School is back in session, and while the Columbia cafeteria may be a go-to for some Morningside Heights residents, outside the campus gates is an expansive array of dining options -- many of which won’t cost you much more than a meal swipe. An extended campus to tens of thousands of students, Morningside Heights (or MoHi, as it’s called by some) has it all: quick grab-and-go spots, international fare from Malaysia to Ethiopia to the Caribbean, and even New York’s first carbon-neutral restaurant. Consider this your official study guide for the neighborhood’s best spots.
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!
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1. Koronet Pizza2848 Broadway, New York
2. Pisticci Ristorante125 La Salle St, New York
3. Malaysia Grill224 W 104th St, New York
4. Saiguette935 Columbus Ave, New York
5. Community Food & Juice2893 Broadway, New York
6. LoLo's Seafood Shack303 W 116th St, New York
7. The Hungarian Pastry Shop1030 Amsterdam Ave, New York
8. Flat Top1241 Amsterdam Ave, New York
9. Jin Ramen3183 Broadway, New York
10. Symposium Greek Restaurant544 W 113th St, New York
11. Mel's Burger Bar2850 Broadway , New York
12. West 109 Gourmet Deli990 Amsterdam Ave, New York
13. Kitchenette Uptown NYC1272 Amsterdam Ave, New York
14. Absolute Bagels2788 Broadway, New York
With arguably the largest pizza slices in New York (they're bigger than your head!) at prices that are quite the opposite (they're budget friendly!), it's no wonder hoards of Columbia students have flocked to Koronet Pizza in Morningside Heights for years. The pies are the size of car tires and are served until 2am nightly, making this casual counter-serve the ideal place to stop on your way home from a night of imbibing. While there are toppings you can toss on for a little extra cash, we'd advise sticking with plain or pepperoni to 1) save money, and 2) enjoy the classic, greasy goodness as is. Once your reheated slice comes out of the oven, make like the rest of Koronet's customers and take a photo with it next to your face.
Unless you live above 100th Street, Morningside Heights probably isn't your go-to neighborhood for date night, but that’ll change after a trip to tiny trattoria Pisticci, where romance is practically guaranteed thanks to dim lighting, homey decor, and spaghetti pomodoro prepared for two. There are even little hearts next to this dish on the menu and a note to share it with “your amici.” Below it, you’ll see other comforting from-scratch Italian plates, such as homemade fettuccine with mushrooms and delicate cavatelli with vegetables. Fun fact: Pisticci is New York’s first carbon-neutral restaurant, meaning it uses renewable energy and recycles food waste into fertilizer at its own organic farm. Not-so-fun fact: reservations can only be made for parties of six or more, so we’d recommend getting here early for dinner.
On the upper bounds of the Upper West Side, this humble Southeast Asian restaurant serves comforting Malaysian and Chinese dishes in large portions at small prices. While lunch specials like rice noodles with shrimp and basil chicken are more than worth a trip, we’d recommend settling into Malaysia Grill for dinner, when traditional plates like mee goreng and beef rendang take the spotlight. The heaping portions make each perfect for sharing with a group, much like the customer-favorite kari sayur campur, in which vegetables, tofu, and crystal noodles are served in a clay pot with a spicy coconut broth. Whenever possible, you should 100% substitute any type of grain for coconut rice to get even a bolder and sweeter flavor.
This corner hole-in-the-wall on the UWS doles out soul-warming pho and banh mi sandwiches that are as big as subs and require toothpicks to secure their fillings, which range from roast pork shoulder to crispy spiced shrimp. Along with a side of steamed moon dumplings (available in eight varieties including taro peanut, garlic chives, and shrimp), you'll want to order either the juicy chicken thigh banh mi or a bun bowl topped with lemongrass pork shoulder. Saiguette’s seating amounts to a handful of vinyl stools along the windows, so if the weather’s nice, your best bet is take your food a couple of blocks over to Central Park.
If you go to Columbia, your parents are in town, and you’re looking for a place to take them to weekend brunch, head to Community Food & Juice. The organic, sustainable kitchen specializes in morning pick-me-ups like brioche French toast and egg BLTs; beyond brunch, it’s also serving up lunch and dinner dishes like free-range chicken with roasted vegetables, and tofu-, chicken-, or salmon-topped rice bowls. The fresh look of the space, featuring long wooden communal tables and an airy ambience, makes it a Morningside Heights go-to.
