Boozy picnics, frisbee games, and straight loungin' on Sheep Meadow: warm weather days are finally here, and there’s no better place to enjoy the great outdoors (or just take a break from crazy city life) than in beautiful Central Park.
There are dozens of awesome eateries within walking distance of the perimeter, from old-school delis to high-end restaurants to burger joints. Skip the dirty-water dog vendor, and check out these great go-to spots (organized by location) around the Park.
Best upscale Italian: Marea
240 Central Park S
This two-Michelin-starred seafood spot off the Park’s south side dishes up high-end Italian eats in an elegant setting. The house-made pastas are excellent, like the fusilli with red wine-braised octopus and bone marrow, and the fresh oysters, crudo, and seasonal fish specialties are all legit contenders.
Best Indian: Indian Accent
123 W 56th St
Straight outta New Delhi, Chef Manish Mehrotra’s first international outpost of his acclaimed restaurant focuses on authentic Indian flavors and seasonal, global ingredients. Tucked into to Le Parker Meridien, this fine-dining newcomer offers all the classics and traditional curries alongside progressive dishes with a creative twist. Bonus: there's a late-night menu available, so you still can get your butter chicken fix at 1am.
Best pancakes: Sarabeth's
40 Central Park S
Whether you call them hotcakes, griddlecakes, or flapjacks, this is the place for cakes made in pans (pancakes, if you will) on the south side of Central Park. For more than 20 years, the pancake pros at Sarabeth’s have been serving up stack after stack of fluffy rounds in tasty flavor combos like lemon ricotta with blackberries, and buttermilk with strawberries.
Best Cali cuisine: Jams
1414 6th Ave
Back in the '80s, the original Jams (on the UES) helped spark NYC’s farm-to-table movement -- now, the produce-driven concept has resurfaced on the south side of the park, and it's still just as good. The Cali-style menu features nonstop hits, like the Jams pancakes with red pepper, smoked salmon, caviar, eggs, and crème fraîche; and the pan-roasted fluke with morels, fiddleheads, green garlic, spring onion, and spiced pistachios.
Best romantic views: Asiate
80 Columbus Circle
This super-luxe stunner on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental offers spectacular panoramas of the skyline and Central Park -- perfect for sipping well-crafted cocktails and enjoying caviar flights, if you’re into that sort of thing. Get there early or book a res in advance to score a window seat: the view alone is worth the steep price tag.
Best old-school deli: Barney Greengrass
541 Amsterdam Ave
An Upper West Side institution since 1908, this classic Jewish deli hasn’t changed much in the last century -- and that’s a good thing. Locals argue that Barney's has the best smoked and cured fish in town, but the chopped liver sandwich and Nova Scotia smoked salmon scrambled eggs are also worth waiting in (the inevitably long) line for. Just be sure to hit the ATM first, since it’s cash-only.
Best burger: Shake Shack
366 Columbus Ave
After the original Madison Square Park stand, Danny Meyer opened a second location of his now-global elevated burger chain in 2008 across from the American Museum of Natural History -- and only a block from Central Park. There aren’t enough great things to say about the signature ShackBurger with its juicy, flavorful LaFrieda beef, melty American cheese, secret sauce, and LT on a soft potato bun. It’s simply perfect every time -- the ultimate classic to curb all burger cravings. An afternoon at the Park followed by the Shack sounds pretty damn glorious to us.
Best comfort food: Jacob's Pickles
509 Amsterdam Ave
Southern comfort is the name of the game here, with a brunch menu boasting buttermilk fried chicken, scratch-baked biscuit sandwiches, and house-pickled everything. You'll also find one of the best Bloody Marys in town: served in a Mason jar and garnished with a stalk of romaine, crispy bacon strip, and half a seasoned hard-boiled egg, it has just the right balance of briny and spicy flavor.
