The Hottest LES Dinner Spots

The Hottest LES Dinner Spots

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A Food & Drink map by

The Lower East Side may be best known to you as the home of rowdy, rollicking nightlife, but that adventure extends to the food scene as well.

17 Places
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    Here you’ll find extremely high-end Chinese-American food from Jonathan Wu, a chef whose last stop was at Per Se — so, there's a bit of a French twist, as well. To wit, we recommend trying his take on gnocchi: a new menu item for spring which features house-made ricotta and white dofu ru, an age-fermented bean curd. Feeling noncommittal? The $65 six-course tasting menu is a nice way to sample a bit of everything that makes this spot so interesting.
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    If the only time you’ve ever actually had a taquito is off one of those little rollers at 7-Eleven, prepare to be delighted. With these little Mexican meat roll-ups, you pick a filling, pick a cheese, eat, and repeat, as they're five for $8. Consider it a simple and delicious cheap eat.
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    Chef Melissa O'Donnell opened Salt Bar in this locale in 2003, and closed it at the decade mark to rebrand. Her newly reinvented space is Thelma on Clinton, and it aims to "reflect the diversity of the Lower East Side." What's that look like? A sort of French-Asian-American fusion, like a soy-poached chicken with bok choy, or smoked duck breast with a dried fruit compote. Very cool, and very yummy.
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    The place somewhat resembles the basement of your college dorm, but you can use that as an excuse to get college-style tipsy. There's an epic cocktail list, featuring liqueurs you're never even heard of, plus lots of yummy little plates of cheeses and baba ghanoush. You know, for when you get the late-night munchies.
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    Of all the culinary mashups, Italian and Chinese? Louie & Chan pulls it off, with an Italian restaurant upstairs and a Chinese lounge/club downstairs. The food is pasta and pizza with special little details, like shelled clams and lemon zest, or kale and guanciale. The fun continues with Chinese cocktails — the signature Chan's Tonic contains 14 herbal ingredients that are infused for a year before hitting your glass.
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    If you hate sharing, Kuma Inn is not the place for you. The menu is 100% tapas, with chef King Phojanakong pulling culinary inspo (and talent) from his Filipino mother and Thai father. The small plates are a good way to get to know these flavors, with fan favorites like the drunken spicy shrimp with sake and baby octopus with bamboo shoots. Oh, and it's BYOB. You don't have to share that part, if you don't want.
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    The bold blue and red exterior at this corner spot makes way for bright, colorful, neon lights. The playfulness keeps right on coming with Mission's "whimsical" Mexican cuisine, which features slight Asian touches. The tacos are inventive, but the shared plates are even more experimental, like smoked pork jowl with peanuts and fried lime leaves, or a three-egg omelette with sea urchin.
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    You don't have to fight about where to eat: The Fat Radish is great for the vegetarians, but placates the carnivores with a killer bacon cheeseburger and pork chop. Your group will also agree on the gorgeously bright, all-white space, which perfectly complements the delicious food.
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    The cuisine is healthy and creative, like spiced quinoa with eggplant and chickpeas, or braised chicken with lemon-apricot couscous. New York can do that ultra-fresh thing, too, you know.
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    The vivid red and yellow interior invokes the flag of Spain, preparing you for the Catalan tapas you're about to inhale. The menu is divided into categories of sea, land, and vegetables, so there will be an option (or five) for everyone at your table. Oh, and the wide selection of gin and tonics is a refreshing kick against all of those bright flavors.
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    A Jewish kid from Long Island who opened a ramen shop in Tokyo? You have to admire the chutzpah. Chef Ivan Orkin succeeded with the noodle connoisseurs in Japan, and then opened another shop here on the Lower East Side. Of course the ramen is amazing, (hello triple-pork, triple-garlic!), but there are other great dishes too, like the braised beef tongue.
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    Like some other punk-rock places in this neighborhood, Contra has very little signage out front to help you find it. But you’ll forgive them once you do, because their tasting menu is the rare arrangement that won’t make you forfeit rent: a mere $55 for 5 courses. Recent offerings included a broccoli soup with uni, and swordfish with peas and pepper, gorgeously plated and delicately delicious.
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