I’ve loved the Lower East Side since I moved to the City six years ago. In addition to being full of amazing restaurants and nightlife, it’s the birthplace of punk, and rich in history, having been home to a large percentage of immigrants to NYC in the early twentieth century. There’s a lot to learn and a lot to do here, with Little Italy and Chinatown still being hubs of international cuisine and culture. Here are (some of) my LES favorites.
Maman: Very, very charming café. In competition with Donut Plant for my favorite quick breakfast. They have great coffee and a ton of fresh pastries and other breakfast foods (get the quiche, any kind). I think they also have lunch, I just tend to go early in the day. It’s a really good spot to sit and work, if you can find a seat. They get quite crowded at times. Technically it’s on the border between Little Italy and Soho, but I tend to start there when wandering the LES.
LES Crepes & Taqueria: Just discovered this lovely little place recently, one night spent squabbling with my best friend over where to go for dinner. It ended up being an amazing, cheap choice. Obviously they serve both Mexican food and crepes, which is an odd but wonderful combination. Lots of options…we both had the nachos and were very pleased.
Freeman’s: A moody, hearty little tavern at the end of an alley just south of Houston Street. I am a huge fan of their artichoke dip and mac n’ cheese. Very cozy—perfect for winter in the City.
Milk and Cream: Cereal themed ice cream shop—there are only two flavors (vanilla and cookie dough) but a ton of toppings. This is some of the best ice cream in the City. I love it almost as much as I love Milk Bar.
169 Bar: A classic LES bar, over a hundred years old. It’s campy and weird, in a very good way. There’s a leopard print pool table, lots of neon lights, and quite randomly a huge fish tank. I was recently told they’re kind of New Orleans themed, which makes sense given the seafood heavy menu and year-round Mardi Gras energy. They serve food until closing, and it’s all pretty good. I love their mac n’ cheese. It does come with ketchup on it, which seems normal to me because I’ve been dousing mac n’ cheese in ketchup since I started eating solid food, but I understand it may alarm some people.
Clockwork: My favorite Lower East Side bar. They describe themselves as a punk rock bar, and I would say that’s pretty accurate. Their aesthetic doesn’t feel put-on or like they’re trying too hard. It’s a typical dive turned up a notch. The walls are literally covered in graffiti and look cool in pictures (probably why multiple editorials have been shot here). I even like their theme nights, and I don’t like theme nights. The bartenders are very friendly and tend to give free beers if you stay a while and order enough. I actually don’t drink, despite going out almost every weekend, so I literally spend $5 and got a dozen cranberry and seltzers. It’s dirty and genuine. My kind of place.
Donut Plant: Their peanut butter and jelly donut is probably my favorite quick NYC breakfast. Another New York classic. I can’t decide if I prefer their fluffy puffy donuts or the denser cake donuts. Every flavor is perfect.
Cheeky Sandwiches: Amazing southern cooking out of a little shoebox shop. They have filling, perfectly cooked, and very cheap sandwiches. Also wonderful desserts (beignets, bread pudding). Be warned, it’s a little hard to find. I spent a while wandering around looking for the new location, but it was totally worth it.
Katz’s Deli: Of fucking course. Everyone knows this place, if only from When Harry Met Sally. But it’s iconic for a reason. Classic Jewish deli, with extremely generous sandwiches and an atmosphere so intensely New York you’ll want to cry (maybe that’s just me). This was one of the first places I went when I moved here, and it’s been a constant in my life ever since.
The Ludlow Hotel: I love sitting in the Ludlow Hotel lobby to write, especially during the holiday season. It’s just south of Houston street. Easy to find due to a really cool neon sign (DIRTY) hanging outside the entrance. I usually spend several hours writing there when I go, because wifi is free and they let you sit around and not buy anything. There’s a huge, gorgeous fireplace to sit by and the restaurant off the lobby (Dirty French) is pretty good too.
The Tenement Museum: If you’re looking for something to do other than eat and drink, and assuming you have some interest in history, I really recommend this place. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the lives of immigrants in the early twentieth century. It’s actually located in an old tenement building, and has reconstructions of apartments immigrants of different backgrounds would’ve lived in. Really interesting stuff.