At first glance, Kuma Inn looks like an opium den. But, like so many good things, looks can be deceiving.
When Kuma Inn opened in 2003, it was one of the only places in New York doing the Asian tapas that are seen at so many restaurants today. It is a stalwart on the Lower East Side dining scene and has been able to thrive in a trendy neighborhood where restaurants close almost as fast as they open.
Inside, a narrow, almost decrepit stairway leads to a tiny, candle-lit, casual dining room. The restaurant is small, and though it isn’t cramped, it is definitely cozy. It is a charming spot for a date, especially considering that the restaurant is B.Y.O.B. with a very reasonable corkage fee.
Yellowfin tuna tartare with rice noodle crisp combines silky tuna and tart apples in a soy and scallion marinade. The rice crisp on top adds a crunchy texture and vaguely nutty taste that breaks up the texture of the tartare. Sautéed Chinese sausage with Thai chile-lime sauce is another standout. The sausage is reminiscent of maple-glazed bacon—sweet, sticky, crunchy, but with spices like star anise, ginger, and pepper. Mussels in kaffir lime lemongrass coconut curry is a mild but delicious dish for anyone who loves mussels. The curry itself is aromatic, but not hot. It enhances the subtle coconut and tart kaffir lime flavors. The broth begs to be drunk with spoons or sopped up with an order of creamy coconut rice.
Though this restaurant is tiny and humble, it serves exciting, well-made food. The service is speedy, the atmosphere is convivial, and the B.Y.O.B. is a major plus.
And all that from a place that, at first glance, appears to be an opium den.
113 Ludlow St.
(between Delancey St & Rivington St)
New York, NY 10002