Harlem has eight zip codes, and it touches two rivers. So, yeah, it’s pretty big, and there are a lot of restaurants. Here are some of our all-time favorites. These places do Japanese, Italian, Ethiopian, Mexican, Soul Food, and more. So pick a spot and bring a date, or take your parents, or just eat by yourself while you watch YouTube tutorials on how to paint your dog’s toenails. Whatever the situation, this guide has you covered.
Bono Trattoria serves excellent Neapolitan pies and fresh pastas in a setting that works for everything from a friend hang, to a date, to dinner with your parents. It’s run by a couple of Italian guys, and it’s the kind of place where you could just as easily split a couple pizzas and bottles of wine at happy hour as you could go for a full-on multi-course dinner. They open up all the big windows in the summer so that it feels indoor/outdoor, and the space has a laid-back, really comfortable feel. This is our favorite place to eat Italian food in Harlem.
Imagine a cocktail in a conch shell. Or one with a little garden scene on top that has a man pruning bushes. Now open your eyes, and stop wasting your time. You can go to ROKC and see these things in person. And, for how gimmicky they sound, they’re honestly pretty good. Plus, they serve do some great oysters and ramen here (that’s what the “R” and “O” stand for), and it’s an overall fun experience.
If it’s one of those Sundays when you haven’t left your apartment, you have no plans to do so, but you decide you should really be out in the world, we’d suggest you head to Barawine. It’s the kind of place where drinking a glass or three alone is a very nice activity, and on Sundays, they also have live jazz. This place is split into two sections, with a long bar on one side, and a small dining room serving a big menu of French-ish American food on the other. It’s light and bright, and would also be great for an early-in-the-game-date on the bar side or a friend group catch up over dinner in the dining room.
Sylvia’s is a Harlem institution. For soul food, this is the biggest name uptown - and for good reason. They’ve been open since 1962, and there happens to be a street named after Sylvia. So if you haven’t already eaten here, stop by. Get some catfish, ribs, or fried chicken with a sider of mac & cheese. The space is huge (so feel free to bring a group), and also there’s a gospel brunch with live music on Sundays.
The Edge is the kind of place you wish you had below your apartment, instead of the artisanal vape shop or bodega you only use to buy single rolls of toilet paper. This is a cozy all-day spot with low ceilings, red brick, and a handful of tables, and (maybe because it’s run by two sisters) it feels like eating in someone’s home. The menu is a mix of Jamaican stuff (jerk chicken), British dishes (fish & chips), and American classics (burgers), and while they do dinner here, it’s an especially good place for brunch, which they serve daily.
If you hit Lido in the evening, you’d just assume it was another reliable, slightly romantic neighborhood Italian place. And it is. But if you visit on a weekend day, you’ll find a bottomless brunch situation that people take very seriously. For $16, you’ll get two hours of all the mimosas you want, along with brunch food that’s certainly not mind-blowing, but also much better than it needs to be after an hour of never-ending mimosas.
Are there bears in Mexico? That’s a thing we Googled while waiting for our tacos at Oso (translation: bear), a newish modern 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.
Vinateria is a Spanish/Italian restaurant in Harlem with a minimalist dining room that looks great and is perfect for date night. Although this is one of those places that’s perfect for literally everyone, so feel free to bring your kids or your parents.There are a lot of small plates to share, they have some great wine and cocktails, and they do a really good brunch. Plus, there are plenty of seats outside in the summer.
Amy Ruth’s doesn’t do the best mac & cheese, and they definitely don’t do the best cornbread. But if you aren’t into the fried chicken here, you need to get your tastebuds checked. It’s good stuff, and the cornbread is free anyways, so it’s not like you can complain about it. This place is great for groups, kids, and the random weeknight when you need a big plate of unhealthy food in front of you.
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.
Inoue is not the kind of sushi place where you can order a couple rolls and get in and out in 45 minutes. This is a place where the fish is flown in from Japan, the chef makes his own blend of soy sauce, and there are two different types of rice for the nigiri (chosen according to the weight and flavor of each fish). In other words: this is a place to come if you are serious about your sushi. You can do a la carte here, but omakase at the bar is the best way to watch the chef work his magic - it starts at $52 for nine pieces.
BLVD is a small restaurant in the bottom of a brownstone, and they do slightly-upscale Southern food. Here, you can get shrimp & grits, fried chicken, or a few different kinds of sandwiches made with their homemade biscuits. It’s also a charming little space, and the front patio is slightly below street-level, so it feels nice and hidden. Come for a casual lunch or brunch with friends, or stop by when you feel like eating something fried and/or cheesy for dinner.
Tsion Cafe is an Ethiopian/Israeli restaurant, and it might just be the friendliest place on this list. It’s in the bottom of a small residential building, and the front of the space sort of looks like a family dental practice. There are a few couches and a table with some magazines, and beyond that you’ll find some tables and a little bar. The walls are also covered in art, and there’s a great backyard for date night. As for food, they do things like shakshuka, chicken stew, and a great Ethiopian vegetarian combo that comes with a side of injera (the bread you’ll use as a utensil). There’s also a burger or a smoked salmon salad.
