The Lower East Side’s food scene is one of the city’s most vibrant, showcasing a district beloved for its patchwork of cultures and cuisines.
Manhattan’s illustrious immigrant neighborhood, the Lower East Side oozes history through its pores. Its streets and tenements are a reminder of the late 19th and early 20th centuries when scores of Germans and Eastern Europeans fled their homelands in search of a better life. Today, the “LES” as it’s sometimes called, is a trendy district overflowing with restaurants serving every type of food one can imagine. Here are TravelMag’s picks for seven of the best restaurants on the Lower East Side.
Spain’s Basque Country presents a mélange of tapas, or “pintxos” in the region’s native language, and Ernesto’s delivers its rendition of some of the culinary capital’s traditional small plates. For an intro, try the ham croquettes, shrimp toast, white asparagus, and the “Gilda”––supposedly the first-ever pintxo with roots in San Sebastian in the 1940s––a skewer layering a pickled guindilla pepper, briny olives, and a salt-cured anchovy. Move on to the Spanish salt cod, duck breast in port and foie sauce, and other specialties on the main plates side of the menu. Pair your meal with a glass from Castilla y Leon, Murcia, or Rioja or go with the Spanish G&T––an inventive take on the American gin and tonic adding grapefruit, juniper, and rosemary.
259 East Broadway
While this eatery has graced the silver screen numerous times over the years, the most iconic of the lot is Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally, making Katz’s world-renowned. As New York’s oldest Jewish deli, this legendary haunt began serving the city in 1888 when the Lower East Side was an immigrant haven. The restaurant prides itself on curing meats for 30 days, assuring customers will taste the difference between Katz’s corned beef and the usual 36-hour cured alternatives. That said, it’s no surprise locals and tourists queue for the “mile-high” pastrami sandwich, arguably one of the best in town. Although the deli fare here is undoubtedly worth the trip, don’t lose the ticket you receive upon entering. It’s Katz’s way of tracking orders, so you’ll need the slip to pay; otherwise, management will charge you $50.
205 E. Houston St
Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya
The acclaimed Bromberg Brothers’ foray into sushi began in 1995 when the duo and Blue Ribbon founders collaborated with sushi master Toshi Ueki and his team. Fast forward to 2012, Sushi Izakaya––a Japanese tavern and sushi bar––landed in the hotel, SIXTY LES. Fresh sushi and sashimi, broiled miso-cured black cod, a seven-color rainbow roll, yakitori, and the renowned Blue Ribbon fried chicken adorn the menu. Meanwhile, Japanese beers, a noteworthy sake and wine list, and shochu-style cocktails round out the adult beverages. Beyond the delicious Japanese cuisine, the restaurant’s American-style breakfast ranges from avocado toast to steak and eggs and build-your-own omelet.
187 Orchard St
There’s no shortage of pies in the Big Apple––pizza is as ubiquitous as yellow cabs––but this retro pizzeria ranks among Manhattan’s best. To be straight, Scarr’s is no ordinary pizza. The eatery mills its own grains in the basement, then sifts, blends, and ferments the dough. That’s a lot of labor before maneuvering and crowning a pie with all the goodness that goes into crafting ultra-flavorful pizzas. Choose from a medley of regular crust, Sicilian, and Grandma, plain or decorated with toppings like pepperoni, meatballs, and cremini mushrooms. Unlike most other pizza joints, Scarr’s caters to vegans, offering vegan pizza, vegan Caesar salad tossed in a cashew-based dressing, and vegan garlic knots, while pouring natural wines and tapping fountain, slushy, “over ice” cocktails.
22 Orchard St
Despite the name, there’s nothing dirty about this French-inspired restaurant. Set in the eternally cool Ludlow Hotel, this spot from Major Food Group prepares timeless classics but with a modern spin. The feel-good interior design consists of a dimly lit space reminiscent of the French countryside; it’s almost as gratifying as oysters Bourguignon, steak au poivre, and the signature duck à l’orange (put in a special request when you reserve a table). An impressive French bottle list: think Sancerre, Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Cháteauneuf-du-Pape, with an abbreviated version by the glass, will undoubtedly please wine lovers. Don’t miss brunch at Dirty French, either. Start the weekend with a Ludlow egg sandwich: tiers of bistro ham, cheddar, and Dijonnaise atop a flaky croissant.
180 Ludlow St
This laid-back outpost attempted to open in 2020, but the pandemic halted its launch. After filling to-go orders and serving front-line workers during the thick of Covid, the Vietnamese eatery is thriving with dine-in service. New Yorkers head to Saigon Social for stuffed bánh mi, satisfying plates of garlic noodles and prawns, and soothing bowls of beef pho from Chef Helen Nguyen. Though the Seattle-raised cook was schooled in classical French cuisine, her heart lies with her roots––her parents emigrated from Vietnam to the US––and preparing upscale renditions of the nation’s comfort foods. Other menu items to sample include the black pepper-braised pork belly, Ha Noi-style vermicelli, and one of the signature dishes: bánh beo: steamed rice cakes sprinkled with shrimp, fried shallots, and scallion oil.
172 Orchard St
For a cozy vibe, wander down the street art-covered Freeman Alley until you reach the end, where a clandestine Colonial-American tavern by the same name stands tucked away from the chaos of Bowery. The hideaway cooks up five cheese macaroni, devils on horseback, half Amish chicken and brown butter spätzle, and a dry-aged porterhouse steak for dinner. A decadent lunch and weekend brunch feature New England lobster roll, shrimp and grits with red-eye gravy, and the Harlem favorite: fried chicken and waffles. Offering an international wine list including a solid selection of Champagne and specialty cocktails, Freemans guarantees guests have plenty of boozy options to imbibe while soaking in the rustic décor and hip downtown atmosphere.