HomeEat & DrinkThe 18 Best Restaurants in the Lower East Side

The 18 Best Restaurants in the Lower East Side

A talented Alicia Keys once said, “These streets will make you feel brand new, big lights will inspire you…” And even though she was able to almost perfectly encompass the brilliant and rapidly moving New York City that we know and love today, she missed the mark just slightly by not including a key detail. Ms. Keys, what about the Big Apple’s cuisine culture? Why did we leave out such a crucial and alluring aspect of what it means to experience New York City? 

This eager attitude to eat can be found in New York City residents and visitors alike. There is just something so special about what this bustling archipelago has to offer in regard to grub. But, where do you even start? In Manhattan alone there are roughly 27,000 restaurants that exist. Kind of crazy, no? How does one even begin to navigate the treasure hunt in finding the best spots? 

Well, to start, exploring by neighborhood is probably your best bet. Lucky for you we have sifted through the best Lower East Side restaurants to begin the journey. Throughout the years, the Lower East Side of Manhattan has gone through a copious amount of changes. Originally an area that had roots in farming is now a spot that holds some of the best famously known streets in all of New York City. Starting at Canal Street all the way up to Houston Street, the Lower East Side is home to some of the best restaurants in lower Manhattan. 

Lower East Side Restaurants

Freemans – Freeman Alley ($$)

In fall of 2004 the owners of Freemans were exploring the streets of Manhattan when they stumbled across a cozy and unused alley off the Bowery. Thus came the birth of Freemans. This American-style restaurant was built up to mock a rugged clandestine colonial tavern. The cuisine features tastes that are simple, rustic, and inspired by Old World traditions. 

Freemans offers brunch everyday from 11AM to 4PM and dinner Sunday to Monday 6PM to 10PM. From Tuesday to Saturday, dinner runs a bit later from 6PM to 11PM. They also have a seasonal cocktail and food menu in which you can check out on their Instagram

Pig and Khao – 68 Clinton Street ($$)

 

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Leah Cohen is the chef and owner of this Filipino-Thai fusion gem. Pig and Khao first opened up in 2014 with only 74 seats available. The intimate setting decorated with Southeast Asian inspired dishes has thrived since the day they served their first meal. Cohen had a dream of mixing her passion of cooking with her Filipino upbringing as well as constant visits to the motherland. With her desire to stay true to authentic Southeast Asian flavors, Pig and Khao became a spot that was acclaimed by publications such as the New York Times, New York Magazine, and The Huffington Post. 

Pig and Khao offers both a dinner and brunch menu. For dinner, they offer a Night Market Menu in which restaurant-goers can choose from which features monthly dishes for $48/person. You can also take part in their cocktail tasting for $30/per person. For brunch, Pig and Khao have the option for bottomless mimosas at $21/person with the purchase of 1 brunch food item. 

Russ & Daughters Café – 127 Orchard Street ($$)

 

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Russ & Daughters is certainly a culinary and cultural icon in New York City. Since 1914, they have been serving the highest quality of smoked fish, caviar, bagels, bialys, babka, and other traditional Jewish baked goods. It has been owned and operated by four generations of the Russ family with the original store on 106 Houston St. The shop is called Russ & Daughters with just the option to purchase goods, but the café offers full-service. 

The café opened in 2014 on the 100th anniversary of Russ & Daughters on Orchard St. which is the same street in which the current owner’s grandfather pickled herring. The history of this spot runs deep in traditional family values. At the café, restaurant-goers can view the salmon slicers at work through an open-kitchen setup. One could visit Russ & Daughters at really any time of the day to get a light meal, brunch, lunch, cocktails, or dinner. 

La Contenta – 102 Norfolk Street ($$)

 

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Stop by La Contenta for some authentic Mexican food in the Lower East Side. The owner and chef, Luis Arce Mota, first started his career as a dishwasher at Carmine’s in Times Square. With hard work and determination, Luis advanced his career and gained experience under the tutelage of many renowned chefs such as David Bouley and Michael Lomonaco. He eventually studied at Cordon Bleu in Paris and the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.

In 2014, Luis and his partners opened up La Contenta, an intimidate Lower East Side bistro. Diners can enjoy an unique menu highlighting Mexican ingredients that have been incorporated with classis French techniques. Stop by for brunch or dinner and don’t forget to get there early to take advantage of their happy hour deals.

Double Chicken Please – 115 Allen Street ($$)

Double Chicken Please first opened during the height of the pandemic in November of 2020. Faye Chen and GN Chan, the two co-owners, partnered up with Chef Mark Chou, who received his training at Eleven Madison Park, to bring together a delightful cocktail menu with a delectable food menu.

Like its name, the restaurant offers two experiences in one space. Check out the front for a more casual laid back atmosphere and be sure to try their famous chicken sandwiches and inventive cocktails on tap. Want something more along the lines of fine dining? Then book a seat in their Back Room. The food there is simply divine and their rotating list of inventive and classic cocktails will have you coming back over and over again.

