The Definitive Upper East Side Dining Guide

New York

The Definitive Upper East Side Dining Guide
The Definitive Upper East Side Dining Guide

Courtesy of Toloache
Courtesy of Toloache

When was the last time you found yourself in search of burgers, ramen, or late-night bagels in the UES? If the answer is "Why's that any of your business, get out of my apartment," then that's a fair point, but you should make it your business to check out our 14 favorite local spots.

Note: For the purposes of this article, we're folding smaller hoods like Yorkville and Lenox Hill into the delicious burrito that is "the Upper East Side." Don't be scared.

Courtesy of Mei-Jin Ramen

Best ramen: Mei-Jin Ramen

1574 2nd Ave

This is one of our favorite under-the-radar ramen spots, but even if it were above the radar, our position would be the same. Non-traditional toppings are still key, and the spicy chili ramen is still your go-to move, because chili and ramen are two things you never knew you wanted in the same bowl.

Best sandwiches: Pastrami Queen

1125 Lexington Ave

With a name like Pastrami Queen, you might think this place is a one-trick pony, right? Don’t you dare think that: the overstuffed menu of overstuffed sandwiches ranges from corned beef and smoked turkey to chicken salad and center tongue. There's even chopped liver, but please, don't make the obvious joke -- they might not judge you for it, but we definitely will.

Courtesy of Uva

Best small plates and date spot: Uva

1486 2nd Ave

This place wins major points for its year-round outdoor patio alone, and the rustic decor's complemented by authentic dishes like polenta tartufata and brodetto di pesce. Even more importantly, the wine list is expansive regardless of where you're sitting -- and really, isn't that the point when you're on a date?

Best sushi bar: Poke

343 E 85th St

Not only does this place have excellent sushi that you don't have to pay "excellent sushi" prices for (win!), it's also BYOB (double win!) -- and there's no corkage fee for your first bottle of wine. Triple win?

Courtesy of Toloache

Best upscale Mexican: Toloache 82

166 E 82nd St

Even if you don't get the grasshopper tacos, the UES branch of Chef Julian Medina's popular Mexican eatery offers enough variety to keep you wondering whether it's bad form to order three separate rounds of dinner. Note: it is NOT bad form, and you should absolutely do it. Those short rib/marrow tacos aren't gonna eat themselves!

Best not-by-the-slice pizza: Nick's Pizza

1814 2nd Ave

Yes, it’s a shame you can’t get individual slices here (seriously, it’s written all over the menu), but the coal-fired, thin-crust pies here are so on point that you shouldn't hesitate to order a whole pie by yourself. Also, since when is having too much pizza a bad thing?

Courtesy of Cafe Noi

Best breakfast: Cafe Noi

1465 2nd Ave

This espresso bar has the high-quality coffee you’d expect from… well, from an espresso bar, but there's also a breakfast menu that includes all the classics (pancakes and waffles) alongside Mediterranean specialties like shakshuka and bureka.

Best burger: JG Melon

1291 3rd Ave

Manhattan’s replete with outstanding burger options, but when it comes to absolutely nailing the classic “bacon cheeseburger” archetype, JG Melon’s the UES spot to beat. Plus, if you’ve never tried cottage fries before, this is the place to cross those “crispy on the outside, soft on the inside” frites off your potato bucket list. That's a thing, right?

Courtesy of Cafe Boulud

Best restaurant when someone else is paying: Cafe Boulud

20 E 76th St

Sometimes, the gulf between how much you enjoy a meal and how much you pay for it can be pretty vast. Not so at Cafe Boulud, where you get high-end, well-plated French cuisine like smoked foie gras and escargots, as well as the gasp-inducing bill you'd expect to come along with it.

Best comfort food: Heidi's House

308 E 78th St #3

Even if the bacon mac & cheese weren't stick-to-your-ribs spectacular (it is), and the chocolate soufflé were a complete disappointment (it isn't), this intimate space would steal the comfort food crown on the basis of its seafood paella alone. And don't even get us started on the nightly pasta specials here. Good Lord.

Courtesy of H&H Bagels Midtown East

Best bagels: H&H Midtown Bagels East

1551 2nd Ave

Yes, we're all sad the original H&H is dead and gone, but despite what the snobs might have you believe, the bagels boiled up at this 24/7 location are worthy successors -- if you're looking for an everything bagel with heaps of cream cheese, this is the place. Plus, you won't have to worry about finding bubble gum in your bagel.

Best Italian: Tiella

1109 1st Ave

Get your pre-booze carbo load on in this brick-walled sanctum of Southern Italian cuisine, courtesy of handmade pasta dishes like the pappardelle with short rib ragout. If for some weird reason you're not all about the pasta, you can always gorge yourself on the place's eponymous pocket sandwiches (or "tiella").

Courtesy of Chef Ho's Peking Duck Grill

Best Chinese takeout: Chef Ho's Peking Duck Grill

1720 2nd Ave

The Peking duck here is crispy and flavorful, as you'd expect from a place with "Peking Duck" in the name, but the menu's also full of well-executed takes on the standard, "Americanized" Chinese food we all know and love. If you can't live without General Tso in your life, this is your jam.

