11 Harlem Restaurants We Love

It’s no secret that some of the best food in the city can be found north of the park. From soul-food institutions to ramen joints to quirky bistros, here are 11 reasons to head uptown for your next meal.

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1. Rokc

Part raw bar, part ramen spot, part cocktail joint, ROKC might sound like a strange concept…until you visit, that is, and wonder why no one thought of the combo sooner. The menu boasts a changing selection of fresh oysters, a handful of snacks and a list of ramen dishes inspired by different regions of Japan. We especially love the Sapporo ramen, made with chicken broth, house miso, chicken chashu and veggies. But perhaps the number one reason to visit is for the cocktails, with concoctions like the Tomato/Clam (a Bloody Mary meets a spicy margarita) and the Matcha (a green tea latte spiked with Japanese whiskey).

3452 Broadway;

Courtesy of Clay

2. Clay

Every neighborhood could use a place like Clay: It’s upscale enough for a special occasion yet casual enough for a weeknight meal, the service is friendly and the space is inviting, with dim lighting, terra-cotta flooring and great music pulsing through the speakers. We’d have a hard time naming something on the menu we didn’t thoroughly enjoy. The dishes are made with straightforward ingredients in intriguing combinations that just work. Take, for instance, the beets with pickled jalapeño and pistachio granola, or the gnocchi with summer heirloom tomatoes, basil and maitake mushrooms. There’s also a compact yet excellent cocktail list worth exploring.

553 Manhattan Ave.;

3. Flat Top

This neighborhood bistro in Morningside Heights wouldn’t feel out of place on Paris’s Right Bank. During the warmer months, the outdoor tables are constantly booked for weekend brunch, where you can enjoy smoked salmon Benedict on homemade focaccia or shrimp and grits garnished with bacon and a runny egg. Stop in for lunch and you’ll probably find some Columbia students seated at the cozy bar with a textbook in one hand and a glass of gamay in the other. At dinnertime, the bright and airy space takes on a romantic vibe with rustic wooden tables, tea lights and colorful flowers in tiny bud vases.

1241 Amsterdam Ave.;

4. Sushi Inoue

Nagasaki-born chef Inoue plates some of the best omakase sushi in the city, right in the heart of Harlem. If you’re looking for a bargain, you won’t find it here. A meal at this Michelin-starred spot (the first Harlem restaurant to be awarded a star) comes with a hefty price tag: There are two omakase options starting at $225, and each includes ten pieces of nigiri plus a handful of kaiseki-style appetizers such as grilled eel skewers and a Hokkaido sea urchin.

381A Malcolm X Blvd.;

Courtesy of Lolo’s Seafood Shack

5. Lolo’s Seafood Shack

Need an escape from the city? This casual Cape Cod–meets–Caribbean eatery should do the trick. Order your food at the counter, then sit down at a picnic bench in the back garden with sweet and sticky smoked chicken wings and crispy pom pom shrimp and chow down. Oh, and don’t forget a pitcher of coconut rum punch.

303 W. 116th St.;

6. Mountain Bird

This East Harlem spot is one of the most surprising restaurants we’ve tried recently. Maybe it’s the rustic-chic decor more suited for the French countryside or the unfamiliar menu, but we sat down unsure of what to expect and left yearning for our next visit. As the name implies, the menu highlights poultry, but there are plenty of other French-inspired options, like duck confit and ratatouille. That said, we were most impressed by the chicken dishes, especially the decadent foie gras–filled wonton consommé and the crispy wings coated in truffle balsamic glaze. Adventurous eaters should make sure to order the Bird’s Goodie appetizer, which comes with a sampling of chicken liver mousse, pheasant pâté and other offal-forward bites.  

2162 Second Ave.;

Courtesy of Lido

7. Lido

Lido is one of those rare restaurants that serves two completely different functions: On Saturday night, it’s a charming Italian eatery perfect for a romantic meal, but come Sunday morning, it becomes a bustling brunch spot thanks to the $16 bottomless mimosa special. Whether you’re coming for the boozy brunch complete with white truffle polenta and poached eggs or the quieter dinnertime seating where you can indulge in gnocchi with cream and sage, you can bet you’re in for a good meal.

2168 Frederick Douglass Blvd;

Darío González

8. Jin Ramen

Just north of Columbia, Jin Ramen is one of our go-to spots for a cozy and casual meal. To call it a ramen joint would be an understatement, since the menu offers a good selection of hot appetizers (steamed pork buns, shishito peppers) along with rice bowls topped with braised meat and veggies. But ramen is the main event here, and it’s served about nine different ways (think: creamy pork tonkotsu with seared pork belly and soft-boiled egg, or a vegetarian bowl loaded with tofu, leeks, bok choy and mushrooms).

3183 Broadway;

9. Sylvia’s

Sylvia’s Restaurant holds a place among quintessential New York dining establishments like Katz’s Deli, Joe’s Pizza and Peter Luger Steak House. Not only does the restaurant dish up some of the best Southern comfort food in the city—from chicken and waffles to cornbread and collard greens—but it’s also part of Harlem’s DNA. Today, more than 50 years since Sylvia Woods (aka the Queen of Soul Food) founded it, the restaurant is still run by the Woods family, and its multiple dining rooms are almost always full, especially on Sundays for the post-church rush. The experience alone is well worth a trip. 

328 Malcolm X

Katie Burton

10. Red Rooster

If Sylvia’s is old-school soul food at its finest, Red Rooster, just down the block, is already a new-school staple. Here, celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson draws on his experience and upbringing, blending the flavors of Ethiopia, Sweden and Harlem into a unique kind of comfort food. You’ll find melt-in-your-mouth fried chicken alongside Swedish meatballs with stewed tomatoes and olives, and sweet-and-savory curry salmon with coconut and peanut glaze. The space itself is stylish, bright and playful with mismatched decor and pops of color.

310 Lenox Ave.; 

11. Sottocasa Pizzeria

Every neighborhood in New York has one outstanding pizzeria, and in Harlem, that place is Sottocasa. You could easily walk past the clandestine entrance on Lenox Avenue, but step inside and you’ll be rewarded with Neapolitan pies, cooked in a wood-fired oven until the crust is charred, bubbly and delightfully chewy. The menu has about two dozen pizzas, including the Napoli (made with tomatoes, mozzarella, anchovies and basil) and the Aglio, Olio (a white pie topped with mozzarella, creamy ricotta, garlic and hot chili flakes). The good news is you can’t go wrong with any of them.

227 Lenox Ave.;

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