What better way to get a feel for the area you’re in than by walking around and grabbing some snacks to nibble on while you explore? This is most certainly the case with this Lower East Side food tour, which provides a taste of the neighbourhood – in more ways than one!
Tenements (especially on the north-south side streets, like Orchard and Ludlow Streets) still dot the area, but as they have begun to disappear larger, more elegant buildings have appeared over the last decade. Many of the older shops, like Yonah Schimmel’s, have evaporated into history while some are still in business because of the doggedness of their owners and the quality of their wares.
Do not miss Russ and Daughters Specialty Shop at 179 East Houston (pronounced House-ton) Street, only doors away from Katz’s Delicatessen. Russ and Daughters sell smoked fish and other quality gourmet products. Their fish is scrumptious. Another reason they’re an institution in the area.
The Lower East Side is not an expense-account location. It’s become a bastion for younger, hipper Americans who want diverse culinary and entertainment choices, and that’s what they find here.
For those who want ritzier, there’s the Hotel Ludlow on Ludlow Street (around the corner from Katz’s Deli), and its associated expensive, and highly-regarded restaurant, Dirty French. An eatery for those hipsters with thick wallets with limousines or Ubers waiting to ferry them elsewhere.
So, there’s something for everyone.
This tour offers a four-course multi-cultural dinner of classic New York-style dishes at some of the best restaurants and shops in the city. It begins at a Thai Restaurant with a tasty beef or chicken satay. Or a vegetarian alternative.
The second course takes you to Yonah Schimmel Knishery, a relatively tiny storefront that has been serving a variety of knishes (potato, vegetable, and fruit), kugel and other Jewish comfort-food classics since 1910 in the same location where there were once many similar businesses dotting the street. Now it’s the only one left. You’ll be treated to a traditional (and delicious) baked potato knish.
Next, how about a delicious, real New York City hot dog with mustard and hot sauerkraut. Smell it. The salty beef. The tang of the sauerkraut. Now bite into it. Relish the salty, sour blend of hot beef as you swallow your first mouthful. This truly is a New York original, since 1888. And you’re inside The famous Katz Deli at Houston and Ludlow Streets. By the way, the fatty corned beef sandwiches are about five or six inches tall, and legendary, for good reason. They’re delicious. Katz’s old slogan during World War II was, “Send a salami to your boy in the Army.” And you can still do that, even today. If you’re a vegetarian, perhaps a delicious bowl of matzoh ball or mushroom barley soup. The French fried potatoes are also quite good.
After Katz, you’ll cross the street to one of the trendy, newer shops on Houston Street. Il Labortorio del Gelato. You’ll be spoiled here with a luscious dessert. Either sorbet or gelato, made on-site, to finish the tour.
Once finished, there are many other sights to see. If you want to see a candy store like few others, take a walk south on Ludlow (the same direction as the traffic is flowing), and walk south to Rivington Street. When you reach Rivington, turn left and look for Economy Candy, which has been in this spot since 1937. If you have a sweet tooth, this will be quite a sweet experience.
Walk over to Orchard Street. Check out the shops on the strip between Delancey Street and Houston. That stretch was once completely crowded with small retail shops, packed door-to-door. With the owners or employees out on the street engaging customers in chatter, inviting them into the store to buy. There are still some stores left offering clothing, coats, and other products. But in between are the newer restaurants and bars.
These blocks are filled with tenement housing, first built in the late nineteenth century when this was a predominantly Jewish area filled with immigrants, so many immigrants that for many years on either side of 1900 this area was the most densely populated in the world. With thousands of people per square mile packed five or ten into tiny one-room apartments.
Godfather Two shows this area as it once was in some detail for those who have seen the film.
We hope you enjoy this Lower East Side food tour and the tastes of New York you’ve sampled. If you’re an explorer, you can also look for the Tenement Museum, the Essex Street Market and if you’re one for the truly hip, have dinner over at Beauty and Essex, a block from the Essex Street Market. And be very surprised.
If it’s food tours of New York you’re after, check out our review of Nice Guy, a street food walking tour which is rated #1 on TripAdvisor.