In the brief time that Shane Lyons, the chef at Distilled, has worked and lived in the Lower East Side, he's noticed that "99 Cent stores are now French restaurants." But the neighborhood's history and diversity are enough to keep him around and trying new places to eat. Here are his favorites.
Lower East Side, Manhattan
Growing up, I always thought coffee cake was named as such because you needed a swig of milky coffee to choke its dry crumbs down. Had I tried Sugar Sweet Sunshine's version earlier, perhaps I would have thought otherwise.
If you've been looking for an actually credible burrito in New York, we can safely say you've now found one.
Lightly smoked tuna, wasabi cream cheese, crunchy pearls of flying fish roe—there's a lot going on in this sandwich, but it's excellent.
This stunningly beautiful loaf is a new favorite in today's babka-fied New York.
In addition to coffee, the recently opened Lower East Side coffee shop El Rey offers a stylized "luncheonette" menu, featuring dishes such as cashew grits, vegetable sides, and soup. Head Chef Gerardo Gonzalez is making respectable food in a makeshift kitchen, but the cafe has a few kinks to work out, starting with the price to portion size ratio.
With the weather today as awful as it is, ice cream sandwiches probably aren't the first thing on your mind. But trust me, they should be—at least Melt's should.
After a few meals at Cantina I can feel the dedication and energy going into the restaurant. But the crushing ordinariness of the food suggests it's not enough. Petite, overstuffed tacos, high on style, are wan in the punch-to-the-gut flavors that made Bowien's name. Housemade Oaxacan cheese, bland as grocery store mozzarella and plated with some useless greens, is head-scratching. The question to ask at this early stage isn't "is it good," but rather, "would we be talking about it if it were owned by someone besides Danny Bowien?"
Fung Tu is crossing seasonal American cooking with traditional Chinese cuisine. We're reserving judgment until the restaurant builds up its sea legs, but the menu has some intriguing interpretations of Chinese food to offer.
You can't help but wonder why three dudes with fine dining pedigrees would open a tiny snack shack in the Lower East Side. Obviously the formula of (high-traffic) location plus (quickly nourishing, handheld) product plus (often in-the-bag) clientele makes sense. But we got the sense that theygenuinely love what they're doing. And you can taste it in their food.
It's a cold and lonely walk to Canal and Ludlow, the streets empty and dark and windy. The Lower East Side may be hopping, but not here. So when you show up at Skàl, it'd be nice if a waiter didn't greet you with a look that asked, "What are you doing here?" Trust me, guys, I didn't just stumble in by accident.
Do you like sandwiches? Pudding? Cake? Candy? Then let me be your guide. Because that's all I'm going to feed you. This itinerary represents my favorite places to bring out-of-towners to in the Lower East Side for a morning and afternoon jaunt.
There's not much to look at on the walk to Skal, a Nordic cocktail bar and restaurant on the far end of Canal Street. But a recent visit on a cold, cloudy night was rewarded with surprising warmth from the bar and a chatty but civil crowd. And, of course, this tartare.
The Wancko cookie from Sigmund's Pretzels has it all: peanut butter, big chunks of chocolate, and salty bits of pretzel.
A juice bar among dumpling houses, sunny newcomer Dimes' pristine menu has something to offer even for those who'd sooner go for noodles than chia seed pudding. Take, for instance, this spicy beet and eggplant sandwich.
Start your day off right with a ham, egg, and cheese sandwich from one of our favorite diners, Cup and Saucer.
There's nothing subtle about the Jihadboy ($17) at Shopsins (name included, which is used here for reference purposes only). But that's what happens when you take fatty braised beef and tart it up with pomegranate molasses, hunks of creamy feta, tapenade, pistachios, and tahini.
Roni-Sue's uses an über-crunchy Martin's pretzel and rich, single origin dark chocolate to elevate simple chocolate covered pretzels into a high-end dessert snack.