I haven’t lived in NYC long enough to understand the way the neighborhoods have evolved over the years – unspoken labels stamped onto the corners of the island, then rewritten with each new decade. But I know this: the Upper West Side (my hood) has never been the choice neighborhood when meeting friends for a meal.
For me, it’s a geographical issue; I live 30 blocks north of everyone else, so I default to traveling south. But any way you slice it, eating on the Upper West Side does not carry the same caché as eating at a trendy new Soho restaurant.
My intentions with this post are to help steer you in the right direction when you’re uptown – towards some worthwhile grub and away from silly tourist traps. I hope this mini guide brings you something delicious. If you’re interested in my much longer list of must-eats in the hood, comment below.
- A few words on lines | Lines are not a sign of quality. On the UWS, there are worthwhile waits and must-skips. One must-skip is Good Enough to Eat, which has discovered that forcing people to stand in a line outside of their restaurant signals to other New Yorkers that there’s something special inside. Spoiler: nothing special inside. The other must-skip is Jacob’s Pickles (audible gasp). I tend to trust Yelp when a place has 1,000+ reviews and maintains four stars, but I have given this spot three – yes THREE chances – to woo me, and it has failed miserably.
- Levain | As someone who much prefers candy and ice cream to baked goods, I was skeptical that a cookie could be outstanding enough to warrant a line down the block. Let me be very clear…Levain is truly worth the wait. Menu tip: I find myself overwhelmed by the sweetness of all of the cookies except the oatmeal raisin – it is the perfect balance. Stop at the Pioneer on Columbus for a carton of milk to wash down all of that sweet sugary dough!
- Asian | I have touched on some favorites below, but if you’re looking to satisfy a spice craving, cruise up to the top of the hood and spend a few bucks on hand-pulled noodles and cucumber salad at Xi’an Famous Foods. Yes, it’s a chain – but it’s damn good.
- Sushi | We do it well, in my humble opinion. Check out Sushi Yasaka for a dependable, reasonably-priced meal. It never disappoints. If you’re looking for something slightly chicer, I suggest Momoya, which has some unique fusion items and is just as dependable, albeit slightly pricier.
- Thai | If you tend to order pad Thai and egg rolls, don’t bother reading this. I take my pad kee mao very seriously – in my opinion, nothing tops a bowl of sticky sweet noodles with basil and chili peppers. Pure Thai Cookhouse always delivers authentic perfection and won’t leave you feeling greasy and guilty. It may be a bit south of the UWS, but just go with me here – it’s worth it. If you’d like to stay in the 80’s, Land Thai can turn out some solid food as well.
- Places to Satisfy Whiny Downtown Friends | The UWS has outposts of some of my favorite downtown spots. We recently got a location of Motorino, which serves up fresh Neapolitan-style pizzas with quality ingredients. We also have The Smith – which, yes, is nothing groundbreaking – but I have never left disappointed. Did I mention they have the best fries in New York? For one of my all-time favorites, check out The Mermaid Inn; high quality seafood and a kick-ass Sunday lobster broil. If you’re in the market for a mean eggplant Parmesan, Parm can check that box.
- Miscellaneous | Here are some of my favorites in no particular order:
- Breads Bakery | I have so much to say about this bakery, which first won me over at its original Union Square location. I love every ounce of it, from the savory burekas to the chocolate babka. GO!
- Peacefood Cafe | Vegan-friendly spot with good alternatives to faux meat. Menu tip: Order the bowl with seasonal veggies and brown rice or quinoa. Well flavored and a big portion.
- Burke & Wills | If you’re looking for a dreamy ambiance with fancy cocktails and oyster platters at a discount, check out Burke & Wills for happy hour.
- Calle Ocho | I have been here for dinner a number of times and always find the menu exciting and flavorful. Also – try not to eat the entire cigar box of yucca rolls. Try.
- Bustan | I am a sucker for Mediterranean food (mostly because how can you go wrong with vegetable and fish heavy dishes, grilled pita and dips?). Bustan executes everything well and has a bit of downtown trendiness to boot. Menu tip: Oder the octopus and the cauliflower and thank me later.