The Upper West Side is home to Lincoln Center, sweeping views of Central Park and a big chunk of wealthy New Yorkers pushing strollers. For years, people thought the UWS was inferior to the vivacious food scene downtown. After all, how could pre-war buildings and sterile dining rooms compete with the energy and charm of Soho and the Village?
All that's changed.
Today, the Upper West Side's Michelin-starred hotspots like Per Se and Boulud Sud rub shoulders with neighborhood standbys that have stood proud for decades. Places such as Absolute Bagel, where New Yorkers line up around the block to get their doughy breakfast fix, or Barney Greengrass, where smoked sturgeon and lox have held the hearts - and stomachs - of locals for decades.
Once newcomers like Awadh and Redfarm brought some of downtown's ethnic charm a little further north, the Upper West Side was no longer a graveyard for delicious eats. Instead it's become a dining destination with residents from all over the city taking notice and trekking past Columbus Circle to see what all the fuss is about.
When they arrive, they're not disappointed in what they find. You won't be either after perusing our list of the Upper West Side's most revered restaurants.
Good Indian food and the Upper West Side have not traditionally been synonymous with one another. That is, until Awadh opened its doors on Broadway this summer. Awadh specializes in slow-cooked Indian cuisine - many of the dishes, including the lamb shanks in an aromatic stock, are cooked on low heat for over 24 hours. You'll recognize standbys like chicken tikka with saffron and cashew gravy here, in addition to more upscale options like the crab meat with butter and garlic. On the fence about giving it a shot? Indian food fanatics from all over the city have gone as far to call this the best Indian in New York right now. (646-861-3604)
This teeny Italian pizzeria has been dishing out Napoleon-style pies for over a decade. But that's not all that's coming out of their kitchen. A collection of apps, like the shaved baby artichokes with parmesan, or the pastas (try the linguine in clam sauce), appear just as regularly on diner's tables as the wood-fired pizzas. Like others on this list, Celeste is also cash only and fills up quickly every night of the week. To dodge the hordes, plan on arriving at 5PM, or prepare to hit the neighboring bars for a pint while you wait for a table to open up. (212-874-4559)
Braving the crowds is worth it when it comes to scoring a table at Redfarm, a modern take on Chinese dim sum. While dim sum purists often decry the hefty price tag of these bite-sized eats, Redfarm's loyal patrons have no problem dishing out a few extra dollars to elevate their Asian experience. Redfarm calls its food "innovative Chinese cuisine with greenmarket sensibility," and is one of the only Chinese restaurants in the city where you'll find the farm-to-table mindset alive and well. Start with the famous Pac Man shrimp dumplings and graduate to larger mains like mussels with eggplant or lobster with chopped pork and egg while sipping on sake, or a collection of more inventive cocktails. ((212) 724-9700)
New York: land of the free and home of the bagel. And when you're on the Upper West Side, there's no where else to indulge your craving for this doughy staple than at Absolute Bagels on Broadway. Duck beneath the unassuming white-and-red striped awning and enter bagel paradise, where for precisely $1 you can stuff your face with New York's finest. Pull out a few more dollars and load your bagel up with a combination of everything from lox and cream cheese to jalapeños and scallions. If you want to skip the lines, aim to pop in on a weekday when the crowds are thinner. (212-932-2052)
Roundly lauded for its fabulous Central Park views, this Columbus Circle treasure serves French-influenced American cuisine that matches, stride-for-stride, the magic of Napa's French Laundry. In fact, Per Se takes nods from its West Coast sibling in several regards, from the signature blue door entrance to the elegant, yet understated decor. What's more, each embraces owner-chef Thomas Keller's proven hands-on approach and impeccable attention-to-detail. At Per Se this means that all three of the prix fixe menus are determined daily -- perhaps one of the reasons Keller's masterpiece has earned him three Michelin stars. Expect to drop a pretty penny, as each tasting menu costs $310 before alcohol. Reservations - a must - are accepted two months in advance. (212-823-9335)
New American chef Bill Telepan opened this fashionable dining room on West 69th in the winter of 2005, and in the time since it has enjoyed no shortage of critical acclaim. The reason for this is simplicity - that is, Telepan has a knack for molding basic, familiar ingredients in ways that amaze the palate. The menu changes seasonally, with representative dishes including dry-aged sirloin with short-rib hash, monkfish with lobster-corn sauce, and seared duck breast with apricots, black and gold rice, and baby turnips. In the warmer months, the restaurant builds picnic baskets for in-park dining - just be sure to call and order before 5PM the day prior to your rendezvous. (212-580-4300)
The uptown answer to Russ & Daughters, Barney Greengrass is a New York institution that serves up smoked fish platters, caviar and bagels. Located on Amsterdam Avenue, this deli has won best deli in New York more times than we can count, and for good reason. Though the aesthetics of the space could use an upgrade, what's coming out of the kitchen is one of the most authentically Jewish meals this side of Israel. Breakfast is the meal of choice at Barney Greengrass, so prepare to wait for a table during peak hours. Or, opt to use the waiting time to hit up the ATM - this joint is cash only. (212-724-4707)
Ethiopian cuisine is rarely talked about outside of foodie circles, but one trip to Zoma and we're willing to bet you'll be raving to your friends about this African fare. Packed to the rafters with vegan and vegetarian options in addition to meaty delicacies, Zoma recently won Michelin's Bib Gourmand award, which recognizes the best moderately-priced restaurants. Regulars insist on ordering the honey wine to accompany your mega-sized portions of everything from kitfo (steak tartare) to awaze tibs (marinated and stir-fried lamb cubes served with onions and green peppers). And a heads up on dining etiquette: Ethiopians often eat with their hands, and Zoma encourages its patrons to follow suit. (212-662-0620)
Just a few blocks north of Keller's Per Se, chef Daniel Boulud awakens palates with his sophisticated take on Mediterranean food. A popular dinner choice for Lincoln Center theater-goers, Boulud Sud's ambiance is simple and well-coordinated - the perfect backdrop for the bold flavors of the cuisine. Patrons have the option of ordering a la carte, or choosing the three course prix fixe menu for $60. If you're not interested in fighting the high-culture crowd at supper, opt to dine at lunch, where the food is every bit as delicious and the prices are a tad friendlier on the wallet. (212-595-1313)
Celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongrichten has a culinary empire that spans the globe, but his eponymous restaurant connected to the Upper West Side's tony Trump Hotel remains a gold standard for the chef's subtly Asian-inflected, French haute cuisine. His now-legendary salmon tartare and young garlic soup remain enormously popular with Harry Winston-wearing hotel guests, well-dressed ladies who lunch, and top-tier executives from nearby Hearst offices. The front room, Nougatine, was recently remodeled with a sleek, modern aesthetic, neutral color palette and increasingly casual atmosphere. Both dining rooms, however, maintain their stalwart service standard, expense account-worthy cuisine and bright, dappled natural light over Central Park West. (212-299-3900, 212-356-0688)
About Andrea Duchon
Andrea Duchon was bitten by the travel bug from an early age, and has lived in New York, Seattle, Cleveland and Sydney, Australia since 2007.
When she's not traveling or planning a trip, you'll likely find her eating tacos while throwing darts and watching the Cleveland Browns.
Read more about Andrea Duchon here.
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