As Vice writes in its guide to the neighborhoods of New York, “[Ludlow] used to be good and isn’t really any more. But, stay the hell off of it and you can make LES work. Ludlow is now the sole purview of M.U.S.C.L.E.S.and human crepes”. I beg to differ.
While Ludlow may be the nucleus of the hard-partying, heavy-drinking, thai-mexican-southern-california fusion-eating crowd in the Lower East Side, it’s also home to some great restaurants and shops, and acts as a stepping stone to the rest of the wonderland that is the LES.
I live in a building that sits on the intersection of Ludlow and Delancey, the main street that continues over the Williamsburg Bridge into Brooklyn. From here, I’m within striking distance of Chinatown (it starts a mere four blocks away around Canal Street), the East Village (cross over East Houston and you’re in their territory), the West Village, and the amoeba that is Little Italy, Nolita, and shortly thereafter Soho. If you’re looking to get your kicks in any fashion, Ludlow and its surrounding playground of food, booze, art, and fashion, will rock your world.
I’m a falafel fiend and if you aren’t, you need to reevaluate. If you’re in the LES and craving some crunchy, chickpea goodness, you’ve got a few options. The closest to Ludlow is The Falafel Shop, located just past the intersection of Essex and Rivington. This spot is not my favorite, but it serves up decent falafel and is open somewhat late (1am), catering to the bar crowd. I’ve only ever gotten the falafel salad, which is a slurry of greens, cucumbers, tomatoes and a little too much tahini dressing, topped with five falafel balls. It comes with hot pita, which is good for sopping up the overly-generous dose of dressing. The service can be somewhat spotty, but it’s super convenient and reasonably priced. The have the usual host of middle-eastern sandwich/platter options. If you’re up for a 10-15 minute walk, walk (if not run) over to spring street where Taim serves up some of the best falafel I’ve ever had. Run by the same owners as Balaboosta, the uber hip (and uber delicious) Mediteranean restaurant right around the corner. Taim is strictly vegetarian and markets itself as a “falafel and smoothie bar” and it delivers on both counts. It’s falafel, which come in three flavors: green (classic, cilantro), harissa (spicy), and red (bell peppers) are a revelation. Always super crispy with a fluffy flavorful center (and generously sized), they come served in a pita with hummus, israeli salad, pickled cabbage and tahini sauce, and it’s a serious sandwich. Their sabich is also amazing, and I’m working my way through the rest of their menu. My go-to is a green falafel sandwich on whole wheat pita with a strawberry-raspberry-thai basil smoothie (ah-may-zing), Take the walk. Do it.
At the intersection of Ludlow and Broome you will find my favorite bodega/deli: Optimum Gourmet Deli. Ridiculous name? Yes. Delicious, pretty cheap food? Yes. The people who work here are good guys, the service is super quick, and they also have the usual host of drinks, snacks, ice cream, and toilet paper. Their menu is extensive (they always are) but I am a creature of habit and usually go for the lamb gyro or one of their huge create-your-own salads. You know a spot is good when you can’t even get in the door at breakfast, the line of students, people on their way to work, and hungover folks is so long. Ignore the tacky name and grungy exterior, this place is a gem.
Right across the intersection from my building is Green Star Foods, a sort of miniature Trader Joe’s combined with a run of the mill deli counter. One of my go-to spots for middle of the night groceries and on the go bagels, Green Star Foods is open 24/7 and the counter is usually pretty deserted. A little more pricey, and a little more health-oriented than Optimum, this spot is not my favorite but it serves its purpose.
Again, Green Star Foods is a good option for (slightly nicer) stapes, and has some fresh fruits and veggies on offer. There’s a Whole Foods on East Houston that does a huge business (obviously) and if that’s your scene, it’s super convenient to Ludlow. But, it can easily be a wallet-buster and it gets extremely hectic most afternoons and weekend days. By far, my favorite grocery store/market is Essex Street Retail Market located one block over from Ludlow at the intersection of Essex and Delancey. An indoor open market of sorts, ESRM boasts a large main floor filled with fresh produce and an unlimited selection of dry goods, two seafood counters, and a butchery counter, along with a host of small specialty purveyors as well as two (tiny) restaurants. It’s cheap, the selection is enormous, and it’s a fun place to shop. Chances are you can find almost everything you were looking for at whole foods, and you can grab a bite and browse some specialty cheese and tasty sweet treats at the same time – all for much less. Long story short: go to Whole Foods if you want to, Green Star if it’s 3am, and ESRM from 8am – 7pm for whatever your heart and wallet desires.