Best Chinese: RedFarm
Ed Schoenfeld’s Uptown outpost of his West Village original has the same rustic farmhouse feel and super-charged dim sum menu, with outdoor patio seating as an added bonus. The 'Pac Man' shrimp dumplings and egg rolls made with Katz's pastrami are pure Insta-gold, in addition to being legitimately delicious, but don't skip out on the BBQ pork belly, pork and crab soup dumplings, and roasted duck noodles. A bit pricey for Chinese, yes, but totally worth the splurge.
Best chicken Parm: Parm Upper West Side
235 Columbus Ave
This Torrisi spinoff brings all the Italian-American classics of the Mulberry St original Uptown -- think meatball subs, baked clams, ziti, and (of course) the namesake Parm. The latter is the real reason you're stopping by: seasoned, breaded chicken covered with rich red sauce, basil, and gobs of mozz on a soft, sweet semolina roll or sesame hero. No empty seats in sight? Grab your Parm from the sandwich takeout menu and head to the Great Lawn.
Best classic pizza: Patsy's
61 W 74th St
The original Patsy’s in Harlem has been a New York dining institution since 1933, famous for its family-oriented setting and “old-world” style brick-oven pies, pasta, and calzones. Now a pizza dynasty with multiple shops across town, this place still serves some damn-good pizza -- stop in for a classic, super-cheesy, thin-crust slice (only $1.75), or better yet, go all in and order the full pie. No judgement here.
Best French: Café Boulud
20 E 76th St
This elegant, award-winning bistro focuses on fine French fare and precise presentations. Expect a high price tag and beautifully plated dishes (like escargots and smoked foie gras) inspired by Chef Daniel Boulud's four culinary muses: classic French cuisine, seasonal delicacies, the vegetable garden, and flavors of world cuisines. Try to land a prime spot on the terrace for an “ooh la la” outdoor dining experience.
Best sandwiches: Pastrami Queen
1125 Lexington Ave
After moving from its original Queens location in the late '90s, Pastrami Queen began serving overstuffed sandwiches and house-cured offerings to hungry Manhattanites. Uptown’s slightly cheaper answer to Katz’s, the pastrami sandwich here is glorious: a few inches of warm, smoky, thick-cut pastrami piled high between two seedless slices of rye. Order it with Russian dressing and one of the hearty sides, or as part of a massive triple decker.
Best steakhouse: Arlington Club
1032 Lexington Ave
Old New York setting with contemporary cuisine. Steak and sushi and pommes frites. Seems like a lot is going on at Laurent Tourondel's big and buzzy restaurant, but it all somehow works, really well. The stylish, split-level space and menu of steakhouse specialties (like the signature BBQ-rubbed, double-cut, bone-in NY Strip), classic chops, and simply grilled seafood works as well for a business meeting as it does for a guys’ night out or a special dinner date.
Best vegan: Candle 79
154 E 79th St
You don’t have to be a veg-head to appreciate the creative, farm-to-table approach at the sophisticated sister to Candle Cafe. The healthful, seasonally shifting cuisine is so well-crafted and delicious, you won’t even miss the meat in dishes like the Moroccan spiced chickpea cake, chocolate mole grilled seitan, and wild mushroom crepe with garlic truffle aioli. Even the wines and cocktails here are eco-friendly, so you'll be saving the planet as you tipple. Be sure to try the chocolate peanut butter bliss dessert (it just might make you a convert).
Best date spot: Met Roof Garden Café and Martini Bar
1000 5th Ave #5
Grab your beau and head to this romantic oasis situated on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum, offering sweeping views of Central Park and the skyline beyond. Bonus: you’ll get a dose of culture by taking in temporary art exhibits while enjoying martinis, wine, and light bites. This should be your first-stop date move since the bar isn’t open late, and it can often get crowded or flooded with tourists -- try getting there early on a weekday.
Best fried chicken: Melba's
300 W 114th St
When you’re real hungry and craving comfort food, Melba’s is the answer. Opened in 2005 by visionary founder Melba Wilson, this South Harlem soul-food staple is most beloved for its “down-home” classics and Southern-style fried chicken -- crispy, well-seasoned, and juicy inside, served (during dinner and brunch) with eggnog waffles flecked with cinnamon and nutmeg.
