Kuma Inn. Kuma Inn somehow avoids the rampant douchebaggery (sorry, overused word but most appropriate here) of the surrounding restaurants and bars on Ludlow, Orchard, Stanton, and Rivington. Must have something to do with its almost-invisible perch one level up from the street. Walk up a narrow stairway to the second floor and you’ll find a buzzing room—and, alas, a wait on weekends. Filipino-American chef and owner King Phojanakong’s menu has an appealing mix of spicy-meaty Asian-inspired dishes (like sauteed Chinese sausage with Thai chili-lime sauce, or pan-fried pork tonkatsu with watercress salad) and lighter seafood or veg options (drunken spicy shrimp, seaweed salad). And everything’s on the cheaper side. Not massive portions, but enough—and perfect for sharing. Keep in mind that Kuma is BYO; corkage fees range from $1 for beer to $5 for wine, on up to $10 for a liter-and-a-half bottle of sake.
Cheeky. From the minute it opened, Cheeky already looked like a neighborhood fixture. It’s cramped and ever-so-slightly trashed on the inside—very New Orleans, and deeply welcome if you have a thing for Nola— but the kitchen counter is immaculate. And so are the heavenly po’boys, stuffed with fried oysters or fried shrimp or fried chicken (sense a theme?) or braised short ribs, and for the non-carnivores there’s a generous veggie muffaletta. More manna for New Orleans nostalgists: Zapps spicy Cajun potato chips, chicory coffee, beignets. You can eat in if you can scrounge up a free space and stool, but otherwise plan to drop by, pick up your food, and scarf it down as you wander this way-down-south corner of the LES.
The Meatball Shop. The name doesn’t lie: You will find meatballs at The Meatball Shop—loads of them. Beef, spicy pork, chicken, and even a vegetable version. You pick a meatball, you pick a sauce (tomato, or a creamy Parmesan, or spicy beef, or mushroom gravy), and provolone or mozzarella, and it’s all piled onto a white or wheat hero. You can also go with a meatball-slider version, or a heftier “Meatball Smash” sandwich on a brioche bun. The only part of the name that’s misleading is “Shop.” There’s a full-fledged dining room here, albeit a small one, though you may opt to sit at the bar or grab your sandwich to go. On paper, the concept sounded a bit too niche; in reality, it’s a smash. Well-deserved: The meatballs, along with sides like a daily leafy green or the none-too-light risotto, polenta, or mashed potatoes, are just the thing for a spell of malaise, or a hangover, or too many lame protein bars.