If you gave us a few margaritas and asked us to name our favorite restaurants in Manhattan, an unreasonably large percentage of them would be located on the Lower East Side. And, even in the midst of a pandemic, this neighborhood has remained an incredibly exciting place to eat outside. (In some cases, these tiny Lower Manhattan spots are seating more people in their outdoor sidewalk areas than they ever were able to inside). Whether you’re looking for a Caribbean rum spot with sidewalk tables where you can eat doubles, a quiet wine bar for a third date, or a legendary NYC establishment offering outdoor seating for the first time, go forth and find the perfect LES dining experience for you.
Wu’s is basically running their own block party with large platters of fried dungeness crab instead of bouncy castles. This famous Cantonese restaurant has taken over the entire area on the corner of East Broadway and Rutgers Street, which is great news for you and the small group of friends or family members lucky enough to eat wonton soup with you here - but probably bad news for the whole crabs being fried and brought to your table. In case it rains, know that Wu’s set up some blue tents over their dining area.
If you’re looking for a special vegan or vegetarian meal outside in the neighborhood, Dirt Candy should be your first consideration. They’re offering a $50 set menu with rotating dishes like carrot fettuccine with pickled bamboo, cucumber aguachile, and a corn dog with tahini. Dirt Candy is open every day from noon to 9pm on Tuesday to Sunday, and you can go to their website to make a patio reservation. Also exciting: they now have vegan soft serve available for the first time ever.
Come to Las’ Lap with a few people who talk about “fun,” and also actually have it. This Caribbean spot is first and foremost a cocktail bar (with a focus on rum), but they also serve doubles and wings with jerk tamarind BBQ sauce in their outdoor sidewalk area. Stop by any day starting at 5pm, or for Happy Hour between 5pm and 8pm Monday through Thursday.
Even if you’ve brought enough dates to Wildair to make the staff feel invested in your love life, this wine bar and interesting small plates spot has a completely new set-up and menu of to-go sandwiches, sweets, salads, and drinks. Try the rotating pastries and some daytime dishes like a confit bacon roll with egg crepe and pickled pineapple. Wildair’s takeout window is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 9:30pm. They’re also running a daily aperitivo hour with discounted bottles of wine and ceviche specials from 4pm to 6pm.
If you want to stay on top of what’s new and exciting on the LES, close your browser and go eat Saigon Social’s Vietnamese food. This Orchard Street restaurant has a few seat-yourself tables set-up with tiny red stools you can sit on while you enjoy takeout containers full of peppery garlic noodles with shrimp, an enormous and herbaceous fried chicken sandwich, and the best bun cha in Manhattan. Saigon Social is only accepting Venmo, and they’re closed on Tuesdays.
When the mood for cold tuna and warm rice strikes, let Douska be your remedy. There’s something special about the way Douska’s fresh yellowtail, few rogue scallions, and vinegary rice come together in a little hug of crispy nori. This LES handroll spot has a bunch of tables on their sidewalk space on Delancey Street, and it’s set back pretty far from the street. Also, if you’re looking for more outdoor sushi spots around the city, check out our guide.
Oh god, you have to go on a date and you’re really hoping it goes well enough for you to one day invite them to your home (maskless). Pick up some wine and an order of fried sourdough toast with peppers and anchovies from the takeout window at Cervo’s on Canal Street, and claim one of their seat-yourself tables in front of the restaurant. The menu changes fairly often, but that’s only more reason to come back. Fast forward months from now, you’ll probably start telling other couples that this is “your spot.”
Most of The Bun Hut’s menu incorporates Jamaican, West Indian, and Bahamian dishes, like sticky jerk chicken, braised curry goat, and coconut shrimp. But the difference between Bun Hut and your neighborhood jerk chicken spot is that you can try nearly everything in the form of a steamed bao or a massive roti. This place opened in the Spring of 2020, so if you haven’t spent a lot of time eating out in the LES recently, you might not know about it. You should change that - they’re open for takeout, delivery, and outdoor dining for lunch and dinner every day except Sunday.
Golden Diner on Madison Street will ruin your long standing relationship with diners. Because unlike any other all-day spot with metal stools and kitschy analog clocks, Golden Diner serves updated, often Asian-influenced diner food. All of it is delicious, especially the chicken katsu club sandwich and the breakfast sandwich which comes on a milk bun with a thick hashbrown. Brunch gets especially busy here, but they have outdoor dining available from 10am to 10pm every day except for Mondays.
If you’ve spent any time of 2020 wondering if this Greek spot on Division Street is still as busy as it usually is: the answer is simply, “duh.” It turns out $24 wine carafes, good Greek salad and saganaki, and a gathering of Lower East Side socialites is just as desirable now as it’s ever been. If you want the best chance of getting an outdoor table without waiting, stop by for lunch or come early.
It’s possible Katz’s pastrami has been consumed on a shadowy Ludlow Street stoop before, but never in history have you been able to enjoy monster latkes, matzo ball soup, and smoked meat at a Katz’s-sanctioned outdoor table. Now, you can (every day from 8am to 10:45pm).
Introducing friends to Kopitiam’s covered outdoor dining is a little like lighting a joint in the middle of a (pre-pandemic) crowded party. The people are just going to keep flocking, and soon you’ll realize you’ve started something beyond your control. This Malaysian all-day cafe on the Lower East Side makes an excellent pan mee soup and sugar-coated French toast. If you’ve never been before and want to order one thing, get the nasi lemak.
