Nestled between Central Park and the Hudson River, New York City's Upper West Side is more than just a residential haven — it's a culinary playground that offers a tantalizing array of dining options. From Old John's Diner's classic American fare to Amber's exquisite sushi. Don't miss Gray's Papaya for a quick bite and Cafe Luxembourg for elegant dining. A culinary journey for every palate.
A beloved relic of New York history, Old John's Diner has served comfort food and smiles since 1951. Originally nestled on the corner of 66th and Broadway, this unassuming eatery quickly became a haven for stars and locals alike. When the building was acquired by Barnes and Noble in 1998, Old John's was forced to relocate just one block north to 67th street. After weathering nearly 70 years in business, the diner was another casualty of the pandemic, shuttering in 2020. But die-hard fans and a former employee refused to let this gem fade into history. Louis Skibar, who first served tables at Old John's as a teen, reopened and revitalized the diner in 2021. Staying true to its Art Deco roots, Skibar preserved touches like the original mosaic tile floors and ceiling while giving the space a brighter, lighter feel. The revamped bar area and menu offer a fresh take, but Old John's remains the cozy, familial restaurant generations have loved. With longtime staff welcoming customers like old friends, Old John's continues being a home away from home on 67th street. This Upper West Side fixture has earned its place in New York history.
With woven wicker chairs, plush red booths, tiled walls, a bar backed by an antique mirror, and many years as a topnotch restaurant, Cafe Luxembourg resounds with familiarity. And, as portrayed in the signature postcard of three naked ladies photographed by Cheryl Koralik in 1988, playfulness and boldness are always present. Customers loosen their ties, let their hair down and engage in easy conversation — "fine dining in a relaxed atmosphere. "Lynn Wagenknecht and her then husband, Keath McNally, opened the place in 1983 as a French neighborhood bistro. Now the sole proprietor, Lynn has maintained a rare level of comfort within the realm of fine dining, fully investing herself in Cafe Luxembourg as well as its sister restaurants, Cafe Cluny and The Odeon. Constantly finding inspiration from her trips to France, Lynn's warm attentiveness permeates the restaurant. "Lynn nurtures from within, " said General Manager Morgan Nevans, who has been with the company since 2008. Staff members are invited and encouraged to dine in the restaurant. "We have a lot of aspiring professors, artists, actors and doctors, " explained Morgan. A performance artist, Manager Krystel Lucas started at Cafe Luxembourg because of its proximity to her school, finding it easy to work around her wavering show schedule. "I was proud to stand at the door, " Krystel informed me, having worked her way up from hostess, server, and bartender. Customers also have an inclination to return with many coming since the restaurants' opening — regulars or not, "everyone is treated as a VIP. " The food may also have a little something to do with their loyalty. A graduate of New England Culinary Institute, Executive Chef Michael Navarette acknowledges, "food is a gateway to culture. " Everyone eats, and dishes have their own history, prepared in a variety of ways throughout all regions. His breakfast specialty, an omelet with mixed greens, exudes comforting familiarity, while his Faroe Island salmon over a salad of lentils, potatoes, onion and a curry aioli, is a more innovative concoction that breeds its own memories. "A chef is a journeyman position, " Michael smiled, "The training never ends. I learn as I go. " It seems the staff and restaurant both have a knack for refining while retaining their roots. A bistro that only gets better with age, this side street gem will always be something to look forward to.
I pass Gray's Papaya constantly, as I am either walking home or en route to another destination in the neighborhood. One cannot help but take in the strong scent that permeates the air from their open doors on both Broadway and 72nd Street. No matter the hour, there always seems to be a line. Although I have not actually had a hot dog myself, I have relished in the experience of taking many a visitor to sample the goods. Tom, the Manhattan Sideways photographer, was thrilled to stop in for a few minutes one afternoon as we were busy walking on 72nd and stand at the counter chowing down two hotdogs and a soda. Opened by Paul Gray in 1973, the neighborhood staple sells cheap hotdogs 24-hours-a-day, every day of the year, as well as their famous papaya fruit drink. Featured in countless films such as You've Got Mail and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, the establishment is reputed to be one of the most iconic hotdog joints in the city.
