Instead of the usual monthly EV Bites, I figured I’ll spend a few minutes talking about the dynamics that makes East Village the best food neighborhood in NYC, therefore North America. It will be quick, and painless, and delicious. And I will offer a few names as exhibits A, B, C, D (a little Alphabet City humor. Though I’m a little tired as I’m writing this and not entirely sure how funny it is, and whether I’m making sense at all). But here it goes. There are enough names here to cover at least two EV Bites posts
A few weeks ago I was talking to another young entrepreneur like myself (stop laughing!), the owner of Dian Kitchen, a Yunnan fast casual just opened in East Village (rice noodles, cold chicken salad, fiery sweet potato fries – Go!). Not surprisingly she said that East Village was the only area she was able to find affordable space in Manhattan. This is something I hear often, and is sad and scary in a way. But the unfortunate reality is generating a lot of fortune for the NYU residents, and young professionals living in the east
Due to that “affordable” rent and availability, East Village has slowly morphed into an incubator for up and coming talents like Alex Stupak, Marco Canora, David Chang and even Bobby Flay started his career in EV. It breeds corporations. Its ultra competitive environment these days helped generate mini chains like Mighty Quinn’s, Otto’s Tacos, and Luke’s Lobster. As the saying goes, “If you can make it in East Village, you can make it anywhere”. Ok no one really says that, but its true. When the opposite occurs, a successful establishment in another neighborhood opening a location in East Village, success doesnt come nearly as quick, as evident by the cricket sounds at Frisson Espresso (really good coffee but so empty).
This competitive, survival of the fittest environment helped generate an incredibly diverse selection of cuisines and establishments that are really good at what they do. If you are simply an above average Szechuan or Isan, chances are you wont see your one year anniversary. On my tours I often use Filipino food as an example. While you will be hard pressed to find a Filipino restaurant in [Name any other Manhattan neighborhood], in East Village you have a quiet Sislig Sisig war. Same goes for Venezuelan. You can even find International stores, spice stores, and more obscure cuisines like Georgian, Jamaican, and even something called American food (Ducks Eatery).
And you get the sense that there’s something in the East Village air that keeps the owners on their toes. Whether its Marco Canora reinventing Hearth, Nick Anderer perfecting Roman pies, or Will Horowitz inventing new foods. These guys are not exactly counting on tourists, office workers, or local residents to simply walk by, but become destinations to New Yorkers looking for the best. They dont rest because they cant afford to.
But it wasnt always a great food neighborhood. For a while it was simply the place to get Pierogies. You still can do that at Streecha (They are back after summer break) and of course Veselka that still boast hefty brunch lines. But the Pierogy belt is now surrounded by Little Japan. And Little Japan is now surrounded by quite possibly, our richest (culinary wise) Chinatown. This is more of a fresh phenomenon where Queens establishments like Szechuan Mountain House and Dun Huang are now testing EV palates. They are joining the likes of first timers like Le Sia and Dian Kitchen, and the more established Xi’an, the Bao, and Han Dynasty. Dozens of new Chinese opened in the past few years and most of the survivors are excellent.
And then there’s exhibit M. It is easier for me to find a McDonald’s and other American chains in Madrid than East Village. EV is down to one sad looking McDonald’s on 1st ave. The last time a Starbucks opened, there was a quiet protest by the local residents. EV boasts the highest percentage of coffee shops per capita on the east coast. And the vast availability of cheap foods like tacos, Arepas, and Japanese noodles can be head spinning at times. There’s a good reason why I chose East Village to run food tours.