Little Black Book

Eat Your Way Around the World at Breakfast on the Lower East Side

by Emily Elyse Miller
Lucky Start the day right at Lucky King. All photos by Katie June Burton.

Who said you have to leave Manhattan to have breakfast around the world? Emily Elyse Miller, founder of the tour company BreakfastClub, knows how to start the day in the tastiest and most Malaysian, Dominican, Chinese, and Wes Anderson-y ways.

MANHATTAN — Over the past ten years, I've lived in different neighborhoods all over Manhattan and Brooklyn, but to me, nowhere is more enchanting than Manhattan’s Lower East Side (LES). The neighborhood is steeped in history, and the waves of immigrants who have lived in the area have made it a diverse culinary destination. Bordering Chinatown and the East Village, the Lower East Side has it all. The notorious bar scene and rise of upscale restaurants might lead you to believe this is an evening destination, but morning is when you'll witness the real pulse of this neighborhood.

In addition to writing about food and travel, I host breakfast events all over the world and am now working on a global breakfast cookbook that will be published next spring. When traveling is part of your job, sometimes the place you're the hungriest for is home. I was so excited about the LES is in the morning hours that I partnered with my friend Angelis Nannos, founder of In Food We Trust, to launch BreakfastClub and lead Sunday breakfast tours of the neighborhood. (The next one is September 16.) The idea is to let guests sample five breakfast dishes, each chosen to highlight a different culture in the area. We travel the world in a ten-block radius.

The typical Sunday brunch spots can be cool, but wouldn't you rather go somewhere off the radar? Somewhere I might get in trouble for telling you about? That's what the tour is all about: supporting new and seasoned cooks in a neighborhood that truly appreciates food and shares culture through breakfast. These are the place that do it best:

Cheeky Sandwiches
35 Orchard St.; +1 646-504-8132
There's no better biscuit in New York. And just when you thought it couldn't get any better, they go and make a breakfast sandwich out of it. Cheeky Sandwiches is the lifeblood of hungry skaters and locals in the neighborhood. Reclaimed wood, hand-painted wall art, and a checkout counter covered in stickers gives this place its special vibe.

Castillo de Jagua
113 Rivington St.; +1 212- 982-6412
You might accidentally walk past this unassuming spot on Rivington Street, but that would be a big mistake. This Dominican lunch counter serves a perfect plate of mangú (mashed plantains) alongside fried eggs, fried sausage, and queso frito (fried cheese). Don't forget the frothy orange juice drink made with condensed milk and sugar. It's called morir soñando, which translates as "to die dreaming," so it must be good.

151 E Broadway; +1 646-894-7081
Knowing how to order coffee or tea in Malaysia is badge of honor. Kopitiam condenses the abundance of variations and slang terms into clearly defined menu to help hone your ordering skills. I like teh tarik, a black tea with condensed milk poured back and forth between two pots in a streaming ribbon until mixed and frothy. Do not forget to get kaya toast on the side.

116 Forsyth St.; +1 917-473-3223
Attached to a lauded tasting menu restaurant as their daytime outpost, Gem is the perfect perch to oversee the buzzing energy of the restaurant from a calm periphery. With around ten seats and the same attention to detail given to coffee, tea, and pastry program as their tasting menu, Gem is quite literally a hidden gem where you can take a breather.

Wu's Wonton restaurant
Who says you can't have wonton soup for breakfast? It's a go at Wu's.

Wu's Wonton King
165 E Broadway; +1 212-477-1111
From 7 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Wu's is open and it's busy. Large round tables crowned with lazy susans for easy serving of family-style dishes make this ideal for a group of friends or family. Wu's specializes in wonton soup — even for breakfast. In the evening, whole fried crab, duck bao, and BYO natural wine is typically interspersed on each table.

Lucky King Bakery
280 Grand St.; +1 212-219-8434
Please thank Wes Anderson's set designers for this hush-hush Lower East Side project. I don't think they were actually involved, but the graphic menu board and colorful seating options suggest otherwise. A truly local spot, on weekends this place is packed with readers of the World Journal, fans of congee, and a cacophonous line eager to get their order in.

Scarr's Pizza
22 Orchard St.; +1 212-334-3481
Okay, this is not a breakfast spot, but I've definitely been the first one in, right at noon. The classic NY pizza shop vibe is challenged by rap music and dim lighting. The railroad-style room is brimming with locals enjoying slices, personal pies, and vegan caesar salads. The atmosphere might be chill, but the pristine attention to quality ingredients is what makes it an essential in my pizza rotation.

Cheeky Sandwich
Cheeky Sandwich serves the best biscuit in New York City.

Factory Tamal
34 Ludlow St.; +1 917-691-5524
The place that all the locals will refer you to when looking for good Mexican food in the LES. Tamales range from traditional to more experimental, like bacon and cheese. It's impossible to order just one, so follow your gut and you can't go wrong.

Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle
40 Bowery.; +1 646-683-0939
Dumplings and hand-pulled noodles rule the tabletops at Lam Zhou. After a night of engaging in alcoholic beverages, there are few better breakfasts. This is the type of place that you should probably get an order to go, even while you're eating in, because once you finish that last bite, the craving for more will return.

Supermoon Bakehouse
120 Rivington St. (no phone)
I'm typically not a fan of places latent with dramatic displays of frankenfoods, but the NY croissant at Supermoon Bakehouse is a great representation of breakfast in the city right now. A flaky croissant is filled with herbed cream cheese and smoked salmon while the top is sprinkled with everything seasoning (salt, dried garlic, dried onion, poppy seeds, and toasted sesame seeds). A classic NY combo in one trendy on-the-go pastry. You might end up here for the Instagram (and I'll forgive you for it), but you'll actually enjoy eating it as well.


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