The entire time that I've lived in New York, I've lived on the Upper West Side, with the exception of some summers spent in Brooklyn. I started out dorming for college in the West 60's, then shot up to Morningside Heights for two years and am now settled in the West 70's. I adore the Upper West Side-- it's quiet, but never too quiet. It has an amazing crossroads of generations. I've always found fair rent and reasonable landlords. Plus, between Central and Riverside, the parks up here cannot be beat.
Despite its wonderfulness, it feels like people are always insisting that the food up here is no good. The simple question, "what are some of your favorite spots on the Upper West Side?" feels less like an inquiry and more like a challenge to come up with an answer other than Bar Boulud.
But if you want unpretentious, yummy eating, the Upper West Side is exactly where you want to be. Sure, there aren't trendy spots with "shabby chic" decor or mustachioed "mixologists," but on most days I'd rather get a bagel and a coffee from a grumpy dude who'd roll his eyes at me for asking whether or not they compost old napkins.
So I thought I'd start a little series where I talk about some of my favorite Upper West Side restaurants and eateries. Rather than "review" the spots (I hate reading reviews, personally), instead I'll just tell fun stories about times I ate there and you can take my word for it.
Cascabel Tacqueria (108 and Broadway) This is the only restaurant where I ever became a "regular." Brunch, lunch, dinner, happy hour (they have one of those amazing happy hours where the food is cheap and not just the drinks)-- you could find me and Dan there. I even memorized their day-of-the-week specials and I got really excited when my standing Thursday evening babysitting gig got cancelled because it meant we could go and get the baja fish tacos, only offered on Thursdays. One time I went and a new waitress carded me. All of the other servers then apologized because they knew my birthday and my drink order and were embarrassed for the slip-up. I think they might have even brought us some free guac. The roasted chicken and creamed corn is one of my favorite meals of all time. Also, they own the domain "nyctacos.com" which I think is pretty badass.
Pain D'Epices (70th between Columbus and Broadway) There are a lot of bakeries that I love on the Upper West Side (Silver Moon, Levain), but Pain D'Epices is a teensy little spot a block from my apartment with the yummiest, always warm pastries. They're perfectly not-too-sweet (I adore the plum danish, the chocolate almost croissant and this incredible cheese-filled pastry covered in powdered sugar) and me and Dan go there all the time for breakfast. The one downside is they don't have iced coffee. But as some old lady shouted at us one morning from behind us in line, "YOU COULD GO ACROSS THE STREET AT GET ONE AT THE SENSUOUS BEAN." (Imagine it in this voice.) So, now that's turned into a joke for me and Dan-- saying "THE SENSUOUS BEAN" like Momma in Throw Momma From the Train. It's gets more hilarious every time.
Celeste (Amsterdam between 84th and 85th) Everyone up here knows about Celeste, but no one outside of the Upper West Side does. It's filled with neighborhood-types who swear by the cheese plates and handmade pasta. One time we went and Dan ordered the special pizza, which had gorgonzola all over it. I was so hangry and I'd told him to order for the both of us, but then he chose a GORGONZOLA PIE without consulting me and I was like "DAN I HATE BLUE CHEESE!!!" I got really bitchy, but then the pie arrived and I started to eat it anyway, like a brat, and it turned out to be the yummiest thing ever. I now swear by their specials and will always remember Celeste as the one place that made me believe in the beauty of gorgonzola/Dan's ordering skillz.
Check back soon for some more of my favorite Upper West Side spots!