Dudley’s – 85 Orchard Street ($$)

 

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From the same team that brought us Ruby’s, Dudley’s is a Australian corner pub-and-bistro you’ll need to check out. Whether you’re meeting friends for brunch or dinner, you can guarantee to enjoy the food and drink menu here. They’re best known for their big brekkie, avocado toast, bronte burger, and crispy rice salad but frankly, everything on the menu looks divine.

The restaurant does not currently take reservations and will serve guests on a first-come-first-serve basis so be sure to head no over earlier to put your name on the waitlist. Thankfully, there’s plenty of activities to check out around the Lower East Side. So take a nice stroll while you wait!

Wolfnights – The Gourmet Wrap – 99 Rivington Street ($$)

Each bite of a wrap at Wolfnights is made to be ideal. The team here uses unique house-made ingredients to create unique, one-of-a-kind wraps that contain everything you’d ever want. Every single bite is meant to give you a full blast of flavor, from sweet, savory, sour, spicy, fresh, and crunchy!

Wolfnights technically has two locations but the one by Lower East Side is perfect after a long night out partying at the many lounges, clubs, and bars in the area. Stop by and give Wolfnights a try. We promise you won’t regret it.

Contra – 138 Orchard Street ($$$)

 

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Established in 2013 by chefs Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske, Contra is a dinner-only restaurant that serves a rotating menu of seasonal and experimental dishes. The restaurant has Contra originally opened up with a $55 five course set menu but after reopening after the pandemic in 2021, they now offer an a la carte menu to provide diners with more freedom. The food menu here changes daily so you can expect a different experience each time you visit. Don’t just take our word for it, Contra has earned a Michelin star and also two star rating by the New York Times!

Ivan Ramen – 25 Clinton Street ($$)

 

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Craving a bowl of good shio ramen? Stop by Ivan Ramen for their world famous take on traditional Japanese style ramen. Ivan Orkin, the owner of Ivan Ramen, fell in love with Japan and its culture and moved there permanently after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America. There, he opened up his first ramen shop on the suggestion of his wife. To everyone’s surprise, the shop succeeded and his ramen shop became one of the top ramen shops in Japan. He eventually opened yet another ramen shop in Japan and eventually Ivan Ramen in the Lower East Side of New York. Today, Ivan is recognized as one of the leading American authorities on ramen.

Katz’s Delicatessen – 205 E Houston Street ($$)

Katz’s first opened up in 1888 as a small deli named Iceland Brothers. Willy Katz joined the partnership in 1903 and eventually bought out the entirety of the deli in 1910 with his cousin Benny Katz. With that, the deli was renamed to Katz’s Delicatessen and the rest is history. Kat’s has been family-owned for over 100 years and is currently run by Alan Dell, his son Jake Dell, and Alan’s brother-in-law Fred Austin. Today, the deli is one of the remaining Jewish-style delis. Stop by Katz’s to try their famous pastrami and corned beef rye bread sandwich. You won’t be disappointed.

Empanada Mama – 95 Allen Street ($)

 

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Owner Socrates Nanas opened up this Columbian joint with one thing in mind: how can I feed the masses by offering big flavors in small packages? This idea evolved into a beloved modern Patty Place that harbors nothing but great energy in mind. Every empanada dish is made with fresh ingredients to ensure the most delicious of meals. 

Their menu consists of roughly forty different empanadas stuffed and sealed with wheat or corn based shells. Some different flavors one can choose from are as follows: Greek (spinach pie), Cuban (ham, pork, and cheese), Polish (kielbasa and sauerkraut), Hawaiian (ham, cheese, and pineapple), Italian (sausage, peppers, and onions), and American (cheeseburger). Some of their small offerings include arepas, tamales, veal, rice balls, and pork-tenderloin meatballs. 

Dirt Candy – 86 Allen Street ($$)

 

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Looking for an inventive vegetarian spot? Well, Dirt Candy is everything a vegetarian could ever dream of. This is one of Manhattan’s only solely-vegetable restaurants. Their award winning chef, Amanda Cohen, is constantly changing the menu to see how elaborate she can get with what she discovers. Their single tasting menu will alternate depending on the season due to the produce that is freshly available.  

Dirt Candy’s five course tasting menu is $90/person and is only served at night. They also offer a wine pairing for an additional $50 which both include tip, but not tax. Their current spring menu is available and has been since April 14, 2022. But, as stated before, it will change depending on the season. 

Essex – 124 Rivington Street ($$)

Essex is an American restaurant offering dishes in a warehouse space with balcony seating. They have both a dinner and brunch menu with an extensive list of dishes. Not only that, but do they also offer an oyster happy hour (who doesn’t love an oyster happy hour?). Every Sunday – Friday from 5PM to 7PM Essex hosts a happy hour indoors and outdoors where customers can choose from discounted drinks, dishes, and $1.50/PC oysters. 

