The best restaurants in Harlem and Washington Heights

Order the skate at Minton's. Credit: Evan Sung
Order the skate at Minton’s.
Credit: Evan Sung

In a city as big as ours, every neighborhood seems to have its moment in the sun. We saw it with Boerum Hill, Bushwick, the Bowery — and now uptown. While downtown dwellers may balk at the idea of dining above 14th Street, the new crop of restaurants popping up in Harlem and Washington Heights are worth the trek. The ever-popular Red Rooster is still a shining star on Lenox Avenue, but it’s gaining new neighbors seemingly every day, no doubt due to the popularity and ease of uptown living.

Red Rooster’s chef/owner Marcus Samuelsson says a conversation with Sylvia Woods, of the legendary Harlem soul food spot Sylvia’s, influenced his move uptown. “I met Sylvia during an event at Tavern on the Green, and she told me I had no choice but to move to Harlem and open a restaurant there. I learnt that you don’t say no to Ms. Woods, and her advice proved to be the best decision I have ever made in my professional career. Nothing beats the energy, the history and the vibrancy of this place.”

At the recent Uptown Food Movement Panel at APT 78 in Washington Heights, local chefs discussed the ongoing shift taking place in upper Manhattan, including the surge of organic food markets and fine dining restaurants, and the overall diversification in the types and quality of food being offered. Pasteurization and farmers markets aren’t usually the first things that come to mind when thinking of Washington Heights, but this panel signified that change is coming.

“I’ve seen this area change a lot and come a long way. I’d like to see more destination places to put us on the map, more farmers markets up here, and more education for people who live here,” chef James “Mac” Moran of Rusty Mackerel in Washington Heights said at the event.

Chef Harold Villarosa of Fedora heads up The Insurgo Project, a new initiative that aims to teach communities about farm-to-table initiatives and basic cooking techniques. “The wave of change is coming,” Villarosa said at the panel. “We gotta ride it.”

Read on for our picks for where to eat in the 100s and above.

Rusty Mackerel
209 Pinehurst Ave., Washington Heights, 212-928-4888
Washington Heights native James “Mac” Moran was trained by the likes of David Waltuck (Chanterelle) and Todd English (Olives) but returned to his roots at Rusty Mackerel, where he makes the most of what’s local, sustainable and available uptown. With a New American menu that changes daily (but the octopus brava is a mainstay and a must), Moran adds his own twists to classics coming out of the restaurant’s open kitchen.

Park 112
2080 Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 646-524-6610
From former hip-hop exec Lewis Tucker (Bad Boy Records) comes the newest Harlem hotspot on the block, steps away from Central Park, set in a 2,000-foot space. (Take that, downtown). Park 112 features an eclectic, globally inspired menu by West Indies native chef Kingsley John (who trained under Marcus Samuelsson and Charlie Trotter) that includes brick chicken and carrot coconut soup. Sommelier Adam Hess crafted the wine list — a mix of familiar and lesser-known labels — many of which are dispensed from a self-serve wine machine (available for purchase in a 1-ounce “taste,” a 3-ounce “glass” or a 6-ounce “carafe”).

The Cecil and Minton’s
The Cecil: 210 W. 118th St., Harlem, 212-866-1262
Minton’s: 206 W. 118th St., Harlem, 212-243-2222
Former Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons and partner/chef Alexander Smalls recently opened two new restaurants in Harlem, conveniently next door to each other, each equally impressive. Minton’s, housed in the former Minton’s Playhouse space that housed many a jazz great (Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, to name a few) is a supper club serving bar snacks, a la carte items and a prix fixe menu ($90) with an upscale, low country slant to the menu. At The Cecil, Smalls’ menu concept is Afro-Asian-American (oxtail dumplings, duck fried noodles and deviled duck eggs are just some of the offerings) with Joseph “JJ” Johnson as chef de cuisine. Both here and at Minton’s, the crowd is good-looking, the spirits are high and the vibe is decidedly upbeat.

Heights Tavern
3910 Broadway, Washington Heights, 212-740-5700
The formula that seems to be working well for Harlem Tavern — a solid mix of food, drinks and sports viewing — found its way slightly further uptown in the form of Heights Tavern, which opened late this summer. Dublin-born chef Darren Pettigrew is at the helm in the kitchen, offering a Cajun-influenced food menu (think seafood gumbo and pecan-crusted catfish bites), plus craft beers and more than a dozen big HDTV screens set in a huge space (4,100 square feet). Happy hour is every weekday and brunch is offered both Saturday and Sunday.

The Ellington
936 Amsterdam Ave., 212-222-4050
Technically this (nearly) 1-year-old spot is on the Upper West Side, but this modern gastropub has indeed found a home uptown. The creation of Glenda Sansone and Andrew Breslin, named for Duke Ellington himself, has plenty of comfort food offerings (nachos, crispy pork shanks, burgers, fish and chips) and cocktails from Allen Katz named for the legendary bandleader including A Prelude to a Kiss (made with Absolut Citron, Combier cherry liqueur, Cinzano extra dry vermouth). The space is rustic-chic (whitewashed walls, tin ceilings) and seats about 60, giving it a warm, homey feel.


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