Best tacos and tequila: Cantina 1838
1838 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd
Known as Harlem’s hottest cantina, this casual Mexican spot turns out homestyle tacos, burritos, and other large portioned, meat-and-cheese-stuffed Mexican dishes at prices that won’t leave you in tears. Score killer specials during brunch, $3 a pop tacos (on Taco Tuesday, natch), and a daily happy hour of marked down margs, mixed drinks, and cervezas, with an extensive tequila list to boot.
Best Ethiopian eats: Zoma
2084 Frederick Douglass Blvd
If you’ve never tried Ethiopian food, Zoma is a great place to start. You’ll find a sleek setting and menu of elevated dishes made from fresh ingredients and a multitude of herbs and spices. Everything is served with traditional injera: a large sourdough crepe that's perfect for dipping into slow-cooked stews and soaking up saucy marinated beef, lamb, chicken, or vegetarian plates. And there’s no shortage of heat here, either -- dishes range from mild, to spicy, to holy-crap-why-did-I-eat-this.
Best sushi: Ichie Japanese Restaurant
53 W 106th St
NYC has an abundance of great sushi spots -- from high-priced, “best of” list types to under-the-radar gems. This small and cozy mom-and-pop Japanese hideaway falls squarely into the latter group, serving up super-fresh sushi and sashimi, speciality rolls, creative bento boxes, and more. And best of all, it’s surprisingly affordable -- the lunch and early bird specials are particularly good deals.
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Megan Murphy (aka “This Girl Can Eat”) is a contributing writer at Thrillist and you can find her this spring at the Great Lawn with a cheese plate and rosé in a Solo cup. Follow along on her culinary adventures on her website, Twitter, and Instagram.
1. Marea240 Central Park South, New York
2. Indian AccentLe Parker Meridian 123 W 56th St, New York
3. Sarabeth's Restaurant40 Central Park S, New York
4. Jams1414 Avenue of the Americas, New York
5. Asiate80 Columbus Cir, New York
6. Telepan72 W 69th St, New York
7. Barney Greengrass541 Amsterdam Ave, New York
8. Shake Shack366 Columbus Ave, New York
9. Jacob's Pickles509 Amsterdam Ave, New York
10. RedFarm2170 Broadway, New York
11. Parm235 Columbus Ave, New York
12. Patsy's Pizzeria61 W 74th St, New York
13. Café Boulud20 E 76th St, New York
14. Pastrami Queen1125 Lexington Ave, New York
15. Arlington Club Steakhouse1032 Lexington Ave, New York
16. Candle 79154 E 79th St, New York
17. The Met Rooftop Bar1000 5th Ave, New York
18. Melba's300 W 114th St, New York
19. Cantina 18381838 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd, New York
20. The Park 1122080 Frederick Douglass Blvd, New York
21. Zoma2084 Frederick Douglass Blvd, New York
22. Ichie Japanese Restaurant53 W 106th St, New York
Michael White’s seafood-centric destination off Central Park aims to impress with its elegant interior and high-end Italian ingredients. The house-made pastas will have you coming back for more, like the fusilli with red wine-braised octopus and bone marrow, an elevated homage to surf-n-turf with baby octopus braised in red wine and buttery Pat LaFrieda marrow.
Straight from New Delhi to Le Parker Meridien is Chef Manish Mehrotra’s first international outpost of his acclaimed restaurant that specializes in so-called nouveau Indian. The fine-dining destination has both à la carte and tasting menus, and the food is a mix of authentic and fusion flavors. Signature dishes include sweet pickled ribs and stuffed kulcha, a wheat bread with fillings like butter chicken and wild mushrooms. In true New York fashion, the menu features one version of kulcha filled with pastrami and mustard butter.
