The 14 Best Restaurants & Bars in NYC's East Village

Your friendly neighborhood guide.

June  4, 2019
Photo by Marcela McGreal/Flickr Commons

Welcome to Your Friendly Neighborhood Guide, a series of travel itineraries from locals who love their hometown haunts, nooks, and crannies so much, they're inviting us over for the inside scoop.

The East Village is one of the most vaunted neighborhoods in one of the world’s most storied cities. One-time home to the golden age of New York punk, birthplace of the shag haircut, and at Pyramid Club, in-your-face drag, it’s been called New York City's best dining neighborhood and will spoil you for great watering holes forever.

I may not be Loisaida-born, but I’ve had a 25-year-affair with the East Village. I partied here as a teenager, had my first N.Y.C. apartment here, dated, broke up, fell in love, got married, and became a dad here. I’ve also lived in the East Village for more than a decade as a professional food writer and editor. I’ve made it my business to check off as much of it as possible, and I get asked where to go with frequency. Problem is, you could recommend 15 great places and make three other legitimate best-of lists with the 50 restaurants and bars that don’t make the first cut.

So, let’s be clear about two things: First, boundaries.

Officially, the East Village is the area east of Bowery between Houston and 14th Streets. That includes the neighborhood within the East Village, the area from Avenues A through D to the East River called Alphabet City. (As locals know, both neighborhoods are inside the Lower East Side, which extends from 14th to Canal Streets with the Bowery and the East River being its west-east boundaries).

Now that that geographical nesting doll has you in need of a drink, here’s the second thing: There are several East Villages.

McSorely's, on East 7th Street, was established in 1854. Photo by Vincent Desjardins/Flickr Commons

The Checklist East Village

There’s the tourist one that includes places you have to hit if you’re from out of town.

You need to walk into Crif Dogs with a confused look on your face as you manage the “secret” entrance to PDT for the first time before learning it’s going to be a wait. You need to eat bigos and borscht (or anything, really) at Veselka. You have to hit one of David Chang’s restaurants (Ssäm Bar, Noodle Bar, or Ko). You must squeeze into B&H Dairy for a tuna melt or something involving their signature bread (“Challah! Por favor”). Cheap drinks poured by bar owner Ludwika Mickevicius, the Lucy of Lucy’s on Avenue A. Fancier ones impeccably made at Angel’s Share or Death & Co. Pastry at Veniero’s. A burger at Da Burger Joint or Brindle Room.

East Villagers could quibble, but along with non-culinary must-visit spots like The Strand, Tompkins Square Park, and St. Marks Place, those are namely the checklist spots.

The Strand is an East Village mainstay. Photo by Martin Hearn/Flickr Commons

The Other East Villages

Then there are the other East Villages—places you should probably have to have visited if you live here— among them Horseshoe Bar, Sunrise Mart, Hi-Collar, Punjabi Deli, and Otto's Shrunken Head. There are the essential East Village Japanese restaurants: Cagen, Kanoyama, Shabu-Tatsu, Kyo Ya, Secchu Yokota, Kenka, etc. And don’t forget East Village food-media darlings like Hearth, Superiority Burger, Tim Ho Wan, Jeepney, Oda House, and Jewel Bako.

Rather than send anyone to any one of those lists though, consider these East Village originals that dip in and out, all with the inexorable power to draw this local in time and again:

My East Village

1. Kura

Located in what would seem to be an unlikely place to find great sushi (the end of St. Marks near Avenue A), Kura is one of my favorite omakases in New York City. The prices are reasonable for the quality (fantastic), Norihiro Ishizuka is like a jolly sushi Santa, and the quiet, unassuming shoebox makes me feel like I’m back in Japan at an insider’s spot.

2. Royale

Folks shout out Paul's, David’s Café, Brindle Room, and Superiority (for their vegan burger), but you can’t convince me away from Royale, a classic neighborhood bar on Avenue C with a backyard patio. Their eponymous classic, The Royale, comes with lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle. It arrives fast, juicy, on a lightly toasted bun, and never disappoints. I add cheese and an order of well-battered, crispy, so-hot-you-have-to-wait onion rings.

3. McSorley's Old Ale House

McSorley’s doubles as a must for tourists and a place you have to visit at least once if you live in the East Village. But it’s also one of my favorite places to have a drink. There’s sawdust on the floor and you feel yourself becoming a part of its history, which stretches back to 1854. I never go in if there’s a crowd, but if I walk by and there’s a space to lean against the bar, it’s two lights, two darks, and the best hot dog in the city.

4. Village Square Pizza

I’m a pizza nerd and I love Joe’s, but prefer its OG West Village spot. Village Square is new to the scene and has become my local. It specializes in squares, which is what you should get. Their signature pepperoni square features fresh mozz; hand-sliced, spicy ‘roni cups; fra diavolo sauce; and EVOO. It echoes Prince Street Pizza’s famed slice. But I’m also drawn to their grandma and vodka squares, and the garlic-brushed, honey-kissed white slice, one of the better renditions I’ve ever had.

5. Ippudo

There are other ramen spots in the East Village people love, and other Ippudos in New York City now, but this was the first that came over from Japan and it’s my go-to. The wait is always just ridiculously long. So here’s my never-fail trick: Go solo. It’s almost always under a 15-minute wait. The Karaka Ramen is my move, a spicy take on their original tonkotsu (pork) broth with thin noodles, pork belly chashu, cabbage, and sesame kikurage mushrooms. The only problem is you can’t share all the other things you want to eat.

