Some of the best things about the Upper East Side have been around for decades. For example, a classic burger spot with green-checkered tablecloths, all the neighborhood places Kermit and his pals went in The Muppets Take Manhattan, and the ghosts who haunt The Met.
But, just like shiny Q train subway stations and the babies born at Mt. Sinai, there are a lot of novel things improving the neighborhood. This guide unfortunately has no more muppet references. Instead, we wrote about a mix of fantastic new-ish restaurants and timeless spots that you can use for a whole slew of dining situations. From the deli serving the city’s finest pastrami sandwich (yes, we said it) and a party-time Peruvian restaurant, to French fine dining establishments and sushi omakase experiences, consider this the Upper East Side greatest hits, and the only list you’ll need whenever you’re in the area.
You can’t really debate the best Upper East Side restaurants without at least mentioning Daniel. Yes, this is a stuffy and expensive fine dining establishment possessing its own Wikipedia page. But a French meal here is also one of the best fine dining experiences you can have in the city. In addition to their $255 seven-course tasting menu, Daniel is currently offering a new prix-fixe menu that focuses on food from the South Of France. A hack: in case you’re looking for a special meal that’s a smidge more relaxed than what happens in the main dining room, you can order a la carte dishes in the lounge.
Kjun serves the only Korean-Cajun food in New York City. This East 60s takeout-and-delivery spot is a one-person operation - run by Jae Jung, a chef who spent years in New Orleans and has worked at Le Bernardin and the now-closed Café Boulud. But Kjun’s intrigue quickly transitions from “hmm cool” to “holy sh*t” as soon as you take your first bite of kimchi jambalaya, which incorporates kimchi that’s been fermenting for three months. It turns out the combination of pungent cabbage funk, andouille sausage, and a base of fiery, cajun holy trinity mirepoix layering makes for a bowl of revelatory rice. Kjun is currently operating out of a basement catering kitchen on East 62nd between 1st and the Queensboro Bridge ramp. You can try their generously-portioned bowls for takeout or delivery between Wednesday and Sunday.
If you’re set on having a loud, fun, booze-fueled dinner, your first impulse might be to leave the Upper East Side. But that’s possibly only because you haven’t eaten at Mission Ceviche yet. This East 70s Peruvian restaurant opened in 2019, making it one of the newer additions to the busy stretch of restaurants on 2nd Avenue. Mission Ceviche specializes in seafood and cocktails, like a classic white fish ceviche bathing in a zippy leche de tigre and a number of takes on the traditional pisco sour. Plus, there are plenty of options for anyone who wants to share, including their lomo saltado and large-format cocktails. The dining room - with its wrap-around bar, indoor ivy walls, and a neon sign that reads “Tiger Milk Effect” - gets as busy as a club. If you’re seeking a slightly calmer energy but great ceviche, sit on the luscious, plant-decorated sidewalk patio (which feels secluded from the busy street).
Seki is our favorite sushi spot in the neighborhood. It’s similar to Sushi Of Gari – Chef Seki actually started there – but we like this place slightly better because the high-quality fish isn’t accompanied by as much sauce and sushi accoutrements. Plus, you can always expect a late-night scene of people who have lived in the neighborhood for twenty years sitting at the bar for omakase, as well as sleepy chefs eating after their shifts. If you don’t want to opt for the omakase, order the $42 special, which comes with nine pieces and a handroll and will give you a sense of their all-time greatest pieces.
Sushi of Gari is the reason Sushi Seki even exists in the first place (the chef trained here and borrowed a lot of specialty pieces from Gari). Our favorite approach here is to order the sushi omakase, which includes a broiled tomato over salmon piece that will legitimately change your month. The omakase price varies depending on the fish available - we’ve spent around $125 on ours before. But you can also come to Gari and spend a bit less money on a $45 sushi set or $39 sashimi platter, or a la carte rolls and pieces.
Say you’re looking for the kind of UES night that involves long crunchy breadsticks and overhearing people argue in Italian over many glasses of red wine, you can’t do better than Sandro’s. Between the Roman pastas and lemony veal scallopini, and the friendly servers walking around pouring everyone grappa, remember this place the next time you’re having a bad day. The bucatini amatriciana should help.
This cash-only truck makes some of Manhattan’s best birria. It’s always parked on the corner of 86th Street and 3rd Avenue from noon to 9pm, and the line moves quickly (yes, there will probably be a line). No matter the method with which you choose to eat their tender birria - whether it’s by way of a cheesy quesadilla with a dollop of sour cream or three tacos for $10 - get a cup of their spicy red consomme to dunk your food into as well. When your tacos are gone, we’d recommend drinking it straight from its cup, which is loaded with shredded birria, raw onions for crunch, fresh cilantro, and is rich enough to coat your ribs for a couple of hours.
