Going for a run in Central Park feels like running as humans were intended - free of street signs and cars. There are 843 acres of curving paths, sports complexes, and areas that are officially called “meadows.” It’s where marathons end, it’s where birthday parties at the zoo begin, and Shakepearean actors sweat through their costumes in the summer. Just being there is inspiring enough to start running. But great food helps, too.
Whether you run the full loop of Central Park Drive or walk-run around the reservoir, these are the spots where you should eat afterwards. They’re each within a few blocks from the park in every direction, and they’re where you’ll find some of the best bagels in NYC, an excellent banh mi sandwich, and fried chicken and waffles.
Not sure where to start with your run? Here’s a suggested route, with five of the restaurants from our guide nearby.
Melba’s makes one of our top five favorite post-run meals in the entire city. This is the sort of brunch or dinner that you might tastefully brag about the next day at work. And that’s because the Southern food is mostly fried, extremely buttery, and all around excellent. Plus, this Harlem spot gets slightly less crowded than Sylvia’s (another Southern place close by). Come with some friends after running by Harlem Meer and the North Woods and get the fried chicken and waffles and some incredibly tender short ribs.
Runners have been carbo-loading since the first Olympic games in Ancient Greece (probably). You can do your part to follow this important tradition by heading to Breads Bakery at Lincoln Center on 63rd Street on the West Side - less than a block from the Sheep Meadow area. At Breads, you can get your breakfast sandwich to go (along with an iced coffee and a really good piece of chocolate babka). Also - there are a bunch of tables here in the event you decide to hang out for a while.
Even if you run on the UWS all the time, it’s very possible you don’t know about Saiguette on 106th Street. The banh mi sandwich is the best in the area. It’s huge and comes in over ten varieties (the roast pork shoulder is our favorite). Or, say you’re not someone who gets hungry immediately after exercising, just take this sandwich back to your apartment and stare at it until you’re ready for each other.
At Playa Betty’s, you can expect plenty of people sitting amongst fake palm trees, drinking pink cocktails, and sharing queso at communal high top tables. So it would be incredibly appropriate to message your friends while you’re mid-run (during your texting/walking break) to tell them to meet you here for a casual Mexican meal afterwards. No one in this restaurant will care that your butt is sticking to the stool, but hopefully they’re not aware of this inevitable fact.
Running in Central Park and then going to eat a pastrami on rye from Pastrami Queen is as New York as hailing a cab on 5th Avenue or stepping in a puddle and yelling the F word very loudly as small children pass by. This is a Jewish deli in the East 70s that’s been open since 1956, and it’s where you should go to get excellent (but not overwhelmingly giant) sandwiches with pickles on the side. The space is pretty simple: it has a big counter and a few metal tables with classic bottles of ketchup and mustard on each one. Also, if you don’t want pastrami, the deli turkey here is excellent.
Bang Bar is our favorite place to get something quick near Columbus Circle. It’s a counter-service place from the Momofuku team that makes really good Korean wraps and bowls with your option of spicy pork, chicken, or spicy eggplant. Each wrap costs a little less than $6, and they typically sell out by 3 or 4pm in the afternoon. The only catch is that you need to take a few escalators through the Time Warner Center to get here. Think of that as the (optional) stairmaster portion of your workout.
If you want a sit-down bagel experience near the park, go to Russ & Daughters in the bottom of the Jewish Museum on 92nd Street. This location doesn’t get quite as crowded as their LES places, and it’s directly across from the park at 92nd Street. Another option is to order your bagel and eggs at their counter and take it back into the park to enjoy.
If you successfully make it through the top half of the park without tripping on any dog leashes or accidentally running through a pre-natal yoga class, you should go celebrate with tacos at Cantina Harlem. It’s a block from the entrance on Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard, and it’s a great place to sit alone at the bar and eat perfectly-fried fish tacos. Or, if you want to run with some friends, bring everyone here for some nachos to round out the experience. Just try to get there before 7pm so you can take advantage of their Happy Hour food and drink deals.
Not everyone knows that you’re supposed to run counterclockwise around the reservoir, but most people know about Burger Joint. This is one of our favorite options for something casual in the area between Carnegie Hall and the statue at the bottom of Central Park. Get the burger with the works (pickles, onion, tomatoes, and lettuce) and some fries on the side. And, other than the fact that it tastes great, it helps to know that a single cheeseburger here costs a little less than a big bottle of water at a sporting event or concert.
There are two Viand locations in NYC, and the one on the east side is only a few blocks from the Grand Army Plaza entrance and the Zoo. It’s also the only place this close to the bottom of the park where you can sit at a diner counter and eat an incredible turkey club sandwich. The space is sort of diner-meets-deli, and always feels like a Seinfeld character might walk in at any moment. Just know that it’s pretty small in here and that they only take cash.
The burger at J.G. Melon on the UES has a thicker patty than the one at Burger Joint. It’s substantial and qualifies as an “I just ran three miles after not running three miles since 2010” kind of burger. There’s a bar area with a jukebox, and it’s a great place to sit alone and feel proud of yourself. Another significant difference between this place and most other great burger spots in the city is the cottage fries. They’re just as important to your order as the burger itself.
Teranga is a pan-African spot that’s about one block east of the park on the first floor of the Africa Center on 109th. It’s counter-service and very casual (the food comes on metal trays), but the menu has market plates you can customize with things like spicy fried plantains, sweet potato and black eyed pea stew, and different sauces and proteins. Our favorite is the bowl with chicken and crunchy Liberan red rice. Also important to know: Teranga opens at 8am and closes at 7pm (and 9pm on weekends).
Running is a free activity. Sure, it’s not actively saving you any money, but it might be taking the place of something that you otherwise drop cash on (exercise classes, for example). This is exactly the sort of spiraling logic that will inspire a $18 nova lox sandwich from Barney Greengrass. This restaurant is one of the oldest and best places to get smoked fish anywhere in NYC. So we fully endorse that logic.
The debate over Uptown bagels is nearly as contentious as the online comment sections for reviews on running headphones. If you’re looking for the best smoked fish, though, it comes from Zabar’s. This is an old-school gourmet grocery store with a cafe area where you can sit in your shorts and enjoy whitefish salad, knowing you’ll shower afterwards.
The salty beer cheese at Earl’s is so good that, once you try it, you’ll dream about it on all of your future runs through Central Park. And then you’ll probably find yourself constantly running in the direction of 97th and Park Ave (where Earl’s is located). This American spot feels like a bar, with long wooden tables and a pile of board games in the corner, but you can easily come here without drinking. And, if you want to balance out the beer cheese, the chopped kale salad here is actually worth your money and emotional effort.