6. Big Gay Ice Cream

There are other Big Gay locations now, but this was the first, opened in 2011 by Bryan Petroff and Douglas Quint after two deservedly successful years in the food truck biz. Their soft serve is super creamy, their flavor combinations clever and delicious, and everything's done with a wink that makes you feel like you’re in on the joke.

7. Momofuku Ssäm Bar

This is the restaurant out-of-towners want to check off that I still want to go to whether it's for one of the large-format feasts (slow-roasted pork shoulder bo ssäm, Singaporean butter-poached king crab, and whole rotisserie duck), spicy pork sausage and rice cakes at lunch, or a smattering of small plates like sweetbreads and oysters, fried tripe with purple perilla, and shrimp toast with pickled chiles. It’s crowded like David Chang’s other nearby spot, Noodle Bar, but less frantic and darker—it eats like wearing a favorite pair of sunglasses.

8. Dan & John’s

If you think wings are the same everywhere, you haven’t had great wings. If that sounds arrogant, I get it. But I did write a book about them, and outside Buffalo (where I’ve eaten hundreds), Dan & John’s are the best I’ve had. They would be: Dan Borowski and John Henninger are friends from the Nickel City. I go hot, hot garlic Parmesan, and grilled, or a chicken finger sub, washed down with a Rochester-brewed Genny Cream Ale.

9. Ess-a-Bagel

Every New Yorker needs a bagel shop to call their own. Some swear by Tompkins Square Bagels (I’m cozier with Black Seed’s thinner New York-Montreal hybrids, to be honest). But my inner snob kicks in, and the East Village’s boundaries suddenly expand five blocks north of 14th Street to include Ess-a-Bagel, whose fresh-from-the-oven rolls exemplify what a New York City bagel should be. Everything with plain cream cheese and Nova—not toasted, for the love of all things holy.

10. Angel’s Share

The speakeasy-bar trend has come and gone and come and gone, but Angel’s Share preceded them all (est. 1993) and never loses its cool. If you don’t know, it’s on the second floor inside Village Yokocho on Stuyvesant Street (hairpin U-turn at the top of the stairs, behind the door). If it’s standing room only, I’m out (or checking Angel’s Share 2 upstairs inside Sharaku, practically next door). But if I get there when it first opens or there’s a spot at the bar, it’s a place I’ll actually put my phone down and just sip. And if it’s pouring or snowing— the feeling of cozy protection while watching the traffic through the picture windows with a meticulously made martini—nothing beats it.

11. Tacos Cuautla Morelos

Empellon Al Pastor may have a bead on date-night, late-night, and the after-work crowd, but Tacos Morelos holds the key to my stomach when I’m craving Mexican, even over Zaragoza and Down Town Bakery II (the latter is great for breakfast, though). Right off Tompkins Square Park at East 9th Street, the spicy chicken tostadas are so messy-good you don’t put them down once you pick them up; the salsa is drinkable legit; the pozole de puerco is the kind of restorative the lovelorn, drenched, and hungover dream of; and the chile relleno—cheese-filled, spicy sauce-soaked, roasted green poblano peppers—are good enough to forget about New York City’s Mexican-food haters.

12. Gruppo

Gruppo doesn’t get a ton of press, but the fact that it now has several sister restaurants around town says something. One of Manhattan’s only original bar-pie joints, their pies are thinner than thin. After falling in love with two pies and one salad (but forcing ourselves to try virtually the entire rest of the menu for posterity’s sake), let me suggest a salad and two large pies. The Cheddar and Apple Salad with Bibb lettuce, toasted pumpkin seeds, and cider vinaigrette is simple enough you could make it at home, and mystifyingly good enough that you start doing so. Opt for a custom pie topped with pepperoni and jalapeño, and grab another from the house menu. I’m normally the flag-bearer for the anti–truffle oil brigade, but the Shroomtown (a red pie) with big, juicy slices of portobello, shiitake, and button mushrooms—and yes, white truffle oil—sets me to quietly (and happily) eat my words. Their daily happy hour, 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. (Mondays 3:30 pm to close), a free large plain pizza with the purchase of a pitcher or a bottle of wine, is a steal we’re usually guilty of weekly.

13. Joe & Pat’s

This is the offshoot of the original that makes all of the classics pretty much how you remember them on Staten Island, but without having to take the ferry (hey, it is a nice ride). Hero sandwiches, lasagna, meatballs with ricott’, chicken francese—follow that with a pie, the 1960 Original, vodka, or tri-pie (tomato, pesto, and vodka with fresh mozz) and you’re good. They’re super family-friendly with a nice backyard patio, plus a beautiful copper dimpled bar where you can also just park at for a slice (yes, a slice!) at this pie-only joint before 6 p.m.

14. Lucy’s

Every good neighborhood needs a great dive bar. With Mona’s, Doc Holliday’s, and many others, the East Village is supercharged with them. But even as the crowd grows younger and I grow older, Lucy’s, né Blanche’s, will always have my heart. Great jukebox. Two pool tables. Ludwika “Lucy” Mickevicius pouring your drinks herself from 7 p.m. till 4 a.m. It’s in the dictionary next to “cash only” and “never change.”

Did we miss anything? Share your favorite East Village haunts in the comments below.

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Pizza obsessive. Dad chef. Author, Buffalo Everything.

1 Comment

MBE June 9, 2019
I've been to some, will put the others on my list for my next visit, but my must go to is Cafe Mogador on St. Mark's. One one visit we ate breakfast, lunch and dinner there! But my not to miss on any visit is breakfast/brunch. All egg dishes are fantastic and they make a mean cappuccino. Plus the decor and vibe are great (if your there the one in Brooklyn is fantastic as well)