Bracketed by Central Park and Riverside Park, and distinguished by regal, two-towered apartment buildings along Central Park West–The Upper West Side is home to Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, sweeping views of Central Park and a big chunk of wealthy New Yorkers pushing strollers. There's culture n the form of the American Museum of Natural History, the Beacon Theatre. 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 Barney Greengrass, Celeste and Symposium where New Yorkers line up around the block for smoked sturgeon and lox, pizza and pastas or moussaka and ouzo that have held the hearts - and stomachs - of locals for decades.
Newcomers like Awadh and RedFarm have 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. And lately the Bromberg Brothers have moved their spectacular American cuisine at The Ribbon to the former Franconia Hotel.
When diners 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.
Owned by Giancarlo Quadalti, who owns Teodora on East 57th Street with his wife, Roberta Ruggini, Celeste serves honest, rustic, and flavorful Neoplotian-style pizzas. Set in a tiny space of 18 tables, this is a family-friendly and sure way to please picky pizza and pasta palates A small collection of appetizers like the shaved baby artichokes with parmesan, or the fritto misto di pesce (fried fish) or the feagatini di pollo (chicken livers) could be enough for an entree, but do try one or two of the pastas linguine in clam sauce or the ravioli burro salvia (ravioli in sage butter), appear just as regularly on diners' tables as the wood-fired pizzas. 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)
Celebrate something here in Greek – friendly, generous – that about covers the service, the food, the conviviality that leaves locals remembering when they celebrated a birthday back in 1974. New York City was once jammed with such places but now the survivors are like local treasures. Tucked away on a sidestreet, it is a tad north of the Upper West Side, Symposium has been here since 1969. The owners will tell you their tales of immigration and struggle if you ask, but mostly they want to serve you moussaka, spanokopita, lemon potatoes, avgolemono soup with smiles all around. Not only are the same owners running the show for over 40 years, the kitchen staff will celebrate your good fortune or birthday too.The art on the walls and ceiling harken back to the record cover designs (the Beatles, Iron Butterfly, Cream) and Peter Max: playful, a little psychedelic, with an undercurrent of radical sensibility. (212-865-1011)
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)
The Ribbon is the Blue Ribbon Restaurants' first restaurant on New York City's Upper West Side and its eight outpost in the city. Brothers, Eric and Bruce Bromberg have created something of a mini-empire as they pair classic food, local ingredients with crisp service. Just West of Central Park, The Ribbon's industrial décor captures the grace of its 1920's predecessor - the infamous Hotel Franconia. So slip into a banquette for a meal among friends and family, you're bound to recognize many of the Blue Ribbon classics.The menu features delights for all palates, from sushi to fried chicken, spit-roasted meats, seafood with an extensive bar and whisky menu. (212-787-5656)
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 on weekends. (212-724-4707)
Braving the crowds is worth it when it comes to scoring a table at RedFarm, the Upper West Side Haute Chinese American take on 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. Ed Schoenfeld and chef Joe Ng have perfected this concept by introducing what they call, "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)
Owner Henry Rinehart is no newcomer to hospitality, and creating just the right neighborly yet sophisticated vibe at this bistro. Spacious, contemporary with an extensive menu & plenty of sidewalk seating. Dining Room and Bar are designed after Arts & Crafts masterpiece, the Gamble House, with stunning mahogany wainscoting and French doors looking out over the busiest street in the world. The walls are filled with bright, food-themed poster art from the Herman Miller Company's "Summer Picnic" series. HENRY's is the restaurant that one of New York City's greatest neighborhoods deserves. (2128660600)
Just a few blocks north of Keller's Per Se, this may well be chef Daniel Boulud's ode to all Mediterranean flavors from the shores of Southern France to the coast of North Africa, from Italy to Morocco, Turkey and beyond. A semi-open kitchen gives a glimpse of the magic. 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; Express lunch costs $19 from Mon.-Fri. and weekend brunch prix fixe clocks in at $34. Portions are generous, dine alfreso in warm months; hard to take a misstep here. And yes, there is hummus, falafel but neither is like any you have tasted elsewhere. (212-595-1313)
One of the world's most famous chefs, Jean-Georges Vongrichten is also a savvy businessman whose constellation of culinary successes span the globe [to Tokyo's Roppongi Hills). But the location on the Upper West Side is the jewel in the crown that 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 offices. The front room, Nougatine, has a sleek, modern aesthetic, neutral color palette and increasingly casual atmosphere; Tasting Menu at lunch costs $158. 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)
Chef Thomas Keller is the first and only American-born chef to hold multiple three-star ratings from the prestigious Michelin Guide. 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 $325 before alcohol. Reservations - a must - are accepted two months in advance. (212-823-9335)
About Maria Lisella
No matter how many countries Maria Lisella has visited (62), this native New Yorker finds the world at her doorstep in amazing Queens where its residents speak 138 languages.
Maria writes about New York and other destinations for outlets including NYC & Company, AFAR, Travel and Leisure, Wells Fargo Conversations, and others.
As the Queens Poet Laureate, 2015-2018, she observes, listens and captures the urban energy of NYC in poetry and prose.
Her book Thieves in the Family has been described as “… a collection of postcards from the Global Village…”
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