Food lifestyle Lower East Side New York Travel

Neighborhood Guide: Lower East Side (Ludlow – Centric) Part 1: Eats

January 18, 2016

 

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.

EATS

Falafel

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.

Burgers

At the intersection of Ludlow and Rivington, you’ll come across Mikey’s Burgers. If you’re in the mood for a good burger and some always fresh fries, step right up. The small space can be a little confusing when you first walk in – do you sit at the counter? do you stand awkwardly and wait for someone to notice you? – but walk to the end of the counter and someone (hopefully) will be at the register to take your order. I’ve never been inside when it’s crazy busy, but since it’s open until 4am on the weekends, I bet it gets jammed when the booze starts flowing around town. They have a pretty standard menu of burgers, fries, and hot dogs, but their signature burger has corned beef (!) and they have some interesting options like a lamb burger and an avocado shake. Their burgers can tend towards the smaller side, but they’re tasty and the sweet potato fries and always super fresh (and you get three dipping sauces for free with your order). A couple blocks over on East Houston is Lucky’s Famous Burgers which also has killer fries, and a killer meal deal. Their burgers are slightly bigger, but it’s definitely more of a fastfood vibe than Mikey’s which feels more like a neighborhood joint. But, for only 11 dollars, you get one of their tasty sandwiches (burger, chicken sandwich, hot dogs, veggie burger), fries, and a 24oz fountain drink. Also open late night (5am) on the weekends, be assured you can get your burger fix any time of day.

Bodega

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.

Groceries

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.

Photo by Makeda Sandford

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