This is a recently-opened soul food restaurant on the block of Orchard Street right below Houston, and it’s already one of the best places to eat ribs and burgers in the neighborhood. The double smash-patty burger here comes with enough cheese and caramelized onion jam to cover the burger like it’s being tucked in at night. You can stop by for outdoor dining Tuesday through Friday, or check out their website for takeout and delivery orders.
Between their mole poblano, excellent fish tacos, and queso fundido, La Contenta serves the very best Mexican food in the neighborhood. They have an outdoor set up with securely fastened-umbrellas in front of their spot on Norfolk where you can get a drink with mezcal and jalapeno-infused agave nectar (which is discounted during Happy Hour between 3pm and 6pm). They’re open from 3pm to 10:30pm every day.
Le French Diner is serving more people for outdoor dining than they could ever seat inside their tiny restaurant on Orchard Street. We love this French restaurant for a date night that includes hangar steak with crispy, cheesy potatoes and a glass of whatever interesting wine they’re pouring that night. Le French Diner doesn’t accept reservations, so we’d suggest coming for an early dinner or an 11pm sidewalk meal that feels like it could have happened in a French New Wave film.
We can only think of two secluded outdoor backyards on the LES. One is at Wayla (a Thai restaurant you’ll also find on this guide), and the other is behind Ivan Ramen on Clinton Street. Consider this Japanese restaurant the next time you’re looking to eat a big bowl of soup outside without having to eavesdrop on skateboards and birthday parties on the street. You can make a reservation for lunch or dinner at Ivan through their website, and take a second to admire the new soft serve sundae on their menu here.
Another outdoor dining option for ramen is Nakamura. They have a couple of first come, first served tables set up in front of their currently-closed sister restaurant next door (called Niche). Get the torigara ramen, which is chicken-based, and light and comforting at the same time.
This Basque spot on East Broadway is open for outdoor dining every day except Tuesday, and it’s ideal for a drink and some snacks outside. We especially like the gilda skewer with tuna and the delicate potato croqueta, which has a bechamel center that tastes like the lovechild of chicken noodle soup and macaroni and cheese. Think of Ernesto’s as the perfect neighborhood spot to drink some unusual wine and catch up with a friend. Although (unlike other neighborhood wine spots), they serve a mountain of potato chips and ham.
If you’re looking to go somewhere on Clinton Street with good cocktails and Thai and Filipino food you can share, try Pig & Khao’s takeout window and seat-yourself tables. Plan on splitting everything, like the excellent pork sisig and the khao soi or a flaky whole fried fish and BBQ baby back ribs covered in a thick, sweet sauce.
When considering dinner outdoors at JaJaJa, imagine yourself drinking a pink cocktail and picking at vegan nachos while the sun sets over the Manhattan Bridge behind you. If this excites you, this vegan Mexican place will likely set your heart on fire. Jajaja is open every day from 11am to 11pm. They don’t take reservations, but you can always get a drink at 169 Bar across the street if there’s a wait.
Ten Bells runs a daily Happy Hour with dollar oysters and $18 wine carafes. This is the sort of neighborhood spot you might show up for a snack and a drink, and then unintentionally order a full dinner. Their small plates, like empanadas and a whipped salt cod dish, are better than a wine bar’s food needs to be - and the wine by glasses here are reasonably priced. Come before 7pm if you want to take advantage of the Happy Hour here.
If you live in the neighborhood, you may already rely on Essex Market for grocery shopping, securing fancy Norwegian smoked fish, or picking up a breakfast burrito with chorizo and potatoes on Sunday mornings. But you may not know that their Market Line vendors have a collaborative outdoor setup with beer from The Grand Delancey, TVs showing football games on Sundays and Thursdays, and a menu of food and drinks from other Market Line vendors like End’s Meat, People’s Wine, Nom Wah, Slice Joint, and more.
This Japanese daytime cafe on Suffolk has first come, first served seats from 9am to 4pm on weekdays and 10am to 5pm for brunch on weekends. In addition to dishes like toasts, mentai spaghetti, and shabu shabu pork, Davelle is selling very gift-worthy ceramics and homegoods inside of their store every day.
The two main draws at Wayla are the Eden-like backyard (which is a rare find on the LES, unless you’re house sitting for a media mogul with a roof garden) and the festive Thai food. We especially like the crispy fried chunks of branzino and the noodle-wrapped meatballs, but everything you order here will make you feel like it’s possibly your birthday dinner. If you can’t get a reservation for the backyard dining area, they also have first come, first served tables on their sidewalk on Forsyth Street.
Sonnyboy is the neighborhood’s semi-secret swiss army knife restaurant. Meaning, it’s always a good option for weekday breakfast, a date night featuring a bottle of natural wine, or a random meal at 3pm in the afternoon on a Saturday. They make a good burger, stuff you can snack on like burrata fig toast, and a reliable breakfast sandwich.
In case you’re meeting someone who is complaining about schlepping in from Williamsburg, suggest eating some dim sum or dan dan mian outside of Kings County Imperial. This Chinese restaurant’s outdoor space is the closest you can get to the Williamsburg bridge without being pummeled by Citi bikers who don’t realize how fast they’re going. Kings County on the LES is open every day from 5:30pm to 10pm, and they’re offering reservations through their website.
Perhaps the Supermoon Bakehouse line scared you away and now you’re on the hunt for some breakfast near the Clinton Street area. Walk a few blocks to Pause, right across from Clinton Street Baking Company (which is currently not offering outdoor seating). Pause has a few tents set up where you can do work on your laptop or meet up with a friend for a casual brunch on a Sunday morning. Their outdoor dining set-up opens every day at 7am - and they’re cool with people bringing their computers to use their wifi.