The uptown food scene was electrified when Marcus Samuelsson first opened Red Rooster Harlem in late 2010. Then came critical darling The Cecil in 2013 (which has since turned into the less adventurous The Cecil Steakhouse). A new era of destination dining was coming to Harlem.
Or was it? The truth is, uptown's restaurant landscape is a fascinating but relatively low-key mix of old-school family-run joints, ethnic cafes, and casually hip new establishments. It's hardly a hotbed for the latest culinary trends.
Still, as someone who loves reading about the city's restaurants, I always perk up when I see a mention of a new or interesting place in Upper Manhattan.
In fact, you can bet that many more food writers will be venturing north in the coming years. I've watched the dining scene grow in and around my small neighborhood, which in the last few years has welcomed buzzy spots like ROKC, Oso, Fumo, and The Handpulled Noodle. And more will be arriving soon.
In the meantime, if you're like me, follow and bookmark these critics and columns that always do a great job of finding some of the best and most compelling places to eat uptown:
Eater New York Critic Robert Sietsema
I love that Eater New York's description of senior restaurant critic Robert Sietsema includes this tidbit: "rider of subways." He sure seems to be wearing out his Metrocard getting to the places that most other writers don't (or won't). Last week he wrote up one of my neighborhood go-tos for crackling chicharron and roast chicken hot off the spit, Dominican diner Mofongo del Valle (alas he tried different dishes). Other recent Harlem visits have included Ecuatoriana, Accra, Harlem's Floridita, Devin's Fish & Chips, plus a mouth-watering tour of East Harlem. And he's constantly trying more food across the city–I have no idea how he does it.
New York Daily News "Subway Fare" columnist Rachel Wharton
One of the more ambitious food projects in our city's papers is the New York Daily News' Subway Fare column. Every week food journalist Rachel Wharton explores a different stop on a chosen subway line and finds three restaurants to write about. Lately she's been traveling up the B line, and this week she reached the 155th stop, finding La Oaxaquena, Indian Express, and Hot Pot Under de Tree. Like Robert Sietsema, she's going to need a new Metrocard soon.
The New Yorker "TABLES FOR Two" and "Bar Tab" writer NicolaS Niarchos
When New Yorker contributor Nicolas Niarchos isn't writing important pieces on the war in Yemen, he's often checking out Harlem's (and the South Bronx's) bars and restaurants for the magazine's "Tables for Two" and "Bar Tab" columns. I must admit, it's always a thrill to read about local spots like The Edge, Lenox Saphire, Tsion Cafe and Safari in such a highbrow source.
New York Magazine's "Best of New York"
It's no surprise that New York Magazine's Best of New York series focuses mostly on downtown New York and Brooklyn–where the vast majority of ambitious restaurants lie–but every once in a while the writers include a few uptown gems. Ramen and cocktail bar ROKC has been featured twice: once in its "Absolute Best Places for a First Date" article and another time in its best ramen roundup (both were honorable mentions). Other uptown picks have included Bo's Bagels (best bagel), 67 Orange Street (best uptown date bar), Harlem Shake (best patty melt), and Frijolito's (best burrito).
The New York Times "hungry city" columnist Ligaya Mishan
Hungry City columnist Ligaya Mishan, who reviews "New York's great unsung restaurants" for the New York Times, has a soft spot for tasty Ethiopian food in Harlem. In the past few years, she has reviewed Benyam, Tsion Cafe, and Abyssinia–three of the neighborhood's five Ethiopian restaurants. She has also given her golden "NYT Critic's Pick" stamp to Somali restaurant Safari and Senegalese spot Africa Kine. Of course it's not always about the neighborhood's African food–she has tried places as varied as Chinese noodle joint The Handpulled Noodle and soul food restaurants BLVD Bistro and SpaHa Soul. Come back soon, Ligaya!