Which came first, brunch-as-a-New-York-institution or Sarabeth's? We'll never know because this posh city chainlet has been serving New Yorkers everything they crave on a weekend morning since 1983. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week, the Central Park South outpost gets extra points for its prime location right across from the park. The lemon and ricotta pancakes are a fan favorite, but no matter what you order, be sure to try the fresh-baked muffins and fruit spreads -- they're the house speciality.
Back in the '80s, Jonathan Waxman introduced California farm-to-table cuisine to New York at the original Jams on the Upper East Side. The restaurant shuttered by the end of the 80s, but in August 2015, Waxman brought it back, this time to a Midtown block near Central Park South. The upscale Cali menu features Jams classics like a half-chicken grilled over wood and savory red pepper and smoked salmon pancakes. The interior feels more like Brooklyn than California with its utilitarian warehouse vibe and floor-to-ceiling windows.
This super-luxe restaurant on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental offers spectacular views of the New York skyline and Central Park -- perfect for sipping well-crafted cocktails and enjoying caviar flights, if you're into that sort of thing. The stunning hotel restaurant is open all day, and no matter when you go, try to snag a window seat: the view alone is worth the steep price tag.
Taking over two restored townhouses, this upscale eatery delivers the quintessential farm-to-table experience: a fancy-yet-comfortable setting with precisely prepared seasonal vegetables alongside fresh seafood and meat dishes using locally supplied ingredients. Your move here: order the three- or four-course pre-fixe (a solid deal) and an offbeat gem from the eclectic wine list.
Open since 1908, this family-run Jewish deli and appetizing store hasn't changed much in the last century -- and that's a good thing. If Katz's is known for its pastrami, then Barney Greengrass is known for its smoked fish. Come for the sturgeon scrambled eggs and bagel with lox, stay for the potato latkes and cheese blintzes. There's guaranteed to be a wait on Saturday and Sunday mornings at prime brunch time, but it's worth it.
It may have started as a hot dog stand in Madison Square Park, but the Shack's now a national purveyor of seriously delicious burgers, shakes, custard, and hot dogs that everyone's come to love. Located across the street from the Museum of Natural History, the Upper West Side outpost (the second Shake Shack to ever open) has an enclosed sidewalk cafe and a downstairs rec room with a big screen TV. There are two lines, a C-line reserved for cold orders (that would be the frozen custard and concretes -- get them, they're good) and a regular one for everything else, which includes the signature ShackBurgers, crinkle-cut fries, and flat-top hot dogs.
Jacob's Pickles is where you go when you want a Southern comfort kind of brunch. The Upper West Side restaurant pickles everything from cucumbers and beets to green beans and carrots. The non-brined part of the menu features baked-from-scratch biscuit sandwiches, buttermilk fried chicken, and Bloody Marys served in a mason jar with a stalk of romaine, a hard boiled egg and a bacon strip. The bar is also a big player in the craft beer scene, offering a rotating selection of more than 25 microbrews on tap from New York, Maine, California and other American beer makers.
Ed Schoenfeld's Upper West Side outpost of his West Village original serves the same modern takes on family-style Chinese food in a rustic farmhouse-like space. The super-charged dim sum menu features only-in-New-York plates like egg rolls made with Katz's pastrami. Main dishes run the gamut from roasted duck noodles and fried rice to BBQ pork belly and Peking duck. RedFarm is a bit pricey for Chinese food, but the upscale ambience is worth it.
This Upper West Side location of the popular Italian kitchen brings the same meatball subs, spumoni, and baked ziti, plus some full-sized entrees like chicken limone or The Delmonico. Count on excellent cocktails as well, like the Osso Nice with rye, lime and spicy calabrian honey. There's a full sandwich menu available for takeout ordering if you can't land a reservation or prefer your Italian Combo in the comfort of your sweats while watching The Godfather.
Since it first opened in Harlem in 1933, Patsy's has turned into a bonafide pizza dynasty with outposts across New York. The Upper West Side location serves the signature big, cheesy pies and family-style Italian pastas in a walk-up storefront off Columbus Ave. The space is large, cozy, and feels quintessential New York with photos on the wall of famous customers. Patsy's is a big family destination, and it doesn't take reservations, so expect long waits on the early side of Friday and Saturday nights.
