When it comes to dining in New York City, visitors flock to Soho, the Meatpacking District, the Lower East Side, even Williamsburg, and for good reasons: craft kitchens, chic décor and cheap eats, to name a few. But, not many people are going just a few subway stops away from Times Square to fuel up at restaurants on the Upper West Side, and they’re making a big mistake.
Nonresidents think the UWS is for families and settling down—which it is—but it also breeds a vibrant culinary scene that’s been bursting with flavor since before the first foodie set foot in Brooklyn.
What’s great about UWS dining is that you’ll find up-and-coming chefs sidling up to sprawling spaces that house some of Manhattan’s oldest and most iconic restaurants. A lot of popular restaurants groups, like Blue Ribbon, have secret outposts uptown, along with a slew of new hotspots.
These restaurants provide five reasons to venture uptown on your next visit to the city.
Walking into this dark resto-bar and lounge (pictured at top), inspired by—you guessed it—Tel Aviv, is like walking into a family-owned restaurant in Israel’s second most populous city. Maybe it’s because you hear people speaking Hebrew all around you. Maybe it’s the perfectly creamy and spiced hummus or fluffy couscous that seems to have flown in all the way from Israel. Or maybe it’s the tight-knit community vibes this small corner spot emits, thanks to friendly staff and an ever-present owner. Whatever it is, you’ll easily spend a few hours in TLV, and leave feeling like you were on vacation in the Mediterranean.
2. The Ribbon
Believe it or not, one of NYC’s trendiest restaurant groups (Blue Ribbon) has an outpost on Manhattan’s homely Upper West Side. The restaurant that stretches to what seems like the other side of the block screams Upper West Side comfort with leather booths, exposed brick, dark wood furniture and tons of space (take that, cramped East Village). The Ribbon’s menu features high-end takes on home-style dishes like their selection of deviled eggs and the “Ribbon” dip with prime rib and caramelized onion broth. The restaurant’s extensive spirits collection channels the famed 1920s mob-ridden hotel that occupied the property years before, the Franconia.
3. El Mitote
This small but mighty restaurant serves up authentic Mexican cuisine in a non-stuffy, colorful and rustic atmosphere. Dancing couples were painted directly on the bright turquoise walls, under the phrase ”Disfruta, come, y bebe, que la vida es breve.” Enjoy, eat, and drink, because life will sink. So, enjoy their Mexican tortas with assorted fillings and toppings inside pressed bread or their meat platters, which arrive at your table before you’ve finished sipping your mason jar margarita.
4. Blossom on Columbus
Photo courtesy of Blossom
This casual venue’s bright and airy atmosphere perfectly matches their vegan cuisine and setting in the slightly-greener-than-the-rest-of-Manhattan Upper West Side. A farm feeling permeates through the plants hung on the walls and wood tables, and that vibe is furthered by the ingredients from local farms and small distribution companies. Vegan or not, you’ll be drooling over Blossom’s menu items like vegetable lasagna with layers of grilled eggplant, zucchini, sweet potato, red quinoa, tofu ricotta, marinara sauce, soy mozzarella, and rocket salad. If you eat here only once, don’t leave without trying the tacos filled with roasted adobo-spiced mushrooms, cabbage, guacamole, carrot/poblano escabeche, and micro cilantro.
5. Smoke Jazz & Supper Club
For a little music on the side of your meal, head up to Smoke Jazz & Supper Club on 106th street. What feels like a plush living room features legends like Wynton Marsalis and up-and-coming bands seven nights a week, and multiple times a day Sunday. The restaurant has been open for 17 years but it sits on the site of another legendary New York jazz club, Augie’s. The heavy drapes and lounge furniture make for great acoustics and a cozy place to enjoy their Dark and Stormy short ribs with gosling’s ginger beer marinade, chipotle peppers, creamy cheddar cheese mashed potatoes and coffee roasted baby carrots. Wash it down with a drink of the same name and change your day permanently and for the better.
Maggie Parker is Paste Magazine’s assistant travel editor.