Caribbean meets Cape Cod at LoLo's, a unique island escape in Morningside Heights that specializes in boiled seafood, like snow crab legs and peel-and-eat shrimp soaked in signature sauces like garlic butter and Old Bay seasoning. The steampot combos, baskets of fried fish, and jerk chicken and ribs are so luscious that you'll want to lick your fingers clean at the end of your meal, even though they'll be covered in blue disposable gloves provided by the restaurant -- cleanliness is next to godliness, right? The interior has a kitschy but charming dilapidated beach-house look, but you should grab a seat on the sea-foam green back patio to feel like you've really run away to the beach.
This isn't the kind of coffee shop to settle in if you're looking for WiFi and accessible outlets -- instead, take a moment to simply relax at The Hungarian Pastry Shop, where wooden tables surrounded by red and white walls are often filled with Columbia students, and traditional Hungarian pastries are baked fresh. Our suggestion? Replace your laptop with a novel, or your iPad with a date, and take a thick slice of dobos torte, strudel, or baklava to the sidewalk tables that lend a view of St. John the Divine. Unique European and Russian coffee drinks are on the menu, too, including Hungarian coffee that, if you haven’t tried before, is an absolute must: prepare yourself for ultimate comfort in the form of coffee topped with whipped cream and noted with flavors of almond and cinnamon.
When you can’t muster the motivation to trek to Brooklyn, but still want to feel like you're having a rustic meal at a wooden table set with Mason jars, Flat Top in Morningside Heights has you covered. This cozy corner bistro nestled above Columbia’s campus is like a Cobble Hill transplant, sporting stylish décor and a global menu that offers everything from grilled Branzino and an organic burger to Scottish salmon and a three-mushroom risotto. And that’s just dinner. Brunch is brimming with plates like blueberry/buttermilk/ricotta pancakes, Maine lobster roll, and shrimp & grits, all paired with Stumptown Coffee.
Columbia students are spoiled having this cozy, wood-lined ramen spot only a few blocks from campus, replacing those classic styrofoam-packaged noodles with authentic, high-quality soups that give downtown hotspots a run for their money. Consider the heaping portion of house-specialty hakata tonkotsu, in which slow-cooked pork bones give the broth and its thin noodles a creamy consistency ideal for a chilly day. There are unique and spicy options, too, like green coconut Thai curry ramen and a chicken-broth kimchee ramen. If you’re coming with friends, be sure to order a pitcher of Sapporo for the table.
Open since 1969, this brick-walled subterranean restaurant is revered by Columbia students and neighborhood regulars for its well-priced, authentic Greek food. Symposium is a mecca for Mediterranean specialities: gyros, moussaka, spanakopita, souvlaki, and more are served in heaping portions and with plenty of pita on the side. The ambience is definitely old-school -- expect a lively "opa!" from the waitstaff when a flaming plate of saganaki cheese dip arrives on a nearby table -- but it's all part of the restaurant's charm. Make sure you leave room for the perfectly flaky, baklava and custard-filled galaktobouriko for dessert.
It’s all about choices at this rustic burger haunt in Morningside Heights, where more than a dozen inventive burgers, nine types of fries, and a slew of craft beers are on offer. The all-natural patties at Mel's are on the smaller side, but they more than make up for their size with a host of creative topping combinations, like the bacon, mac & cheese Widowmaker or the onion ring, spinach dip, and Jack cheese-topped Dirty Hipster. If you have room, throw some fried pickles, mac & cheese balls, or garlic fries on the side, and a boozy milkshake for good measure.
West 109 Gourmet Deli has all the markings of a quintessential New York bodega: a line to order at the counter after midnight, a slew of local characters who keep the place eccentric, and wholly satisfying, affordable sandwiches. It's a popular haunt for Columbia students (the signature Spicy Special with Cajun turkey and pepper jack is a late-night hit) but it's also a solid option for a reliable bacon, egg, and cheese in the morning.
From mimosas in Mason jars to its breakfast-for-dinner menu, Kitchenette takes comfort food to new, slightly kitschy, levels. The Morningside Heights restaurants serves good ol' southern American classics like biscuits and gravy, peach and blueberry pancakes, four-cheese macaroni, and turkey meatloaf. The floral decor and pastel color scheme adds a homey ambience, making it a popular haunt for uptown folk and Columbia students alike.
For the best bagels above 100th Street, look no further than this Thai-owned bagelry a few blocks south of Columbia. Absolute greets visitors with a Jenga-esque stack of freshly baked, palm-sized bagels with soft dough, a slightly crusty exterior, and mild sweetness. Service is quick, prices are cheap, and cream cheese is applied generously.