Best vegan spot: The Candle Cafe

1307 3rd Ave

This vegan chain takes the inherent limitations of the cruelty-free diet and spins them into actually delicious plates worthy of even a diehard carnivore’s hard-won attention -- seriously, stop laughing. Don’t sleep on the lemon-date chutney -- mostly because it’s delicious, but also because lemon-date chutney will ruin your bedsheets.

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Gianni Jaccoma is an editor for Thrillist, and he'll never sleep on food again. Follow his tweets from the laundromat @gjaccoma.

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Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Mei-Jin Ramen 1574 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10028 (Upper East Side)

This low-key Japanese restaurant serves ramen and izakaya-style small plates in a small, intimate setting. It’s mainly about the beef at this noodle joint, which has honed a luscious, marrow-infused broth for bowls brimming with wavy noodles, fermented bamboo shoots, garlic chips, and green onions. Look for nontraditional toppings like arugula and meat chili.

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2. Pastrami Queen 1125 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10075 (Upper East Side)

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.

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3. Uva Wine Bar & Restaurant 1486 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10075 (Upper East Side)

This rustic, Upper East Side wine bar has a year-round back patio and a Meatball Monday menu entirely composed of -- you guessed it -- meatballs. Eating meatballs in the great outdoors is what all things great were built upon.

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4. Poke Restaurant 343 E 85th St, New York, NY 10028 (Upper East Side)

This cash-only sushi spot serves up classic rolls and other Japanese favorites all served fresh. It's also a bring your own beer joint, which adds to the chill atmosphere of this hideaway Upper Eastside restaurant.

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5. Toloache 82 166 82nd St, New York, NY 10028 (Upper East Side)

With bronze lanterns hanging from the ceiling of their narrow, mod, bistro-ish fresh UES digs, T82's bringing with it faves like apple and pomegranate Guacamole Frutas, while also spreading into new territory with stuff like chicken enchiladas w/ fig-chipotle salsa and Mexican cheese, which hopefully makes it past the border...and into the middle of the enchiladas.

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6. Nick's Restaurant & Pizzeria 1814 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10128 (Upper East Side)

Nick's is an Upper East Side staple that doles out brick-oven pizzas, calzones, and family-style pasta dishes. They don't serve individual slices but you'll want an entire one of their thin-crust pies, especially the half-red/half-white. The well-priced wine menu is all the more reason to make it your go-to for a casual group dinner.

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7. Caffe Noi 1465 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10075 (Upper East Side)

This little cafe and espresso shop is the epitome of a New York style cafe and is great for breakfast. They have pancakes, waffles with fresh fruit, and great sandwiches to choose from. Even better is their coffee selection. When you go order one of their lattes, they feature some pretty creative foam designs.

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8. J.G. Melon 1291 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10021 (Upper East Side)

One of New York's most classic burgers can be found at this prepster pub that's been serving the Upper East Side since 1972. The hallmark of J.G. Melon is the hamburger, comprised of a griddled beef patty and American cheese on a toasted potato bun. If you aren't a regular who lives within a five-block radius, the bar burger really is the only reason to go to J.G. Melon, whose melon decor and green-checkered tablecloths haven't changed much since it first opened.

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9. Café Boulud 20 E 76th St, New York, NY 10021 (Upper East Side)

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.

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10. Heidi's House By The Side Of The Road 308 E 78th St, New York, NY 10075 (Upper East Side)

This wine and beer bar has an intimate vibe and offers some great comfort foods like their mac n' cheese with bacon and lobster paella. All the dishes here pair well with a number of wines and beers offered here.

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11. H&H Bagels 1551 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10028 (Upper East Side)

Bagels are synonymous with New York in the same way that "deep dish" is synonymous with Chicago -- they're not only a cultural, culinary signifier of each city, but what we subsist on. As the Big Apple's OG bagel purveyor, H&H has rightfully gained legendary status because of the consistent quality of its bagels. First founded in 1972, H&H set up shop on the Upper East Side, and has been doling out the iconic NYC comestible "a bagel 'n schmear" ever since.

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12. Tiella 1109 1st Ave, New York, NY 10065 (Upper East Side)

From a chef who spent years in five-star restos across Europe before raking in awards slinging artisanal 'za in Cambridge, Tiella's named for "a cast iron pan that acts as a cornerstone of Neapolitan cuisine", exactly what'll be served in the 38-seat expo

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13. Candle Cafe 1307 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10021 (Upper East Side)

This vegan restaurant creates flavorful dishes like their cajun seitan and paradise casserole. They also feature daily specialties like their Jamaican jerk tofu wrap. For dessert be sure to order the vegan carrot cake—arguably better than the regular.

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14. Chef Ho's Peking Duck Grill 1720 Second Avenue, New York, NY (Upper East Side)

This UES institution specializes in solid Chinese fare and most importantly, affordable (and good) Peking duck. You can choose between a whole or half a bird, both of which come with the standard cucumbers, scallions, and Chinese pancakes. The restaurant falls somewhere between elegant and shabby -- basically, it's just a great neighborhood spot.