Whether it’s art, theater, nightclubs, or landmarks, each New York City neighborhood has its own unique strength.
Ask any discerning New York foodie where they like to go out to eat, and they’ll undoubtedly tell you about chic Lower East Side restaurants and the historic eateries that make this neighborhood in particular a culinary mecca. When you’re looking to explore the LES via your distinguished palate, seek out these joints.
Birds & Bubbles
This is where comfort food meets classy. At Birds & Bubbles, southern-born Chef Sarah Simmons cooks up seasonal dishes that pay homage to her birthplace. You have a hard time deciding between tender yet crisp buttermilk fried chicken, dill-laced tomato pie with local cheddar, and heirloom grits enhanced by spicy green chili. You’re delighted when you pair your order with refreshing sparkling wine and fine champagne, as they perfectly cut through these rich foods.
When your foodie-senses crave a snack, you check out Pop Karma, an artisanal popcorn shop selling organic, air-popped popcorn crafted from real ingredients in atypical varieties. The aromas that envelop you aren’t like the chemical-topped kernels you find at big movie cinemas, but they’re just as intoxicating. You try bags of white truffle cheddar, pure caramel, and, to embrace your inner hot head, Cajun. All flavors leave you satisfied, licking your fingers for one last taste.
Katz’s—which has been open since 1888 and is the oldest still-operating deli in New York—offers a historic foodie experience in terms of Lower East Side restaurants. Sure, you notice the high school cafeteria decor, which shows that the place hasn’t been updated in decades, and the counter staff has a bit too much sass, but you find it charming. Plus, they give you free samples of meat while you wait. Pastrami and corned beef are carved by hand, the hot dogs are 100 percent beef, and the hoppy house lager pairs well with everything you order. You bring your cinephile friend and sit at the labeled table where Harry met Sally in the namesake movie.
You feel that whole-animal dinners aren’t just a responsible way of dining, but a delicious one, too. That’s what you get here. Black Tree oozes sustainability—even from its decor, like tables crafted from reclaimed 1920s bowling alley wood and recycled car axles. You read chalk board signs touting drinks like tap wine, homemade bitters, and unique pickle backs incorporating New York-sourced spirits and brine from Chef Sandy Dee Hall’s pickling experiments. You see every week that a whole animal is brought in, with the chef crafting the menu around it, for dishes like braised pork belly tacos with ginger aioli and scallion relish, to beef burgers gowned in gooey New York cheese and house-made ketchup.
Open since 2003, the Pickle Guys herald a time when the Lower East Side restaurants on Essex Street were almost nothing but pickle shops. Today, you’ll notice it’s the street’s only pickle shop. As you stroll into the small store packed to the brim with barrels full of pickles and pickled goodies, you know you need nothing else. The traditional pickles sit in a salt, garlic, and spice brine anywhere from one day to six months. You also discover pickled pineapple, sweet and sour pickles, string beans, turnips, mangoes, and more, so you gear up for an intoxicating mix of sweet and salty.