Amber Upper West relocated from Columbus Avenue to this dimly lit, intimate side street enclave in 2015. A wood-beamed ceiling and whitewashed walls are organically accented with well-illuminated hanging plants and a graphic, black and white tree painting. With a menu featuring a large selection of rolls, grilled dishes and sushi to be shared in either the conventional dining space or well-stocked bar, this side street gem offers more than just lovely decor.
The diversity of the Upper West Side's culinary landscape reflects the area's rich cultural fabric. Here, tradition and innovation coexist, giving diners the freedom to explore everything from classic New York delis to avant-garde gastronomic experiences. This breadth of choice, coupled with the area's commitment to sustainability, makes the Upper West Side a true gem in New York City's ever-evolving food scene.
The inside of Nice Matin is like a bright carnival ground with three central pillars decorated with lights, wide spaces between tables, and colorful art on the walls. Above the doorway, there is an arrangement of baskets and fruit with handwritten signs and prices in euros, emulating European markets. At any hour of the day or evening, the restaurant is filled with people both from the surrounding neighborhood as well as from the Lucerne, the connecting hotel. The chef and owner of Nice Matin is Andy D'Amico, who has since gone on to develop other restaurants around the city, including 5 Napkin Burger. After attending the Culinary Institute of America, Andy worked at Parker House in Boston and at the Sign of the Dove on the Upper East Side, where he was promoted to head chef. In 2003, he partnered with Simon Oren to open Nice Matin, a venture that earned him the title of "Best Chef 2003" from New York Magazine. I met with Danny, the General Manager, who shared their elaborate cocktail list that had classics with a twist. He brought out a San Tropez, Nice Matin's take on the mojito. It had summery passion fruit foam that complemented the mint and dark rum. The restaurant has seasonal cocktails, such as hot toddies in the winter and Campari cocktails in the spring. My favorite time to dine at Nice Matin, however, is on a warm weekend morning when their elaborate brunch menu is offered, and I can sit outside.
The first Pio Pio location opened in 1994 in Queens, and since then, the restaurant has expanded to nine locations throughout the boroughs. Pio Pio is the place to go for chicken, as they have gained a strong reputation for their numerous Peruvian poultry dishes: the menu pairs the juicy meat with a variety of different sauces. The staff assured me that Juanita’s Chicken is especially popular, as are the combos that come with fries or salad, but it is Pio Pio's special green sauce that is the shining star.
Sweet aromas lure one into this tiny coffee and tea shop on west 70th. Originally founded in 1976 across the street, the Sensuous Bean moved to its current location in 1990 and is now co-owned by partners in life and in business, Lucretia La Mora and Tom Wilson. "People follow their noses, " explained Tom of the cafe's success. And even horses cannot resist - he recalled one peeking its head through the door as an officer grabbed a cup. "We blend to taste, " Tom added. Each day, beans are grinded on site and brewed in three roasters for a hot cup. And although small, the place is stocked with a large selection of coffees and teas sourced from a variety of regions. The chai spice tea comes from India and the Mexican Vienna brew from Zimbabwe. The assortment of flavorful tisanes includes intriguing names like red velvet cupcake or bella coola lemon lime.
Tavern on the Green, a restaurant that opened in 1934, has not forgotten its origins as a home to the ewes and rams that grazed in Sheep Meadow. Images of sheep are everywhere - carved into the fireplace, decorating the menu, holding up the table in the lobby. In 2010, the building ceased to be a restaurant for a brief stint, serving instead as a visitor's center and gift shop. After being taken over by partners, Jim Caiola and David Salama, and a lengthy renovation, the Tavern made a culinary return with a rustic and seasonal menu. I have eaten here on a number of occasions since its debut in the spring of 2014, but strolling in and out of the various rooms with members of the Manhattan Sideways team was a whole different experience. None had ever been, and I was amused and pleased with their reactions to this iconic Central Park locale. The Tavern contains three main areas. In the front dining room, the vast space resembles a summer hunting lodge. A large, circular bar takes up the center with a rotating carousel of gilded horses above it, and mammoth roof beams run along the ceiling like an old mead hall. Separated from the outdoors by a large glass wall, the second dining area is far more modern with creams, ivories and a collection of glass chandeliers. And though it was a hot day, a few brave souls ate outside in the exterior dining space, under umbrellas and large, mid-century street-lamps. The other side of the building features a beer garden with its own menu of simple bar fare. Finally, for the thousands of people who jog, bike or are simply wandering in the park, there is now a delightful little take-away window called "Green-to-Go. " It offers both a breakfast and lunch menu, and tables to sit down, relax and enjoy either a cup of coffee, a bowl of oatmeal, or a variety of wraps and salads in the afternoon. If nothing else, it is a terrific spot to watch both tourists and New Yorkers passing by.
