Millions of people visit Manhattan, along with the other four boroughs of New York City, every year. It’s the only city that when people say “the city,” you know what they mean. It’s the city that never sleeps. It’s where people come to make it big, get discovered, and make it happen. When tourists tour, a few neighborhoods are typically on the top of their list for a visit. Times Square, which I’m not a fan of because…it’s full of tourists and the tacky street vendors and performers who love to take tourists’ money. The Meatpacking District became trendy about 20 years ago, and its popularity has only grown since the opening of the Highline—the south end of this above-ground park begins there. Everyone must visit Chelsea Market at least once while near the Highline. Soho has always been cool with its shopping, cobblestone streets, lofts, and longtime favorite restaurants like Balthazar. Madison Avenue and 5th Avenue are a shopper’s dream with every retailer and brand one could ever want. There’s midtown with the Empire State Building, Macy’s, and so much more craziness. Little Italy for everything Italian. Just a few ideas for you, and I could go on.
But I live on the Upper West Side, and not many people venture to the “UWS” unless they’re visiting a friend who happens to live there. This neighborhood is home to many families with young children due to its proximity to two fabulous parks, Central Park and Riverside Park, and the fact that it has a few great public schools. (You’ll die if you hear people talk about the price of Manhattan’s private schools! Even Kindergarten costs more than Harvard per year. That’s not a joke.) So this blog post is to lure you here to at least have a bite to eat.
Next week on June 11 and 12, NYC hosts one of the most special events of the summer. The Great Lawn of Central Park will be home to the NY Philharmonic in the Park for two special nights of a FREE concert. If you can make it, it’s an event you’ll never forget. Most people picnic before and during the performance, but some dine out before or after. Whether you visit next week or another time, the Upper West Side is a fantastic place because you can enjoy one of the largest and most beautiful city parks in the world and walk out of the park to dine at some of the most fabulous restaurants in the city. Here’s a short list of my favorites on the Upper West Side. Exit the park at 86th or 81st Streets, and walk west to find them. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but it’s a mix of old standbys and noteworthy newcomers. In no particular order…
Marinara Pizza. I had to include this not-your-average pizza spot first because they were kind enough to allow our fun photo shoot. Lots of NYC pizza establishments serve mediocre to great pizza, but they oftentimes lack ambiance and don’t seem to prioritize cleanliness and updating their decor. Lucky for us, Marinara is a few blocks from our home, and it hits a home run on amazing pizza and decor. You must try the MVP, which has three sauces: marinara, vodka, and pesto. Yes, it sounds a little crazy, I know. But believe me when I tell you that it’s crazy delicious! They have your traditional round pies, but my favorites are Grandma and Red Sicilian Stuffed Crust, and both are square pies like the MVP. The decor is fresh and clean, with tables and barstools and a high top bar in the huge storefront windows. Their pastas and salads are fabulous, as well. And their service is truly friendly and fast. 483 Amsterdam Avenue.
Just down the sidewalk from Marinara is Bustan. It’s the best Mediterranean food around. Seriously. A group of friends and I dined recently, and every dish we ordered was outstanding, not just good. My favorites were the Israeli Salad, Market Tomatoes, Roasted Octopus, and Burrata. During warmer months, dine in their festive garden that will transport you and make you forget you’re in the middle of NYC. 487 Amsterdam Avenue.
Jacob’s Pickles is a favorite for brunchers. It’s also fabulous any other time of day. With its open storefront, even if you can’t get a table outside, you’ll still love the bright and airy environment. Think hip. Think comfort food. This place is known for their biscuits (not just their pickles), and where I come from, biscuits go with everything. But they’re especially good with fried chicken, sausage gravy, and jam. They have all of that here, too. Many ingredients like their eggs and greens are locally sourced. If you’re a beer lover, you’re in luck because their beer menu is almost as extensive as their food menu. There is always a line because reservations are only offered for parties of six or more, but it’s worth the wait. 509 Amsterdam Avenue.
