Saturday, August 9, 2008

Welcome to the UWS Dining Guide

Hello! I'm Erin, a graduate student at Columbia University. In my short year in Manhattan, I've learned that eating the best food in NYC requires trips outside the confines of the Upper West Side. However, school precludes regular escapes below 72nd St. Fortunately, among the overpriced, underwhelming spots that surround Columbia, gems exist. This guide, based on my favorites, will help you discover a few of them.

Do you have suggestions for additions to the guide? Email erinskitchen [at] gmail [dot] com

Upper West Side Dining Guide Index

Breakfast & Coffee
Cheapish Dinner Spots
Dinner Spots for Dates or Parental Visits
Sweet Treats

Upper West Side Breakfast & Coffee

Carrot Hashbrowns at Community Food and Juice
Carrot hashbrowns at Community Food & Juice.

Barney Greengrass
541 Amsterdam Ave at 86th St.
Yes, your bagel with lox and cream cheese will be the most expensive one you’ve ever eaten. But it will be delicious, and you’ll be eating at a New York institution.

Community Food & Juice

2893 Broadway, north of 116th St.
I have a love/hate relationship with this “green” joint. On the one hand it’s overpriced, precious, on the other hand it’s a place to get local, healthy, organic food in a pleasant atmosphere. And I love the whole wheat biscuits and carrot hashbrowns. From 8-9:30 AM, Monday to Thursday, $9 gets you wild Maine blueberry pancakes, a bottomless cup of free trade, organic coffee, and fresh squeezed OJ. See what I mean about precious?

Lenny’s Bagels
2601 Broadway at 98th St.
A no-nonsense spot with crappy coffee but good everything bagels.

Oren’s Daily Roast
2882 Broadway between 112th and 113th Sts.
A small chain with great coffee, excellent sugar-free berry scone.

Silver Moon Bakery
2740 Broadway at 105th St.
I love the Bavarian pretzel for a not-so-healthy breakfast.

Other recommendations (tips from readers, but places I haven't been):

Popover Cafe
Amsterdam Ave at 86th St.
Helen says: this place is great and very cute for brunch. Also, their popovers are lots of fun.

Alice's Teacup
73rd St. at Columbus Ave.
Helen says: The original of a chain -- cutest brunch place ever. Amazing scones, awesome collection of teas, and yummy brunch. French toast is v. good.

74th St. & Amsterdam Ave.
Helen says: A bit on the expensive side, but is a delicious, health-conscious option. Great Bellini's and fresh fruit drinks. They serve butternut squash spread with homemade focaccia as the appetizer.

Upper West Side Lunch

Salsas at Taqueria Y Fonda
Salsas at Taqueria Y Fonda.

Your best bet for lunch? Pack it yourself (See the grocery recommendations below). You’ll save money, limit calories, and eat better. When a lunchbox isn’t feasible, try these options.

On Campus

LenFest Café
In the law school building attached to SIPA, this sunny spot sells passable sushi rolls and decent soups.

Ferris Booth Commons
Spy on the undergrads at this smorgasbord on the 3rd floor of Lerner Hall. Lots of salad options.

Brownie’s Café
Found in the basement of Avery Hall, not operated by Columbia dining services. Tasty sandwiches which feature pesto, freshly grilled veggies, and fresh mozzarella. You will have to fight the arty architecture students for a table.

Off Campus

Max Caffe

1262 Amsterdam Ave near 122nd St.
A comfy coffeehouse with good sandwiches and salads. The kind of spot you can park your laptop for multiple hours in the afternoon, but electrical plugs are few and far between.

Milano Market
2892 Broadway between 111th and 112th St.
Excellent sandwiches to go, freshly made and featuring Italian ingredients.

Roti Roll Bombay Frankie

994 Amsterdam Ave. near 109th St.
Spicy Indian “burritos”.

Taqueria Y Fonda
968 Amsterdam Ave between 107th and 108th Sts.
This Mexican dive serves your standard burritos, tacos, enchiladas and tortas (Mexican sandwiches) for student-friendly prices.

Thai Market
960 Amsterdam at 107th St.
From 12 noon to 3:30, $8 gets you a flavorful appetizer and main course off this bright, airy and somewhat trendy spot’s special lunch menu.

Westside Market
2840 Broadway at 110th St.
The salad bar at this grocery store has the best options and prices around. There’s a bunch of fresh fruit available, as well as interesting composed salads. The market charges by the pound, not by the item, so you can eat your weight in blackberries or carrots for the same price.

Upper West Side Cheap (ish) Dinner Spots

Harriet's Kitchen Cheeseburger
Cheeseburger at Harriet's Kitchen

I live at 96th and Broadway, so many of these dinner options skew south of Columbia—but none are more than a 10-15 minute train ride away. Also, many of them deliver.

665 Amsterdam Ave. nr. 92nd St.
Well-executed pasta dishes and seasonal salads at reasonable prices. A neighborhood institution. Cash only, and wine comes only by the bottle (but they’ll let you take any leftover home with you).

Gray’s Papaya
2090 Broadway at 72nd St.
Recession special: $3.50 for two excellent hotdogs and a so-so papaya drink.

Harriet’s Kitchen
502 Amsterdam Ave. nr. 84th St.
A grubby take out counter with the best burger and fried chicken you’ll find in New York. Perfect hangover food.

