The Lower East Side (L.E.S.) was once the stomping grounds for an 18th century melting pot of immigrants (Dutch, German, Jewish, Italian, Ukrainian, etc). Today many parts still remain true to this cultural heritage.  The neighborhoods beginnings, history, and gentrification are highlighted through an authentic tour of several dining establishments with City Food Tours. They graciously introduce tourists and New Yorkers alike to the many delicious gastronomic pleasures in the East Village.  City Food Tours shares with locals and visitors many of these  easily missed restaurants. The tour is well worth it for foodies, history buffs and lovers of New York. Experience the tastes and the stories of each location on the two hour Lower East Side Artisan Food Tasting Tour.

Listed below are a few of the stops of the City Food Tours

Gem Spa

Not to sound too judgmental, but when taking a food tour of New York City’s  East Village, and the first stop is Gem Spa, some people just might ask for their money back.  Rest assured, this is the ideal location to begin a culinary sight seeing tour, even though the appearances seem a bit rough around the edges.  Gem Spa has been a resident of the East Village for 75 plus years.  Receiving the title of Gem Spa in 1957, this original newspaper stand and old-time soda shop opened in the early 1920’s.  Though most of the items from this soda shop are long gone, Gem Spa remains a popular stop for one of New York’s old-fashioned egg creams.

Drawing close to nonexistence, the egg cream has sadly become a rare find in the city.  However, the name “egg cream” is constantly under debate.  With the addition of no egg at all, a classic egg cream consists of: milk, chocolate syrup (U-Bet is the brand to use), and seltzer water.  The outcome is nothing more than a fizzy glass of chocolate milk.  Honestly, quite tasty.

East Village Meat Market

The East Village Meat Market is the local butcher shop.  The windows and display cases are filled with very Old World handmade (yes, everything is handmade) meats and charcuterie that are at the top of New World food trends.  This Ukrainian owned and managed butcher shop offers Ukrainian and Polish meat specialties: salami, hams, headcheese’s, and sausages.  They also offer other native food products like pierogi (dumplings traditionally stuffed with potato). Tasted on this tour were the shop’s peppered studded salami, rye bread, and mustard.

Veselka

Somewhere over the Veselka (Ukraininian for “rainbow”), lies a 24 hour 7 days a week operation.  Veselka established itself in the East Village in 1954.  Beginning as a candy and newsstand on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 9th Street Veselka remains a family owned restaurant serving up some of Ukraine’s conventional fare.  A favorite breakfast spot for locals and a new favorite for spot-on beet Borscht for yours truly.

Milk Bar

Christian Tosi, the pastry chef/owner of Milk Bar is definitely one who thinks outside of the box.  Affiliated with David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar and other line of hit restaurants, Milk Bar is simply the most creative place I have walked into in quite some time.

Tosi has taken her ideas and creations and has intelligently trademarked them in order to keep competitors from claiming them as their own.  The mere size of a New York City kitchen (think on a very small scale), Milk Bar’s menu hangs on the wall.  The signature items, not to be missed: Cereal Milk (just that, milk that tastes like cereal) in bottle, soft-serve, and milkshake form. Compost Cookie (Coffee grinds? Potato chips? Pretzels?) Tosi took on-hand ingredients from her pantry and threw them in to a cookie…brilliant. Crack pie (so good it’s addicting).

Veniero’s

Last stop is dessert.  Veniero’s originated 115 years ago as a pool supply store that quickly flopped as the number of pools in the city are were slim to none.  Luckily it became a full-blown bakery (and now restaurant) offering some of the finest Italian pastries in the city.  Cases of canolis, tarts, eclairs, cheesecakes, and cookies have customers flooding through the doors and picking a number for their order.  Open for 115 years, Veniero’s has to be doing something right.

All in all, the City Food Tour is a class act not only for “foodies,” but also for anyone with an interest in New York, its history, and current hot spots.  City Food Tours offers a number of daily tours as well as private events and dining programs. Check out their website for more information: www.cityfoodtours.com

What & Where:
City Food Tours (
email joyce@cityfoodtours.com, or call 212-535-TOUR)