How To Spend An Entire Day Eating On The Lower East Side
Updated: Apr 11, 2020
Picture this: it’s a Sunday, you miraculously have no work to do for the entire day, and you want to spend your time eating your body weight in incredible food. If you ever find yourself in this dream scenario, this article is for you. After hours of research, I have formulated an objectively perfect itinerary to make the most of your day eating up and down the Lower East Side. While I guess you could go to these restaurants individually on different days, why would you? Live a little, and eat a lot.
You'll start your day at Kopitiam. This Malaysian all-day café is the perfect breakfast stop. Recently named as one of Bon Appetit’s 10 Best New Restaurants in America, the food at Kopitiam is vibrant, exciting, and most of all delicious. Get here early before the crowds really start to show up, order more than you think is necessary (this will be a theme of the day, get used to it), and find a seat at the communal table. A must-try is their Nasi Lemak, a Malaysian staple consisting of a bed of fragrant coconut sticky rice topped with sambal-coated fried anchovies. The dish is funky, spicy, and insanely delicious.
Another necessity is their Chilled Spicy Sesame Noodles. When they ask if you want to add a poached egg to them, you will eagerly reply, “of course.” As you have quite a day ahead of you, I would recommend grabbing one of their coffee drinks. My favorite is the Kopi-Tarik, a drink using their incredible Penang black coffee pulled with condensed milk. While you sit and eat your food, sit back and enjoy the controlled chaos of the restaurant, and mentally prepare yourself for the rest of the day
After a couple of laps around the block, make sure that your trip to Malaysia (without leaving Manhattan) is complete with a quick stop at Ling Kee Beef Jerky on Canal Street. This isn’t your All-American dry piece of leather disguised as meat that takes two hours to chew through. This Malaysian-style jerky is moist, flavorful, and tender. Do yourself a favor and order yourself a half-pound of the stuff; you won’t regret it.
You’ve got some time to kill, and some food to digest, so once you’ve finished off your jerky, head on over to Seward Park, and check out whatever cool event is going on at the Hester Street Fair. From April to late October, Hester Street Fair hosts local artists and food vendors nearly every weekend. Peruse the vendors, and if you have some room left in your stomach, sample some of the food, but not too much.
Once you feel you have successfully recovered from your breakfast, make your way under the Manhattan Bridge to Golden Diner. It is almost guaranteed that there will be a wait, so put your name in and walk over to Oliver Coffee, a combination coffee shop and newsstand on Oliver Street. Order your cortado (or some other drink if you want, but like come on...) from the window, and enjoy the sounds of a city starting to wake up.
Once your table is ready, head on back to the restaurant and prepare yourself for their imaginative Asian-inspired takes on American diner classics. Do not leave without trying the Chicken Katsu Club Sandwich, and splurge a little bit by adding a side of home fries. While it is technically lunch, no one will stop you from ordering a Chinatown Egg and Cheese Breakfast Sando, which may or may not ruin all other breakfast sandwiches for you. Served on a sesame scallion milk bun with soft scrambled eggs and a hash brown patty, this sandwich is the closest thing you can get to perfection. It’s difficult to go wrong here, so just eat as much as you can and know you’ve done it right.
After you’ve finished lunch, you’re probably going to need some time to recover before you get back to eating. In the meantime, head over to Orchard St. and peruse the wide array of galleries that call it home. You’ll find artists of every style, and almost all of the galleries are free to enter. Spend the rest of the afternoon just experiencing all of the cool stuff that the LES has to offer, whether it’s the boutique shops with clothes that are too expensive to even look at, or the Tenement Museum, where you can get a new perspective on “the experiences of immigrants and migrants, and the fundamental role they play in defining our national identity.” The Lower East Side is truly a cultural and historical center.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, make your way over to Cervo’s, one of the city’s greatest natural wine bars/Spanish and Portuguese inspired seafood restaurants. The place is small, dark, and always lively. Grab a bottle of funky wine or Basque cider, a few oysters, and maybe a dish or two of whatever olive oil and garlic-forward seafood dish they’ve got going. If you’re still hungry after all of that, make sure to order the half chicken covered in piri piri. Finish the bottle of wine, maybe order another. Enjoy yourself. You’ve earned it, right?
Now, this final spot, while I can’t play favorites, is definitely my favorite. The last place you’ve got to hit before your day of eating is over is the legendary Scarr’s Pizza. I must say, it is best experienced when you have had a few (or more) drinks, so if you have to make a few stops in between dinner and this, I’d definitely recommend that.
Now, this is a controversial opinion, and if you don’t hear from me after this article is published, you’ll know why, but I’ve got to say it: Scarr’s has the best slice in all of New York. It’s just so good; the sauce is not overpowering, and the cheese is just right, but what sets it apart is that crust, that beautiful crust. Scarr’s mills their own flour in-house. Yeah that’s right, they’re not messing around.
The quality of ingredients shines through, and you really just cannot find anything quite like it. And hey, if you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll be more convinced by Alex Delany of Bon Appetit.
On top of the incredible pizza, the vibe in Scarr’s really is unmatched. Order your slice up front and then either snag one of four tables in the back or sit at the bar. If you’re lucky, you might see Scarr himself hanging at the bar. While they close a little earlier than some other pizza places on weekends (1 a.m.), this is still a must-hit place after/during a night out, and a perfect end to your day of eating.