The Best Restaurants In West Harlem/Hamilton Heights14 great spots for everything from Chinese noodles to barbecue and Ethiopian food.
The upper corner of Harlem between Columbia’s shiny new West Harlem campus to the south and Washington Heights to the north has seen an explosion of restaurants over the last few years. Today it’s just as easy to grab a heaping plate of roast pork and fried green plantains at one of the many reliable Dominican restaurants lining Broadway as it is to sip on a Tokyo-inspired cocktail, order a Neopolitan pizza, or eat Peruvian-stye rotisserie chicken with a side of spicy rice.
With so many restaurants to choose from, you can now make separate trips to the neighborhood’s many historic landmarks - City College’s awesome neo-gothic towers, Alexander Hamilton’s yellow home on the hill, and “Take the A Train” composer Billy Strayhorn’s former residence, for example - and grab a different bite every time at these 14 spots.
This small, mostly-takeout spot is a destination for spicy-as-you-like-it Chinese noodles on a stretch of Broadway best known for mango-filled fruit stands. The specialty here is a thick, northwestern style served in a variety of spicy soups and stews made with things like lamb and beef (make sure to try their signature ding ding noodles with cumin lamb). There are also dumplings, wontons, and even bao sliders, plus drinks like the not-too-sweet white peach pekoe black tea. The noodles are best when eaten fresh, so if you’re doing takeout, make sure to run home as quickly as possible.
Are there bears in Mexico? That’s a thing we Googled while waiting for our tacos at Oso (translation: bear), a cool Mexican place in Hamilton Heights. Turns out, Mexican grizzlies became extinct a long time ago. Which is sad, but at least the tacos here turned out to be pretty good. (If you’re not feeling tacos, there’s a wide-ranging menu of stuff to keep you happy.) Oso isn’t big, but the colorful, attractive space is the kind you want to hang out in for a while - especially when drinking their excellent margaritas.
Overlooking City College’s stunning neo-Gothic campus, this Italian spot gives you a reason to visit at basically every hour of the day. Sunny sidewalk lunches featuring wood-fired pizzas and solid pastas (the latter are $10 from 11am to 4pm every weekday) segue into one of the best Happy Hours in the area, with snacks like meatballs and the red or white wine of the day both running only $6). Dinner here is a bit livelier: the lights go down, the music goes up, and the chicken parm will suddenly start calling your name. But Monday evenings are good for a quieter scene when you can find deals like half-priced bottles of wine.
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The dim lighting and below-street-level location make this Japanese spot feel like a secret destination, but it really is the neighborhood go-to for great cocktails, ramen, and oysters. The portions here aren’t overwhelming, so there’s no reason you can’t try all three in one visit. Start with a drink, like the mezcal-infused “Grapefruit,” served in a Mexican sugar skull mug, plus a plate of bivalves (they’re $1.50 each during Happy Hour from 5-7pm), then finish with a bowl of rich ramen. Assembled with a lot of attention to detail, ROKC’s noodle bowls feature a variety of broths (including fish, chicken, and mushroom), while some come dry topped with sea urchin and salmon caviar instead.
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There’s something about The Grange that feels like it doesn’t belong in NYC. And that something is space. When you’re looking to eat somewhere that won’t feel like a subway car, come to this big neighborhood spot in Hamilton Heights that has a long bar, many tables, and outdoor seating under a big red awning. They serve locally sourced comfort food, but with lots of craft cocktails and a great beer selection, it’s also a place we’d recommend for a drinks-and-snacks situation.
There are some moments when you need a burger, whether it’s after an unusually prolific Happy Hour or when you just can’t bear the thought of eating the same salad for the 12th day in a row. That’s when this cheerful pub steps in, complete with a sidewalk patio on Broadway strung with lights. One whole side of the menu here is devoted to burgers - there are seven in total, plus a “build it your damn self” section. Two solid choices are the soft and saucy “Daddy Mac” and the “Parmesan Crusted,” served between two slices of toasted sourdough bread (yes, the top is coated with melted parmesan). The fried chicken sandwiches are also a terrific choice, including the impressively-sized (and hot sauce-centric) “Hot Fried Thigh.”
