Sure, the Upper West Side isn’t exactly a ~trendy~ place to live, but it’s got a lot more going for it than you think.
1. Leading with a crowd-pleaser: There’s Levain Bakery, home of New York’s most notorious chocolate chip cookie.
Where: 167 W. 74th Street (between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues)
I still don’t know whether it’s their texture (underbaked and dense) , their flavor (BUTTER! CHOCOLATE!) , or their size (comically huge) that makes these chocolate chip cookies so good, but they’re undeniably one of the most popular and well-known baked goods in NYC. The line is always long, but it’s worth it. And, fun fact, if you’ve ever gotten a bikini wax and thought, “You know, this would be less unpleasant if the room was filled with the smell of 1,000 freshly baked cookies,” this is the place where that dream can become a reality.
2. The Beacon Theater always has something good going on.
Where: 2124 Broadway (between 74th and 75th Streets)
The Beacon was home to this year’s Tony Awards, and their regular line-up is a good mix of “your parents’ music that you actually like” and “your music that your parents actually like”, which I definitely mean to be a good thing.
3. Peacefood Cafe is the kind of vegan restaurant worth going to even if you’re a die-hard carnivore.
Where: 460 Amsterdam Avenue (at 82nd Street)
Their sandwiches are good and just creative enough, and it’s a great place to keep in mind if you ever need to bring vegan baked goods to a potluck. But what you really need to go for is the chickpea fries, which taste like a cross between a falafel and a crispy stick of deep-fried hummus. I once ventured from the tried-and-true and got the kale salad special that turned out to be pretty disappointing, so it’s probably best to stick to the regular menu.
4. Central Park is pretty OK.
Where: 59th Street to 110th Street, from Central Park West to 5th Avenue
843 acres of park in the middle of a sprawling metropolis? Not a bad thing to be able to walk to (or through) every day.
5. And, wait, if Central Park ever gets boring, there’s Riverside Park, too.
Where: 72nd Street to 158th Street, along the Hudson River
Stretching along the edge of the UWS and beyond, Riverside Park boasts bike and pedestrian paths along the Hudson river, plus tennis, basketball, and volleyball courts.
6. The best sidewalk dining in NYC is up here, right across the street from Lincoln Center.
The Smith: 1900 Broadway (at 63rd Street)
At this point, The Smith is an NYC mini-chain, but this is its best location by far. It’s huge, with tons of outdoor seating and a great view of Lincoln Center. And while the food isn’t groundbreaking, it’s reliably good. It’s also $$$, but so is everything around Lincoln Center.
Bar Boulud: 1900 Broadway (at 64th Street)
It’s hard to go wrong with anything on a Daniel Boulud menu, but maybe the smartest thing to do at Bar Boulud is to order wine and charcuterie and just people-watch.
7. For damn good Italian, there’s Celeste.
Where: 502 Amsterdam Avenue (between 84th and 85th Streets)
Celeste doesn’t accept reservations (or credit cards), but it’s worth the wait. Their pizza is the best in the neighborhood; wood-fired, with a crust that’s not too thin.Portions are big, and everything is really reasonably priced.
8. The Senusous Bean is what cool coffee shops looked like before coffee shops were, well…cool.
Where: 66 W. 70th Street (at Columbus Avenue)
Plenty of people stand by the fact that The Sensuous Bean serves the best cup of coffee on the UWS, but what’s really special about the store is the enormous, international variety of coffee and tea available for purchase. Downtown transplants Joe and Irving Farm are welcome additions to the neighborhood, but neither is as unique or as datedly timeless as The Sensuous Bean.
9. As far as grocery stores go, literally no neighborhood in NYC rivals the UWS. First of all, Fairway.
This two-story wonderland has all the supermarket essentials — good deli counter, great bakery, friendly butcher that can and will order pretty much anything for you, kosher and organic meat, super fresh fish, huge olive bar — plus pretty much everything you’d find in a specialty food store. There’s an olive oil bar (with samples!), a ton of international stuff, tons of bulk bins, AN ENTIRE WALL OF NUT BUTTER, and a constant influx of new specialty products.
And you can go upstairs to the Fairway Cafe, the best-kept breakfast secret in the neighborhood.
Where: 2131 Broadway (between 74th and 75th Streets), 2nd floor
The silver dollar pancakes are everything you want them to be, and you can’t go wrong with any of the smoked fish offerings.
10. If the line at Fairway is too long, there are plenty of other very good grocery stores.
Trader Joe’s: 2073 Broadway (between 71st and 72nd Streets)
TJ’s can get crowded, so go early in the morning on weekends or in the middle of the day during the week. The store is well-stocked and the long line always moves pretty quickly.