The beautifully plated French dishes at this elegant Upper East Side bistro are signature Daniel Boulud. The menu is split into four mini menus, each of which are based around a specific theme: traditional French cooking, seasonal flavors, the farmer's market, and global cuisine. The space is upscale with white tablecloths and prices to match, and if you can't swing the dinnertime check, the lunch prix-fixe should do the trick.
One of the few quality uptown pastrami joints, Pastrami Queen’s been serving up thick sandwiches on the UES since the late ‘90s, after moving from its original home in Queens. The space is nothing more than a handful of tables and a deli display case, but you're coming here for the quality meat, available in a prepared meal or by-the-pound. Try the pastrami meal with Russian dressing, or if you’re feeling extra ravenous, order the massive triple-decker, along with some combination of corned beef, salami, tongue, turkey, or chopped liver.
Arlington Club Steakhouse is one of NYC's best spots to get a... cocktail. OK, and a steak. And burgers & pommes frites. And truffle gnocchi. In addition to its delicious array of contemporary American fare, this Upper East Side steakhouse sports an old New York interior that'll have you coming back just for the ambiance (especially for dates).
Long before trendy plant-based restaurants started popping up downtown, Candle 79 was serving creative vegan and vegetarian fare on the Upper East Side. The sophisticated sister to nearby Candle Cafe, this bi-level spot serves healthful and high-end delicacies that are so good you won't even notice the absence of meat. It's the perfect date spot to take the veggie lover in your life.
Situated on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum, the aptly named Met Rooftop Bar offers sweeping views of Central Park and beyond that can be enjoyed with wine, cocktails, and light bites. It's only open when the museum is and it is oftentimes overflowing with tourists, but the scenery and the special atmosphere make it well-worth the limited hours and lines for drinks. Try to come on a weekday when the crowds have thinned. If you can make it on a weekday.
When you’re craving comfort food, Melba’s is the answer. Melba Wilson learned the tricks of cooking soul food at her aunt's famed eatery Sylvia's, and now her nearby South Harlem staple is equally known for its down-home classics. The fried chicken is a must, especially when served atop eggnog waffles. By day, Melba's is relaxed and homey, but at night, it takes on a whole new lively character. No matter when you go, it always feels like a home-away-from-home, due in no small part to the presence of Melba herself.
This casual Mexican cantina right by the north end of Central Park turns out tacos, toasted burritos, rice bowls, and other meat-and-cheese-filled entrées at prices that are hard to find in New York. Cantina 1838 has plenty of food and drink specials, whether you're there for brunch mimosas or house margaritas and tacos at happy hour. The basement-level restaurant has a cozy ambience thanks to exposed brick walls, leather booths, and a long bar.
Hip-hop and sports exec Lewis Tucker's clubby eatery on Harlem's Restaurant Row offers a varied menu stacked with small and large plates from all over the world, like crab dumplings and spring rolls to jerk chicken and a blue cheese burger. The wines, which are served from self-serve machines, are equally global. Sunday brunch brings out a lively Harlem scene, so definitely book a table if you're looking for something different from the downtown and Brooklyn crowds.
If you’ve never tried Ethiopian food, the sleek Zoma in Harlem is a great place to start. Everything on the menu is served with traditional injera, a large sourdough crepe that's perfect for dipping into slow-cooked stews and soaking up saucy marinated beef, lamb, and chicken plates. There's no shortage of heat either -- dishes range from mild to spicy to holy-crap-why-did-I-eat-this.
This small and cozy Japanese restaurant in Harlem is an under-the-radar gem. It serves up super-fresh sushi and sashimi, speciality rolls, creative bento boxes, and more. And best of all, it’s affordable. Close to the Columbia campus, Ichie is a huge draw for students looking for lunch deals and early bird specials.