The East Village of New York is rapidly becoming nirvana for great food, especially international. The Filipino, Mexican, Indian, Japanese, and even Ethiopian options here are top notch. In fact there are so many great options these days, that you can spend a full day sampling just on St. Marks between 1st and 3rd Avenues and only hit a small portion of them. Here are the highlights that should be on your bucket list.
The newest entry to the Fuku empire (an empire so large and mighty now that it is very easy to confuse restaurants and enter the noodle bar instead of Fuku accidentally), Fuku opened to constant lines and rave reviews for its spicy fried chicken sandwich. Now, thanks to hype levels returning to normal, and extended opening hours, you won’t have to face a line to get in. Don’t be like the tourists who came in and asked what was suggested from the menu. There are only about three items, and you just want the spicy chicken. Insider tip: the spice comes from habanero peppers. Maybe go for some slaw on it if you need some veggies. Slather on some sauce from the counter and enjoy what essentially amounts to an incredible and slightly spicy Chick-Fil-A sandwich. The breading has a nice texture, but the frying process doesn’t dry out the meat like many other chicken sandwiches. As long as you aren’t waiting in an hour long line, the hype here is worth it.
Xe May Sandwich Shop
Banh Mi sandwiches are the new hotness around the city. Xe May has one of the largest menus of the tasty Vietnamese sandwich to be found. Go for the Sidecar, a fairly traditional version with beefsteak slabs, a pineapple chutney that isn’t overly sweet or overpowering, and plenty of daikon and carrot shredded up on a delicious roll. Make sure you get it spicy. The fresh jalapenos and sriracha counter the sweetness of the pineapple and only add to the experience. Go on, be brave! The bread can make or break a good sandwich, especially banh mi, and the bread here is perfectly crisp, but not hard, and soaks up the juices well. It’s a bit hipstery and the space is tiny, so an early lunch is suggested.
Cooper’s Craft and Kitchen
By now you should have worked up a decent thirst from sandwiches, so it’s time to slake said thirst at one of the better beer bars in the city, Cooper’s. The beer list is a frequently rotating menu of craft beer with a focus on New York craft makers. They also have themes at various times during the year, such as the twelve beers of Christmas in December. It’s a great introduction to a great craft list. They’re also not shy about allowing tastings before committing to a full glass. It’s also fairly big, and quiet during the day, so a decent place to relax, watch some tv, or meet with friends where you can actually have a conversation.
Black Tap Burgers
Hopefully that beer helped make some room for more food, because the enormous Black Tap Burger is next. Sure, it’s actually on the West Side, but you need some fresh air anyway, right? Black Tap, now with two locations, is quickly establishing itself as a destination for burger lovers due to some succulent options featuring Pat LaFrieda beef. The beef is absolutely decadent, melting apart thanks to a perfect medium temperature, but just as important is a solid bun, and the massive potato bun holds up well and adds to the flavor. There are several options here such as mexican, pizza, and bison burgers, but the Original American is a classic and the best option for the first visit. The space is pretty cramped, so be ready for a wait, some jostling, and especially sticky tables. The beer menu is pretty good, though not massive, but has some good hipstery craft beer like Six Point, Coney Island, and Gun Hill. The shakes are truly something majestic to behold, looking like a three year old’s dream come true, but one of these massive drinks will fill you up for the rest of the day, and you have other things to eat still.
La Colombe Torrefaction
It’s time for some more fresh air and some energy. Luckily the excellent La Colombe has a flagship store on the way back to the East Side. At La Columbe, a massive temple to the majestic coffee bean, complete with marble decor and massive pillars, any coffee beverage you can imagine will quickly be made by a great barista while you wrap your way around the central bar. The cold brew coffee on tap, as well as what they call a draft latte are delicious, and even better is a combination of the two called a black and tan. The dark coffee stays on the bottom with the light latte at the top due to the magical science of liquid tension. Now you can enjoy a tasty coffee and learn physics! Also, the combination is incredibly smooth and delicious. The baristas are perfectly West Coast here, amazing at making drinks, but a bit relaxed and you may have to repeat your order four or five times.
This is what your training so far has prepared you for, going to town with some dumplings at The Bao. The Bao is a bit surprising inside compared to the neighborhood, but in a good way. The upscale decor and huge wood table add some class to the joint. It’s a dumpling place you don’t feel like you’ll get tetanus from touching the floor at. Also the food is incredible. The menu is pretty big, but don’t get distracted, you want the soup dumplings and probably some wontons. The wontons in chili sauce can’t possibly be the same category of food as your typical wontons. Here they are more like a pot sticker, soaking up a pleasantly spicy chili oil sauce. Save some for the soup dumplings if you enjoy the spice.
