NYC doesn’t officially have a Restaurant District, but if it did, it would probably be the East Village. This neighborhood has a huge and disorienting number of places to get food, and you could eat out here every night of the week for several months without ever repeating yourself. And that’s exactly why you need this guide. It has our top 25 spots in the neighborhood, and it’ll help you figure out where you should eat first (and often).
Given the opportunity, we’d eat at Momofuku Ko every night. Unfortunately, this will probably never happen, seeing as how this place only does a tasting menu, and it costs $255. Still, it would be nice. The food is consistently diary-worthy. You get around 10 courses for dinner here, beginning with some small items like a bite-size pastry shell filled with lobster, followed by entree-sized portions of things like porchetta with charred greens. And if you don’t feel like spending $255, there’s a casual bar area next door (called Ko Bar) with a constantly changing a la carte menu that typically includes some cold fried chicken that’s better than most of the hot fried chicken we’ve ever had.
You can find some of our favorite summer rolls in the city at Hanoi House - a casual Vietnamese restaurant on the significantly-less wild part of St. Marks (by the park). This restaurant has consistently impressed everyone we bring here. In addition to the summer rolls, it’s very important that you order the rich beef pho. It comes with a combination of filet mignon and brisket, and you won’t be able to stop thinking about it for at least 32 hours.
Ruffian is worth visiting just for the wine. With over 250 mostly-natural options organized into entertaining categories like “Beach Sipping,” “Stoop Sipping,” “Rootsy” and “Kool-Aid,” this is one of the best places to drink and learn about wine in the entire city. That said, you could also go to Ruffian just for the food. The menu constantly changes, but all of the shareable Mediterranean dishes, like perfectly cooked octopus on top of rich mole, are excellent and prepared in front of you at the 20-seat bar. Fortunately, the beauty of restaurants is that you can enjoy both food and wine at once, and at Ruffian, you’ll do so while listening to old-school hip hop.
You could go to Málà Project and have a perfectly great dinner with bacon fried rice and a dry pot with broth-filled beef balls, bok choy, and lotus root. And you could go back the following week for a dry pot full of tofu skin, four different kinds of mushrooms, and frog, and end with fried pumpkin cakes for dessert. No matter how many times you eat here, the spicy dry pot always feels exciting, and it’s one of the absolute best places to celebrate a birthday in the neighborhood.
Upstate has the objectively best Happy Hour in the neighborhood, and maybe the best on the entire island of Manhattan. And that’s all because of their $12 deal that gets you a beer and six oysters. Just know that it’s not some hidden neighborhood secret, so the bar seats and high top tables in the one-room space get pretty busy between the hours of 5pm and 7pm. Two things that are sort of a secret, though: they take reservations online (including during Happy Hour) and the fettuccine with clams is the best thing to eat here.
Momofuku Noodle Bar has been open for over a decade now, and it seems like hundreds of ramen places have opened since then. But somehow, we’re still always excited to eat here. Factor in the tourists and wait times, and this feat becomes even more impressive. The ramen here remains very good (especially the spicy pork version), and everything from the crudo to the shrimp buns are worth ordering. If you want an excellent, casual meal and don’t mind waiting an hour to be seated, come here.
If you’re looking for a place to have a group dinner, Huertas checks off many boxes. You can actually get in, you can actually sit in a comfortable booth, and most importantly, Huertas serves excellent Spanish food. The majority of the tapas dishes here are big enough for you to share and get more than a single piece of an octopus tentacle (we especially like the saffron rice with shrimp and bacon, and the patatas bravas). One last box that Huertas checks is that there’s an off-menu hot dog. These definitely aren’t Spanish but you should probably get two.
Oiji is a great little Korean restaurant that’s good to keep in mind if you have a last-minute date. It’s in a dark room with brick walls and a bar in the corner, and we’ve usually had luck walking in without a reservation and getting seats there. Get the fried chicken, the ssam platter, and their one dessert - vanilla ice cream with honey butter potato chips. It’s a huge portion, but if you say please, they might halve it for you. In other words, you have no excuse not to try this.
Avant Garden is the best vegan restaurant in the East Village, but even if you like your steak “still mooing,” you should still go to this spot by Tompkins Square Park as soon as possible. Rather than try to make vegetables taste like meat, they just prepare them in really enjoyable ways, like topping avocado and crispy rice with carrot ginger dressing, and serving housemade pasta with smoked mushroom carbonara. The intimate space is ideal for dates, and the wine list is full of lesser-known varieties in case you want to pair unusual wine with unusual food.
You can buy a lot of things for $50. A new pair of Keds, for example. Or a huge set of high-end colored pencils with which to create amateur portraits of your friends and family. But none of those things would bring as much joy as the $50 omakase at Sushi By M. The quality of the fish here is top-notch, and the omakase comes with 10 pieces of things like seared albacore, creamy scallop, and wagyu with uni. The tiny space is also about as casual as a kitchen counter at a friend’s house, and at the end of your meal, you’ll have the option to pay $18 more for a handroll stuffed with waygu, seared toro, and two types of uni. Do it.
There are a lot of things we look for in a group-dinner restaurant, and Thursday Kitchen has most of them. It’s a fun, casual restaurant where you can get a glowing drink in a pouch, and the menu consists of a bunch of shareable small plates, none of which cost more than $15. The only real downside is, this place doesn’t take reservations, and there’s pretty much always a wait. So get here early, and be sure to order the steak and soft shell crab.
