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Cutting a tattooed figure as a judge on "Chopped" and in the neighborhood restaurants he owns and cooks in (last year's Beauty & Essex and the celebrity-studded Stanton Social), Chris Santos is something of a Lower East Side legend. When he's not running two busy kitchens, he's rocking out in the neighborhood, grabbing late night gyros to fuel an '80s dance party or scarfing down tacos at the Essex Street Market. Read on for Chris's greatest hits of the LES.
Pizza by the slice
Nonna's LES Pizzeria is a hidden gem with a wide array of both traditional and inventive slices. They finish the "grandma" slice with a drizzle of olive oil and a generous amount of parmigiano grated fresh from the wedge.
I've heard amazing things about the new Via Tribunalii, but haven't been there yet. Until I try it, I'm going to go with San Marzano Brick Oven Pizzeria. I love their scorched crust and quality sausage. A guilty pleasure of mine is their Spicy Chicken Calzone.
Whitmans' Juicy Lucy is a pretty ridiculous thing to behold. It's crazy good. Technically it's in the East Village, but I don't think anything on the LES compares for a good cheap burger.
I love the burger at Clinton St. Baking Co. It's perfectly seasoned, with quality bacon and cheddar. Great at the counter with an ice cold beer and their equally impressive sweet potato fries.
I love the coffee at Grit N Glory which is also a super-cool rock 'n' roll-inspired clothing and housewares boutique. I just picked up a sweet converted skateboard and food/water bowl setup for my dog.
Anything from Tiny's Giant Sandwich Shop. I usually create my own sandwich on their amazing seeded semolina bread: a crispy chicken cutlet, bacon, avocado, cheddar and lots of their "just right" spicy chipotle mayo. Get it warm.
Technically it's take-out, but it's so worth the short walk from my apartment to get food from Taqueria Lower East Side. They have a great simple steak quesadilla, and I love their tortilla soup.
Again, I have to go with Clinton St. Baking Co. You pretty much can't go wrong there. Their chocolate chunk pancakes with warm maple butter are the best indulgent breakfast. Get it with a side of their perfectly sweet, salty and smoky sugar-cured bacon.
St. Jerome's is dark and sweaty, with smoke machines and strobe lights. It's where I go to channel my inner '80's hair metal dude.
'inoteca is a great place to grab a glass of wine from their always impressive list.
Il Laboratorio del Gelato rocks. Their flavors change regularly, so my favorites depend on the season. Anything you get there will be good, but some of my favorites are fresh mint, fig, mascarpone and mocha chip.
One More Thai is always fast, fresh, piping hot and consistent! Try the chive pancake with garlic and soy, the drunken noodles, and the jungle curry with sticky rice.
Wolfnights' falafel sandwich is totally unique, wrapped in their signature fig and pomegranate dough.
Late night eats
Bereket for that beer-absorbing gyro.
Macondo makes for a great, easy date night spot. They have nice, affordable wines and consistently good Latin-inspired small plates. I like to sit at the bar and order a few plates at a time.