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Dhamaka is one of the best restaurants on the Lower East Side.
Adam Friedlander/Eater NY

14 Destination-Worthy Restaurants in the Lower East Side

From top-tier tamales to magnificent Malaysian food

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Dhamaka is one of the best restaurants on the Lower East Side.
| Adam Friedlander/Eater NY

The Lower East Side as we see it today — extending to Houston Street on the north, Chrystie and Pike streets on the West, and the FDR on the east and south — is now a neighborhood (even with its made-up micro-neighborhoods like “Dimes Square”) that flaunts its modern restaurants and bars. But some old-time establishments remain, pointing to the area’s rich, decades-long history of restaurants opened by immigrants highlighting cuisines ranging from Chinese to Dominican to Eastern European.

It’s an exciting neighborhood to be sure, and one teeming with dining possibilities. Here are 14 great places to eat there, reflecting a tight mix of established favorites and new and innovative options in a neighborhood that houses a slew of major players, from the iconic Russ & Daughters’s cafe to the BYOB-friendly Wu’s Wonton King.

Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Saigon Social

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After several starts and stops from the pandemic, chef Helen Nguyen can finally give a stage to her Vietnamese cooking. The menu that changes frequently, but includes dishes like crunchy banh xeo, a “banh mi burger,” and various noodle soups.

This Haitian restaurant presided over by chefs Marie Charles and Dominique Hermann makes some very stylish cocktails (don’t miss the Barbancourt rum, which is featured in several), but the food is equally compelling. The restaurant occupies a comfortable corner location with plenty of windows, decorated with paintings, including portraits of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Chadwick Boseman. The food includes malanga fritters called akra; fish filet in Kreyol sauce (rich and tomatoey); griot pork confit in big chunks accompanied by pikliz, a spicy relish; and chicken wings in a variety of styles.

A white oblong plate with a red tinted fish filet and side dishes on a red table.
The food at Rebel.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Wildair

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These days wine bars with standout food programs are a dime a dozen. But Wildair, from Jeremiah Stone and Fabián von Hauske Valtierra, helped codify the genre when it opened years ago on the LES. If you’re looking for a special occasion night out in the neighborhood this should be on your list, especially for the desserts.

Swish dessert.
Fabián von Hauske Valtierra

Russ & Daughters Cafe

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If you’re familiar with the century-old Russ & Daughters flagship on Houston, wherein dozens of forms of preserved fish are sold, you’ll want to pay a visit to this offshoot cafe further south, which opened in 2014. The menu is a compendium of Eastern European Jewish fare, in a slick diner setting. Highlights include matzo ball soup, pastrami-cured salmon on a bagel, and mini potato knishes.

A bowl of parsley strew soup with a big matzo ball sticking up. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Decades ago there were probably two dozen Dominican and Puerto Rican cafes on the Lower East Side, with menus that rotated on a weekly basis, and often with similar decor and design: twirling stools along a lunch counter, a heated cabinet for rotisserie chickens, and a press for hot sandwiches. Named after a region in Puerto Rico’s northwest, Cibao is one of a very few remaining, owned by Milagro Thina. Cuban sandwiches make a popular quick lunch, but there are also nourishing meal-size soups, pork roasts, paprika-rubbed chickens, and red and black beans served with yellow and white rice.

A red facade in the harsh angular sunlight with several shadowy figures in front. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Dhamaka

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Dhamaka is one of the city’s hardest-to-nab reservations, currently the crown jewel of Unapologetic Foods (the hospitality group behind Indian restaurants Adda, Semma, and the Rowdy Rooster) and it’s clear why. Located inside of the Essex Crossing complex, Dhamaka offers offbeat South Indian dishes rarely seen in New York, as well as a limited-order, elusive rabbit dish. Bar seats are easier to come by for walk-ins.

The interior of the restaurant Dhamaka with murals on the wall
The dining room at Dhamaka.
Adam Friedlander/Eater NY

Dirt Candy

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While these days vegans can find plenty of options in downtown New York, Dirt Candy’s tasting menu undeniably forever shaped the way New Yorkers think about vegan cooking. This tasting menu-focused spot features ever-changing whimsical presentations of vegetables, worth checking out no matter your dietary restrictions.

