Thanks for the responses so far. Kossar's is already on the list for the bialys, Yonah Schimmel's for knishes, Russ & Daughters period, and Essex in general for pickles. We may even do Katz's. I haven't been to the LES in ages. I'll be visiting a friend who hasn't ventured out much to check out her new surroundings since she moved to Manhattan, so she wants me to be unofficial tour guide for her. Trying to return to making trips to NYC at least 2-3 times a year.
For the birthday dinner, <$60-$65 means entire bill for all if possible. Type of cuisine and neighborhood is flexible.