This Restaurant Reinvented the McGriddle
Best pizza the size of your face: Koronet Pizza
Koronet Pizza has been a campus (and neighborhood) classic for years -- and for good reason. The slices here are arguably the biggest in the entire city, so unlike all your other late-night pizza haunts, you won’t have to worry about doubling up to be full. Toppings are myriad, but not necessary. If you have enough friends to consume a whole pie -- about the size of a car tire -- you deserve a prize.
Best date spot without a view of campus: Pisticci
Regardless of whether or not you live in Morningside Heights, this tiny trattoria is worth making a plan to dine there. Over a freshly shaken cocktail, you can enjoy comforting dishes like homemade fettuccine with mushrooms, or fresh cavatelli with vegetables. If you’re eager to Lady-and-the-Tramp it up, maybe skip the whole clove-roasted garlic bread and go for La Spaghettata, a shareable bowl of spaghetti for two. Pisticci also has the distinct honor of being New York’s first carbon-neutral restaurant, using renewable energy and recycling food waste into fertilizer for the restaurant’s organic farm.
Best affordable feast for friends: Malaysia Grill
Starting at just $7, these Malaysian and Chinese lunch specials (think rice noodles with shrimp and basil chicken) are some of the cheapest and best in the neighborhood. But the best time to come is for dinner, when you can get traditional dishes like Mee Goreng and Beef Rendang, heaped onto large plates that are easily shareable with a big group. Other must-trys include the crystal dumplings and Kari Sayur Campur, a clay pot loaded with vegetables (ask for extra okra), tofu, and crystal noodles in spicy coconut broth. And be sure to sub all rice for coconut rice.
Best takeout picnic: Saiguette
This grab-and-go Vietnamese spot is a not-so-secret hole in the wall just steps from both Central and Morningside Park. With the exception of seafood (you can skip it, there are countless other great options), pretty much every dish on the menu is under $12, including several types of pho and banh mi. The move is to order a bun bowl topped with your choice of protein (lemongrass pork shoulder, pork belly, grilled chicken, etc.) and a side of steamed moon dumplings.
Best brunch when your parents are visiting: Community Food & Juice
Michelle Obama was spotted here in 2015 during Malia’s campus tours, so you know all the cool parents are treating their kids to brioche French toast with blackberries and lemon curd and fresh OJ. Brunchers (and breakfasters) looking for both sweet and savory dishes will find a slew of options here, many of which can be made gluten-free.
Best seafood joint: LoLo's Seafood Shack
This Cape Cod-Caribbean mash-up restaurant is known for its fresh, high-quality seafood (that you can actually afford!). Go for the $10 peel-and-eat shrimp boil soaked in a healthy portion of garlic butter that will leave you licking your medically gloved hands (yes, the protective accessories are just another lure here). A splurge for the $20 snow crab legs is also well worth it.
Best place to enjoy a pastry and some peace and quiet: The Hungarian Pastry Shop
A lack of Wi-Fi and accessible outlets makes this cafe and pastry shop a book- and/or date-zone only, so get cozy with a stack of reading or a new boo. The crumbly pastries (think biscotti, strudel, and slices of cake) are the perfect post-dinner -- or midday -- treat. Full disclosure: the coffee isn’t hip-indie-coffee-shop quality, but the refills are always free and always hot.
Best spot to pretend you're actually in Brooklyn: Flat Top
This trendy-ish bistro just above Columbia’s campus provides the perfect escape for when you don’t want to actually go to Brooklyn, but want that feeling of brunching in a trendy Cobble Hill cafe. Kale salad, burrata, an organic burger, and crispy Brussels sprouts are all available for dinner, and the wide variety of Stumptown coffee options pairs well with the poached egg-heavy brunch menu.
Best ramen: Jin Ramen
Forget the midnight college dorm noodles and head up Broadway for some of the best ramen in New York City. The enormous bowl of tonkotsu (you’ll eat it with a ladle and chopsticks) is almost impossibly creamy, with slow-cooked pork and thin noodles to twist in all the toppings. More unique options include the green coconut Thai curry ramen as well as a chicken-broth based kimchee ramen -- both of which offer just the right amount of spice. Also, pitchers of Sapporo are just $11!
Best Greek food: Symposium
This garden-level restaurant, open since the 1960s, is a neighborhood go-to for all things Mediterranean. Expect all your classic Greek favorites done right: kebabs, gyros, spreads, seafood, and more, all served in generous portions. Another huge draw is the magnanimous pours of sangria that make a meal here just boozy enough to make you forget about that looming paper on, well, Plato’s Symposium. And yes, for those who’ve gone Greek, it’s just a mere block from Frat Row (114th St.).
Best burger joint: Mel's Burger Bar
First order of business: fried pickles and Mac N' Cheese Ballz for the table. Then you can get to the meaty stuff. Mel’s has over a dozen creatively topped burgers, like the Widowmaker (mac & cheese, bacon) and the Dirty Hipster (spinach dip, Jack cheese, onion rings) plus dozens of unique beer pairings. If you’re not into beef, or just really wise, sub chicken tenders for a patty on any burger.
Best sandwich only students know about: West 109 Gourmet Deli
Affectionately referred to as Crack Del among Columbians, this 24-hour bodega and former go-to for the original Four Loko is a necessary stop to quelch past-midnight hunger... or if you just want a really good sandwich. Students know to order the Spicy Special, loaded with Boar's Head Cajun turkey, pepper jack cheese, shredded lettuce, tomato, and some type of spicy mayo (just trust it) and served on a toasted roll (add peppers for an extra kick).
Best restaurant to curb homesickness: Kitchenette
This small, Southern-style, home-cooking-inspired restaurant is the perfect place when you’re feeling just a little bit (or OK, maybe a lot) homesick. Cozy up to a big milkshake before ordering stuffed potato skins, turkey meatloaf, fried chicken, or a wide range of breakfast-for-dinner options. Once you’ve eaten your way into a comforting food coma, call your mom. She misses you.
Best bagel: Absolute Bagels
Absolutely expect a line out the door at this seriously no-frills bagel bakery on weekend mornings, but the short wait is seriously well worth it. The bagels here are incredibly fluffy, with a delicately crisp outer crust that makes them, arguably, the best bagels in New York. Lox, flavored shmear (bacon, strawberry, etc.), and all your favorite spreadable hangover elixirs are of course on the menu, but those wanting to switch it up a bit can go for the fresh brie or mozzarella with slices of tomato and tomato basil vinaigrette. Fancy!