Their weekend brunch special comes with a choice of an entrée, 90 minutes of bottomless mimosas, bloody marys, screwdrivers, and Narragansett draft beers for $42.95/person. If you are interested in booking a table for more than 7 guests, you must place a reservation. The brunch party menu includes 2 hours of mimosas, bloody marys, screwdrivers, and Narragansett draft beers for $52.95/person. 

Serafina Ludlow – 98 Rivington Street ($$)

 

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With locations all over Manhattan, Serafina finds itself as a beloved modern Italian spot. Vittorio Assaf and Fabio Granato, the two owners, are good friends with an interesting story. Before the 90s they were out on the water and quickly became lost at sea. Stranded, all they could think about was having the perfect pizza. To strengthen their spirits at surviving they promised each other that when they got back to safety, they would open a pizzeria which also served some of the best pasta in the world. Thankfully they survived and in 1995 opened Serafina Fabulous Pizza on the Upper East Side. 

Serafina has a strong commitment to quality of food based on an authentic approach to Italian cuisine. Their ingredients are sourced from all over the world. Assaf and Granato have visited farms and produce partners in Italy to hand pick items they serve to their customers. Their olive oil, burrata and mozzarella, parmesan, prosciutto, tomatoes, flour, vinegar, and truffle are all straight from Italy. 

Cervo’s – 43 Canal Street ($$$)

 

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In the summer of 2017 Cervo’s opened up as a downtown ode to the seafood of the Iberian peninsula. They also pay homage to the sustainable ingredients of the Northeast. Their wine list features bottles from Coastal Spain and Portugal with fun cocktails thrown into the mix. This is yet another joint known for serving the utmost delicious oysters. However, they are a bit more pricey here ranging from $3.75/each to a whole dish for $40. 

Other than oysters, customers can taste seafood specialties such as Yellowfish Tuna, Watercress, Clams, Prawns, and mussels paired with tapas-like dishes. Cervo’s is known for their fish, so if you have a kick for seafood then this is definitely the place to go! 

Yopparai – 49 Clinton Street ($$$)

 

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There is nothing that says Japanese tradition like an izakaya. This funky joint brings the excitement of an izakaya right to Manhattan. Albeit the small size, Yopparai thrives off the intimacy. Their sake bar and restaurant is known for their wide variety of sake paired with traditional cuisine and adventurous dishes. Their most ordered items are the homemade tofu, sashimi, and grilled meat/fish. 

Currently, they have been adding new dishes like sushi and Japanese hot pot (the perfect meal for cold weather). Yopparai has highly educated staff members that are experts in the sake world and can help you choose which sake is best for you. 

For an even more intimate experience, check out Yopparai Ronin. It’s a new omakase date-night spot located just down the same street at 69A Clinton Street and was put together by the same team at Yopparai. Their Chef’s selected tasting menu is constantly changing to reflect the different seasons.

Balvanera – 152 Stanton Street ($$)

 

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Argentine chef, Fernando Navas, works hard to represent the cuisine and spirit of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He cooks up porteña cuisine with influences from different dynamic areas of Argentina. The menu features traditional small plates with the choice of both mouth-watering vegetable and carne dishes. Not only are there small plates, but Balvanera has the option for friend and family style food as well. 

Balvanera’s drink menu was created in collaboration with Argentine Wine Consultant, Sebastian Koncurat to construct the best pairings one could receive. There is a wide selection of Argentinian wines available with a very particular offering of beer as well. Wine is available by glass, carafe, or bottle to accommodate any sort of request. 

Sauce – 78 Rivington Street ($$)

 

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Sauce has got the sauce. This restaurant is known and loved for their heritage chicken parmesan, grass-fed beef meatballs, homemade pasta, and extra thin-crust pizza. But, the catalyst of it all is their famous sauce. They thrive on Italian tradition and prepare their sauce much like a “nonna” would before a Sunday dinner. 

Sauce’s menu is served daily from 5PM to 11PM with the option for both a kid and dessert menu. The space is cozy, the music sets the tone, and their plates are filled to the brim with some of the best Italian food on the LES. 

Carly is a freelance writer with interest in topics pertaining to lifestyle blogging, social justice, and anything to do with film/media. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Madison with a degree in English & Literary studies in hopes to write for a large music publication. When she is not writing, you can find her watching movies, cooking her famous Carbonara, and enjoying time outdoors.

Lynne has travelled and lived in over three different continents, but New York City is still her favorite. She is excited to share her love for great city and its community with everyone through her writing! In her free time, Lynne loves to watch cute and silly videos of cats, which may be the one thing that beats her love for NYC.

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