One of my favourite neighbourhoods in New York City is the Lower East Side. Marked by an urban realness that distinguishes itself from other parts of the city, the neighbourhood is shaped by its immigrant roots, diverse ethnic population and working class community. Today, these cultural pillars have made the Lower East Side home to an eclectic dining and emerging arts scene and also a place where you would find new, up and coming restaurants and a bustling night life.
In many parts of the neighbourhood, it feels that time has stood still and there is something about walking down the streets alongside the iconic tenements with fire escapes. It almost feels like you have stepped into a New York from a different era. In saying so, this means you can find some excellent, long-standing establishments here, such as Katz Delicatessen. And just just a few minutes walk from here is the venerable Clinton St, home to many newly opened and equally loved restaurants, such as the acclaimed ramen joint, Ivan Ramen. Below are a few places where you could start your Lowest East Side food journey… there’s something for everyone.
Established in 1888, Katz’s Deli is an long-standing institution in both the Lower East Side and New York City. The place is huge and incredibly busy – almost like a smaller cafeteria. Upon arrival, you will be presented with a ticket which needs to be passed to the server when you make a food order at the counters. This will form a running total of your bill – so don’t lose it! Each patron must return their ticket upon exiting and paying at the cashier, even if the ticket was unused otherwise a fee will be imposed.
If there’s one item you need to order here, its the Pastrami Sandwich (USD 19.75), best shared between two people. Pastrami is a Jewish classic that is made from beef brisket (navel end) that is cured, seasoned and smoked which gives its incredible texture. At Katz’s, the pastrami is made in house and sliced right in front of you, served with a smear of mustard. Their perfected technique results in a flavoursome, tender and almost melt in your mouth pastrami that is not dry at all. Even if you have never eaten Pastrami before or have had bad experiences in the past, you need to taste the one here. It will probably be the best Pastrami sandwich you will ever eat.
205 E Houston St
New York, NY 10002
Although Luke’s Lobster is located in the East Village, it was only a 10 minute walk from Katz’s and I thought I would include it here given the proximity and because its a place that evokes a similar feel to many of the Lower East Side eateries.
The East Village location is where the Luke’s Lobster story began and might remind you of your local milk bar or corner shop. It’s incredibly tiny and the smallest of all locations with just 8 stools. Luke’s lobster has now expanded to over 10 locations since it first opened however that has not comprised the quality of its produce, which are all sourced from Maine.
For the best Luke’s Lobster experience, the Taste of Maine ($23) is perfect – comprising of 1/2 a lobster roll, 1/2 crab roll, 1/2 shrimp, 2 crab claws, soda chips and a pickle. The lobster is lightly seasoned and served cold inside a warm buttery roll with just a smidge of mayonnaise. All of the components of the roll are delicate and not overpowering so you can really taste the freshness of the lobster, its juiciness and slightly sweet flavours. As for the roll itself, I think it deserves a special mention because I can just eat it on its own. If you aren’t a lobster fan, the crab and shrimp rolls (also served cold) are both fantastic, particularly the crab which has a more robust flavour.
93 E 7th St
New York, NY 10009
TINY’S GIANT SANDWICH SHOP
Tiny’s Giant is a small cafe on the corner of Rivington and Norfolk Street (just opposite Schiller’s) and as the name suggests, specialises in fantastic sandwiches.
I dropped into the cafe after a bout of heavy rain and could not have thought of a better spot to spend a cold morning – it’s a cafe that you wish you had in your local neighbourhood. The place is decked out in wooden furnishings and white washed brick walls, which makes for a cosy, comfortable atmosphere.
The Cobb Sandwich, comprised of grilled chicken, bacon, blue cheese, lettuce, tomato and avocado, is one of the signature items on the menu and absolutely delicious, plus a steal for only USD 6 (small serving, pictured). Though the sandwiches here are a must, if you do want something sweet, I would suggest the Waffles with Maple Syrup and Berries (USD 6).
129 Rivington Street
New York, NY, 10002
The origins of Ivan Ramen actually began in Tokyo and after its success, founder Ivan Orkin opened up several posts in New York City and finally a stand-alone, flagship location in the Lowest East Side. The success of Ivan Ramen can be attributed to the innovative take on the traditional ramen, and an approach that bridges the gap between the soup based ramen and pasta.
The standout dish on the menu is the Triple Pork Triple Garlic Mazemen (USD 16), consisting of a tonkatsu broth, pork chashu and whole wheat noodle, the broth lends itself to more of a thick sauce and the result is kind of like a Japanese style pasta. It’s rich, flavoursome and incredibly satisfying – just make sure you mix everything up before eating.
25 Clinton St
New York, NY, 10002
Note: All prices listed are exclusive of tax