Clockwise from left: Photos: Via wd-50, Katz's Delicatessen, 'inoteca, Cheeky Sandwiches, Congee Village
The Lower East Side is home to artists, buildings with Kanji scrawled on their sides, Philip Glass, weird magazine stores, and black denim-clad punks. (We still can't decide: good look or not?). The neighborhood's restaurants make up a similarly odd-but-pleasing mix, with options ranging from $1 dumplings near the Chinatown edge to Trompe-l'œil fried eggs at a temple of molecular gastronomy, to good old knishes on the Bowery. Here's your essential guide to 10 of the best dining spots in the L.E.S., in each multifarious category.
Chef Wylie Dufresne's wacky world of edible laboratory food (trust us, it's good) has been heralded by the press and copied by up-and-coming molecular-chef wannabes, worldwide (cue Top Chef's Marcel Vigneron). Don't let the restaurant's understated exterior fool you, the menu is anything but simple. Dufresne concocts things like fried mayonnaise and aerated foie gras, and if you ask him how he does it, he'll start talking hydrocolloids and thermal circulators. Good thing the food is as tasty as it is playful.
wd-50, 50 Clinton Street (between Stanton and Rivington streets); 212-477-2900.
2. Katz's Delicatessen
We've talked about Katz's before, but a Lower East Side restaurant guide would not be complete without the iconic Jewish deli. It feels very old New York—well, maybe not Gangs of New York, but Funny Face-era New York, perhaps—with its cafeteria-style seating and butchers in little white hats. Pastrami on rye with a side of pickles is the thing to get. It's not cheap at around $16 a sandwich, but it will likely last you through the day.
Katz's, 205 East Houston Street (between Avenue A and Essex Street); 212-254-2246.
3. Congee Village
Open until 2 a.m (lucky for downtown bar-goers), the multi-level Congee Village has stayed true to its Chinese roots, despite an expansion and a whole lotta hype. Case in point: Snails and frog can still be found on the menu—that is, if you can read it. Steamed nature bird's nest in papaya? Sea cucumber and goose web? Whatever, the food is good and affordable, and both the adventurous eaters and the fans of General Tso's Chicken will be pleased.
Congee Village , 100 Allen Street (between Broome and Delancey streets); 212-941-1818.
4. Cheeky Sandwiches
New York Magazine calls Cheeky a "New Orleans-flavored snack shop." Yep, that means fried shrimp po' boys, Zapps potato chips, and chicory coffee. But to make the sandwich shop Lower East Side-friendly, the owners added some vegetarian options, including roasted beets and butternut squash with crispy goat cheese on Flauta bread, and a veggie muffaletta. The rustic white-washed interior with little red stools would work both here and in NOLA.
Cheeky Sandwiches, 35 Orchard Street (between Hester and Canal streets); no phone.
This is a great first-date spot. It's dim and sleek, but not fancy. It's not new, but it's still hip, so you'll likely be able to snag a table without a reservation amongst an always healthy-sized crowd. And, for those looking to make a statement with their orders, there are plenty of sultry Italian options on the menu. Our suggestion? The truffle toast with its oozing egg and broiled-on cheese.
'inoteca, 98 Rivington Street (at Ludlow Street); 212-614-0473 .
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