizza.com/" target="_blank">Scarr's Pizza</a></h2>
<em>22 Orchard Street (between Canal St & Hester St)</em><br />
Allow ‘70s nostalgia to lure you into this pizzeria/bar, which is fully dedicated to a throwback pizza parlor theme (note the retro signage, fake-wood booths, and linoleum bar). Grab a thick Sicilian slice or a 9-inch personal pan pizza (which can be topped with everything from to clams -- and even vegan cheese) and hang out by the bar with a beer.
<h2>Best for oversized sandwiches: <a href="http://cheeky-sandwiches.com/menu.html" target="_blank">Cheeky Sandwiches</a></h2>
<em>35 Orchard Street (between Canal St & Hester St)</em><br />
This tiny sandwich shop is often difficult to squeeze into, but once you feel the weight of the hefty, ingredient-loaded sandwich in your hands, you’ll see why your effort to sidle in through the crowds was well worth it. All priced under $10, the sandwiches here are legit feasts, like the gravy-drenched fried chicken on a biscuit, or the braised short rib on pillowy challah bread.
<h2>Best for an affordable tasting menu: <a href="http://www.contranyc.com/" target="_blank">Contra</a></h2>
<em>138 Orchard Street (between Rivington St & Delancey St)</em><br />
Using completely local, seasonal ingredients, Contra’s tasting menu changes nearly daily, clocking in under $100 for around six courses. Expect beautiful plated vegetable-centric starters and sustainable seafood, dressed up in fresh herbs and homemade sauces. Add $60 for a natural wine pairing or head to the bar for an abridged three-course menu. Seating is tight (make a reservation ahead of time), but portions are generous.
<h2>Best for small plates and natural wine: <a href="http://wildair.nyc/" target="_blank">Wildair</a></h2>
<em>142 Orchard Street (between Rivington St & Delancey St)</em><br />
Contra's more casual sibling is a laid-back, all-natural wine bar known for rare wines and unique small plates. Pair a Pet'Nat (that’s a slightly fizzy wine) with a number of crudos, tartares, and toasts, like the spicy tuna toast accented with ndjua. A walk-in only policy means you may have to wait for a table, but luckily, there are <a href="https://www.thrillist.com/drink/new-york/best-bars-lower-east-side-nyc&…; target="_blank">plenty of bars nearby</a> to help kill the time.
<h2>Best for Malaysian rice bowls and coffee: <a href="http://www.kopitiamny.com/" target="_blank">Kopitiam</a></h2>
<em>51B Canal Street (between Ludlow St & Orchard St)</em><br />
Hovering just above Chinatown is this Malaysian coffee shop serving traditional coffees and teas alongside a slew snacks and larger dishes. For a quick, affordable lunch, opt for the $6 nasi lemak (a coconut rice bowl with egg, cucumber, anchovies, and spicy homemade sambal sauce) or the cold spicy sesame noodles (also $6). And don’t forget to grab a kopi tarik, a traditional coffee sweetened with condensed milk.
<h2>Best for arepas and plantain sandwiches: <a href="http://www.pataconpisaonyc.com/" target="_blank">Patacon Pisao</a></h2>
<em>139 Essex Street (between Stanton St & Rivington St)</em><br />
This food truck turned brick-and-mortar Venezuelan spot lets you choose from a base of arepas, tortillas, cachapas (sweet corn crepes), or the namesake patacon (a plantain sandwich) to be filled with a slew of slow-cooked, flavorful meats (think shredded pork, beef, chicken, chorizo), along with toppings like queso blanco, bacon, black beans, and more. Indecisive eaters can also choose off a menu of pre-designed creations.
Sign up here for our daily NYC email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun New York has to offer.