Hunan Balcony
2596 Broadway at 98th St.
Not necessarily better than other Chinese take-out places in the nabe, but the first one I ever ordered from and I’ve stayed loyal. Try the well-named “Lover in the Stars” dish.

Indus Valley
2636 Broadway at 100th St.
Relatively pricey but yummy Indian food. Decent chat selection.

Max SoHa
1274 Amsterdam at 123rd St.
Another spot to get your pasta fix. Rigatoni with eggplant is my favorite. Cash only.

Noche Mexicana
852 Amsterdam Ave between 101st and 102nd
Cheap and tasty Mexican staples--tacos, burritos, and a huge plate of chilaquiles. Excellent fresh fruit shakes (just milk, no ice cream).

Pio Pio Salon
702 Amsterdam at 94th St.
Peruvian rotisserie chicken. Skip the fries and opt for an avocado salad instead.

Super Taco
96th St and Broadway, evenings and weekends only
I’m including this taco truck because it wins accolades from others, though I don’t like it all that much. It smells good every time I walk by, but I find the meat dry. I’ll admit it—maybe I’m an LA taco snob.

411A Amsterdam, between 79th and 80th Sts.
Tinier than Indus Valley, another good Indian spot with excellent naan.

Other recommendations (tips from readers, but places I haven't been):

949 Columbus Ave between 106th & 107th Sts
Jessica says: It's a teeny hole in the wall, but the one dinner my fiance and I ate there was honestly one of the best meals I've ever had. Definitely the best food I've had since I've been in New York.

Upper West Side Dinner Spots for Dates or Parental Visits

Chocolate Pudding at Mermaid Inn
Chocolate pudding at the Mermaid Inn.

103 W. 77th St at Columbus Ave.
An immediate darling of the critics when it opened late in 2007. With a focus on local ingredients, Chef John Fraser turns out delicious dishes including an amazing beef cheek lasagna. On Sunday’s, 3 courses can be had for a very reasonable $38. Reservations recommended.

La Rural
768 Amsterdam between 97th and 98th Sts.
This Argentine steakhouse is lovely place to get your red meat fix, especially if you sit on the backyard patio. Tasty empanadas as well.


2315 Broadway at 84th St.
Join the dapper blue blazered gents and pearl wearing matrons of the UWS for the early bird (until 6:30) three-course, prix-fix meal at this clubby spot, which will set you back just $33. Good, hearty dishes for fall; ordering a martini is a must.

The Mermaid Inn

568 Amsterdam between 87th and 88th Sts.
High end seafood shack, with a meaty lobster roll and a sprightly seared calamari salad. A dark chocolate pudding is served gratis at the end of your meal. Reservations recommended.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Upper West Side Sweet Treats

Cupcakes at Buttercup
Cupcakes at Buttercup Bakeshop.

Most days, you can’t beat a goey chocolate chip cookie from Alice’s Café on the 6th floor of the International Affairs building. They’re especially useful a few hours before your econ midterm. Here are some other options:

Buttercup Bakeshop

141 W 72nd St between Columbus & Broadway
No, the cupcake craze is not over in NY. A boxful of $2 lemon cupcakes will make you the hero of your study group. You could do a cupcake tour with stops at the UWS outposts of Crumbs and Magnolia as well.

2165 Broadway at 76th St.
When it's 85 degrees and sunny, this authentic Italian gelato is worth the wait in line.

Jacques Torres Chocolate
285 Amsterdam between 73rd & 74th Sts.
On the first really blustery fall day, order a chili-spiced “wicked” hot chocolate here and take a walk in Central Park.

2873 Broadway at 112th St.
Overhyped and overpriced, sure. But an occasional fro-yo is a necessary evil.


On Campus-4th Floor of Lerner Hall
Exactly what mystery substances comprise this lo-cal frozen delight? Who knows. But sometimes a small swirl of chocolate is just what the doctor ordered.

Other recommendations (from readers, but places I haven't been):

Levain Bakery
167 W74th St. at Amsterdam
Helen says: Home of the world's best chocolate-chip cookie. This place was featured on one of those cooking competition shows, and their cookie actually won for 'best chocolate chip cookie in the world'.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Upper West Side Drinks

New York is a drinker’s paradise, and a bar can be found to suit nearly any temperament and need. My favorite spots are in the Lower East Side and Brooklyn, but here are a few near(ish) to campus that will get the job done.

1020 Bar
1020 Amsterdam Ave at 111th St.
½ price well drinks and numerous beers from 4-7 pm. Dark and divey. Mainly grad students.

Havana Central

2911 Broadway Ave between 113th & 114th Sts.
The place to go if you need some food to slow the power of the alcohol. Nachos and empanadas will keep you sober enough, depending how many happy hour mojitos you consume. I do not recommend eating a real meal here in the dining room—too expensive and too bland.


503 Columbus Ave at 84th St.
Live music--often a cover band playing everything from Dusty Springfield to Sublime. Fun, laid-back spot for group outings.


2731 Broadway Ave at 104th St.
While not as cheap as the bars in my home state of Wisconsin, this low-key spot has a decidedly Midwestern, unpretentious vibe. Plenty of tables, great jukebox, dogs allowed. A host of older regulars mingle with young ‘uns from the neighborhood.