Harlem has five 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.
If you’re looking for soul food, Harlem has plenty of options. But if you’re looking for a great neighborhood spot that isn’t swamped with tourists like Sylvia’s or Red Rooster, go to Melba’s. This place gets busy, but it’s usually pretty easy to grab a table, and the food is very good. The chicken and waffles are mandatory, the short ribs are also excellent, and you should get a side of mac and cheese with whatever you order.
If you want to have a really impressive night in Harlem without cooking a steak or hosting a talent show in your apartment, Clay is probably the best place to do it. So the next time you have a date or some relatives staying in a hotel in Midtown, bring them to this nice American restaurant for some perfectly al dente garganelli mixed with kale and pork sausage, and a confit duck that you’ll want to pick up like a turkey leg at Medieval Times. If you’re on a date, make a reservation and sit downstairs - it’s comfortable and dimly lit enough to read menus but also hide shirt stains. Clay is also great for a nice solo meal at the bar if you come during their daily Happy Hour.
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 that’s suited for drinking a glass or three alone, especially on Sundays, when they also have live music. 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.
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 side 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.
Maybe you have your heart set on eating exactly one big spoonful of mac and cheese along with a single rib, a piece of fried chicken, some candied yams, and either four or five green beans. There aren’t a lot restaurants that can make this happen, but fortunately, there’s Jacob’s. It’s a buffet where you scoop your own food and pay by the pound, and it has everything from okra and oxtails to spaghetti and fried chicken. Just grab a styrofoam container, and fill it up with everything your heart desires, along with several things it doesn’t desire currently, but might desire later. It’s $6.49 per pound, and you can either eat in the little dining room to the side, or take your food to go.
Abyssnia is an ideal neighborhood spot to bring a friend or a date if you don’t mind sharing some excellent spicy beef stew off of the same plate. The food here is Ethiopian, extremely good, and all of the vegetable dishes are vegan. Get the meat or vegetable combo, and between the different stews, injera bread and vegetable sides, you’ll have a ton of food for around $15-20 per person. Also - there’s a list of wine and Ethiopian beer, but it’s pretty limited.
On Monday nights at Lenox Sapphire, you can get $5 flavored martinis and there’s a live DJ playing music loud enough for a festival. This is just one example of how hard this American and West African restaurant parties. There are events and specials throughout the week, so you should look at their schedule ahead of time to see what’s going on. Bring some friends who don’t mind screaming over the music to talk and order the beef nems (fried spring rolls) - they’re crispy and great.
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.
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.
If we didn’t have to eat at lots of restaurants, we’d probably come to Kingston every week just to get their jerk chicken. This is a casual Jamaican spot with colorful portraits of Bob Marley on the walls and lots of rum cocktails. The food, like curry goat and braised oxtail, is all really good - but the jerk chicken especially stands out. Instead of a dry rub, it’s covered in a vinegar-y sauce and stays nice and juicy.
Amy Ruth’s doesn’t do the best mac and 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.
Harlem Shake opened in 2013, but it was designed to look like a diner from the 1950s. 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.
There are two things you need to know about this French-American restaurant right off of 135th Street. The first is that there’s a daily Happy Hour that runs until 8pm that involves $5 frozen margaritas and pina coladas. The second is that they have picnic tables on the sidewalk. During the day, this is a great place to bring your laptop and get some work done (or get brunch on the weekends). At night, bring some friends and eat some of their bechamel mac and cheese.
If you want to pick up some good, quick fried chicken, this place is a great option. If you couldn’t tell from the name, they use pans (instead of a deep fryer) to fry their chicken, and the result is some fried bird that’s lightly battered, juicy, and perfectly crispy. The mac and cheese and collard greens are also pretty solid, and you should order both of these things as sides - but don’t get distracted and forget to get some cornbread. It’s light, fluffy, and just a little bit sweet, and, unlike a lot of other cornbread out there, it stays moist.
Similar to outlets in your bedroom, everyone should be aware of their closest great neighborhood sushi spot. And, in the case of anyone who lives near 125th Street in Central Harlem, that sushi spot should be Yuzu. The rolls and pieces here are all moderately priced (most are under $10), and there are a few different sake options that you can make a flight out of. Yuzu is casual and relaxed enough for everyone from a date to a family with several middle-school aged children, and the bar works well if you want to just stop by for a solo meal.
The area near the 116th Street Subway Station has a bunch of Senegalese and West African food, and Pikine makes some of the best. The space is just a single room with some booths and TVs mounted to the walls, and it’s exactly the sort of relaxed place you could bring a group and spend a few hours on any given Thursday night. We especially like the whole fried red snapper and the dibi lamb (both come with a bunch mustardy onions and your choice of side). Choose the couscous as your side and then mix everything together - you’ll be in good shape.
Keur Sohkna is another good Senegalese restaurant in the area that makes a chunky and rich peanut butter stew (suluxu) that we sometimes think about when we’re eating less delicious things. It’s quiet and very casual in here, with just a few tables and lots of people coming in and out with to-go orders. We like the dibi lamb a bit more at Pikine, but the vermicelli noodles here are chewy and great. Whatever you order, make sure you try a side of them.
We’re never going to make a list of the most charming restaurants in NYC, but if we did, Belle Harlem would be near the top. This place is one tiny room with 12 seats around a counter, and eating here feels almost exactly like attending a dinner party at a friend’s apartment. The menu is small and à la carte, and it consists of upscale, vaguely American things like duck with foie gras gravy and some very good mac and cheese spring rolls with bacon marmalade. It can get a little pricey here (most entreées are in the $40-$50 range), but if you’re looking to have a special night out at an intimate, friendly spot without having to throw a dinner party yourself, it’s worth it.
Fieldtrip is a counter-service spot that specializes in rice bowls. This might sound boring, and maybe you even yawned just now, but the food here is tasty, fresh, and just the right amount of healthy. You can get a bowl with brown rice, beef, and turmeric yogurt, for example, or you can get some crispy breaded chicken over long-grain rice with edamame and barbecue sauce. There are also a few sides like some surprisingly decent quinoa bao buns, and everything here costs less than $15.
Eating at Cantina Taqueria on 111th Street is like attending a town hall with nicely fried fish tacos, unlimited chips and salsa, and a sign on the wall that says “Tequila Street.” There are two locations of this Mexican restaurant (one right above Central Park and one on the corner of Malcom X and 126th Street). Both are suitable for big groups of people who want to drink a few margaritas (each), and both have Happy Hours that run until 7pm during the week.
See above. The main difference between this location and the Central Park location is that there’s a patio out front with a bunch of tables (most of which will probably be filled during Happy Hour).
The Cecil is an upscale American restaurant that shares a kitchen with a famous Jazz bar (Minton’s Playhouse). Even though the menu reads old-school (steaks, some good clams casino, caesar salad), the restaurant is sleek, with low turquoise velvet booths and colorful paintings on the walls. The specialty here is steak, and there are approximately ten different cuts on the menu. Also - If you just want to meet someone for a martini, there’s a pretty big bar area that feels distinct from the dining room space and often has live piano music.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 city, it always gets the job done. Dinosaur is a great spot for affordable big group meat feasts.
If you’re looking for a date spot with someone who your coworker promises that “you’ll actually like,” La Diagonal’s big corner space makes it ideal for drinks and some snacks. This Mexican restaurant is a few feet above the sidewalk and there are tons of big windows (that they open up when it’s nice out) so you can look out like you’re in some sort of Harlem villa. The tapas are pretty expensive and not nearly as exciting as the restaurant’s set-up. Get a few mezcal drinks and the tuna ceviche and use the word agave like you know everything about the plant.
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 you like.