The Southern food at Red Rooster is fine. But that’s not why you come here. You come to Red Rooster because few other NYC restaurants feel as alive this one. The bar area is mobbed, the DJ is spinning funk and soul tunes (or come on a Sunday, and the jazz band will be jamming), and people generally appear to be having a blast. Whether you’re here for brunch or a late-night dinner, it’s going to feel like the kind of party where you actually know people.
Harlem Shake opened in 2013, but it was designed to look like a diner from the 1950’s. And that might sound cheesy, but it really isn’t. Or maybe it is, and we just don’t care - because the burgers are good (kind of like a fancier Wendy’s), they do a deep-fried hot dog, and we’re particular fans of their red velvet shake. So come here for a fun night out with friends when everyone just wants to go into a food coma.
La Savane is a go-to spot in Harlem for casual West African food in a cozy dining room that tends to stay busy. Here, you’ll eat things like grilled fish, lamb shanks, plantains, and couscous, and the portion sizes tend to be pretty large. So bring a few friends, and share some things, or stop by with your parents if everyone wants to eat something a little more interesting.
You don’t go to Harlem Tavern for the food. It’s isn’t bad (and it’s definitely a little better than your average bar food), but you really come here for the ample space, the TVs playing sports, and the enormous front patio. If drinking outdoors or watching sports while eating burgers with is a group is a priority, this is the place.
There are a lot of French restaurants around Harlem, but our favorite of the bunch is Maison Harlem. It’s an all-day spot that feels a bit like Cheers - everyone seems to know everyone’s name here. There are regulars for lunch, big crowds at brunch, and people on casual dates at dinner - though the smartest time to hit it is probably on weekdays from 11am to 7pm, when there’s $5 beer and wine and $1 oysters. The quiche lorraine here will turn you into a quiche person.
Up front, this place doesn’t look very big, but if you head past the counter, you’ll find a little dining room and a decent-sized backyard with some picnic tables. It’s sort of like being at the beach, minus the ocean. So, if it’s nice out, head over here and get a pot of crab legs and shrimp. The food is a mix between Caribbean and New England-type stuff, and they also do things like jerk chicken and bunch of sandwiches on johnny cake. And feel free to supplement any meal with a carafe of rum punch.
When you don’t feel like cooking, but you also don’t feel like eating in a restaurant, and you also needed to be fed approximately three hours ago, your move should be The Handpulled Noodle. In addition to being efficient and convenient, you can’t do much better in the area for Chinese noodles and dumplings. Unlike the flat, wide noodles you might have tried at X’ian Famous Foods, this place’s specialty is “ding ding noodles,” which kind of look like gnocchi. Get them with spicy cumin lamb, and it’s an incredibly satisfying plate of food that you’ll want to eat immediately. Not just because it’s delicious, but also because they tell you to do so.
Sottocasa’s pizza achieves that rare, perfect crust texture: chewy, but not soggy, charred, but not crusty. It’s surprising more people don’t know about this place, given that the pies are pretty incredible. So take this knowledge and remember it the next time you want to eat a pizza that will make you feel like you’re in Italy. The setting might not be quite as picturesque as somewhere there, but this basement spot is perfectly acceptable for a casual weeknight dinner.
If you’re looking for ramen in Harlem, you’ll want to go to Jin. It’ll probably be crowded when you go, but you should take that as a good sign. The tonkatsu ramen is our favorite one here, and you should get the spicy version if you appreciate significant heat. They also do a vegetarian ramen, and feel free to order the pork buns. The pork might be a little chewier than you’re used to (kind of like bacon), but they’re still pretty good. This place is also nice and casual, and if you’re a student at Columbia you should absolutely know about this place.
Walk into Babbalucci, and you’ll notice a wood-burning oven in the back of the dining room. And that’s what makes this place an above-average neighborhood Italian restaurant. They do about twenty different pizzas in two different sizes (with toppings like duck prosciutto and gorgonzola) in addition to a full menu of pastas, small plates, and proteins. This place isn’t huge, but it’s cozy and family-friendly and the little front patio is a great place to drink wine when it’s nice out.
New York City has finally moved out of the Dark Ages of barbecue, but before Hometown and Mighty Quinn’s existed, there was Dinosaur. They’ve been in Harlem since 2004 (though they now have eight other locations), and while it’s not the best smoked meat in the the city, it always gets the job done. Dinosaur is a great spot for affordable big group meat feasts.
Ponty Bistro is a mix of several things. It’s part Mediterranean, part African, and - with stuff like a lobster BLT and truffle mac & cheese - part Midtown-at-lunchtime American. It’s an interesting blend, and you probably won’t find escargot, kale salad, and Senegalese steak together at any other restaurant. We also like the fact that there’s a lot of outdoor seating here, and the dining room itself is great for a slightly upscale date night. It isn’t stuffy, but you can eat steak tartare at a candlelit table with someone.
Fumo, a corner Italian spot right across the street from City College, is a textbook example of the Super Cute Reasonably Priced Restaurant For Catching Up With A Few Friends. It’s an attractive, white-walled space with marble countertops, lots of plants, and big bright photographs covering the walls. More importantly: the casual Italian classics are good. And while Fumo is ideal for splitting pizzas, pastas, and appetizers among friends, it’s also great for a first date when you have no idea how it’s going to go.