Stretching across a swath of Upper Manhattan, Harlem has long been a hub for music, literature and food. It’s the fabled birthplace of fried chicken and waffles (first served up at Wells’ in the late 1930s) and is the soul-food heart of New York City. But, just as the area’s demographics have changed in recent years, so has its restaurant and bar scene. In addition to decades-old Southern cuisine icons like Amy Ruth’s, spots by both big-name chefs and local gastronomes have cropped up, bringing an eclectic mix of Japanese, Italian and Spanish flavours to this increasingly diverse neighbourhood.
Fried chicken and waffles and down-home Southern classics are the stars at this Uptown legend, which opened in 1998.
In a rustic-chic dining room, enjoy locavore comfort food like the pork belly Benedict and breakfast carbonara. Wash it down with a spicy ghost pepper infused Bloody Mary.
Here, Chef Carlos Swepson turns out favourites with fine-dining finesse. Try the shrimp and grits and banana-pecan buttermilk pancakes.
Leave your meal in the hands of Michelin-starred fish whisperer Shinichi Inoue and be rewarded with exceptionally fresh edomae-style sushi steeped in Japanese tradition.
Cape Cod meets the Caribbean at this colourful seafood hangout, where you’ll find island-inspired street eats like conch fritters and jerk ribs offered alongside steampots filled with your choice of crab legs, whole shrimp or crawfish.
Reservations here are one of the hottest tickets in town, thanks to the high-profile clientele and generous family-style servings of traditional Italian cooking. Can’t get in? Take home a jar of the legendary red sauce from a local store.
Must-taste dish: Chopped cheese at Hajji’s
This unassuming corner store goes by many names—Hajji’s, Blue Sky Deli, Harlem Taste—but one thing remains the same: the sandwich known as the chopped cheese is said to have originated here. Even if they can’t agree on an origin story (a spin on the Philly cheesesteak or an attempt to fit a cheeseburger onto a hero bun), locals flock here for the messy hero with griddled ground beef, melted American cheese, shredded lettuce, onions, ketchup and mayo.
Signature experience: Red Rooster Harlem and Ginny’s Supper Club
Celeb chef Marcus Samuelsson gives soul food an elevated twist at Red Rooster Harlem, a lively restaurant decked out with local art. Try the Swedish meatballs with pickled vegetables and gravy or the blackened catfish. After dinner, head downstairs where Samuelsson has expanded his popular eatery, adding a softly lit subterranean lounge dubbed Ginny’s Supper Club. Reminiscent of an old-school speakeasy, the club rotates through an eclectic musical lineup, with stylish bartenders pouring classic and original cocktails.
Beer, Wine and Cocktails
Cocktails delivered in creative vessels are the focus at this spot in West Harlem’s Hamilton Heights. Served in a light bulb, the Flower mixes Japanese barley vodka with lavender, elderflower and cranberry.
With a stylish zinc-topped bar and communal tables, Vinateria matches its wine list of small Mediterranean producers with Italian- and Spanish-inspired fare such as bacalao croquettes and spicy veal meatballs.
For snobbery-free craft beers, head to this Spanish Harlem joint, which offers a rotating selection of brews (be sure to try the Finback IPA), along with the popular pork belly grilled cheese.
Sample baked goods like Mexican conchas and almond-studded babkas at this non-profit bakery that trains native and foreign-born, low-income women to become professional bakers.
Chocolate rugelach—a Jewish specialty—is the focus at Lee Lee’s Baked Goods, founded by South Carolina-born Alvin Lee Smalls, who started tweaking his now-famous recipe in the 1970s.
Here you’ll find hockey puck-sized cookies studded with chocolate chips and walnuts.