Whole Foods: 10 Columbus Circle (at 59th Street), and 808 Columbus Avenue (at 97th Street)
The underground Whole Food’s at Columbus circle is smaller than many outlets, but there’s a decent grocery selection, a big prepared food bar, a sushi counter, a coffee bar, and a juice shop. The store on 97th and Columbus doesn’t have as much prepared food or made-to-order options, but it does have an adjoining wine store with bottles that go for as little as $4.99.
Citarella: 2135 Broadway (between 74th and 75th)
Things are more than a little overpriced, but Citarella is conveniently next door to Fairway, which means it’s a good second stop for whatever you might have forgotten to buy or not been able to find. Also, Citarella is the place you’re guaranteed to find whatever high-end item you randomly find yourself needing, be it fresh truffles or a whole rabbit.
11. And, for better or for worse, Zabar’s is in a league of its own.
Where: 2245 Broadway (at 80th Street)
A Manhattan landmark, Zabar’s is part Jewish deli, part specialty store, and part home goods retailer. Since the place is a destination, there’s a markup on everything — or, in the case of the lobsterless lobster salad, a borderline scam — so shop carefully. I usually go for the cheese, olives, and SodaStream carbonator refills (and stay for the free rugelach samples).
12. Speaking of New York classics, Tasti D-Lite is still going strong up here.
Where: 523 Amsterdam Avenue (between 85th and 86th Streets), and 2528 Broadway (between 94th and 95th Streets)
I know froyo is annoyingly everywhere, but hear me out: Tasti D-Lite isn’t frozen yogurt. It’s “frozen dessert.” Unlike the dense, borderline-syrupy concoctions spewing from the machines at trendier froyo spots, Tasti’s product, is a fluffy, not-too-sweet combination of dairy, sugar, and air. While they’ve vastly expanded their flavor offerings to keep up with the times, the chocolate and vanilla bases seem to be mostly unchanged since the franchise was born in 1987. A couple of UWS stores have closed in recent years, but two locations have managed to survive the low-carb, “butter-is-back” diet trend of recent years.
13. Every seat at the AMC 84th Street theater is a recliner.
Where: 2310 Broadway (between 83rd and 84th Street)
Tickets here are a little more expensive — $20 for adults, as opposed to $15 most other places in the city — but it’s worth it for the huge comfy chair and footrest.
14. There aren’t a ton of special occasion restaurants, but Dovetail is really the only one you need.
Telepan closed for good this spring, which means that Dovetail is your best bet for UWS fine dining that won’t leave you feeling too stuffed or too broke. The restaurant has been around since 2007 and has since earned a Michelin star and plenty of great reviews, but it flies just far enough under the radar that suggesting it for a celebration dinner that doesn’t feel trite. You can do a tasting menu or order fewer courses a la carte, and it’s easy to order entirely vegetarian or vegan, if that’s your thing.
15. 67 Wine has a seriously impressive spirits collection, and everyone is happy to help you.
Where: 179 Columbus Avenue (between 67th and 68th Streets)
Whatever it is you’re looking for, you’ll be able to find it here. There’s so much inventory that they even have one of those sliding ladders that you thought only existed here.
16. For anyone who misses suburban shopping, Columbus Square is the closest thing to a strip mall Manhattan will ever see.
Where: Columbus Avenue from 97th to 100th Streets
No doubt meant to attract people to the luxury apartment development that towers above, this three-block stretch houses strip mall staples like Whole Foods, Sephora, HomeGoods, Modell’s, Michaels, and TJ Maxx. Not exactly a tourist attraction, but massively convenient if you’re in the area and need to shop for dinner party groceries, wine, decorations, and extra place settings in a single afternoon.
17. Pier i is exactly what casual, riverside dining should be.
Where: 500 W. 70th Street (in Riverside Park South, entrance at 68th Street and Riverside Blvd)
While everyone waits in line at Frying Pan or wanders confusedly* around Boat Basin Cafe, be smart and go to Pier i instead. You order (good enough) food and drinks at the counter, then find your own seat and collect your food whenever your buzzer tells you it’s ready. The system is blessedly uncomplicated, which means everyone can just chill the hell out and focus on the view.
*Seriously the rules about where you can and cannot sit here based on what you’re eating and drinking are completely unintelligible.
