In addition to being home to an impressive number of underage-drinking crackdowns, the four short blocks between Houston and Delancey streets boast an equally remarkable concentration of restaurants. From the Bowery to Clinton Street, you can’t swing a beer bottle without hitting something to eat, and chances are it’ll be anywhere from decent to extraordinary. On the following pages you’ll see our 10 favorite sources of sustenance, foods that provide both caloric bliss and a reminder of the variety and quality that exists, like pearls among swine, amid the screaming bachelorette parties, slumming yuppies, and collegiate excess.
10. Banana pudding at Sugar Sweet Sunshine. Rich, thick, and boasting a perfect banana-Nilla wafer-pudding ratio, this is the stuff of utter caloric pulchritude. It’s served in large and small portions; the small is so filling that we imagine the large could incapacitate an elephant. Regardless of serving size, there are few better ways to get your daily dose of potassium. 126 Rivington Street, 212-995-1960
9. Beets, Orange, Pecorino, Mint & Hazelnuts at ‘inoteca: Beet salads are so often the throwaway vegetarian option, and we’re generally predisposed to dislike them. But we make an exception for ‘inoteca’s, which boasts chunks of beets tossed with orange segments and cooled with thinly sliced mint. A smattering of hazelnuts adds crunch and pecorino a touch of salty goodness. It’s still a beet salad, but it’s one hell of a beet salad. 98 Rivington Street, 212-614-0473
8. The Buttermilk Biscuit Sandwich at Clinton Street Baking Company. Its blueberry pancakes usually get all of the listage love, as well they should. But Clinton Street’s hulking buttermilk biscuits are equally exceptional, especially when they’re straddled by melting cheddar and a stockpile of creamy scrambled eggs, and smeared with sweet-tart tomato jam. If anything justifies waiting in the restaurant’s eternal lines, it’s this. 4 Clinton Street, 646-602-6263
7. Sautéed Chinese Sausage with Chili-Lime Sauce at Kuma Inn. Restaurants come and go on the Lower East Side, but Kuma Inn has held its own since 2003. The pan-Asian tapas skew Filipino, but we especially like the slightly sweet, long strips of sautéed Chinese sausage, which are slicked with sauce and downright addictive. So addictive, in fact, that we once convinced a vegetarian friend to try it, and she fell for it. Hard. 113 Ludlow Street, 2nd Floor, 212-353-8866
6. Smoked Eel and Scrambled Eggs at Fisk. A heaping heap of scrambled eggs is served alongside a similarly generous portion of eel. The eggs are fluffy and deceptively light, and the eel’s tender flesh, which comes camouflaged by sour cream and diced purple onions, is redolent of hickory smoke. The dish is a protein bomb of awe-inspiring proportions, guaranteed to satisfy the cravings of pescatarians and homesick Scandinavians alike. 77 Delancey Street, 212-334-0913
5. The Gnudi at Falai. A standard on the menu since Iacopo Falai opened his monochromatic eatery on Clinton Street, these little ricotta and spinach dumplings are coated in a glorious brown butter sauce and topped with crispy sage. Ravioli without pasta sounds depressing, but these ethereally light gnudi will surely put a smile on your face. 68 Clinton Street, 212-253-1960
4. The Pastrami on Rye at Katz’s Delicatessen. The one and only. The eternal. The Platonic ideal of pastrami on rye. Perfect slices of pink meat shroud thin slices of rye coated with a smear of mustard. It’s not fancy, nor should it ever become fancy. It should just stay as it is, always. 205 East Houston Street, 212-254-2246
3. The Pastrami Salmon at Russ & Daughters. Appetizing stores like Russ originated from Jewish dietary law, which dictates that meat and dairy can’t be sold together. The smoked-fish shrine has created a mouthwatering link between appetizing and delicatessen with its pastrami-cured salmon, for which a blend of 14 herbs and spices join forces to create a silken fish with a complexly flavored crust. It would fit right in on a slice of rye — and pretty much everywhere else. 179 East Houston Street, 212-475-4880
2. The Chicken Meatball Hero at the Meatball Shop. Chicken meatballs often have the consistency of grainy cotton balls, which is why we’re smitten with the ones at the perennially packed Meatball Shop — they’re as tender and juicy as can be. We’ll eat them in any preparation, but our most beloved method of consumption is in a hero with mushroom sauce and melted mozzarella. After eating this whopper, you won’t ever want meatballs on spaghetti again. 84 Stanton Street, 212-982-8895
1. The entire menu at Cocoron. When we tried to pick just one dish from this tiny, superlative soba shop, we couldn’t. We’ve yet to eat something there that’s less than wonderful, be it the cool, crunchy mini daikon salad; the smoky, pork-laden stamina soba; or the yuba dip soba, which, as its name suggests, requires you to dunk cold, springy noodles into a bath of hot broth, and then gobble them up with strips of tender tofu skin. Buckwheat 4-ever. 61 Delancey Street, 212-925-5220
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