Tessa is one of my favorites for two reasons: their food and they’re next to Levain Bakery. (I’ll get to Levain later.) You must try their Spaghetti—it’s scampi on steroids with the perfect balance of butter, wine, garlic, and crispy kale (say what?!?) Duck Pastrami Sliders and Octopus alla Plancha are also musts. The vibe is lively and fun, and I love the communal table in the front to get the extra energy from the bar area. 349 Amsterdam Avenue.
While I’m here, allow me to mention Levain Bakery’s second location. If you’ve never been to Levain, you must go, and this location doesn't typically have the horrendous lines of its original spot. Chocolate Chip Banana Bread and their Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies are two things you absolutely have to try or you’re going to regret it when someone tells you how decadent they are. Two locations: 351 Amsterdam Avenue and 167 W 74th Street (original location).
Eléa is a new Greek restaurant just two blocks from our home. Several establishments have been in its spot over the years, but I believe Eléa is here to stay. It’s packed, and on a weekend night, the bar and the sidewalk are filled with diners waiting for a table. Its traditional white Grecian decor will transport you, as does the selection of fabulous Greek wines. Sit either upstairs or down, as the energy is present thoughout the restaurant. Have the Eléa Chips and Octopus. I always opt for a Whole Grilled Fish served simply with olive oil, lemon, and herbs. That’s the traditional Greek style. 217 W 85th Street.
Vai has been a longtime favorite of mine, even when it was in its former location. With loads of energy and a carefully curated menu, this Mediterranean with Italian influence will never disappoint. Ingredients are often locally sourced, the food is beautifully presented, and the flavors and combinations are absolutely divine! 429 Amsterdam Avenue.
If you want good old-fashioned Italian food, look no further than Gennaro. Everything is wonderful, and the wine is reasonably priced. With several nightly specials, even locals won’t get bored. Bring cash because they don’t accept credit cards. They also don’t take reservations. That may seem a bit “high maintenance” for you, but that’s because the food is so good that they can get away with it. 665 Amsterdam Avenue.
If I didn’t mention The Mermaid Inn, those who truly know me would think I’d bumped my head. The best part of the Mermaid Inn is their DAILY HAPPY HOUR from 5-7 pm. Wines are $8.50 (yes, that’s a bargain because it’s NYC), oysters on the half shell are $1.25, and many of my favorites are available in a mini and well-priced version so you can create your own little tasting menu. Mini lobster rolls, mini fish tacos (with a fabulous crispy shell), and salmon tartare. And their full regular menu is also available. Oh, and if you want to take your kids, they also have a kids’ menu, complete with crayons and games and coloring. Stick around for their complimentary chocolate pot de crème and your very own fish fortune teller. 570 Amsterdam Avenue.
Right next door to The Mermaid Inn is their sister restaurant Pizzeria Sirenetta. They, too, have a daily happy hour. Outside of happy hour, my favorite menu items are the Fennel Sausage, Tomato, and Onion Pizza, Octopus a la Plancha, and Linguinette with Meyer Lemon and Ricotta. Both Sirenetta and Mermaid offer outdoor seating, making happy hour extra fun during warmer months. 568 Amsterdam Avenue.
Moving down the block, just one door south of Sirenetta is Amelie Wine Bar. They are serious about their wine with VERY full and very large wine glasses. You’ll surely get your money’s worth. But beyond the wine is some truly delicious food. Although they serve traditional appetizers and entrees, we typically like to share a few small and larger plates because everything is that good. 566 Amsterdam Avenue.
And finally, I’m going out on a limb and adding a restaurant that I have yet to try but is on my list. La Sirène. A friend of mine has dined twice and was apparently transported to heaven. It’s French cuisine, if you hadn’t guessed. Let’s just say, “You had me at foie gras!” Cold and seared…they offer both. So I’m there! 416 Amsterdam Avenue.