When my publisher shot me a text saying that I’d be meeting up with Bill AKA DJ Japancakes over dinner to get a rundown of LES for our NYC Issue, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. My first text to Bill was actually a premonition to the night itself: “Where should we grab dinner?” Bill sent me three places if I remember correctly—Mr. Taka (ramen), Barrio Chino (Mexican-ish) and Lil Frankie’s (Italian). Because I had already ate Lil Frankie’s 6/7 nights that week, and didn’t have an appreciation for ramen at that time, we landed on Barrio Chino.
After arriving and being personally greeted by 93% of the restaurant’s staff, Bill ordered us a small army of spicy margaritas and began breaking down his past near-decade of living in LES. There were more restaurant recommendations than there was rice in my enchilada—I was consuming incredible information and Mexican at the same time, and at the expense of the entire dinner’s true purpose, I did not write a single word down.
Now, nearly a month after that enchilada, I’ve got Bill’s official list and am putting it on wax. I’ve spent my time since eating, executing dance moves and coming close to getting kicked out (in that order) of a healthy portion of the places featured below, and can say that every spot below is going to be a meal and/or experience you’ll remember + recommend to all of you visiting compradres. Enjoy, and feel free to leave any additional suggestions to this guide via lipstick on the bathroom mirror of Bonbonniere.
In the Neighborhood
Best date spot? Sunshine Cinema. Comfortable cushions and smart cinema.
Happy hour of choice? 169 bar. Every hour is happy hour. Can also order drinks from the bar via text message.
Best place to get your art fix? Rivington/Bowery/Freemans alley.
Favorite longstanding establishment? Katz’s. Send a salami to your boy in the army! Since 1888.
#1 place to dance? The underbelly of Hotel Chantelle (Bonbonniere).
Best rooftop view? Hidden gem in plain sight at the top of the Wyndam Garden, usually empty, great views.
Best street to live on? Allen Street. Have lived on Allen the past seven years and it’s the main artery for the neighborhood’s finest schizophrenics.
Best thrift store? Best ones are in East Village or BK (Ten Foot Single).
Breakfast on the go? Cheeky’s breakfast sandwich. A warm homemade biscuit, fluffy eggs and muenster cheese masterpiece with a side of ben-yays (funnel cake nuggets) for some morning sugar.
Brunch? Sweet Chick for chicken and waffles. Sometimes the bacon cheddar waffle because it’s… a bacon cheddar waffle. Extra maple butter.
Corner deli? The Yemen guys on Broome & Ludlow. They work six months straight, everyday, then take six months off. I support that.
Mexican? Barrio Chino. Real deal chips and guacamole, addictive jalapeño lime margaritas, even for non-margarita enthusiasts. Ask for a special mezcal drink from Amy if you need warmth.
Italian? Lil Frankie’s reigns supreme. Usually end up with the holy trinity of a brick oven pizza, baked whole eggplant and burrata motz (shipped overnight from Pulgia, Italy every Thursday) Rinse with a Peroni. Cash only.
Pizza? Scarr’s Pizza on Orchard. Nostalgic suburban 1970s pizza parlor vibe complete with stain glass lamps and wood paneling. Bud drafts at the bar.
Chinese? Xian’s Famous Foods for spicy tingly beef noodles or Mission Chinese, although they nixed the free beer while you wait, and there will be a wait.
Thai? Uncle Boons for the authentic spices and flavors reminiscent of that sweaty Bangkok Soi or Lucky Bee for a tropical meets neon disco version.
Ramen? Mr. Taka Ramen. Straight from Tokyo, chef Takatoshi Nagara’s first NYC spot—complete with the “Irasshaimase!” greeting. Spicy Tonkotsu bowl and an Orion draft. Slurping encouraged.
Bagels? Russ and Daughters. Incomparable NY classic since 1914.
- Atta Boy (late night prohibition style cocktail spot)
- Max Fish‘s can beer and pool table
- Kiki’s greek spot
- Fat Radish
- Forget Me Not
- Lam Zhou
Parties interested in contacting Japancakes for DJing purposes can visit + hit him up on his Instagram. Politicians looking to have him curate a “drop stacks” playlist for their next fundraiser can reach him through fax. Tip-top my lifestyle.