Manhattan’s Upper West Side was, for a long time, a dining desert.
Sure, there are blocks and blocks of beautiful brownstones; leafy, relatively tranquil streets; hordes of Columbia University students; and plenty of museums in what some people still call “Seinfeldland.” But when the stomach started to rumble? You’d have to hop on the subway and head downtown.
Fortunately, this isn’t the case anymore. The Upper West Side now has enough great eateries that one need not leave the neighborhood to satiate the palate.
Here are the 12 best restaurants on the Upper West Side.
Mention “Sardinia” to any Italian and then be prepared to watch them swoon.
What do Italians know about Sardinia that everyone else doesn’t? For starters, the cuisine of this Italian island in the Tyrrhenian Sea is excellent and, for an island, surprisingly meaty. It’s also a Blue Zone, a place on the planet where the inhabitants are usually healthy and live a long life.
And so it’s shocking there are not more Sardinian restaurants outside of Italy.
Fortunately, there’s one on the Upper West Side. First timers to Arco Cafe should try the malloreddus, a unique pasta shape made only in Sardinia, that’s paired with a luscious ragu. You’ll swoon after one bite.
Bánh Vietnamese Shop House
Bánh began life as a pop-up in 2020, and it’s safe to assume that the people who lined up nightly to eat at this Vietnamese spot breathed a collective sigh of relief when it went from pop-up to permanent the following year.
The Vietnamese dining scene in New York has long been mediocre at best. In the last few years that’s changed. And Bánh has greatly contributed to the elevation of this Southeast Asian cuisine in the Big Apple.
The restaurant serves super flavorful pho. And the banh chung chien, a deep-fried rice cake filled with pork, is not only excellent—but it’s very rare to see this menu item outside of Vietnam. The only con is that Bánh just serves beer—no wine.
One of the most iconic Upper West Side restaurants, Barney Greengrass was a favorite of the late Anthony Bourdain. And after a visit, it’s easy to see why.
Specializing in smoked fish, the Jewish deli also serves chopped chicken liver, egg dishes, and sandwiches. They even have a tongue omelet.
Super chef Daniel Boulud’s edible love letter to the Mediterranean, Boulud Sud is an elegant-but-not-stuffy spot that goes beyond the usual Med places (Italy, Greece, Spain) with dishes from Lebanon, Israel, Morocco. The lemon-saffron spaghetti, studded with Sardinian bottarga, is excellent. So is the pine-nut dotted lamb flatbread.
In New York, restaurants serving the cuisine of the Republic of Georgia have long been stuck deep into Brooklyn. Not anymore.
The great Chama Mama first fired up its tone (that’s a Georgian bread oven) in Chelsea and now this new-ish outpost on the Upper West Side is equally dazzling diners. The baked cheese breads, called khachapuri, are a must. So are the lamb-and-broth-stuffed dumplings, also known as khinkali.
Charles’ Pan-Fried Chicken
Charles Gabriel has been pan-frying chicken in either Harlem or the Upper West Side since the ‘80s. This spot on W. 72nd Street seems here to stay. Which is good news—since Charles’ chicken is now iconic, and people travel from all the boroughs to sink their teeth into this tender-but-crispy fowl.
“From Somewhere in the Mediterranean” is the slogan of Dagon. That “somewhere” is the Levantine, in general, and is Israel, in particular.
Named for the Philistine god of agriculture, this handsome eatery has a menu loaded with southern Mediterranean flavor, from creamy labneh to sabich (eggplant) flatbread to harissa-laced barbecue chicken to crispy roasted lamb.
Despite the name, you can get more than just pickles here. This Southern-accented eatery kicks up the feel-good fare a notch with heart attack deliciousness.
Fried chicken and pancakes? Yes, please. Lowcountry sweet and smoky meatloaf? Uh-huh! Gravy smothered chicken? That’s right. They even venture up north to serve Canadian drinking snack poutine.
And yes, you can order pickles here—there are several varieties from which to choose.
If you walk by this slice joint on Broadway near West 106th Street and 1) there’s no line and 2) they’re not sold out of pizza yet, then 3) you’ve won the pizza lottery. Mama’s Too is a sensation and everyone wants a piece of it.
There are square and triangular-shaped slices here. Both are excellent, but first timers should get the square pepperoni and the square cacio e pepe slice—and then you too will be initiated into the cult of Mama’s Too.
No one ever said you’ll go crazy for cauliflower. Then again, they probably had not eaten at Miznon.
With locations in Tel Aviv, Paris, and Singapore, Miznon opened a counter in the Chelsea Market and it caused a stir with its whole head of roasted cauliflower. At this Upper West Side location, Miznon is a full-service affair.
Besides the obligatory cauliflower, Miznon also serves other incredible vegetable creations plus exquisite seared lamb and a thick steak sitting upon charred tomatoes.
This dim sum spot is the love child of Joe “the dumpling king” Ng and the late Ed Schoenfeld, a Chinese food expert. Everything on the menu will make you want it again and again, especially the pastrami egg rolls, the shrimp-stuffed jalapeño peppers, the barbecued pork belly.
Oh yeah, and anything in the form of a dumpling. The xiao long bao, that culinary miracle of a dumpling that magically holds soup broth inside of it, is particularly well done here.
Perhaps the best Thai option when it comes to Upper West Side restaurants, Thai Market takes its name and runs with it, as the interior is bedecked to look like you’re in a (somewhat over-the-top) actual street food market in Bangkok.
The menu specializes in—wait for it—Thai street food, and diners will surely be satisfied by sticking to the part of the menu that focuses on small bites. The shrimp-and-coconut-stuffed crepe, fried garlic shrimp, and the daikon cake are standouts. And, if you squint while chewing, maybe you can convince yourself you’re actually in Bangkok.
David Farley is a West Village-based food and travel writer whose work appears regularly in the New York Times, National Geographic, BBC, and Food & Wine, among other publications. He’s the author of three books, including “An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town,” which was made into a documentary by the National Geographic Channel. You can find Farley’s online homes here and here.