The Definitive Upper East Side Dining Guide

Candle Cafe
Candle Cafe | Candle Cafe
Candle Cafe | Candle Cafe

While the Upper East Side may not be the first place you think of when you're craving burgers, ramen, or late-night bagels, the Uptown neighborhood is home to all of the above -- and more (most of which surprisingly won't put you into credit card debt). Whether you're looking for a quick bite or a special-occasion sit-down dinner, these are the Upper East Side spots you need to hit.

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

<h2>Best ramen:&nbsp;<a href="; target="_blank">Mei-Jin Ramen</a></h2>

<em>1574 2nd Ave</em><br />
One of NYC's most&nbsp;under-the-radar ramen spots, Mei-Jin offers non-traditional bowls you won't find elsewhere, like Spicy Chili Beef Ramen, made with&nbsp;chili peppers, chili oil, and ground beef. Still, it's the restaurant's signature Miso Beef Ramen, made with perfectly thin slices of beef, that make this place a go-to.&nbsp;

<h2>Best sandwiches:&nbsp;<a href="; target="_blank">Pastrami Queen</a></h2>

<em>1125 Lexington Ave</em><br />
With a name like Pastrami Queen, you might think this place is a one-trick pony. That's far from the case here: The overstuffed menu of overstuffed sandwiches ranges from corned beef and smoked turkey to chicken salad and center tongue. That being said, you'd be remiss to skip the classic hot pastrami.&nbsp;

Courtesy of Uva

<h2>Best small plates and date spot:&nbsp;<a href="; target="_blank">Uva</a></h2>

<em>1486 2nd Ave</em><br />
This place wins major points for its year-round&nbsp;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.

<h2>Best sushi bar:&nbsp;<a href="; target="_blank">Poke</a></h2>

<em>343 E 85th St</em><br />
Not only does this place have excellent, fresh sushi that you don't have to pay "excellent, fresh sushi" prices for, it's also BYOB -- and there's no corkage fee for your first bottle of wine.&nbsp;

Courtesy of Toloache

<h2>Best upscale Mexican:&nbsp;<a href="; target="_blank">Toloache 82</a></h2>

<em>166 E 82nd St</em><br />
Even if you don't get the famed 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 (think short rib/bone marrow and spicy lobster tacos).

<h2>Best not-by-the-slice pizza:&nbsp;<a href="; target="_blank">Nick's Pizza</a></h2>

<em>1814 2nd Ave</em><br />
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

<h2>Best breakfast:&nbsp;<a href="; target="_blank">Cafe Noi</a></h2>

<em>1465 2nd Ave</em><br />
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 solid morning classics (pancakes and waffles) alongside Mediterranean specialties like shakshuka and bureka.

<h2>Best burger:&nbsp;<a href="; target="_blank">JG Melon</a></h2>

<em>1291 3rd Ave</em><br />
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

<h2>Best restaurant when someone else is paying:&nbsp;<a href="; target="_blank">Cafe Boulud</a></h2>

<em>20 E 76th St</em><br />
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.

<h2>Best comfort food:&nbsp;<a href="; target="_blank">Heidi's House</a></h2>

<em>308 E 78th St #3</em><br />
Even if the bacon mac &amp; cheese weren't 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.

Courtesy of H&amp;H Bagels Midtown East

<h2>Best bagels:&nbsp;<a href="; target="_blank">H&amp;H Midtown Bagels East</a></h2>

<em>1551 2nd Ave</em><br />
Yes, we're all sad the original H&amp;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&nbsp;<a href="; target="_blank">finding bubble gum in your bagel.</a>

<h2>Best Italian:&nbsp;<a href="; target="_blank">Tiella</a></h2>

<em>1109 1st Ave</em><br />
Get your pre-booze&nbsp;<a href="…; target="_blank">carbo load</a>&nbsp;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

<h2>Best Chinese takeout:&nbsp;<a href="; target="_blank">Chef Ho's Peking Duck Grill</a></h2>

<em>1720 2nd Ave</em><br />
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.