Jeepney is from the same people as Maharlika, and we like both Flipino spots, which are located a few blocks from each other on 1st Avenue. But Jeepney makes this list for one very simple reason: the burger. The juicy patty is a mix of beef and pork, and it’s topped with spicy ketchup, aioli, and a fried egg. It’s incredibly rich, so if you have any intention of going to a bar or staying awake through whatever show your significant other is making you watch, then you should share it, and get a few other dishes, like the smoky noodles with mixed seafood and shrimp romesco sauce. The colorful space and large format cocktails make it a good option for casual group dinners, and there’s a backyard with hanging lights and a few tables as well.
The soup dumplings at The Bao are some of the best in the whole city, and it’s worth braving St. Marks just to try them. The dough is impressively thin and the broth is never too salty or oily. While you could just get a few orders of those and call it a day, you should also try some dan dan noodles, and by the time you’re signing your check, you’ll start to forget about the guy who tried to sell you a zebra-shaped vape pen on the street outside.
Empellon Al Pastor is where you should be going for late night tacos, Happy Hour with coworkers, casual meetups where you don’t know how many people will show up, and to drink alone at the bar. This Mexican spot is integral to the East Village going-out scene. So order some food from the bar and then try to claim a table for your friends near the windows (which they open when it’s warm outside). Use this place often, and make sure to order at least three al pastor tacos.
Momofuku Ssäm Bar opened in 2006, a few years after Momofuku Noodle Bar, and when you walk by, you’ll probably see a bunch of tourists loitering outside. But much like Muji and Central Park, it’s the rare kind of touristy place that’s actually worth checking out. The menu has changed significantly over the years, and it’s currently better than ever, with a bunch of tasty things like scallop crudo, shrimp toast, and several different ssam sets. We suggest you start with one of the ham plates, and follow that with the ssam set that comes with a big piece of roasted skate covered in shrimp paste.
There are a few reasons you shouldn’t wander around the East Village searching for a restaurant wearing a blindfold. First of all, it seems pretty dangerous. Second, it doesn’t make any sense. And third, you’d end up choosing Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken every time. Get within half a block of this 2nd Avenue spot, and you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of a massive pump of chicken tender-scented perfume. And after being drawn in as if you heard a siren song in The Odyssey, you’ll find crispy, spiced, juicy fried chicken that tastes as good as it smells. This counter-service spot is open until midnight or later seven days a week, and it’s some of the best post-bar-hopping food in the area.
Your parents are coming to visit, and you need a dinner spot in the East Village where they can ask about wine pairings without hearing about lunar cycles and Gaia Theory. Go to Hearth, which feels more mature than most spots in the neighborhood. There’s a quiet, spacious dining room, a great wine list, and American-Italian food that focuses on sustainable and housemade ingredients. After you share some wine, garlicky calamari, and gnocchi, your parents will hopefully temporarily stop asking why you live in a 300 square foot walk-up in Alphabet City.
Of the trio of Frank restaurants, we like Supper the best. It feels a little more grown-up than Lil Frankie’s and Frank, and it still serves the spaghetti al limone that at least one person you know has photographed and questionably captioned with “get in my belly.” Supper is exactly the sort of place you’ll want to be on a Sunday evening for a large quantity of homemade pasta and some red wine. There are always exciting-sounding specials, but you can also rely on the gnocchi and aforementioned excellent spaghetti al limone. Just know that they only accept cash.
In order to have an informed argument with someone about the best burger in NYC, you both need to go to Virginia’s. This squat burger comes on a soft bun with a thick patty, half-melted white cheddar hunks, mayo, and a little molehill of caramelized onions. While the burger is definitely the main reason we’d send you here, this restaurant is also extremely useful to know about for a nice, quiet date night with someone who knows your Hulu password. This is mostly because it’s on the corner of 11th Street and Avenue C, which is far enough over to dissuade NYU students who probably don’t pay for the credit cards in their wallets from coming.
If you want a really good steak in the East Village, go to Bowery Meat Company. After sitting at a leather booth or a candlelit table in the big, dark space and ordering something from the massive wine list, you’ll be presented with a tray of the various cuts of raw beef. Whether you go with the 100 day dry-aged ribeye or the intensely rich wagyu rib-cap, you’ll eat some phenomenal steak (and spend a lot of money in the process).
Mama Fina’s is officially named Mama Fina’s House of Sisig. And that’s probably because the sisig here is what you should be prioritizing. The pork one is the best, but they have chicken and fish options as well. The set-up here is a bit confusing: you order at a counter and then go sit in a dining room that looks a place where highly-regarded knights would eat during the Renaissance period. But the Filipino food makes Mama Fina’s well worth knowing about for a casual group dinner near Tompkins Square Park.
The original Joe & Pat’s is in Staten Island and it’s known for its cracker-y crust. And the pizzas at the East Village location are just as good as the original. We especially like the vodka pie with cheese that mixes into the sauce like a tie-dye shirt, but there’s a whole bunch of non-pizza items too - like baked clams and good-but-expensive pasta dishes. Even though the thin-crust pies here are incredible, it’s not usually too hard to get a table. Which we won’t question too hard, as not to jinx it.