By: Ashley Bode
Downtown there is a feast to be had. An abundance of choices can leave the average foodie wondering if they made the best decision at meal time or it can leave them ready to plan their next meal. The Lower East Side is home to many inexpensive eats that are worth the trek downtown, I suggest you make a trip of it.
One of the benefits of LES lies strictly in history. Like I discussed last week, this neighborhood was the original working class immigrant neighborhood in NYC.That means what still stands is generations' worth of family run businesses and cultural meccas that offer inexpensive treats made from authentic recipes. Take Vanessa's Dumpling House on Eldridge between Broome and Grand, for example. Vanessa's sits on the cusp of what is known as Chinatown, but is just blocks from hipster bars and music venues. Because of this, it attracts a diverse crowd--Oh yeah, and the dumplings! Vanessa's has a few locations citywide, but the Eldridge location is the best. While I may be slightly biased, I can't ignore the authentic charm that oozes from everything in this building, from the Bubble Tea, the army of cooks on the line and the little old grandpa in the back who hand stuffs each dumpling. The prices are more than reasonable, four (very) satisfying dumplings for $1, boiled or fried and served in a variety of flavors--the best is the pork and scallion--or 50 dumplings, frozen, for $9. That's a steal any New Yorker can appreciate. The pork buns and sesame pancakes are also worth snacking on. Think of heavenly, delicate, pillows filled with pork or pekin duck, Bejing-style and you'll have the right idea.
If you're looking to take an after-drinks approach to your eating adventures, be sure to hit up the LES' newest spot, Little Muenster on Stanton between Orchard and Ludlow. Little Muenster is the brain-child of Adam Schenider and Vanessa Palazio, two hospitality and lifestyle specialists. Palazio and Schenider offer the late-night crew a plethora of fancy grilled cheese to satisfy anyone's craving for comfort food. You can find a simple American grilled cheese or the pairing of some classics, Muenster and Gouda with Pastrami and cumin seed. Delectable! Oh, and then there's the bone marrow butter as an up-charge to any sandwich. Bone marrow butter certainly isn't for the cautious eater, but for the curious and the bone marrow aficionados, there's nothing that could make a sandwich better. The space itself is tiny, brightly decorated and quaint but that's part of the charm. Palazio and Schenider specifically chose the neighborhood so it could be just that; part of a community, where customers are recognizable and so are their orders.
For the vegetarian wandering around LES there is no better place to visit than a tiny little grocery/deli just off Houston with a line of taxicabs out the front called Punjabi. Specializing in vegetarian Indian food, Punjabi has a limited menu,with about 4 or 5 options all costing under $6. The building is nondescript, a tiny spot with just a green awning reading Punjabi on the top. The food itself is authentic, reminding visitors of legit Indian food, homemade Chai and the appeal to eating a meal and buying a Bollywood video to watch later. Rumor has it, this spot is 24 hours and one of the city's best kept secrets. Its unclear whether the value of Punjabi out weighs the authentic and delicious Indian cuisine served beneath the green awning, but either way it shares another dimension of New York and continues the belief that we truly live in a melting pot.
Check back next week to read about the culinary innovators of the Lower East Side.
For more of Ashley's tips and recipes, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)