One of the best things I’ve ever done in NYC (and there are a TON of amazing things I’ve done there) was taking a food tour with Urban Adventures. We took the Tenements, Tales, and Tastes food tour on a dreary, Wednesday morning, but the weather didn’t get anyone down. The cool breeze was actually welcome as we walked around the Lower East Side.
We had a little trouble finding the meeting spot even though it’s totally straightforward once you get there. It was at the fountain in City Hall Park. There’s only one fountain and lots of tours meet there. Unfortunately for us we were dropped off by our Via driver about as far from the fountain as it is possible to be and because of security you can’t cut through the park (we tried).
Our guide, Alex, stood out in his red shirt as he waited for us with three other women. There were only five of us on the tour, which was wonderful. I always advocate for small tour group sizes, it’s more fun and I tend to learn more in a small group. Urban Adventures groups are always 12 people at most.
We got our first food tasting immediately: stroopwafels from The Good Batch bakery in Brooklyn. Alex brought them with him and we each got an individually wrapped cookie. I saved mine for later, anticipating lots of food on the tour. It was a smart move and I enjoyed my cookie later, warmed over a cup of coffee on the LIRR.
If you skipped breakfast, you might want to eat the cookie because it’s the only taste in the first hour and you don’t want to get hangry.
For the first hour, we walked in the Five Points neighborhood. I don’t want to ruin the fun of the tour so I’ll just tell you that this is the part that helps you appreciate just how incredible the Lower East Side is and how immigration is the key to the amazing food finds in this part of Manhattan.
We crossed over into Chinatown for our second taste. Alex sprinkled in facts about the Chinese immigrants as we walked along Funeral Row, a section of Mulberry Street lined with funeral homes and shops for traditional funerals. Paper versions of everything from food to Ferraris are burned during funerals to send these items to the afterlife with the deceased so there are shop windows filled with nothing but paper and cardboard figures.
Just off Mulberry there’s a real treat for the living and our second food of the day: pork dumplings at Fried Dumpling. This tiny restaurant is a one-woman operation that sells just fried dumplings, pork buns, hot and sour soup, and soy bean juice. Five fried dumplings cost just $1.25. The owner speaks just enough English to take your order and count your money. She does a few things and she does them right and it’s beautiful.
Just a few blocks later we were in Little Italy. The neighborhood is shrinking and succumbing to tourism, but there are gems still sprinkled throughout the neighborhood. The oldest cheese store in America is one of them. Our third taste was mozzarella and prosciutto at Alleva Dairy. Both were on point, exactly what you’d expect to find in Italy. And since Beth and I are most at home in Italian shops and don’t spend enough time in them, we had an extra nibble: mozzarella arancini. We didn’t regret it. The arancini were warm and nicely fried rice balls with just enough gooey cheese.
We only nibbled at them because we needed to save room for potato knish with mustard at Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery. This is another one of those places that does a few things and just focuses on getting them right. At Schmimmel’s, it’s knish. But what’s a knish? It’s a dumpling stuffed with a simple filling like mashed potato. It’s a warm, filling snack. New Yorkers like to dip theirs in brown mustard.
We were all stuffed after the knish, but we had a short walk and one more taste left: pretzels at Loreley Beer Garden.
Over pretzels on the back patio we recapped the tour with Alex who generously reminded us of all the extra recommendations he made throughout the tour and pointed them out to us on our map apps. You could easily extend this tour in a DIY fashion all afternoon and add in a bit of shopping.
After learning so much about the area we were game to explore it on our own. We actually did plan to spend the afternoon exploring some of the places we’d passed by on the tour. We thought we’d start at Ferrara for coffee and a rest. Then we thought we’d do some non-food shopping in SoHo before finally swinging back down to Chinatown for ice cream wrapped in fluffy homemade waffles at Eggloo.
But the bartender at Loreley was really friendly. We were planning on having a glass of beer each, not even a full pint. But then he started giving us tastes so we could decide what we wanted. Here’s a photo of about half the glasses we sampled.
We killed the whole afternoon drinking beer at Loreley and our dinner dates that evening may have found us less than admirable company. (Sorry Ry and Vanessa, you showed us a wonderful time though – loved our evening!)
The point is: this is a wonderful tour. Don’t plan anything to do after it because you’ll likely stumble upon a wonderful activity to do in the afternoon while on the tour or you’ll fall into a luscious food coma.
Thank you so much to Urban Adventures for hosting us on this tour! As always, all opinions are my own. My love for this tour is 100% genuine.