There’s no doubt that downtown is home to some of the most vibrant theaters, clubs, shopping streets and restaurants in the city. In fact, finding great restaurants in downtown NYC can be as simple as taking a walk outside and stopping at the first place that catches your eye. But the food of the Lower East Side has a special story. Located just a twelve minute cab ride from The Wagner, the neighborhood of the Lower East Side is rich in cultural and culinary history.
During the turn of the 20th century, the Lower East Side was the first stop for many immigrants from Europe and elsewhere who were escaping famine, persecution and pogroms back home. The area quickly became a melting pot of languages, cultures and of course, food. Today, residents and visitors can still get a taste of those cultures at the popular restaurants, delis and shops that preserve the neighborhood’s culinary history.
Pastrami on Rye at Katz’s Delicatessen
These days, Katz’s Delicatessen is most popularly known for playing host to the infamous “I’ll have what she’s having” scene from the movie When Harry Met Sally. Plenty of fans continue to visit this historic deli to relive the comic brilliance of Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, but Katz’s history goes far beyond the 1989 shooting of the film. The Iceland brothers first opened the deli in 1888 and were later joined by namesake Willy Katz in 1903. Over the next hundred years, Katz’s Delicatessen has continued to serve as a go-to destination for Jewish deli foods like corned beef, pastrami, pickles and more. While most of the delis of that time have since closed up shop, Katz’s remains a legendary staple of the neighborhood. Go back in time with an order of their pastrami on rye – and don’t forget the celery soda.
Pork and Chive Dumplings at China North Dumplings
While many associate the history of the Lower East Side with the history of the Jewish community in New York, Chinese immigrants have called the area home since before the Civil War. For this reason, you can find a host of historic and authentic Chinese restaurants in the area and of course the neighboring Chinatown. China North Dumplings is a hidden eatery that’s everything you’d hope it to be: unassuming and delicious. With no sign to identify its location, only true dumpling fans make it to this Lower East Side gem. For just $3, you can savor a plate of 10 of their signature pan-fried pork and chive dumplings.
Onion Bialy at Kossar’s
Kossar’s has been baking their legendary bialys since 1936. If you’ve never tried one, bialys are similar to bagels, but chewier and lighter and with no hole in the middle. Traditionally baked with roasted onion or garlic at the center, they’re like soft, salty bread pillows. In Yiddish, the word “bialy” literally means “little bread from Bialystok”, or the town in Poland where the treat was first created. Today, Kossar’s is the oldest remaining bialy bakery in the United States. Visit for the classic onion bialy or the more contemporary sun dried tomato and pesto bialy. Either way, you’ll be taking a bite of history.
Hot Soppressata Sandwich at Regina’s Grocery
While the storefront at Regina’s Grocery might not be historic, their menu of made-to-order sandwiches and specialty grocery items pays homage to the Italian community of the Lower East Side. For sandwiches, our current favorite is the Uncle Chubby with hot soppressata, fresh mozzarella and roasted red pepper on stirato bread. Or, if you’re looking for some classic pantry items, try the imported spaghetti from Pastosa or Regina’s own spicy Calabrian chili spread.