A grill with skewers of green vegetables are displayed along a steamed basket.
An LES tasting menu spot that vegans can enjoy too.
Dirt Candy

Spicy Village

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With food originating in the Chinese province of Henan, this tiny cafe facing Sara Roosevelt Park opened in 2012. It’s run by Wendy Lian and her family and specializes in Henan’s broad, hand-stretched wheat noodles. Try them with the well-stewed brisket topping, along with a serving of the garlicky cucumbers common in northern Chinese restaurants. The cafe’s most famous offering, however, comes from Xinjiang province: “big tray chicken,” a burbling wok of bird parts in hot oil with enough Sichuan peppercorns to blow the top of your head off (or at least cause a profound metallic tingle on your tongue). Pork-stuffed dumplings are great, too.

A variety of dishes including a wok with hot red oil and chicken, a bowl of noodles, and an inscrutable other dish.
The big tray chicken is the move.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Factory Tamal

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As the name suggests, this cafe founded by Fernando Lopez in 2017 specializes in tamales. Some are classic, such as the chicken in mole poblano and pepper strips with cheese, while other fillings are atypical, like bacon and cheese. Look for specials on the chalkboard outside. Tortas, soups, and a killer breakfast sandwich featuring a runny egg on a brioche bun, with lots of customizable options that include avocado, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and sausage are also available. Another branch lurks in the East Village.

A plate of corn husks stuffed with tamales.
Tamales are like wrapped gifts.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Scarr's Pizza

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Founded by Scarr Pimentel in 2016, Scarr’s is distinctive among New York City’s pizzerias. The menu, with its round and square pies, channels our neighborhood pizza parlors, but the pizzas, available by the slice or pie, are kicked up a notch with artisanal ingredients and flour milled in the basement. The place was an early champion of cupping pepperoni, for example, which catches the paprika oil in the upturn that results from baking the sausage slices. The result is one of the best and richest pizzas you’ve ever tasted.

Two pizza slices, one square with Italian sausage and one cone shaped with pepperoni.
Pristine pizza slices.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

If you’re in the mood for a lowkey — but still kind of sceney — Lower East Side option, Kiki’s is the move. This beloved Greek restaurant has plentiful, affordable portions of tzatziki, spanakopita, fried zucchini, and octopus skewers, with reasonably-priced wine carafes to boot. Even with its popularity in the neighborhood, it’s usually pretty easy to get a table, especially ever since the team opened an identical restaurant across the street for spillover seating.

Ernesto's

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Tucked away at the southeast corner of the Lower East Side, far from the frenetic bar scene and facing a park, this spare, brick-walled space with modernistic light fixtures makes a great romantic date spot. The menu from chef Ryan Bartlow features Basque fare and dishes from other Spanish regions to pair with wines.

Cakes and little sandwiches displayed on a white and black marble surface.
A spread of dishes.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Wu's Wonton King

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Wu’s was a revelation when opened over five years ago at the quintessential Lower East Side corner of Essex and East Broadway. At its heart is the kind of traditional Chinese coffee shop that specialized in wonton soup, congee, and pork and duck charcuterie — but then more elaborate takes on Cantonese dishes that ran from stir fries to whole fish and beyond were added to the menu. Now Wu’s is a meeting place for a very diverse customer base, especially sought after for group birthdays and its BYOB policy.

A darkened corner storefront with illuminated signs and customers crowding in the narrow front door.
A BYOB favorite.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Kopitiam

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Kopitiam is a casual Malaysian cafe with an all-day menu that runs the gamut from nasi lemak (with its crunchy achovies), to supple noodles with chile oil, and not-to-sweet desserts like the layered kuih, made from gluttonous rice. There’s lots to love here at all times a day, especially good for a quick bite.