Candle Cafe
Candle Cafe

<h2>Best vegan spot:&nbsp;<a href="; target="_blank">The Candle Cafe</a></h2>

<em>1307 3rd Ave</em><br />
This vegan chain takes the inherent limitations of the cruelty-free diet and spins them into actually&nbsp;delicious plates worthy of even a diehard carnivore’s hard-won attention -- seriously, stop laughing. Don’t sleep on the lemon-date chutney --&nbsp;mostly because it’s delicious, but also because lemon-date chutney will ruin your bedsheets.

<h2>Best Mediterranean: <a href="; target="_blank">Beyoglu</a></h2>

<em>1431 3rd Ave</em><br />
This beloved Turkish restaurant specializes in meze selections like hummus, babaganoush, and lebni (basically a thick, spiced yogurt), but don’t leave without sampling from the kebab menu -- each portion comes with homemade yogurt, toasted bread, and tomato sauce.


<h2>Best pricey sushi: <a href="; target="_blank">Sushi of Gari</a></h2>

<em>402 East 78th St</em><br />
Sushi of Gari is notoriously hard to get into, simply because it’s one of the best places for <a href="…; target="_blank">omakase</a> in New York. The restaurant emphasizes fresh fish above all else here, thwarting customers from over-using soy sauce by accompanying each piece of sushi with its own personalized sauce. If you go during peak dinner hours, you’re better off snagging a seat at the bar than waiting for a table -- plus you’ll have a prime view of the sushi chefs at work.

<h2>Best seafood happy hour: <a href="; target="_blank">Flex Mussels</a></h2>

<em>174 E 82nd St</em><br />
You probably know Flex Mussels for its cream cheese-stuffed everything donuts, but it also offers a fantastic seafood happy hour every single day from 5-7pm (and all night on Sunday and Monday!). Get oysters for a dollar a piece, drinks that range from $6-$8, and an order -- or two -- of the truffle fries.

The Penrose
Paul Wagtouicz

<h2>Best brunch: <a href="; target="_blank">The Penrose</a></h2>

<em>1590 Second Ave</em><br />
From the team behind The Wren in the East Village, this Uptown bar looks and feels like it belongs Downtown. It’s packed nearly every night, but if you’re looking for a more laid-back experience, go for brunch. The vast space stretches across a few dining rooms, each equipped with its own personal bar spinning out everything from bloody marys to Blueberry Brambles. Order the French toast sticks for the table and fight for an ample plunge into the brown butter maple dipping sauce.

<h2>Best museum restaurant: <a href="; target="_blank">Flora Bar</a></h2>

<em>945 Madison Ave</em><br />
From <a href="; target="_blank">Café Altro Paradiso</a> and <a href="; target="_blank">Estela’s</a> Thomas Carter and Ignacio Mattos, the Met Breuer’s new restaurant makes the case that some of NYC’s best food can be found <a href="…; target="_blank">inside museums</a>. Like at Estela, Chef Mattos’ unique Spanish and Italian-influenced small plates reign; think potato, preserved truffle, and egg tarts, and lobster and crab dumplings in yuzu broth. For museumgoers looking for something a little more casual, coffee, pastries, and takeaway sandwiches are served from the adjacent Flora Coffee.

2nd Ave Deli
Flickr/Rik Panganiban

<h2>Best classic NYC sandwich: <a href="; target="_blank">2nd Avenue Deli</a></h2>

<em>1442 First Ave</em><br />
Although the original East Village location is long gone, Jewish deli lovers can still reminisce about the good old days over signature deli sandwiches (pastrami, tongue, roast turkey), along with a real Jewish pickle and a side of coleslaw. Test your stomach’s voracity with one of the deli’s famous Triple Decker Sandwiches.

<h2>Best sweets: <a href="; target="_blank">Two Little Red Hens</a></h2>

<em>1652 Second Ave</em><br />
This tiny, red awning storefront showcases pastries and enormous layer cakes in its front window to tempt passersby, and it always works. Order a slice of the NY-style cheesecake, a glazed cinnamon bun, and at least one of the marble or banana cupcakes.

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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.

Amy Schulman is an Editorial Production Assistant who goes to the UES for the dentist and a Brooklyn Blackout cupcake. Follow her on Instagram.