J.G. Melon’s burger is iconic. It’s griddled and crispy on the outside, peachy pink and soft in the middle, and apparently, it’s Gigi Hadid’s favorite burger in the entire city (rightfully so, Gigi). You’ll think about it every time you need a cheap lunch near the Met or feel overwhelmingly sad, happy, or drunk. Also, the J.G. Melon cottage fries are just as important as the burger itself. They’re round, tiny, and will make you wonder why more burger places don’t make fries like this.
You’ll find the UES’s best slice at PQR. The rectangular pizza here has a crispy crust covered in things like broccoli rabe, burrata, sausage, and pumpkin (which is infinitely better than it sounds). You could theoretically sit down at PQR, but more likely you’ll pick up a slice and eat it at or on your walk home.
Although the UES technically ends at 96th Street, the delicious Puerto Rican food at this restaurant is only a couple blocks north, and deserves your attention. La Fonda Boricua has been a staple of the Spanish Harlem community since 1996, and it’s here that you’ll find some of the best mofongo in Manhattan outside of Washington Heights and Inwood. Try the shrimp version which comes with tail-on shrimp and big hunks of plantains, all drenched in aromatic garlic sauce (you get a choice of a tomato- or garlic-based sauce). If you want something meaty, order the crispy chuletas or almost-sweet pernil. La Fonda Boricua often hosts live music nights with flamenco dancers and Latin jazz bands, so follow their Instagram here to stay in the loop.
If you find yourself in the East 70s wishing for a perfect deli sandwich, let Pastrami Queen be your north star. These sandwiches come on rye as soft as a Pre-K nap time mat, with exactly the right amount of lean meat (which is to say, a lot). All you need to do is add mustard. Not feeling pastrami? The roast turkey here is also worth your respect and affection, even though it’s objectively a less sexy option. Either way, get some matzo ball soup and a plate of half-sour pickles in the mix, too. God we’re lucky to be New Yorkers.
Moti Mahal Delux is specifically known for their incredible murgh makhani butter chicken - it’s rich, cooked in a clay oven, and eating it will probably make you want to lie down for several hours. The first iteration of this Indian restaurant opened in 1975 in South Delhi, and now there are approximately 100 locations around the world (mostly in South Asia). As far as New York goes, the owners also run two of our other favorite Indian restaurants, Awadh on the UWS and Bhatti Indian Grill in Midtown East.
The neighborhood spans about 50 blocks, and there are about as many casual Thai restaurants as there are bespoke toy stores. But Bangklyn East Harlem is one of the few you should travel 30-ish blocks to try. Partly so you can experience the delicious food (like Southern fried chicken, creamy green curry, and tamarind coconut milk noodles with crab) and partly to experience the unusual set-up. The owner of the restaurant used to be a big deal in the Thai street fashion world, and he operates the restaurant as a home for his vintage clothing shop for his collection. Before coming to Bangklyn, we had personally never eaten noodles next to a pile of vintage hand-embroidered camouflage jumpsuits. And, now that we’ve done it, we’d recommend everyone do the same.
Uva is the best choice if you’re looking for an Italian restaurant in the neighborhood that doesn’t feel like you’ve broken into a diplomat’s house. The simple pastas and cured meats consistently impress, and their enclosed back garden happens to be one of the most ideal settings for a date in the city. So the next time you want to appear classy without looking like you’re trying too hard, this is where you should go to eat mezzaluna filled with prosciutto and mozzarella, Emilia-Romagna style focaccia, and plates of fried baby artichokes. Uva also took over the restaurant space next door in 2021 (aptly called Uva Next Door) with even more seating availability and an additional menu of cocktails and pizza.
Ravagh Persian Grill on 1st Avenue makes some of our favorite Persian food in the city, including perfectly-grilled kebabs and stews like chunky, bean-laden ghormeh sabzi and khoresh fesenjan served with crushed walnuts. Rely on this casual two-story restaurant any time you’re looking for a low-key, rice-forward, and comforting meal, since the portions are large and the setting stays fairly quiet.
An upscale Greek restaurant on York Avenue that dates, your niece, and potato lovers all generally approve of. Not to mention, our absolute favorite Greek spot in the neighborhood (and one of the best in the whole city). Order the zucchini chips, lamb souvlaki, and anything that comes with a side of Greek potatoes - they’re lemony and inexplicably soft. We’d just suggest saving Yefsi for dinners where you’re comfortable spending about $50 per person. The seafood and meat entrees are expensive, but especially good for sharing.