“We are beer nerds, not beer snobs. ” That is how Bo Bogle, the general manager of Gebhard’s Beer Culture, and Peter Malfatti, its beverage director, would describe the wood-furnished, cozy bar and restaurant that they opened in the summer of 2016, featuring various local and foreign artisanal beers on tap. The people behind Gebhard’s Beer Culture - the sister restaurant to Beer Culture on 45th Street - are as enthusiastic about beer as they are about educating customers. Because many of the beers that they offer are unknown to the general public, Gebhard’s will always work to find the draught that best suits each customer’s palate. If one feels like tasting several selections, the beer flight - a tray of four small glasses - is a good choice. Along with the continuously changing list of beers, the kitchen offers an ample menu of munchies, many from Belgium, as this is where owner Matt Gebhard spent time as a foreign exchange student. I was enchanted to discover how playful the space is: Upstairs, there is a games room, complete with a dartboard, shuffleboard, Hacky Sacks, and BulziBucket. The decorations throughout the bar and restaurant are eclectic, with various beer signs and novelty items covering the walls. At the front, I discovered a nook full of records, as well as a well-loved bicycle helmet. Bo and Ryan, the bartenders on duty, matched the vibe of the restaurant with their jovial nature as they poured beers for the Manhattan Sideways team. They set out glasses of citrusy TarTan Ale, a Central Waters Brewing Co beer, and a fresh, hoppy Southern Tier 2x Tangier. The two men knew exactly what to select for a hot day in the city and enjoyed tag-teaming descriptions of each beer and brand. Bo explained to us that the motivation behind Gebhard's Beer Culture is essentially a “passion for the local beer market. ” With the recent proliferation of local breweries around the city and in the rest of the country, Bo feels that “individuals are making great beers and that should be acknowledged. ” However, he believes it is not enough to simply have them on tap, but rather, the bartenders should teach customers about the local beer scene. Beer Culture’s objective is as much educational as it is to host many good nights with friends. When asked about the one thing that he would like customers to know about their new bar, Bo grinned and said: “the second beer always tastes better than the first. ”
Shun Lee West has been a staple on the West Side for over three decades, and I am pleased to say that I have been dining here for many of those years. Thankfully, not much has changed. The decor has been slightly altered, but the fiber glass monkeys still greet people in the bar, and the large dragons hang throughout the bi-level dining room. The food is consistently good and it is always hopping, especially on Christmas Eve, a tradition for my family and friends.
With its prime 72nd Street location, I have passed by Malachy's Donegal Inn almost daily, but had never stepped inside. I was always waiting for the day when I would be working on this street, so that I could go in with the Manhattan Sideways team and have a good time. And that is exactly what happened. "Looks can be deceiving, believe me, " owner Bill Raftery immediately said when we popped in during the lunch hour in the middle of the week. He continued to speak lovingly and confidently of his pub, which has been in business since 1989. "This bar has the best pub food of any like it in the area, " Bill stated. Looking around, we were pleased to find the old wooden bar packed from end to end. According to Bill, most of his lunch customers are crew guys from local theaters like The Beacon and Lincoln Center, and "they are loyal. " Engaging in conversation with more than a dozen men and women, we learned a lot about Bill, and the warm environment that he has built. As Bill continued to serve people from behind the bar, he spoke of how much the neighborhood has changed since he purchased Malachy's. On Saint Patrick's Day, the area used to be blanketed in green bar-goers. "You could not move in this neighborhood the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. There's nothing like seeing them blow up those balloons. " Hikes in parking and travel costs have drastically reduced business on both of those days, he lamented. Still, he brightened up when pointing to the crowded bar, and said how his regulars are certainly devoted customers. Quite busy, he told us to stop by for a drink sometime soon, and headed into the kitchen.