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Everything at this laidback pizza and pasta spot tastes fresh and homemade, which is probably because it is. Bono dishes out housemade pastas like strozzapreti and strangozzi, plus antipasti like the grilled octopus, while the large wood-fired oven in the back churns out bubbling pies topped with prosciutto, eggplant, and spicy Calabrese sausage. Add to the mix a sunny corner location and a rare-for-Broadway calm, and you’ve got yourself a new once-a-week habit that’s perfectly capped with a properly-made espresso.
Tsion, located in the basement of an old Sugar Hill townhouse, serves Ethiopian food mixed with tasty Middle Eastern dishes like shakshuka (owner Beejhy Barhany was born in Ethiopia and raised in Israel). For the full experience, mix it up with classic sega tibs - pieces of filet mignon stir-fried with tomatoes and jalapenos and served on injera - followed by malawach, a delicious Yemeni pastry glazed with honey and sprinkled here with coconut flakes. If the weather is nice, the peaceful back patio is a good spot to sip on the bourbon-based “X” cocktail, an homage to Malcolm X, who worked in the same space once upon a time.
There are a lot of Dominican restaurants in and around Hamilton Heights, but this one’s perfect whenever a bunch of hungry friends decide to come over to your apartment at the last minute. Get a whole rotisserie chicken, a pile of crispy pork chicharron (which can also be mashed into a garlicky mofongo if they’re starving), plus a few sides like fried sweet plantains and rice and beans, and you’ve got yourself a takeout meal that will leave everyone full and happy. And asking to come over again for seconds.
If you follow the smell of pit smoke wafting from under the steel arches of the Riverside Drive Viaduct to Dinosaur Barbecue, you’ll find some of the best smoked meat in the area. The dry-rubbed pork ribs are always a solid choice, but it pays to come hungry so you can try the mix-and-match combo platter - your own personal tray loaded with a choice of ribs, pulled pork, brisket, and barbecue chicken. There’s still plenty to choose from if you don’t feel the need to eat three different types of meat in one sitting though, including chicken wings (everything from mild honey barbecue to the three-flame “Devil’s Duel”), sliders (pork, brisket, cheeseburger, and buffalo chicken), and Dino’s irresistible deviled eggs. Make sure to take a stroll to the Hudson River a block away to walk it all off - the sunsets are incredible if you time it right.
Aircraft carriers are very large. While that’s both obvious and seemingly irrelevant, it’s worth mentioning here because it explains how this outdoor bar at the West Harlem Piers has 4,000 square feet of outdoor space spread across multiple decks. With views of the west side of Manhattan, Jersey, and the Hudson River up to the GW Bridge, it’s a great spot to day drink well into the evening. But make sure to try some bar food while you’re here, especially the peppery, perfectly charred cheeseburger, and the crinkle-cut fries with Cajun seasoning and spicy mayo.
Nearly hidden beneath the elevated tracks on an industrial stretch of Broadway, this small Japanese spot offers more than 10 varieties of ramen, from the creamy, pork-based tonkotsu to an all-vegetable option. But there are almost as many “dry” and even cold noodle choices too, along with plenty of lunch specials (braised pork belly with a fried egg and pickled ginger over rice is $10) and a great Happy Hour, which includes lychee frozen sake ($6) or a nice pint of ice-cold Japanese beer ($2.50). As a bonus, the eat-in counter is perfect for a quick, solo lunch - or any other time that eating a bowl of ramen in silence while reading your phone sounds right.
This small Mexican spot - the kind where bright bottles of Jarritos sit next to large bunches of cilantro in the front refrigerator case - is one of the best in the neighborhood for tacos, burritos, and bowls (if you like things hot, ask for a side of the smoky morita chili pepper sauce). They also just recently added some excellent birria tacos to the menu, which you can also get in a burrito, that are even more delicious when dipped in a side of consomme. It’s mostly takeout, but there are a few tables on the awning-covered patio on Broadway too.
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This chicken-any-way-you-like-it restaurant from the team behind Fumo opened during the pandemic, offering Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken, spicy fried chicken sandwiches, and more via pickup and delivery. The idea was clearly a good one, as I found myself ordering from this place again almost as soon as I finished my first bite of rotisserie chicken. And it’s not just the various chicken dishes, but the terrific sides (don’t miss the spicy vodka rice) and dipping sauces (the cilantro green sauce is a winner, but at $1 each you can try all seven with the help of some waffle fries). Now that you can dine in, the sidewalk greenhouse with hanging plants and macrame lamps is especially nice.