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Best African: The Cecil
210 W 118th St
When the chic Uptown brasserie opened in 2013, it was on a mission to spotlight the wide-ranging flavors of Africa. Tinged with Asian and American influences, the menu continues to surprise in all the right ways thanks to chef JJ Johnson, who breathes new life into classics like oxtail dumplings, gumbo, and beef suya.
Best seafood: Lolo's Seafood Shack
303 W 116th St
This fun tropical hangout -- complete with a beachy back patio -- specializes in Caribbean fare with a twist: think bacalao conch fritters, avocado toast topped with plantains, and seafood boils with sauces like coconut curry or garlic butter with Old Bay.
Best chicken and waffles: Amy Ruth's
113 W 116th St
Food lore has it that chicken and waffles was invented in Harlem, and if the version at this longtime standby is any indication, the neighborhood continues to do the dish proud. Here, the fried chicken is impeccably crispy, the waffles are tender, and portions are always hearty, drawing in crowds from both near and far.
Best fancy meal: Tastings Social Presents Mountain Bird
251 E 110th St
After shutting down their critically acclaimed gem because of landlord issues, Kenichi and Keiko Tajima reopened their restaurant last summer as a partnership with Tastings Social. The delicate, fowl-centric menu has also returned, showcasing French-meets-Japanese-meets-American dishes like chicken consomme with foie gras dumplings and cassoulet packed with duck leg and chicken & turkey sausages.
Best Italian: Rao's
455 E 114th St
If somehow you score a reservation at what may be New York City's most exclusive restaurant, you'll be treated to some fine red sauce favorites -- baked ziti, meatballs, and so on -- plus the added bonus of being able to say you've eaten at Rao's.
Best ramen: Jin Ramen
This wood-clad ramen-ya is the real deal, slinging hearty bowls that easily upstage some of its Downtown counterparts. Choose from standards like shio and tonkotsu, along with less-traditional bowls of coconut green curry or kimchi.
Best bar food: Harlem Tavern
2153 Frederick Douglass Blvd
The sprawling indoor/outdoor pub is a beer lover’s paradise, boasting multiple brews on draft and in bottles. To soak up all the booze, there’s an eclectic menu of gussied-up bar favorites like a spiced lamb burger, buttermilk fried chicken, and build-your-own mac and cheese.
Best Mexican: Taco Mix
234 E 116th St #1
The tacos at this no-frills taqueria pack a punch of flavor, especially the red-hued al pastor, featuring juicy bits of pork and tart pineapple. Get it con todo -- that's with the works (raw onion, cilantro, and salsa).
Best pizza: Patsy's
2287 1st Ave
New York City’s canon of iconic pizza joints wouldn’t be complete without this Uptown landmark, which has been slinging coal-fired pies since 1933. All the usual toppings are available, but the classic plain slice with tomato sauce and grated mozz truly lets the charred, paper-thin crust shine.
Best Vietnamese: Saiguette
935 Columbus Ave
You don’t have to head to Chinatown or the East Village to find exceptional Vietnamese food. This hole-in-the-wall spot not only doles out superb, soul-warming pho, but it also slings packed-to-the-brim bánh mì with a variety of fillings (pro tip: order the juicy chicken thigh).
Best soul food: Sylvia's
328 Malcolm X Blvd
Founder Sylvia Woods was called the Queen of Soul Food for a reason, and her finger-lickin'-good ribs are not to be missed. Smothered in barbecue sauce and perfectly tender, her signature dish really is something to talk about/devour.
Best bakery: Levain
2167 Frederick Douglass Blvd
New York City’s most photogenic cookie isn’t just an Instagram trend -- it's every bit as decadent and delicious as it looks. Time your visit accordingly and you may just get one of these giant chocolate chip wonders fresh out of the oven.