Yoko Hasegawa, the owner of this Upper West Side sushi bar, went to a temple in Japan to discover the best name for her new restaurant in Manhattan. She came back with Kaito, which means "Sea Breeze. "When I visited the twelve-seat restaurant shortly after it opened in the summer of 2017, Jorge Dionicio, one of the talented members of the team at Sushi Kaito, told me that he began making sushi in Peru. He explained to me that there is a large Japanese population in his country. "Everything started there for me a long time ago, " he said. He went to school for electrical engineering and worked at a sushi bar while attending university. "The more I know, I know nothing, " he admitted. After spending several years in New York, working at different restaurants, he realized that he needed to spend time in Japan to learn the "real" technique. In 2009, he spent one year there "to be trained, " but he continues to go back to learn more and more as often as possible. Part of the schooling, he admitted with a chuckle, is to eat in as many sushi bars as possible. Although he has been making sushi for fifteen years, Jorge has no desire to work in any other type of cuisine. Jorge chose to come to Kaito because he appreciated the philosophy of engaging with the customers and developing personal relationships with people. When I inquired whether or not the restaurant already had returning diners, Jorge enthusiastically replied, "Oh yeah - over and over. "Jorge was proud to tell me that on the evening after the first little, local write up on the restaurant was published, sixty-two people stood outside, hoping to get in. Unfortunately, there were not enough seats, and the employees had to turn dozens of people away. In a small, intimate setting that is decorated simply, so as not to take away from what is going on behind the counter, guests can pull up a chair, engage in conversation with the staff who are preparing the sushi, and savor the fresh fish that arrives on a daily basis straight from Japan. When I asked Jorge what makes the place special, he quickly responded, "Everything we do, we do with our heart, " all from scratch. "We pick our own ginger, make our own soy sauce and put an emphasis on purity. " He added that the restaurant aims for perfection. "Maybe we never get it but we are always looking for it. " He said that the employees enjoy making the people smile and giving them a memorable meal. "It's not just about food, it is a life experience. " Jorge believes that Sushi Kaito is different from other sushi bars - "We enjoy speaking with guests, answering their questions. " While the atmosphere does not feel overly serious, he emphasized, "We are, though, very serious about our product. " He continued, "Here, we are very different. We take care of everything. " The other men preparing the food side by side with Jorge all nodded in agreement. "Although it is a lot of work, it never feels like work, " one of them explained. Jorge told us, "I leave at midnight, go home, take a shower, climb into bed, and wake up eager to do it all over again the next day. I love what I do, so I never mind. "
Raised by parents from Sicily and Naples, Nick Mormando grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, exposed to authentic Italian food in a comfortable setting. "We were the house on the block that was always cooking something, " Nick explained. And he still is, having stayed true to his family recipes since opening the neighborhood-centric Polpette 71 restaurant in November of 1994. The front room is set up with white tablecloths, bottles of Pellegrino and photographs of "The Gates" by Christo and Jean-Claude, which decorated Central Park in 2005. On my first visit to Polpette 71, when it was still operating under its original name, Bello Giardino, Nick asked if I would like to sit outside in the garden. I looked up in surprise and eagerly replied, "Yes please. " Truly a hidden gem on West 71st, this quiet respite has become a favorite of mine over the last several years. The red-and-white checkered tablecloths, small bottles of olive oil, and a massive mural by Hans de Castellane - depicting an Italian landscape with ocean views and coastal dwellings - brings a smile to my face every time I stroll in. Overhead, a weaving grape vine, grown out of a tiny root planted years ago from Nick's childhood garden, opens to pockets of natural light. The star of the culinary show has been the "Nicky" meatball. Voted the best in the boroughs by Dish du Jour Magazine in 2009, it has since made guest appearances on television shows, and inspired Nick's latest restaurant, Polpette, on Amsterdam Avenue. Other favorites include the penne alla vodka, the linguini and clams, which Nick fondly remembers his mother serving twice a month as he was growing up, and my personal favorite, the eggplant parmigiana. In addition to the food and décor, the ambiance is set by the strong relationships the restaurant has established. Without a doubt, this is a neighborhood haunt. Special occasions are commonly celebrated, guests are unafraid to dine alone, often engaging in comfortable conversations with the servers, and diners are referenced by names. "We are that kind of place, " Nick smiled, recalling a couple who had met in his restaurant, moved outside of New York, but returned to Polpette 71 for their son's first birthday.