The lower east side is a trek for many, but it is a veritable mecca of culinary institutions large and small. Some of my favorite spots in NYC resides in this downtown hood, and I had a very tough time narrowing down this list. It is by no means conclusive (I could have added about 10 more), but this neighborhood guide is the best of the best. Read on for my favorite spots in the LES.
El Rey – When I discovered that El Rey served dinner was one of the best days of my life. I always held this spot in high esteem as a daytime cafe, but they do a dinner service that is limited in offering but big on flavor and inventiveness. There are 7 items total in small plates format, and you will want them all. Make a reservation, if you can.
Mr. Purple – One word: rooftop. Mr. Purple is the perfect spot for posting up on a Saturday afternoon with a glass of rose (or an excellent cocktail). Go on the early side to get prime seating outside.
Dimes – Skip the weekend crowds and head to Dimes for a quiet weekday breakfast. The decor is spot-on, and the menu runs the gamut from more health conscious (think poached eggs with roasted tomato and arugula) to those in search of a breakfast treat (their magic toast is pure heaven).
Dirt Candy – A veggie-only option that feels cool and doesn’t make you miss meat? Count me in. You’ll want an entire order of Korean fried broccoli to yourself, and the brussels sprouts tacos are more flavorful than you think they’ll be (trust me).
Ice and Vice – It’s a hike, but this tiny little ice cream spot is worth the trek. The flavors are inventive (think Orange/Papaya/Peach/Habanero), but If you want more classic, don’t miss the Milk Money – which is toasted milk, sea salt, and chocolate ganache.
Dudley’s – Dudley’s is one of those catch-all places that defies categorization but it always simple and good. I find myself going here when I don’t have a reservation and am in the mood for no-fuss food that just tastes good. Grab a seat at the bar here and share a salad and a pasta and you’ll be a happy camper.
L’Estudio – This might win for my favorite LES cafe. It opened this past year, and has somehow managed to stay under the radar (why, I cannot figure out). I take interior design cues every time I visit, and it is the perfect spot for cozying up with a coffee and a good book – plus the food really is delish. I recommend going to breakfast and staying awhile.
Petee’s Pie – The chocolate chess pie from this pie-only institution is like an ooey brownie in a pie crust. Get it warmed up with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. They also sell whole pies (great housewarming gifts).
The Ten Bells – You had me at natural wines and oyster happy hour. Post up at the bar here while you wait for your table to be ready at Barrio Chino down the block.
Barrio Chino – This tiny little neighborhood gem is a pain to get into, but it’s because it’s that good. It feels like a local Mexican joint that all of the regulars from the hood hang out in. The margs are fantastic, and don’t miss the enchiladas.
Wildair – I dined alone at Wildair this summer, and it was truly one of the best meals I’ve had all year. The flavor combinations here are so spot on, and the small plates format makes it easy to try them all (you’ll want to). I highly recommend the steak tartar, little gem salad, and scallop crudo, but you really can’t go wrong. Also, the wine list here is truly fantastic.
Dirty French – In true Torrisi style, this place is a bit over the top and pricey, but the quality of the food makes it an experience worth having. I could literally go back weekly for the bread service (it’s warm flatbread with labne), lamb carpaccio, and kale salad.