Whether or not you live up there, you will, without a doubt, spend time on the Upper West Side. You might go see a play at the Lincoln Center, you might meet some family up there, or you might just sort of wander over after you drink a bottle of wine on a picnic blanket in Sheep Meadow. If any of these highly likely situations occur, use this guide. It’ll help you find the best food in a neighborhood that isn’t necessarily known for its restaurants, but should be.
One of the better thing to happen to the Upper West Side in recent years. The Ribbon is a new restaurant from the people behind the Blue Ribbon empire, serving the kind of food Blue Ribbon became famous for: everything from bone marrow to oysters to roasted chicken. It’s also just a generally fun place to hang out, and is perfect for everything from a night out with friends to watching sports on TV.
Awadh makes northern Indian food like slow-cooked meats, kebabs, and biryani cooked in clay pots with naan layered over the top - which alone is worth the trip. This two-story place also has lots of room, and it’s nice enough for a fifth date or a dinner with your grandparents who are visiting from Westchester.
The best sushi on the Upper West Side, and also the most expensive, particularly if you go for Gari’s famous omakase. If you’ve been to the Upper East Side location, know this one is much more modern and less hole-in-the-wall-like.
Crave Fishbar is one of the most consistent spots on the Upper East Side, which is why its second location is very good news for people of the UWS. The Upper West Side version has a bigger space but a very similar menu as the original - lots of options for people who love seafood, don’t love seafood (get the cavatelli or fried chicken), and everyone in between. Important: for dessert, their cookie that comes with vanilla ice cream is one of the greatest cookies in the entire city. Crave is a real utility spot - a situational catch-all in an area that could use more of them.
Marlow Bistro wouldn’t seem out of place downtown, maybe somewhere in the West Village. It’s a neighborhood cafe filled with candles and potted plants, and it feels like the setting for a first date scene in a 90s romantic comedy. The food is mostly Italian, with some Mediterranean influence - if you order burrata, it might come over a pile of baba ganoush, and you might also find some za’atar on one of the many thin-crust pizzas they serve. It’s an interesting mix of stuff, and the majority of the pizzas and pastas are worth your time and money. Service is friendly, and you’ll be surrounded by mostly neighborhood people.
The people behind the counter at Saiguette wear headsets - and this tells you, right off the bat, that this little Vietnamese place is a very serious operation. The menu here is huge, and it has everything from pho and spring rolls to lobster curry and steak over rice. The real reason you come here, however, is for the best (and largest) bahn mi on the Upper West Side. Our favorite is the pork shoulder, but they also do them with steak, chicken, and shrimp. Just be aware that this really just a takeout (or delivery) place.
Sushi Kaito is a 15-seat omakase-style sushi restaurant where everyone sits at the chef’s counter. There are three seatings per night, and you have the option of a 12-piece omakase for $75 or 16-piece omakase for $100. Every meal also finishes with a miso soup, a handroll, and a slice of excellent tamago (rolled Japanese omelette). It’s one of the best sushi experiences you can get in this town for the money, and it’s definitely worth a trip to West 72nd Street sometime soon.
There aren’t many fun, kind-of-rowdy dining options in this neighborhood, unless you count plates of wings between games of beer pong at the sports bars on Amsterdam. The exception is Jacob’s Pickles, a Southern comfort food spot that you’ve almost certainly been to if you’ve ever done boozy brunch above 59th Street. Most things on the menu exceed your recommended weekly amount of everything, so only come here if you’re ready to embrace that. The fried chicken biscuit sandwiches are great, and their matzo ball soup is fantastic.
Xi’an Famous Foods serves good, affordable, spicy Chinese noodles and burgers at all of their spots around the city. This location, not far south of Columbia, has a few counter seats, and also works for takeout lunch or dinner (although they don’t recommend it, because they insist their food is best when it’s eaten immediately). Our go-to is the spicy cumin lamb noodles. We also like the spicy hot oil seared noodles, but just know that trying to speak after eating these will be as productive as talking to your dentist after he gives you a shot of novocaine.
JIn Ramen is just one small room with a bunch of tables, and if you grab one of the smaller ones along the wall, it’ll work for an early-in-the-game date night. The ramen isn’t the best in NYC, but it’s solid, and they do some interesting kinds (including a vegetarian one). And if you don’t like ramen, you can get something like a salmon sashimi rice bowl, chicken curry, or soba noodles.
The first J.G. Melon opened on the Upper East Side in the 1970’s, and now there are a few other locations around the city. They all have the same old-school pub feel, the same green-and-white checkered tablecloths, and, most importantly, the same burger. That’s really why you come here. It’s the perfect size, and probably pretty close to what most people picture when they think of the word “hamburger.” We also like the fact that the fries here come in an oval shape, and, despite the fact that this UWS location is relatively new, it still feels like a classic NYC institution.