Kopitiam’s rainbow sticky rice
Sticky rice.
Jean Schwarzwalder

Saigon Social

After several starts and stops from the pandemic, chef Helen Nguyen can finally give a stage to her Vietnamese cooking. The menu that changes frequently, but includes dishes like crunchy banh xeo, a “banh mi burger,” and various noodle soups.

Rebèl

A white oblong plate with a red tinted fish filet and side dishes on a red table.
The food at Rebel.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

This Haitian restaurant presided over by chefs Marie Charles and Dominique Hermann makes some very stylish cocktails (don’t miss the Barbancourt rum, which is featured in several), but the food is equally compelling. The restaurant occupies a comfortable corner location with plenty of windows, decorated with paintings, including portraits of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Chadwick Boseman. The food includes malanga fritters called akra; fish filet in Kreyol sauce (rich and tomatoey); griot pork confit in big chunks accompanied by pikliz, a spicy relish; and chicken wings in a variety of styles.

A white oblong plate with a red tinted fish filet and side dishes on a red table.
The food at Rebel.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Wildair

Swish dessert.
Fabián von Hauske Valtierra

These days wine bars with standout food programs are a dime a dozen. But Wildair, from Jeremiah Stone and Fabián von Hauske Valtierra, helped codify the genre when it opened years ago on the LES. If you’re looking for a special occasion night out in the neighborhood this should be on your list, especially for the desserts.

Swish dessert.
Fabián von Hauske Valtierra

Russ & Daughters Cafe

A bowl of parsley strew soup with a big matzo ball sticking up. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

If you’re familiar with the century-old Russ & Daughters flagship on Houston, wherein dozens of forms of preserved fish are sold, you’ll want to pay a visit to this offshoot cafe further south, which opened in 2014. The menu is a compendium of Eastern European Jewish fare, in a slick diner setting. Highlights include matzo ball soup, pastrami-cured salmon on a bagel, and mini potato knishes.

A bowl of parsley strew soup with a big matzo ball sticking up. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Cibao

A red facade in the harsh angular sunlight with several shadowy figures in front. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Decades ago there were probably two dozen Dominican and Puerto Rican cafes on the Lower East Side, with menus that rotated on a weekly basis, and often with similar decor and design: twirling stools along a lunch counter, a heated cabinet for rotisserie chickens, and a press for hot sandwiches. Named after a region in Puerto Rico’s northwest, Cibao is one of a very few remaining, owned by Milagro Thina. Cuban sandwiches make a popular quick lunch, but there are also nourishing meal-size soups, pork roasts, paprika-rubbed chickens, and red and black beans served with yellow and white rice.

A red facade in the harsh angular sunlight with several shadowy figures in front. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Dhamaka

The interior of the restaurant Dhamaka with murals on the wall
The dining room at Dhamaka.
Adam Friedlander/Eater NY

Dhamaka is one of the city’s hardest-to-nab reservations, currently the crown jewel of Unapologetic Foods (the hospitality group behind Indian restaurants Adda, Semma, and the Rowdy Rooster) and it’s clear why. Located inside of the Essex Crossing complex, Dhamaka offers offbeat South Indian dishes rarely seen in New York, as well as a limited-order, elusive rabbit dish. Bar seats are easier to come by for walk-ins.

The interior of the restaurant Dhamaka with murals on the wall
The dining room at Dhamaka.
Adam Friedlander/Eater NY

Dirt Candy

A grill with skewers of green vegetables are displayed along a steamed basket.
An LES tasting menu spot that vegans can enjoy too.
Dirt Candy

While these days vegans can find plenty of options in downtown New York, Dirt Candy’s tasting menu undeniably forever shaped the way New Yorkers think about vegan cooking. This tasting menu-focused spot features ever-changing whimsical presentations of vegetables, worth checking out no matter your dietary restrictions.

