Just as there’s no better way to understand the Lower East Side’s history than by tasting it at nearby Katz’ Delicatessen, you head to this sunny, always jammed hole-in-the-wall to understand the area’s current zeitgeist. El Rey’s menu is at once militantly healthy and absolutely delish, the better to attract the slim-young-things who crowd nearby boutiques and bars. That means extraordinarily satisfying salads (like kale with a lush dressing made from almond milk, crushed almonds, apple cider vinegar and herbs); and a deconstructed falafel sandwich, that has a hint of the real taste thanks to zatar spices, warm pita bread and raw chickpeas, but without the calories frying brings. In the evening, the artisanal wines and beers come out to side the largely vegetarian menu. Guests order at the front and perch on high stools at counters.
- Pauline Frommer