Sushi Yasaka is a go-to for Upper West Siders, but it’s worth a trip for anyone wanting affordable, high-quality sushi in a casual space. We recommend going with one of the specials, like the Miyabi, which includes six pieces of traditional sushi and eight pieces of sashimi for $28. Yasaka also offers one of the more affordable omasakes around - 12 pieces plus the chef’s choice of roll for $50. Unlike more formal spots, you can come to Yasaka with a small group, and they offer a lot of tempura options and small plates.
The best modern dim sum restaurant around, with a location on 77th and Broadway. The place is very much the same as the West Village original, but with fewer people trying to get into 1OAK afterward.
One requirement for calling yourself a true New Yorker is having a favorite neighborhood diner. If you live on the Upper West Side, then your answer is easy - Viand Cafe. Like at its Upper East Side location, the menu here is huge, ranging from omelettes to meatloaf, but the most important thing to know is that they roast their turkeys in-house. Which means you should be ordering their turkey sandwich. The big booths and midnight closing time also make it a good option if you want to eat some pancakes for your second dinner.
Zabar’s is kind of like a cross between Russ & Daughters and Dean & Deluca. The gourmet deli and grocer has been in the same location for over 80 years, and they sell high-quality cheese, meats, and baked goods - but they’re famous for their smoked fish. Eat a bagel with smoked fish and some chocolate babka while you read the morning paper, and you will feel like you’ve lived in this city for way more than three years.
Come for the oyster happy hour, stay for the lobster roll and generally good atmosphere. It’s a great spot for a casual date.
The palm trees and surfboards all over the walls may be kitschy, but everyone at Playa Betty’s seems happy to be taking mini beach vacations on the Upper West Side. Margaritas tend to outnumber people at most tables, and the large space is packed with big groups. This isn’t the best Mexican food in the city, but you won’t spend a ton of money and you will leave here happy. Share some tacos, chips and queso, and buckets of beers, and enjoy your beach daycation.
Tum & Yum has one of the better restaurant names on the Upper West Side, and it also has some of area’s best Thai food. This is a neighborhood spot that looks like a little cabin inside, with wood-paneled walls and a lot of lamps hanging from the ceiling, and it’s a great option for a relatively inexpensive weeknight meal. The food is a mix of standard dishes like pad see ew and drunken noodles and more interesting stuff like a soft-shell crab and duck salad.
The ultimate Upper West Side smoked fish destination, Barney Greengrass is a historical institution, not unlike Russ & Daughters. There’s plenty of room to sit – get a table, and bring the crew for plates of eggs and smoked salmon.
Another incredibly popular downtown Chinese restaurant with a location on the Upper West Side, Han Dynasty specializes in Sichuan food – the dan dan noodles are famous. For good reason.
Indian restaurants are typically pretty good to vegetarians, and Saravaana Bhavan is the perfect example of this. They don’t serve any meat here, and it’s also certified kosher. Come with parents when they just want to have a nice, quiet meal. And, whoever you come with, get a dosa or two.
The classic Upper West Side old-school Italian spot, Gennaro should be at the top of your list for any and all Sunday night dinners with the family. They’re famous for their seafood risotto, and you’ll do very well with a simple spaghetti pomodoro or veal chop. Know that it’s cash only.
If you find yourself at the northern edge of the Upper West Side, head up a few blocks further to Community. It’s an excellent place for brunch, though lines are often long due to Columbia’s proximity. Michelle and Malia Obama had lunch here, if you get excited about that sort of thing. We get excited about that sort of thing, but only a little.
A classic, fairly casual French bistro. It’s good anytime – have a niçoise salad at lunch, a croque monsieur at brunch, a piece of salmon at dinner. But the best time to come is on Friday nights, when they do a special bouillabaise, a.k.a. fish soup infused with magic.
Vegans of the Upper West, hit Peacefood for all your non-animal food needs. The chickpea fries are famous, the salads and sandwiches are very good, and the vanilla cake is weirdly excellent.
More vegan food that’s very good. Candle Cafe’s Broadway location is also one of the nicest rooms in which to eat vegan food in the entire city.
There’s an outpost of Parm on Columbus and 71st, serving the Italian-American sandwiches and salads you know it for. Go turkey, Saratoga club, or chicken parm.
Another old-school Jewish smoked fish destination, and also one of the best. Come on a Sunday morning for tuna salad, whitefish salad, lox, and amazing homemade bialys.
A classic old-school spot slice joint that’s frequently, and rightfully, in the conversation for best slice in the city. You can’t go wrong with a plain slice, and sausage is popular at well.