Within the seven-block stretch between East Houston and Canal streets resides Sara Delano Roosevelt Park, a hallmark of the Lower East Side. This will be your own personal escape from the bustle of the city, and your ultimate people-watching destination. The park is a true lesson in the city’s diversity as you’ll find many older Asian Americans doing their morning Tai Chi or youngsters engaging in a handball game. There’s even a refurbished soccer field and a roller skating rink.
Chelsea has Chelsea Market. The Lower East Side has the historic Essex Street Market. As a new resident, you simply must pay a visit to simply walk around and take in the atmosphere. The marketplace has a distinct personality, as it features small purveyors with custom-made clothing or organic foods. The market began in 1940 as part of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia’s efforts to find a place for street vendors — at the time the streets were too crowded for pushcarts to be even remotely able to establish their business. The marketplace was a destination for Jewish and Italian immigrants in the early years. Today, Essex Street Market features vendors like Cuchifritos Gallery & Project Space that showcases local art, or New Star Fish Market or Davidovich Bakery. There’s also a line of eateries like Shopsin’s General Store, a long-time Greenwich Village restaurant that features the ultimate in comfort food.
As you peruse your new New York City neighborhood, you learn how integral the LES was in the Jewish heritage history. Your first stop is the Angel Orensanz Center. This marvel in Gothic Revival architecture, built in 1849, is the oldest synagogue in the city and is the fourth-oldest surviving in the country. Stepping inside the building, with its sprawling ceilings, feels like stepping inside the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris. The sanctuary was, in fact, set to resemble the Sistine Chapel. As you continue on your Jewish heritage tour, there’s a number of culinary landmarks you must visit, such as Guss’ Pickles on 87 Orchard Street, Kossar’s Bialys at 367 Grand Street, and Yonah Shimmel's Knish Bakery at 137 East Houston Street.
Lower East Side is home to many art galleries, and even more street art. You soon realize that this NYC neighborhood is all about art. The best place that captures the essence of the art scene down here is located at JTT. Long-time art dealer Jasmin Tsou started this art exhibit in 2012 to help give emerging and unheralded artists a chance to display their talents. Since then, the art center has become one of the most sought-after locales for artists in the city. Today, JTT continues to be a breath of fresh artistic air. If you are looking for something more mainstream, take a peak at Invisible-Exports as it specializes in conceptual artwork.
You should consider yourself lucky as you have one of the best breakfast spots in the city right at your doorstep. Since it opened in 2001, the Clinton Street Baking Company has become a veritable institution. The food has become so popular that the eatery published a cookbook, considered one of the best by The New York Times. The standout dish here is clearly the blueberry pancakes, voted best in the city, not once, but twice! There’s also the Southern Breakfast consisting of two eggs (any style), sugar-cured bacon, cheese grits and fried green tomatoes. Everything is straightforward, but fresh and delicious.
All that food has your stomach grumbling. And there’s no better spot to delight your palate than the iconic Russ & Daughters. The Jewish appetizing store opened in 1914 and has achieved national praise for its smoked and cured salmon. The store offers six types of smoked salmon –
Gaspe Nova, Scottish, Irish Organic, Norwegian, Wild Western, Kippered, and four types of cured salmon – gravlax, pastrami cured, belly lox, pickled lox. If salmon isn’t your thing, Russ & Daughters also carry some excellent smoked yellowfin tuna, brook trout, sturgeon and sable. Of course, there’s specialty cream cheese to compliment your cured fishes. If you are craving meat, then you should try another city landmark in the area: Katz Delicatessen.
You soon learn that the LES is one of the most historic parts of the city. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the neighborhood was home to many immigrants. There’s one specific building known to history, located at 97 Orchard Street, that had been home to more than 7,000 from more than 20 nations from 1863 to 1935. It has since become a National Historical Site and home of the Tenement Museum. The museum restored the apartments in the building and helped depict the lives of Irish, Italian and European Jewish immigrant families. The museum offers guided tours with costumed interpreters that help bring visitors back in time. There’s even tastings of each of the communities’ typical food.
Like most of Manhattan, Lower East Side isn’t short on restaurants. There’s the famed Mission Chinese (the original is based in San Francisco) and there’s Ivan Ramen (featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table). But, surprisingly, the standout spot is one that settled into the neighborhood fairly recently: La Contenta, different from its many counterparts in the area, and utterly delish. The name is derived from the cantina from the movie "Easy Rider.” The chefs, two Mexican culinary geniuses with a penchant for opening stellar Mexican eateries, don’t serve your prototypical chips and guac or tacos. There’s some serious substance to their dishes, laced with a touch of French influence. Check out the Salmon Con Costra De Quinoa (quinoa crusted salmon with chile piquin sauce, yucca and braised kale).