If we had a guide to The Best Places For A One-Bowl Meal In NYC, Teranga would top the list. This fast-casual cafe in The Africa Center serves $15-ish West African-inspired grain bowls that are perfect for a Central Park picnic (which is located across the street). While we’re partial to their joloff bowl with salmon and black-eyed peas, you can always just mix and match ingredients to make whatever you want. Just be sure to get the fried plantains.
JoJo used to be a formal Jean-Georges French restaurant. It got a makeover, though, and reopened as a more modern, two-story restaurant in a townhouse on 64th Street (still run by the same people). The menu leans heavily on seasonal produce and classic farm-to-table combinations, like endive and snap pea salad, sea bass with chanterelles, and our favorite roast chicken in the entire neighborhood. Come here for a date or when you’re looking for a cool uptown spot now that Flora Bar has (sadly) closed.
Vietnaam is a neighborhood standby near 86th Street on the UES. The space has a massive dining room and most things on the menu cost between $15-20, both of which make it useful for a casual group dinner in the area. We especially like to order their crispy nem filled with shrimp, pork, taro, and jicama, as well as a comforting bowl of spicy beef pho with eye of round, brisket, and beef balls (for more great pho in the neighborhood, check out Pho Shop). If it’s nice out, try to get a table on their sidewalk.
Great sandwiches, tiny cups of espresso, excellent pasta, and even some gelato, are what you’ll find all in this charming Italian cafe. Via Quadronno is the best lunch spot near the Met, but it’s also highly useful for a last-minute dinner with a friend.
As you’ve probably gathered from this guide already, the UES has its fair share of incredible places to have a sushi omakase experience. Tanoshi is yet another one, but it stands out because of its BYOB policy. Their omakase costs $108, and comes with 10 pieces of excellent fish, a hand roll, three small maki rolls, and an open forum to drink whatever you want by yourself or with a date.
If you live near Heidi’s House By The Side Of The Road, it might already be your second home. Maybe you even call it “(your name)’s House By The Side Of The Road.” This place is the most reliable spot in the East 70s for a solo dinner or casual catch-up involving some wine, a juicy burger, and perfectly crispy mac and cheese. If you want to prove to someone that you know the best under-the-radar spots in the neighborhood, bring them here.
You might know Elio’s as the place where you went with your family once in 2009 or where Gwyneth Paltrow hosted her 40th birthday party. This classic Italian-American restaurant is consistently full of loud groups crowded around circular tables, plenty of people wearing jackets, and servers balancing martinis on trays. Even though the Italian food is better at Sandro’s and Sfoglia, Elio’s is more fun because it feels like a celebrity hangout from the ’80s. Just be sure to make a reservation ahead of time - it gets packed in here (even on weeknights).
San Matteo is a reliable neighborhood Neapolitan pizza place with a big, brick-walled space and tables that can fit just about every group size (from a casual date to dinner with a couple friends, or a family meal for six on a Sunday). Thanks to an open kitchen, you’ll be able to watch as the staff propel calzones and thin, puffy-crusted pies in and out of their wood-fire oven. Pizza aside, our favorite thing to order here is panuozzi - a very large sandwich made with pizza dough instead of bread. Get one stuffed with prosciutto and arugula, and it’ll make for a well-balanced meal.
THEP is another one of our favorite Thai restaurants in the area. Why? Well, for starters, they’re had extensive sidewalk seating for years (and even set up individual structures around each outdoor table like a private cabana). They also make delicious panang curry with roast duck, as well an appetizer sampler that comes with crispy spring rolls, chive pancakes, and various kinds of dumplings. Ordering this platter is sort of like opting for “D, all of the above” on a takeout ordering test, and it’s always the right answer.
No, Bemelmans Bar is not exactly a restaurant. But we can’t, in good conscience, exclude this iconic martini spot inside the Carlyle Hotel where you’ll have an unforgettable experience on the Upper East Side. Expect outrageously high drink prices, white tablecloths, and someone usually playing the piano - just trust us that every alcohol-consuming New Yorker should give it a shot just once (hopefully you’ll be seated next to Bill Murray, like we were). Bemelmans technically does serve a full menu of food, but the best edible thing here outside of the gin-soaked olives in your drink is the free snack mix that’s on every table.
Is this the best Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side? If you’re looking to eat a plate of $22 bolognese anywhere near the 92nd Street Y, it probably is. Sfoglia feels slightly nicer than your average neighborhood Italian spot, but it’s not quite formal. Bring a date, and focus on the pastas.