Tasting Tour: East 7th Street

Jessica Allen

The East Village's 7th Street is like the City's food scene in miniature. Starting at Third Avenue and moving east, the thoroughfare offers seasonal, handcrafted, artisanal, organic, comfort and/or rustic fare from around the world. These four blocks let you sidle up to a bar that once served Abraham Lincoln, nosh on a lobster that was swimming in the Atlantic yesterday or cozy up to your honey over a vat of fondue. You can dress up for a multicourse Japanese meal or dress down for an ice cream named after an actress from The Golden Girls. You can nurse a cutting-edge cocktail or sample flavors inspired by a chef's childhood memories of Central Europe. Nestled among the neighborhood's hair salons, tattoo parlors, vintage clothing stores and apartment buildings are some of the City's most innovative, most interesting bars and restaurants. Come for brunch, come for lunch, come for dinner—just come hungry. Read on for more details.

McSorley's. Photo: Malcolm Brown

McSorley's Old Ale House
15 E. 7th St., 212-474-9148
Burp Castle
41 E. 7th St., 212-982-4576
Since 1854, McSorley's Old Ale House has presented patrons with a simple choice: its very own light or dark ale. Claiming to be New York City's oldest continually operating saloon, the paraphernalia-filled bar anchors the west end of East 7th Street. It's like an ode to an earlier time: sawdust covers the floors, and the walls are adorned with black-and-white photos, a wanted poster for John Wilkes Booth, newspaper clippings (including a 1970 piece from the Daily News about a City law forcing McSorley's to admit women), flags, signs, firefighters' helmets and wishbones left by soldiers departing for World War I. The taps and icebox, bearing the motto "Be good or be gone," are original. For more beverage variety, walk east to Burp Castle. This self-proclaimed "Temple of Beer Worship" sells many types of draft beer and features murals of monks and nude wenches. However, unlike McSorley's, which has been known to encourage bar-wide sing-alongs, Burp Castle enforces quiet. Boisterous talkers will be shushed by the bartender.

Porchetta. Photo: Garrett Ziegler

Porsena and Porsena Extra Bar
21 E. 7th St., 212-228-4923
110 E. 7th St., 212-777-2151
With two wildly popular restaurants, chef Sara Jenkins has constructed a mini-empire on East 7th. It all started with pork—roasted pork shoulder, seasoned with rosemary, sage, fennel pollen and other spices, to be exact. In opening Porchetta in 2008, Jenkins sought to re-create the street food of her Roman and Tuscan childhood. There are a handful of other options, like a Lebanese chicken sandwich, but pig gives the restaurant its name and its ragione d'essere. As you wait, you can flip through photos of happy livestock at Niman Ranch, where Jenkins buys her meats. Closer to Third Avenue, Porsena turns out handcrafted pasta, such as parmigiana di melanzane with béchamel, as well as maccheroncini with meat ragù. Next door, newly opened Porsena Extra Bar was created, in part, to give people a place to wait for their Porsena table, but its uncomplicated Mediterranean small plates may prove to be draws in and of themselves, especially a mousse made from mortadella and served with house-pickled vegetables and crostini or the "grilled kimcheese," with pureed kimchi, aged cheddar and mayonnaise.

Jimmy's No. 43. Photo: Malcolm Brown

Jimmy's No. 43
43 E. 7th St., 212-982-3006
Korzo Haus
178 E. 7th St., 212-780-0181
A bar that serves great food or a restaurant with a great selection of craft beers: either way, Jimmy's No. 43 is justly celebrated. This joint's slow-food attitude, manifested in such dishes as the bánh mì hot dog with Vietnamese slaw and chorizo tacos with sriracha mayo, makes a meal there an experience. (Note: every Thursday is oyster night.) In terms of beer, the $10 Tuesdays feature six three-ounce pours that are generally centered around a theme, like harvest ales or sour beer. An in-house expert is on hand to provide commentary. Just past Avenue A, meanwhile, Korzo Haus has a strong selection of house-brewed, local and European beers. In 2011, The Village Voice ranked its burger, which comes wrapped in Hungarian fried bread known as langoš, as one of the City's best, and meat eaters will find plenty to satisfy, including goulash and bratwurst. Vegetarians will be fine too, with such options as a walnut-and-black-eyed-pea patty or the halušky, soft potato noodles—a variation on a favorite childhood treat of the owners, who met as second graders in the former Czechoslovakia.

Van Leeuwen. Photo: Laura Miller

Van Leeuwen
48½ E. 7th St., 718-701-1630
People's Pops
118 First Ave. (at E. 7th St.), 347-850-2388
Just past Second Avenue is East 7th Street's epicenter of sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, better known as brain freeze. The husband-and-wife-and-brother team behind Van Leeuwen began selling small-batch artisan ice cream from a single truck in 2008. Massive popularity has led to a fleet of six vehicles and three brick-and-mortar locations (thus far), including this bright storefront. Basic ingredients like milk and eggs are sourced nearby, while the more exotic stuff, like cinnamon, palm sugar and pistachios, comes from farther afield—Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Sicily, respectively. Down the block, People's Pops sells shave ice and frozen pops at a pop-up shop from July through October, depending on weather. It's located in a plywood shed that's attached to a bodega. A lone worker sits in front of a large translucent block, shaving the ice by hand and transforming it with fruity syrups and herbs. Or you can get a frozen pop in grown-up flavors like peach habanero, rhubarb chai, cantaloupe jasmine and strawberry lemongrass with sauvignon blanc.

