I’m excited to launch my New York City restaurant guide! Over time, I’ll be covering neighborhoods across NYC, and I’m stoked for the hard work ahead :). First up is Harlem and the Upper West Side, where I spent the first 18 years of my life. Let’s dig in!
Upper West Side
Celeste is easy to miss from the outside, but walk inside and you instantly feel at home. It’s the kind of place, according to Serious Eats, that “engenders equal parts pride and nostalgia,” and it has the never-changing, never-leaving vibe of NYC’s most beloved neighborhood restaurants. The food is comforting, consistent, and well-priced, and their ricotta spinach ravioli melts in the mouth and tastes like a hug from nonna.
Run, don’t walk, to Saiguette, the Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall that has Banh Mi sandwiches on homemade bread, crispy pork belly served with sticky rice, and peanut mochi. There isn’t a lot of seating (just a counter top with stools), but the food makes up for it. Tip: the sandwiches are big enough for two.
For a cookie fix, go to Levain Bakery, where their cookies are chubby, chewy, melty and delicious. They’ve gotten a stamp of approval from Oprah and Taylor Swift, need I say more? There’s a location on the Upper West Side and Harlem, and there’s often a line, but it moves fast.
Silver Moon Bakery is on the corner of 105th street and Broadway and feels like a little Parisian heaven. They have the MOST divine morning buns and chocolate brioche rolls with a sugary crust. Bread is baked daily, and the hot chocolate is rich and extra chocolatey.
If you are ever on the Upper West Side craving Korean food, go to The Mill, a family-owned restaurant that serves classic Korean dishes like Bulgogi and Bibimbap. The restaurant is bustling with Columbia students on a winter night, and the sizzling, spicy stews and brick walls makes it a cozy experience.
Jacob’s Pickles might be the most popular brunch spot on the UWS, but there’s a good reason: buttermilk biscuits and fried chicken puts you in the best possible food coma. Tip: go for a late lunch, when you’re more likely to snag a table.
Red Farm’s first location was in the West Village, and the Upper West Side seriously lucked out when RF decided to plop a second location on 76th street. Described as “Chinese cuisine with a greenmarket sensibility,” the prices are higher than your traditional Chinese restaurant, but the food is also delicious and rich (try their hot and sour soup, $14, which serves two generously). Make sure you get some dumplings, too.
P.S. I have it on good authority that Motorino has great neapolitan-style pizza.
Since it’s opening a few years ago, The Handpulled Noodle has gotten rave reviews. Serving homemade noodles with spicy cumin lamb, bone-in chicken stew and dumplings made from scratch, the Chinese eatery is bringing authentic dishes from Xinjiang with appealing prices (everything under $12), and a downtown-cool vibe to West Harlem. Tip: eat everything right away, as the noodles taste best fresh out of the kitchen.
For a stiff drink, go to 67 Orange Street, the dimly lit bar that has a speak-easy vibe with purple velvet curtains and bartenders in suspenders. The cocktails aren’t cheap, but they go down slow, with ingredients like cardamom bitters, Fernet, and Earl Grey infused gin. Tip: this is a great place for a night cap.
Double Dutch Espresso is a café with amazing chocolate donuts and good coffee, plus an atmosphere that makes you want to sit and read a book for hours on a lazy Saturday. Tip: on a warm day, duck out onto the patio in the back.
ROKC, a ramen/cocktail joint that opened not too long ago on 141st street and Broadway, is worth the hype and wait (read a glowing review here). Snag a seat at the bar if you can; the bartenders whip up cocktails with finesse and flair, and serve them in quirky ways (one drink is served in a chilled lightbulb, another is lit on fire). Try the sake steamed oysters, the melty pork bun, and the Sapporo ramen. Tip: got a Tinder date coming up? Go here. The vibe is just romantic and cozy enough, without being precious or stuffy.
For a french restaurant with classic Paris-style bistro grub like Moules Frites (mussels and fries), duck confit, and lamb marguez, go to Maison Harlem. According to Serious Eats, they also have a killer burger with homemade mayo.
Hot Bread Kitchen makes a wide variety of freshly baked bread, and I love their business model of employing women facing economic insecurity. If you go, try their cult-favorite bialy’s, a chewy yeast roll similar to a bagel.
BLVD Bistro is tucked into a brownstone on the corner of 122nd street and Malcolm X, serving classic Southern food like shrimp and grits and buttermilk biscuits. Tip: go for lunch, when light floods the french windows and the volume is manageable.
For the best ice cream in Harlem, go to Sugar Hill Creamery.
Top photo of ROKC, Saiguette photo via Foodmento; Jacob’s Pickle photo via their Facebook, bartender photo via the New York Times.