When I moved to Harlem more than 10 years ago, you could count on one hand the number of restaurants and banks on 125th Street and surroundings and still have fingers left over. Now, I can sample Senegalese, Jamaican, Cuban, French, American, Italian, Ethiopian, Chinese, and some new fusion foods without having to take a subway downtown.
Oh, and now I have my pick of several branches of the major banks just on 125th Street alone.
Here are a few of my favorite restaurants, the same ones I recommend to friends who come from out of town.
- Red Rooster – Chef and author, Marcus Samuelsson, brings his award winning cooking uptown to Red Rooster, his new restaurant which features traditional American fare. The restaurant got its name from a Harlem speakeasy that was located on 138th Street and 7th Avenue where Harlem’s glitterati like Nat King Cole, Adam Clayton Powell and James Baldwin used to meet and eat. Samuelsson was a Top Chef Masters winner, and guest chef at the first State Dinner of the Obama Administration. Red Rooster, 310 Lenox Avenue, 212.792.9001. I’ve been for lunch and brunch. The food was excellent but be prepared to wait. Reservations recommended for dinner.
- Chez Lucienne – Next door to Red Rooster at 308 Lenox is Chez Lucienne. Before Red Rooster popped up, Chez Lucienne was the spot to go for good French food without the downtown prices. I’ve taken friends and clients here for lunch and dinner and was never disappointed. I’ve been promising to order the whole red snapper next time just so I can watch the waiter debone my fish. Drop by on Friday nights for the jazz as well. Chez Lucienne’s owned by Jerome Bougherdani, who worked at Le Bernadin and Daniel, downtown establishments. Chez Lucienne, 308 Lenox Avenue. 212-289-5555.
- Ristorante Settepani – Opened originally as a café selling scrumptious pastries, Settepani underwent extensive renovations and reopened as a restaurant serving Mediterranean fare a little over a year ago. I fell in love with the seafood pasta dish that was cooked in parchment paper – had it several times — but it doesn’t seem to be on the latest menu. Not to worry, the owners, Leah and Nino Settepani, have maintained the same attention to detail as they did at the original café. Ristorante Settepani, 192 Lenox Avenue, 917-492-4806.
- Native – Funky and unpretentious Native offers an excellent variety of foods – for vegetarians and those who still love some fried chicken or burger. Native Restaurant, 161 Lenox Avenue, 212-665-2525.
- Mobay Uptown – Billed as a “Caribbean soul fusion” restaurant, Mobay Uptown has been in Harlem for about 8 years – one of the first upscale restaurants to open in the community. Combining Southern, Caribbean, Chinese cuisine, Mobay and its owner, Sheron Chin-Barnes, have been featured on Bobby Flay’s Throwdown. Mobay Uptown Restaurant, 17 West 125th Street, 212-876-2300
- Melba’s – When I’m feeling for some comfort food, I head down to Melba’s Restaurant, named after owner Melba Brown. Melba’s been a fixture in the neighborhood since 2005 and is famous for their Southern Fried Chicken and Eggnog Waffles. Melba’s Restaurant, 300 W 114th Street, 212-864-7777.
- Le Baobab Restaurant – Generous portions, good prices. Whenever I go to Le Baobab, I always have left overs. My favorite – the fried fish, whole fish fried crispy with a sauce on the side. I usually back that up with some couscous and friend plantains and top it off with a glass of their homemade ginger drink. Le Baobab Restaurant, 120 W 116th Street, 212-864-4700.
- Amor Cubano – Yucca fries, ropa vieja, arroz con pollo, mojitos, and other traditional Cuban fare is on offer at Amor Cubano. So until the embargo on travel to the island nation is lifted, if you want a taste of good Cuban food, Amor Cubano is the place to go uptown. Amor Cubano, 2013 3rd Avenue, 212-996-1220.
Last week, the buzz was about Cedric, a new French bistro that had its grand opening on Monday night. Named after Cedric Lecendre, the general manager at Le Bilboquet, an eatery on the Upper East Side, Cedric is the latest chef to open an outpost in Harlem. Word is that on opening night, uptown and downtown, including Chris Noth of Law and Order, and Sex in the City fame met at Cedric.
If you ever come uptown, make sure to check out one of these restaurants. I’ll share more in another post later this week.