18. Telio is so no-frills it’s almost strange, and they have one of the best lamb burgers in the city.
Where: 2481 Broadway (between 92nd and 93rd Streets)
There are checked tablecloths, wicker chairs, and servers who aren’t putting on any kind of performance, all of which might seem lazy if it weren’t so damn refreshing. The vibe is very relaxed, everything is always fresh, and their lamb burger rivals even the city’s most fabled versions. If said lamb burger isn’t on the menu when you go (they’ve taken it off a couple of times in the last few years), know that you can order it anyway. Or get the Greek salad with salmon, which is also perfect.
19. Of course, the most important New York chain has made its way up here.
Shake Shack: 366 Columbus Avenue (at 77th Street)
It wouldn’t be New York if there wasn’t a Shake Shack around. Like every location, this one is crowded almost all the time. Unlike every other location, you can walk a block and eat your burger in Central Park.
20. Ditto the best downtown mini-chain.
The Meatball Shop: 447 Amsterdam Avenue (between 81st and 82nd Streets)
Say what you will about The Meatball Shop — They’ve been serving the same menu since they opened! It’s so simple I could make it at home! WTF is the deal with the ‘mark your menu’ schtick!? —but there’s no denying that it’s a very useful restaurant. Sure, the menu doesn’t change much, and even the rotating specials seem to boomerang back around pretty often. The thing is, it’s a place where you can get a heaping plate of spaghetti and meatballs or a heaping plate of seasonal vegetable salads, which makes it perfect for a big, varied group. If you’ve been too many times and can’t stomach another pork meatball, try the chicken version. (It’s better.)
21. There are plenty of kid-friendly places to eat, but Chirping Chicken is the best.
Where: 355 Amsterdam Avenue (at 77th Street)
It’s a family neighborhood, so no surprise that there are plenty of takeout-oriented restaurants offering the kind of easy, healthy-ish food you want to feed your kids but don’t always have time to cook yourself. (Also, as someone with no kids and ample free time, it’s the kind of food I want to feed myself when I forget to go grocery shopping on Sunday and decide to go to happy hour on Monday night.) Like, the kind of place that doesn’t overcook the chicken, gives you a choice between salad and mac and cheese (there’s a time and place for both), and serves baked potatoes and sweet potatoes that are soft and hot and wonderfully plain.
22. If you like bars that are fun and crowded-ish without being packed and sloppy, e’s bar.
Where: 511 Amsterdam Avenue (between 84th and 85th Streets)
I almost don’t want to tell you about this bar because right now it’s walking the blurry line between “popular with a solid crowd of people I want to drink with” and “mobbed with people younger and louder than me who I definitely don’t want to drink with.” Skip the rowdier, frattier bars a couple blocks down and go to e’s. There’s a good amount of seating, a ton of board games, and you won’t feel ridiculous being over the age of 25.
23. Brunch is everywhere, and the wait is never too long.
Maybe you like brunch, maybe you don’t. My thoughts are that I like eggs enough to pay $14+ for an omelette that’s properly cooked, but not enough to wait longer than 20 minutes to be seated. Two places on the UWS perfectly fit that bill.
Spring Natural Kitchen: 474 Columbus Avenue (at 83rd Street)
Sure, it’s a spin-off of Soho’s Spring Street Natural, but this place is more at home on the UWS than it is down there, IMO. It’s always crowded, but there’s always a table available. Everything is good, nothing is blow-your-mind great, which frankly is exactly what you should want on a (slightly hungover?) Sunday morning.
Good Enough To Eat: 520 Columbus Avenue (at 85th Street)
Ever since the restaurant a few blocks to a bigger space, the brunch wait time has dropped significantly, and a table for two doesn’t usually take longer than 15 minutes. Come here for the kind of restaurant food that doesn’t taste like restaurant food at all. The eggs and pancakes are unpretentiously good, but the complimentary homemade biscuits and strawberry butter totally steal the show.
24. If you love smoked fish, forget the Lower East Side. Barney Greengrass is where it’s at.
Where: 541 Amsterdam Avenue (between 86th and 87th Streets)
The right thing to do at Barney Greengrass is to order eggs scrambled with onions and sturgeon, which is the house specialty. If you hate white fish, the nova smoked salmon is also really, really good. It’s cash only, but there are so many banks in the neighborhood that a no-fee ATM can’t be more than a couple of blocks away.
25. The best thing about the UWS, though, is that elusive (to Manhattan), hard-to-define quality best described as “livability.”
Like most New York neighborhoods, there are plenty of apartments that seem forever out of reach, but also a surprising number of smaller, less flashy ones that you can probably afford. The restaurants aren’t trendy and the people aren’t as exceptionally glamorous, but isn’t that a good thing? Don’t you want to be within walking distance of friendly, neighborhood places that you feel comfortable going to in your yoga pants (obviously there are two Lululemons and an Athleta in the ‘hood). I definitely do.