Walk outside and ask ten people if they like sunsets, golden retrievers, or any Pixar movie that isn’t Cars 2. One of these people will try to fight you, but the others will say something along the lines of, “Yes, of course.” Round up all these people (along with any willing bystanders), bring them all to Melba’s in Harlem, and you’ll get a similarly universal stamp of approval. And the reason for that is simple. It has some of the best soul food in the city.
Take a look at the menu, and your eyes will immediately be drawn to the chicken and waffles. And there are a few reasons for this. It’s at the top, it’s labeled as a winner, and everyone knows that chicken and waffles is a delicious combination that an ancient hero stole from the gods and gifted unto humans. The version here is further proof of this fact, but we actually prefer the rich, tender short ribs that fall apart like they were made by H&M. The crispy, lightly battered catfish is another entree worth your time and money, and there are also a bunch of starters we enjoy, like the BBQ short rib sliders and spring rolls stuffed with collard greens, rice, and cheese.
Spring rolls or no spring rolls, you’ll have a good time at Melba’s. The service is quick and friendly, it’s never too hard to get a table (despite the fact that it always seems to be busy), and, the space consists of two dining rooms filled with paintings, mirrors, and enough hanging lamps to open a hanging lamp store. Birthday parties are common here, but so are dates and people having weeknight dinners. There’s also a little bar near the entrance that’s always at least 60% full of people eating, drinking, or both, and it’s a good spot to meet new people if all your friends recently moved to LA or got raptured or something.
If your friends haven’t been raptured, bring a few for a quick weeknight meal. The music tends to be so loud that you have to enunciate and do a little lip-reading, and you’ll probably leave wondering if you’ll ever feel the desire to consume food again. But that’s half the fun of this place, and it’s easy to get people on board when there’s catfish, fried chicken, and bite-size short rib sliders involved. Melba’s is extremely easy to like, and it’s one of the best spots for casual dinner in Harlem. Treat it accordingly.
Chicken & Eggnog Waffles
A big piece of fried chicken over a crunchy waffle that doesn’t really taste like eggnog, but is very good regardless. We’re pretty big fans of this dish, but we also like to order the chicken as an entrée (without the waffle). That way, it comes with a few sides.
Maybe you’re of the opinion that gravy improves everything. Get your chicken smothered. We prefer it plain (because fried chicken gets considerably less crunchy when covered in gravy), but if there’s a voice in the back of your head whispering “gravy” on repeat, know that the smothered chicken is still a very solid choice.
This catfish is crispy and well-seasoned, and you can either get it with a few sides, or you can have it on top of a waffle - which you should consider, seeing as how it’s great with syrup. Which brings us to another point: you’ll always have syrup on your table here, and you should feel free to pour it over everything.
Wine Braised Short Ribs
So soft, so tender. We’d like a mattress stuffed with these short ribs that we could sleep on at night and snack on in the morning. Order with confidence.
Southern Crab Cakes
Some crab cakes are coarse and chunky, but these are on the creamier side, and we endorse them. Just be sure to squeeze some lemon over the top, and make use of the tartar sauce on the side.
BBQ Short Rib Sliders
You might even be thinking to yourself, “I could definitely make those things at home.” And yeah, you probably could. But the short rib wouldn’t be nearly as flavorful, and you wouldn’t have the same perfectly squishy buns.
Melba’s Spring Rolls
These are some perfectly good spring rolls stuffed with rice, peas, cheese, and collard greens - but do you need them? Not really. We’d go for the crab cakes or short rib sliders instead.
Trés Mac And Cheese
With most of the entrees here, you get a choice of two sides. This very solid mac and cheese should be one of them.
A little sweet and a little spicy, these juicy collard greens are another one of our go-to sides.
Picture a bonfire doused in sugar. That’s exactly what these yams taste like. They’re sweet and smoky. Did we say that already? Well, they’re extremely sweet. And if you’re ok with that, please order.
If you’re absolutely determined to eat something a little lighter, by all means get a side of sauteéed spinach. Just know that it’s sauteéd spinach - nothing more, nothing less.
It pains us to say this, but the fries at Melba’s are very unremarkable, and you don’t need them in your life.