A grill with skewers of green vegetables are displayed along a steamed basket.
An LES tasting menu spot that vegans can enjoy too.
Dirt Candy

Spicy Village

A variety of dishes including a wok with hot red oil and chicken, a bowl of noodles, and an inscrutable other dish.
The big tray chicken is the move.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

With food originating in the Chinese province of Henan, this tiny cafe facing Sara Roosevelt Park opened in 2012. It’s run by Wendy Lian and her family and specializes in Henan’s broad, hand-stretched wheat noodles. Try them with the well-stewed brisket topping, along with a serving of the garlicky cucumbers common in northern Chinese restaurants. The cafe’s most famous offering, however, comes from Xinjiang province: “big tray chicken,” a burbling wok of bird parts in hot oil with enough Sichuan peppercorns to blow the top of your head off (or at least cause a profound metallic tingle on your tongue). Pork-stuffed dumplings are great, too.

A variety of dishes including a wok with hot red oil and chicken, a bowl of noodles, and an inscrutable other dish.
The big tray chicken is the move.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Factory Tamal

A plate of corn husks stuffed with tamales.
Tamales are like wrapped gifts.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

As the name suggests, this cafe founded by Fernando Lopez in 2017 specializes in tamales. Some are classic, such as the chicken in mole poblano and pepper strips with cheese, while other fillings are atypical, like bacon and cheese. Look for specials on the chalkboard outside. Tortas, soups, and a killer breakfast sandwich featuring a runny egg on a brioche bun, with lots of customizable options that include avocado, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and sausage are also available. Another branch lurks in the East Village.

A plate of corn husks stuffed with tamales.
Tamales are like wrapped gifts.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Scarr's Pizza

Two pizza slices, one square with Italian sausage and one cone shaped with pepperoni.
Pristine pizza slices.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Founded by Scarr Pimentel in 2016, Scarr’s is distinctive among New York City’s pizzerias. The menu, with its round and square pies, channels our neighborhood pizza parlors, but the pizzas, available by the slice or pie, are kicked up a notch with artisanal ingredients and flour milled in the basement. The place was an early champion of cupping pepperoni, for example, which catches the paprika oil in the upturn that results from baking the sausage slices. The result is one of the best and richest pizzas you’ve ever tasted.

Two pizza slices, one square with Italian sausage and one cone shaped with pepperoni.
Pristine pizza slices.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Kiki's

If you’re in the mood for a lowkey — but still kind of sceney — Lower East Side option, Kiki’s is the move. This beloved Greek restaurant has plentiful, affordable portions of tzatziki, spanakopita, fried zucchini, and octopus skewers, with reasonably-priced wine carafes to boot. Even with its popularity in the neighborhood, it’s usually pretty easy to get a table, especially ever since the team opened an identical restaurant across the street for spillover seating.

Ernesto's

Cakes and little sandwiches displayed on a white and black marble surface.
A spread of dishes.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Tucked away at the southeast corner of the Lower East Side, far from the frenetic bar scene and facing a park, this spare, brick-walled space with modernistic light fixtures makes a great romantic date spot. The menu from chef Ryan Bartlow features Basque fare and dishes from other Spanish regions to pair with wines.

Cakes and little sandwiches displayed on a white and black marble surface.
A spread of dishes.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Wu's Wonton King

A darkened corner storefront with illuminated signs and customers crowding in the narrow front door.
A BYOB favorite.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Wu’s was a revelation when opened over five years ago at the quintessential Lower East Side corner of Essex and East Broadway. At its heart is the kind of traditional Chinese coffee shop that specialized in wonton soup, congee, and pork and duck charcuterie — but then more elaborate takes on Cantonese dishes that ran from stir fries to whole fish and beyond were added to the menu. Now Wu’s is a meeting place for a very diverse customer base, especially sought after for group birthdays and its BYOB policy.

A darkened corner storefront with illuminated signs and customers crowding in the narrow front door.
A BYOB favorite.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Kopitiam

Kopitiam’s rainbow sticky rice
Sticky rice.
Jean Schwarzwalder

Kopitiam is a casual Malaysian cafe with an all-day menu that runs the gamut from nasi lemak (with its crunchy achovies), to supple noodles with chile oil, and not-to-sweet desserts like the layered kuih, made from gluttonous rice. There’s lots to love here at all times a day, especially good for a quick bite.

Kopitiam’s rainbow sticky rice
Sticky rice.
Jean Schwarzwalder

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