As befits a neighborhood that was an initial stopping point for immigrants from just about every continent, the Lower East Side is home to restaurants representing an impressive array of global cuisines. A culinary tour around the world awaits, without your even having to book a flight.
152 Stanton Street (between Suffolk and Clinton Streets)
A veteran of Nobu and elBulli, Argentinean chef Fernando Navas named his restaurant after a barrio in Buenos Aires. As you would expect, steak is on the menu; the Tabla de Carnes, for instance, is a sharable assortment of entraña, rib-eye, and strip steaks, accompanied by chorizo and blood sausage. But it also offers salads, small plates, chicken, seafood, and weekend brunch. Leave room for torrejas, a dessert similar to bread pudding made with brioche, dulce de leche, and berries.
Austrian: Cafe Katja
79 Orchard Street (between Grand and Broome Streets)
Come to this cozy (25-seat) wood-and-brick café for the Austrian beer, wine, and schnapps; stay for the hearty comfort food. After whetting your appetite with home-made pickles or a traditional hard pretzel, follow up with bratwurst with sauerkraut, wiener schnitzel, or beef goulash with spätzel; round things off with apple strudel or topfentorte, made with a tangy cheese that could be the love child of ricotta and cream cheese. There is plenty for vegetarians too, including spätzel with snow peas, shiitake mushrooms, and chives.
French: Gentleman Farmer
40 Rivington Street (between Eldridge and Forsyth Streets)
In the best melting-pot tradition, this petite bistro adds hints of Asian and American flavors to French classics. So while yes, you can tuck into a traditional rack of lamb or goat-cheese salad, you can also choose the likes of curried escargot and bison steak. Likewise, the wine list includes varietals from Italy, Spain, and the United States as well as a generous selection of French reds, whites, champagnes, and desert wines.
Greek: Souvlaki GR
116 Stanton Street (between Essex and Ludlow Streets)
Souvlaki GR. Image: Benny Wong/Flickr
This taverna prides itself on offering “a little taste of Mykonos in the heart of NYC,” and its whitewashed walls and Aegean-blue furnishings will transport you to a Greek isle even before you bite into the spanakopita (spinach pie with feta and ricotta), loukaniko (homemade pork sausage), or assortment of pitas. As well as the requisite retsina, you can complement your meal with Greek beers and wines, or even a bottle of Dom Perignon, Veuve Cliquot, or Moet & Chandon. In true taverna fashion, there’s outdoor dining when weather permits.
136 Division Street (between Canal and Orchard Streets)
Bacaro. Image: Krista/Flickr
Yes, Little Italy is just a short walk away, but Bacaro differs from most of the restaurants of that neighborhood in that it is inspired by the bacari, or pubs, of Venice. Like those bacari, Bacaro is tucked away on an easy-to-miss street and furnished with long wood tables and benches amid exposed-brick walls. You will not find spaghetti and meatballs or veal parmigiana; instead opt for spaghetti with cuttlefish ink, braised pork shank over polenta, or risotto with white asparagus and nettles—assuming you still have room after starters that include polpette (small fried meatballs), fried oysters, and crab salad over polenta cake.
49 Clinton Street (between Rivington and Stanton Streets)
Azasu. Image: leesean/Flickr
Azasu considers itself an izakaya, the Japanese version of a British pub or a Spanish tapas bar. If it is sushi you crave, look elsewhere. If, however, you are seeking Japanese comfort food, this is the spot for you. You can choose from several types of chankonabe, a hearty protein-rich hot pot favored by sumo wrestlers, or kushikatsu, meat, fish, and vegetables fried on skewers. Lighter fare includes ramen and fried rice. As for liquid fare, choices include Japanese beers, whiskeys, sakes, cocktails, soft drinks, and shōchūs.
Mexican: La Contenta
102 Norfolk Street (between Delancey and Rivington Streets)
Luis Arce Mota worked at Bouley, Windows on the World, and Union Square Café before opening two other restaurants and then La Contenta, where he uses the French techniques he learned while studying at Le Condon Bleu to maximize the flavors of his native Mexico. Happy hour (4-6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 4-7 p.m. the rest of the week) is especially hopping in this small cantina, thanks as much to its micheladas (beer mixed with citrus juice and hot sauce) and tequila cocktails as to its quesadillas, tacos, and shrimp sliders.
Southeast Asian: Pig & Khao
68 Clinton Street (between Rivington and Stanton Streets)
The menu of this 72-seat hot spot is, as its name suggests, heavy on pork and khao, the Thai and Lao word for rice. Rice is a key element of Filipino cuisine, which chef/owner Leah Cohen learned from her mother. Add to that background experience in restaurants in Cambodia, Hong Kong, and Thailand, and you have the Southeast Asian fusion that Pig & Khao is known for. In addition to a wide range of pig dishes (grill pork jowl; sisig, made with parts of a pig’s head; crispy pata, or fried pork leg; barbecued baby-back ribs), you can order khao soi, duck, and chicken dishes. The weekend brunch menu includes banh xeo, a crepe with shrimp, bacon, and bean sprouts; a Filipino chocolate rice pudding; and bottomless mimosas.
Venezuelan: Patacon Pisao
139 Essex Street (between Rivington and Stanton Streets)
Patacon Pisao began as a food truck serving traditional Venezuelan food in the Washington Heights/Inwood area of upper Manhattan. Its narrow LES restaurant is unassuming (stainless-steel tables and counter, brick walls), as is its food. Patacons are sandwiches with fried green plantains in lieu of bread; arepas replace bread with fried or grilled cornmeal patties; in cachapas, the sandwich contents are wrapped in a sweet-corn crepe. You can choose your own combination of fillings or opt for one of the house specialties, such as the patacon burger (which includes cheese, double-smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, catsup, and salsa verde) and the arepa Mexicana (shredded beef, jalapeños, and cheddar cheese).