Luke's Lobster Bar. Photo: Daniel Krieger

Luke's Lobster
93 E. 7th St., 212-387-8487
Each day, a bit of New England arrives in the East Village. Luke's Lobster takes this responsibility seriously: the lobster, crab and shrimp that go into the rolls and soups are from the seafood-processing plant in Maine owned by the family of Luke Holden, who left a promising career as an investment banker to open his eponymous restaurant. The eight-stool space is full of fishing memorabilia, from buoys and nets to corncob pipes and a yellow rain suit, and the spot maintains a Pinterest board called Chowda This World, featuring photos of the chunky soup. It all adds up to a winning formula, as the restaurant has expanded throughout Manhattan and into Washington, DC, since opening this spot in 2009. The lobster roll showcases plump shreds of claw meat sprinkled with a hint of "secret spices" and served on a split bun, lightly coated with lemon butter. In the mood for more? The "Taste of Maine" consists of half a crab roll, half a shrimp roll, half a lobster roll, a bag of chips, a pickle and a soda for $20.

Arepas Pabellon at Caracas Arepa Bar. Photo: Doug Todd

Caracas Arepa Bar
93½ E. 7th St., 212-529-2314
Although many of the restaurants in this slideshow would work well for dates, perhaps none has as romantic an origin story as Caracas Arepa Bar. Husband-and-wife owners Aristides Barrios and Maribel Araujo fell in love at first sight over arepas in Venezuela's capital. So when the pair moved to New York City a few years later and decided to go into the restaurant business, the name and their major product were set. Almost 10 years later, they remain true to that vision, serving buns made from corn flour and stuffed with such fillings as grilled leeks, tilapia, plantains and chorizo. To drink, try the cocada (a coconut milk shake sprinkled with cinnamon) or the papelón con limón (sugarcane juice with lime). If the line gets too long (and it might, given the tiny size of the brick-lined dining room), head to the carryout location two doors down and take your goodies to Tompkins Square Park, at the end of the block.

Kyo Ya. Photo: Malcolm Brown

Kyo Ya
94 E. 7th St., 212-982-4140
No website, no neon sign, no well-marked entrance. It's almost as if Kyo Ya wants to stay hidden. Yet its legion of fans can't seem to stay quiet, and a recent three-star review in The New York Times practically guarantees fame—and the need for a reservation to sample its elegant Japanese dishes. First, however, you have to find the place. Look for a sign that says "open" swinging from a metal gate, then negotiate the steep stairs. Once you're inside the basement space, tranquillity kicks in, thanks to gentle lighting and lots of wood. Kyo Ya offers à la carte options like pressed sushi, in which the fish and rice are shaped into a rectangle with a hot iron and often covered by a fine layer of kelp. But many diners opt for the kaiseki, the meal with more than 10 courses traditionally served during the Japanese tea ceremony. Its ingredients are selected first for their seasonality and second for their beauty.

Courtesy, DeRossi Global

The Bourgeois Pig
111 E. 7th St., 212-475-2246
One of the most alluring spots in the East Village, The Bourgeois Pig specializes in one of the world's sexiest foods: fondue. And if you still associate fondue with key parties and bell-bottoms, this restaurant wants to change your mind. Going beyond the typical cheese and chocolate, although those are available, its fondue flavors include curry, served with vegetables, naan, paneer and papadum; and lobster bisque, featuring crab, shrimp and cheddar served with potatoes, braised artichokes and toast points for dipping. Sweet options range from butterscotch to dulce de leche to peanut butter. There's an extensive cocktail and wine menu as well, on which Death & Co. and Mayahuel mixologist Philip Ward consulted. "La Bette Noire" is one of The Pig's champagne punches, a decadent mélange of champagne, muddled blackberries, maraschino cordial and lemon that serves two to four people. Chaise longues and low tables invite lingering, and a neon sign above the kitchen casts everything in a crimson glow, lending a flush to everyone's cheeks.

Salty Pimp at the Big Gay Icecream Store. Photo: Garrett Ziegler

Big Gay Ice Cream Shop
125 E. 7th St., 212-533-9333
Butter Lane
123 E. 7th St., 212-677-2880
The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop creates masterful soft-serve concoctions such as the "Salty Pimp" (vanilla ice cream with veins of dulce de leche, sprinkles of sea salt and a chocolate dip) or "Mexican Affo'gay'to" (spicy hot chocolate mixed with vanilla ice cream, cayenne, whipped cream and shaved chocolate). Half the fun is reading the names of the various treats and admiring the sparkly unicorn mural that covers one wall; the other half is imagining how toppings like candied fennel seeds and wasabi pea dust might taste. Hungry hordes line up all day, all night, every day, every night. If you go, be prepared to wait. Next door is Butter Lane, East 7th Street's answer to the cupcake craze. An airy cake base gets topped with your choice of French buttercream (lighter, like a meringue) or American buttercream icing in such flavors as blueberry, apple spice, pumpkin and chocolate. Free samples might make the decision easier, or even harder.

Veggie black bean burger at 7A Cafe. Photo: Marley White

7A Cafe
109 Ave. A (at E. 7th St.), 212-475-9001
Yuca Bar
111 Ave. A (at E. 7th St.), 212-982-9533
These two restaurants eye each other across East 7th. Both provide lively atmospheres and outdoor seating, and both have been around for a while. 7A Cafe serves standard American diner food 24/7, from burgers, wraps and sandwiches to nachos, chicken wings and mozzarella sticks. Brunch staples like French toast and frittatas come with your choice of a mimosa, screwdriver or other lazy-Sunday-appropriate beverage. Sunshiny yellow Yuca Bar serves "cocina latina," and its menu roams across the Caribbean and into South America. Popular items include guacamole, empanadas, taquitos and quesadillas. Among the drink specials are mojitos, margaritas, sangria and rum-based, house-made mixtures. Across the street is Tompkins Square Park, once a symbol of the City's—and the neighborhood's—struggles, now a testament to their successes. A stroll around its paths is the perfect way to walk off some of your East 7th Street indulgences.