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The neighborhood known for its quirkiness, diversity and immigrant history has no shortage of great food. Packed with small restaurants ranging from authentic international fare to boundary-pushing tasting menus, the Lower East Side has something for nearly every craving. Here are some of the can’t-miss spots that are definitely worth a trip downtown.

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dirt candy nyc
Courtesy of Dirt Candy

Dirt Candy

Amanda Cohen’s veggie-focused restaurant is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, a major feat for a meat-free restaurant that started in a petite East Village basement at the height of the recession. Two tasting menus offer a range of innovative dishes, including an addictive Korean fried broccoli, Brussels sprout tacos, pumpkin pad thai and more playful eats that really make you want to eat your veggies.

86 Allen St.; dirtcandynyc.com

an choi restaurant nyc
Courtesy of An Choi

An Choi

This Vietnamese restaurant’s younger sibling, Di An Di in Greenpoint, has been getting all the attention lately, but the original pho and banh mi spot is worth a visit. Start with made-to-order salad rolls in six varieties (like shrimp and tofu or sesame tofu and shiitake), followed by a pho and banh mi combo so you can dip your delightfully toasted sandwich into the fragrant broth. It’s worth noting that An Choi also excels at vegetarian fare.

85 Orchard St.; anchoinyc.com

spaghetti incident
Courtesy of Spaghetti Incident

Spaghetti Incident

Owned by the same Italian team behind the West Village’s adorable trattorias Malatesta and Malaparte, this pasta haven has a little more edginess in the decor but just as much charm and comforting food. You’re here for the fresh spaghetti, served in kale pesto or with fresh tomatoes and mozz, as well as other varieties that of course pair well with the multiple types of homemade arancini..

231 Eldridge St.; spaghettiincidentnyc.com

contra nyc
Courtesy of Contra

Contra

This petite restaurant is renowned for its wholly local tasting menu, which, by default, is also hyper-seasonal, spotlighting the best of what grows in and around New York. Dishes are surprising and satisfying, with deceptively simple descriptions like “squash, uni, mushroom” and “elderflower, pistachio.” If you’re not up for the splurge (dinner currently runs $78), sit at the bar and order the three-course dessert tasting menu for $22.

138 Orchard St.; contranyc.com

wildair nyc
Fabian von Hauske

Wildair

Contra’s more casual offshoot draws crowds for its natural wines paired with creative small plates (think confit bacon toast with pineapple and ’nduja butter, or top neck clams with XO sauce and almond broth). Feeling indecisive? Share your taste preferences with the highly knowledgeable servers and they’ll select the ideal seasonal dishes to pair with your pét-nat

142 Orchard St.; wildair.nyc

kopitiam
Courtesy of Kopitiam

Kopitiam

A Malaysian café unlike any other spot in the city, this colorful coffeehouse is a must-visit for breakfast. Dishes range from the simple yet sweetly pleasing kaya butter toast with pandan coconut jam to a hearty bowl of nasi lemak composed of coconut rice, fried anchovies, cucumber, peanuts and a hard-boiled egg. A range of Penang-style coffees and Malaysian teas, served hot or cold, help chase it all down.

151 E. Broadway; kopitiamnyc.com

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cervos nyc
Plural NYC

Cervo’s

If tapas are your thing, this Spanish-Portuguese wine bar is about to become your new go-to. The small plates are New Yorkified (in a good way), like the shishito peppers al ajillo (with guajillo chili and garlic) and fried sourdough toast loaded with cheese, green tomatoes and bottarga, designed to pair with an extensive list of natural, raw and unique imported wines.

43 Canal St.; cervosnyc.com

lil gem les restaurant food
Courtesy of Lil’ Gem

Lil’ Gem

A Lebanese restaurant with downtown sensibilities, this stylish dinner destination was made for sharing a meal with a group of friends. Start with innovative mezze, like miso fermented hummus and fried cauliflower with tahini, and move on to a full feast of rotisserie duck, braised lamb shank and various shawarmas.

29A Clinton St.; lilgemnyc.com

una pizza napoletana
Alex Lau

Una Pizza Napoletana

Perhaps the buzziest pizzeria of 2018, this reopening (the original Manhattan restaurant closed, moved to San Francisco and then came back to the better coast) attracted major cheese-loving crowds in its first weeks and still never fails to impress. The key to the whole pies is simplicity: top-notch mozzarella, tomato and basil on naturally leavened dough that folds up just right to shove into your mouth.

175 Orchard St.; unapizza.com

Spicy Village

Just a few blocks shy of Chinatown, this Henan restaurant serves some of the best hand-pulled noodles in the city, served in a variety of dishes. They’re perhaps best in the steamy metal pot of Spicy Big Tray Chicken, tangled with chunks of meat soaking in an aromatic Sichuan peppercorn and chili sauce. Pro tip: The small restaurant is BYOB, so you can offset the spice with your choice of beverage.

68B Forsyth St.; spicyvillageny.com

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