I’ve lived in New York City for 11 years and in Harlem for 8 years. I thinks it’s about time I do a Harlem Edit, listing all the best things to do and see as well as where to shop and EAT! I remember the first time I got off the 2 train at 125th street and Lenox in 2007 and seeing a plethora of melanin. I’d been living on NYU campus and was in dire need of soul food reminiscent of the southern food I was used back home in North Carolina. Someone pointed me in the direction of Harlem and I hopped the next thing smoking uptown. I had always wondered where exactly all the black people were in Manhattan and when I stepped off that train, I knew. Harlem, was where I needed to be. So when my 1 year of graduate school campus living came to an end (NYU only allows graduate students 1 year on campus), I moved uptown to Harlem and haven’t looked back. Harlem feels like home. It smells like home (a mixture of African oils, incense, the finest marijuana and disgusting Harlem River water). Summer in Harlem is my favorite time of year. People are out on their stoops, there’s tons of park activities but also because restaurants set up shop outside and you can people watch while eating some of the best food in the city.
I live in Harlem and work in East Harlem so this list will expand across all of Harlem. Go ahead and book mark this page because I’m about to school you on where to eat in Harlem.
Il Caffe Latte is my absolute favorite for savory and inexpensive brunch. The atmosphere at the 145th Street location cannot be beat (there is also a busier location on Lenox). It’s set inside of a converted brownstone and if you can, be seated upstairs surrounded by wood and brick. I also love that they have a great curated collection of art from local artists on their walls and the music is always on point. Think afrocuban, reggae and bossa nova relaxed music while you nosh on huevos rancheros, freshly baked croissants (that rival one’s I’ve had in Paris) and delicious blood orange juice. The best part is that the 145th St location is a hidden gem and you can just about always get a table quickly. The food comes ever faster.
Il Cafe Latte 189 Lenox Blvd # 1 and 458 W 145th St
BLVD Bistro is another favorite that I finally got around to trying out. It’s soul food with a twist! Come here for the delicious Shrimp and Grits with jalapeño and apple smoked bacon or the biscuits with gravy. Stay for the spiked Iced Tea (prosecco infused home made ice tea). Lord my mouth is watering just thinking about that TEA! I mean just look at these Georgia Peach and Macadamian Nut buttermilk pancakes topped with mascarpone cheese. If its warm enough get a table outside.
BLVD Bistro 239 Lenox Avenue
Red Rooster is a must for the tourist craving brunch. If you’re going, try to make it on a Saturday because Sunday it’s wild crazy with church folk and buses full of tourists. They usually have some kind of live band playing too during brunch which is a nice touch. Chef Marcus Samuelson is a widely regarded chef with restaurants all over the world and he’s cute (but married). For brunch go with the Challah Back Toast with vanilla rum royale or the Shakshukatory (baked eggs, spicy tomato stew, grits, ricotta, avocado). Red Rooster is not only a popping restaurant it also has a speakeasy, Ginny’s Supper Club, in the dimly lit and plush basement space. I’ve been to many a Caribbean themed party there on a weekend and whined my waist into the early morning on some island ting. My BFF even got married there last year! It’s a really great space and the drinks are good too.
Red Rooster 310 Lenox Avenue
Maison Harlem is another brunch must-do with it’s delicious french cuisine (y’all know I’m a full fledged francophile) and instagram worthy interior. Now I know this is under brunch which is superb but if you can, order the Wild Mushroom Risotto from the lunch menu. It is quite literally the best risotto I’ve ever had in life (and I am a certified risotto connoisseur). Definitely a cute place to have a laid back whimsical brunch. They even have a nice outdoor space and put the little swirling things that people love to instagram in your coffee.
Maison Harlem 341 Saint Nicolas Avenue
Chaiwali is hands down my favorite restaurant in Harlem currently. It’s indian flare with a twist. The restaurant itself is GORGEOUS and almost magical with the interior design. There’s even an outdoor area designed like a lovely birdcage for you to dine in surrounded by candle light. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Chai Tea so anytime I have a craving for it I stop by and get the House Chai Special. It’s sooooo delicious and spicy. I love Chaiwali for dinner because it’s so whimsical at night with the lights and the decor. Try to get a seat in the upstairs area if you can but anywhere will do. The bartender makes delicious cocktails and the playlist is always on point. I had a wonderful second date here. It also helps that there are some vegetarian options on the menu. The Masala fish with okra fries is my favorite thing on the dinner menu.
Chaiwali 274 Lenox Ave
Solomon & Kuff is another great dinner & date spot. My friends and I had a wonderful dinner here for my BFF’s bachelorette party. The menu has a little something for everybody and the place has a wonderful ambience. Its also pretty close to the boardwalk on the Hudson River so it’d be perfect for dinner and a lovely walk afterward. Solomon & Kuff is a Caribbean spot with an extensive list of rum based drinks from Sorrel to Dark & Stormies. I love the Caribbean fish fry with yucca. Oh and they also have amazing West Indian themed brunch parties on the weekends as well. I attended one a few weeks ago and got my life. I was also on the brink of nonsoberness before 6pm.
Solomon & Kuff 2331 12th Avenue
Ricardo Steak House is a new place I love for a special occasion dinner in East Harlem. It actually gets pretty popping in there on there weekends with couples and friends dressed to the nines for a finger licking good steak dinner. The service is pretty much impeccable but do expect to hear 50 Cents, “Birthday” song a few times an hour because for everyone who request a birthday dessert the DJ will drop this oldie but goodie. Of course if you’re going here, you should order some form of steak. It’s all delicious and plated to perfection.
Ricardo Steak House 2145 2nd Avenue
Neapolitan Express is East Harlem’s hidden gem tucked into a converted marble and tile shop on a quiet street. You’d barely notice it’s there if you didn’t pay attention. I love that this place makes authentic neapolitan pizza with the freshest ingredients. It’s also bring your own beer which makes it the perfect spot for a group dinner or a very intimate date. It’s more of a take out spot so there’s hardly ever anyone there to experience the sensual vibes it gives at night. Think, tons and tons of candles, wood and stark space. I recently had a date here and we had the entire place to ourselves for 2 hours. It was wonderful. My favorite is the Di Parma D.O.P. with arugula and prosciutto and the truffle and artichoke pizza. Save room for the Nutella pizza for dessert!
Neapolitan Express 232 E. 111th Street
Locations: Il Cafe Latte at 145th & Red Rooster
GET THE LOOK
Melba’s is my favorite soul food restaurant in Harlem. It’s where I go when I miss home. My favorite thing on the menu is the fried catfish with hot sauce and a side of collard greens, three cheese macaroni and candied yams. The place is rather small so I advise making a reservation especially on the weekends for brunch with the church crowd swarms this place that’s only open from 10am-3pm on weekends.
Melba’s 300 W. 114th St & Frederick Douglass Blvd
I hope you all enjoyed this list! Stay tuned for things to do and see and most importantly where to shop in Harlem!
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