12 Reasons You Should Be Eating in Harlem
New York Just like the neighborhood itself, Harlem's food scene is changing. While longtime restaurants such as Amy Ruth's and Sylvia's remain beloved anchors of the area, it's become so much more than just a soul food haven. There are fine-dining destinations, boisterous biergartens, and Japanese ramen-yas, all worthy of a trip up north -- here are a dozen top-notch spots (both old and new) to check out. More Stuff You Will Like
Best African: The Cecil
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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Patty Lee is a reporter and editor who has written for Zagat, Time Out New York, New York Daily News, and Cooking Channel. She firmly believes that one cookie is never enough. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.