Topped with bacon, slaw, and fried green tomatoes and sided with cheese grits, the fried chicken biscuit sandwich at Jacob’s Pickles
Update: We have revised our guide. Be sure to read our new list of the 10 best Upper West Side restaurants, published on November 20, 2014.
A score of years ago the Upper West Side was known as one of the worst dining neighborhoods in the city. Well, what happened? You may trace the transformation back to the opening of Picholine, but there were other harbingers, too, so that now the finger-shaped neighborhood that runs along the west side of Central Park, and was immortalized in West Side Story, is now a bonafide dining destination, and you should have no compunction about going up there to eat, say, on a date. Here are our current favorite places.
10. Jacob’s Pickles – Pickles are the bedrock of this sprawling and fun-loving café, tarted up like an old-fashioned Jewish deli, and the pickles end up in nearly everything, including the slaw. But instead of pastrami and knishes, Jacob’s serves up southern fare with a Jewish flare, and the ridiculously large biscuit sandwiches (one is shown above) are not to be missed. 509 Amsterdam Avenue, 212-470-5566
9. Saiguette – This brand new joint has only a handful of counter seats, but it bests nearly every other Vietnamese place in town, in culinary excitement as well as in price. You won’t find a more perfect pho anywhere, the broth delicately scented with sweet spices and so damn good you’ll slurp it up before you taste your first rice noodle or nibble your first slice of brisket. 935 Columbus Avenue, 212-866-6888
8. Barney Greengrass – News of this century-old storefront’s demise always turns out to be exaggerated. With wonderful cured fish as its focus, Barney Greengrass (“The Sturgeon King”) is the Upper West Side’s answer to the Lower East Side’s Russ & Daughters, and you’d be hard pressed to tell which is better. No nicer place for a brunch of whitefish salad on a bagel, or nova with onions on rye, or scrambled eggs with sturgeon. 541 Amsterdam Avenue, 212-724-4707
The formal dining room at Barney Greengrass — a more informal deli-style space is found next door.
7. Gazala’s – This laid-back restaurant is an expanded version of the Hell’s Kitchen original – and it’s a hell of a lot more comfortable. Appetize with bread dips on gossamer-thin Israeli Druze pitas, and sup on sautéed quail, succulent lamb kebabs, or shakshuka (above), a North African poach of yellow-yolked eggs against a backdrop of deep-red tomato sauce. One further advantage to the Upper West Side edition: a full liquor license. 380 Columbus Avenue, 212-873-8880
6. Gray’s Papaya – The natural-skin franks at this Upper West Side cheap-eats institution are every bit as good as Nathan’s – in fact they’re made in the same New Jersey factory. This relentlessly yellow joint hops 24 hours a day, and we can’t think of a better symbol of Upper West Side fast eats. Mustard is a given. Your only dilemma: onions or kraut? 2090 Broadway, 212-799-0243
5. Caffe Storico – Nowadays we’ve come to expect great restaurants in the city’s museums, but in the New-York Historical Society? There amid the staid exhibits of bygone buildings and framed bird prints, find one of the Upper West’s greatest refectories, purveying Italian dishes small and large such as the wonderful whipped baccala (potatoes, olive oil, and salt cod) shown below. Wash it down with wines from a distinguished list. 170 Central Park West, 212-485-9211
4. Osteria Cotta – How did this place edge out Caffe Storico? Well, the excellent sidewalk seating area would be one reason, and also similar-quality food at cheaper prices. The broad range of bruschetti is a boon to wine sippers in the warmer months, the pastas scintillating in their freshness (linguine with baby clams shown is better here than anywhere else). And then there are the vegetable composed salads and Naples-style pizzas, which are very good of their type. Just wait for the cool evening breezes of summer to arrive.513 Columbus Avenue, 212-873-8500
3. Boulud Sud – Any of the three Daniel Boulud restaurants arranged around the corner of 64th and Broadway right across from iconic Lincoln Center are worth checking out, from the New Wave charcuterer Bar Boulud to the upscale fast food Epicerie. But Boulud Sud – offering the sunny food of Provence and points beyond – is the best, an exceedingly bright spot in the Upper West Side dining firmament, with an excellent soupe de poisson, ratatouille with a poached egg blossoming on top, and a mind-bogglingly good sardine escabeche. And don’t miss the desserts, either! Via pastry chef Ghaya F. Oliveira. 20 West 64th Street, 212-595-1313
2. Thai Market – Yes, there are decent Siamese restaurants in Hell’s Kitchen, but this place rapidly hispterizing Amersterdam Avenue on the Upper Upper West Side around 107th Street beats them all. If you request it, the food will be far hotter, the sauces more tart, the portions more generous. And fish sauce is not anathema to the place’s distinguished cooks. The setting, duded up to look like a southeast Asian market, is a pleasure, too. The fiery raw-shrimp dish called goong chae nampla shown above. 960 Amsterdam Avenue, 212-280-4575
1. Telepan – Telepan is NYC’s answer to Chez Panisse, a secluded restaurant on the ground floor of a rusticated brownstone apartment house with a chef (Bill Telepan) who cherishes local and sustainable values, transforming the raw materials thus acquired into some of the best and most elegantly plated food in town. On a recent revisit we loved the creamy homemade burrata and the lobster Bolognese, and the three-course prix fixe puts the place within reach of nearly any dining budget. 72 West 69th Street, 212-580-4300
Check out Our 10 Best Hell’s Kitchen Restaurants
My 13 Favorite Brooklyn Restaurants