1. The Cecil210 West 118th St, New York
2. Amy Ruth's113 W 116th St, New York
3. Mountain Bird251 E 110th St, New York
4. Rao's455 E 114th St, New York
5. Jin Ramen3183 Broadway, New York
6. Harlem Tavern301 W 116th St, New York
7. Taco Mix234 E 116th St #1, New York
8. Patsy's Pizza2287 1st Ave, New York
9. Saiguette935 Columbus Ave, New York
10. Sylvia's Restaurant328 Malcolm X Blvd, New York
11. Levain Bakery167 W 74th St, New York
12. LoLo's Seafood Shack303 W 116th St, New York
The Cecil, the supper club sister to jazz joint Minton's in Harlem, fuses the flavors of Asia, Africa and North America. Inspired by Executive Chef Joseph "JJ" Johnson's travels, the menu is always changing, but past hits include now-famous oxtail dumplings, hearty gumbo, and a jumbo shrimp burger snazzed with kimchi and scallions. Don't expect ordinary French fries here: Cecil's take encapsulates the spot's eye for innovations, doing away with potato in favor of battered okra that comes out crispy and laced with salt.
In the city that popularized chicken & waffles, this Harlem joint stands wings and thighs above the rest. It's an incredibly popular destination for pilgrims coming to the city to enjoy amazing soul food (not just chicken and waffles, although they are a standout), and you'll pretty much always find this place packed with folks ordering down-home cooking.
Mountain Bird blends the tastes of France and Japan and brings to NYC with such elegant dishes as foie gras dumpling consommé, seared scallops, and chicken duo. Here you can enjoy dishes such as chicken consomme with foie gras dumplings, and cassoulet packed with duck leg and chicken & turkey sausages.
One of the country's oldest family-owned restaurants (and still in its original location), Rao's in East Harlem has been serving red sauce Italian classics for over 100 years. The 10-table VIP establishment is notoriously hard/impossible to get into, so if you do score a seat, eat as much fried mozzarella, meatballs, and penne alla vodka as you can. If not, don't worry -- there are Rao's sauces and cookbooks available for purchase so you can DIY at home.
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.
Because it's faster than going to Queens, hit up this spankin' fresh uptown beer garden for burgers topped with smoked Gouda, pulled pork, bacon, and crispy onions, plates of cedar-grilled salmon, and a craft beer-focused booze program.
This East Harlem taqueria has a big window opening out onto the street, a feature that usually stops New Yorkers in their tracks and draws them in. Order the al pastor and watch as the taquero shaves your amazingly marinated pork off its spit. Proceed to stroll and stuff your face.
As evidenced by the continual crowds at its various locations across the city, Patsy's is a New York institution. The original location opened in Harlem in 1933, and it still serves the same big cheesy pies without the pretense. The menu lists plenty of speciality pies, but the go-to order is the original made with a thin and soft crust and topped with no-frills tomato sauce and mozzarella. The big portions and ample seating make Patsy's great for groups.
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.
Founded by the self-proclaimed "queen of soul-food," Sylvia's has been has been serving up Southern delicacies since 1962. At this Harlem staple, all-white-meat fried chicken is served alongside either eggs or grits, and for breakfast, the Southern-style chicken can come piled atop hotcakes, fresh off the griddle. The baked ham and the mac & cheese are equally worthy of note, and the full service bar at the helm of the casual, unpretentious eatery, will help you wash it all down. But for a truly enlightening experience, stop by for Sunday Gospel Brunch, where steak & eggs come with Bloody Marys and Hail Marys, courtesy of live gospel musicians -- a gentle reminder that food, itself, is something of a religious experience (even while you consume a sinful number of hot butter-drenched waffles).
This tiny bakery on the Upper West Side has been a New York City institution since it first opened in 1995. Levain sells fresh baguettes, quick breads, and other baked goods, but it's the thick and gooey cookies that draw a line out the door most days of the week. Weighing in just under a half-pound each, the giant cookies come in rich flavors like walnut chocolate chip, dark chocolate peanut butter, and oatmeal raisin. They taste best when fresh out of the oven, and they usually are.
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.