Since it’s called the Bao, you definitely want some Bao or soup dumplings as well. The dumplings are a bit different from the other soup dumplings in the city, definitely much thinner skinned and not as scaldingly hot. The standard pork dumplings are great, especially for the first time, and the wasabi ones are a good option to mix things up. Since the skin is so thin, be careful moving them and biting in or you’ll shoot soup across the place at fellow diners.
McSorley’s Ale House
McSorley’s is a place so touristy, you kind of have to go just to consider yourself a true New Yorker. They’ve got sawdust on the floor, bathrooms that were voted among the five grossest in the city, and a beer menu that is simply “dark” or “light”. There are a strange mix of regulars who look like they’ve never left and European tourists who are dazed and confused. Ordering a ham and cheese sandwich here is to take your life into your own hands, but a quick beer at the bar (try not to touch much) is an experience worth having. At least then you can always say to your friends and co-workers, “Oh, you’ve never been to McSorley’s?”
Holiday Cocktail Bar
Nestled between karaoke lounges and ramen joints, is the unassuming Holiday Cocktail Lounge. The lounge has been open forever, in fact Leo Trotsky is rumored to have hung out here, but closed and reopened recently. The new space is a fairly indescribable mix of dive bar and speakeasy, the kind of place with a dozen types of handmade artisanal gin but Christmas lights as the main decor. Cocktails are excellent and the menu is big, but they’ll also make you something great based on your tastes. The fellow patrons here included a couple loudly proclaiming how much they spent on their pedigree Pomeranian-Chihuahua mix who was of course present, and a group of Boston bros hitting on some trashed locals. It might have just been bad luck, but it does seem to attract a strange mixed crowd.
Mimi Cheng’s, a fairly new dumpling house is one of the few dumpling places you would consider taking someone on a date to, unless they are super into dumplings and have low standards when it comes to table hygiene, in which case your mom and I think you can do better. So go to Mimi’s instead and avoid hepatitis, and also get some awesome dumplings. The menu is small, pork, chicken, veggie, and a rotating special. You can get an order or 6 or 8 and split an order between two types. While this makes for some interesting mathematical combinations, it’s a nice way to try a bunch of the types without getting the dreaded dumpling bloat. The pork were our favorite, but the chicken were solid as well. You can’t go wrong with any of the options here. The special sauce, a mildly spicy soy mix (and if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, mix in some sriracha) goes great with the dumplings as well. Go for fried for the extra texture. The chairs do stick a bit to the floor in a concerning fashion, but there are mini cacti on each table, so I think it evens out.
The grand finale has to come at Yakitori Taisho, an amazing experience in meat on skewers. You know it has to be good because Japanese teenagers line up around the corner before it even opens. Definitely get in early or be prepared for a long wait. Though the menu is pretty huge, with lots of pictures, you want to focus on the yakitori and build a meal around it. The sampler menus are a good start as well and get you most of the good items including the pork belly, chicken skin, and meatballs. Add on the squid and/or calamari, and perhaps the fried baby octopus which are excellent. It’s always awesome to see your food cooked in front of you, and the big bar allows for a show with constant flames and an insanely packed grill. The space is incredibly authentic with lots of wood, staff chattering in Japanese, and a communal long bar and tiny tables. Try to avoid the bathrooms if at all possible. The service is lightning fast and food is a quick eat, so the line moves fairly fast. The meatballs were excellent with lots of flavor in a small bite. The chicken gizzards were very chewy and a little strange in texture, but not as scary as they sound. The skin was either great or way too chewy depending on the piece. The regular chicken was awesome with a great marinade and flavorful meat. The pork belly was the best, almost like chunky bacon on a stick. The squid was nearly as good as the pork belly, not at all fishy or salty. You’ll want a Kirin or Sapporo to wash it all down as well. There are tons of soju options, but the beer is limited to just these two.
Spot Dessert Bar
After all that meat, you’ll want some sweetness to break it up. Spot is a trendy dessert bar; yes apparently there are dessert bars where people actually go on dates. It’s ok, they don’t have to be your friends. The desserts are all unique and as visually interesting as they are tasty. Anything with matcha is excellent, as is anything with green tea ice cream. The lava cake is a fun eat, especially after poking it to start the eruption of green goo. The green tea ice cream adds a tiny bit of bitterness and lots of moisture to the cake. Enjoy it slowly while you watch the awkward dates around you.