UPPER MANHATTAN — The foraging foodie can find everything from classic mofongo to the latest in trendy organic fare in upper Manhattan these days, as an influx in population has helped diversify the historically delicious food offerings of the neighborhoods.
To celebrate the cuisine north of 96th Street, whether at a local mainstay or at one of the new wave of restaurants, bars and lounges, DNAinfo.com announces its first Uptown Restaurant Month, which features deals and discounts on food offerings from some of best restaurants in Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood throughout October.
"Everyone else is getting hip on the great community we have here," said Jose Morales, 32, who grew up in Washington Heights and Inwood, and owns a restaurant in both neighborhoods.
"I'm all for the change as long as it keeps improving," he said of the neighborhoods and their burgeoning restaurant scenes. "The potential has always been here and I definitely think it’s going to continue to grow."
The event gives foodies across Manhattan another reason to venture uptown, as well as locals another reason to dine out close to home.
Participating restaurants include Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, which is offering a happy hour special and prix fixe supper deals; Pick & Eat, which has lunch and dinner specials; Corcho Wine Room, which has a prix fixe dinner deal and a dinner-for-two special; Tonalli Cafe Bar, which offers daily food specials; and Beans and Vines, Gran Piatto D'Oro and Bistro Ten 18, which are offering prix fixe lunch and dinner specials.
East Harlem star El Paso, which made it to the Michelin Guide last year, has a special on Mexican brunch, Happy Hour magaritas and $1 oysters.
For more restaurant deals check out DNAinfo.com’s Uptown Restaurant Month page.
Inwood’s restaurant and bar scene has seen tremendous growth during the past five years.
The neighborhood boasts its own mini-Restaurant Row on Dyckman Street, where diners can enjoy Mexican at Papasito, Japanese at MamaSushi, wine and tapas at Corcho Wine Room and Bistro-style food at Mamajuana Cafe that complement and retain the essence of the neighborhood's Dominican community.
From Broadway and 207th Street to Indian Road and 218th Street, at least 10 new restaurants have opened in the past few years, offering residents an array of food choices. Diners can choose from an eclectic menu at the beer and wine garden Inwood Local, Thai food at Yummy Thai, fusion sushi at Hashi and organic, home-style meals at La Estufa, which is offering a happy hour special for Uptown Restaurant Month.
For Jason Minter, co-owner of Indian Road Café at 600 W. 218th St. and longtime Inwood resident, opening his restaurant filled a need for a local hangout. Favorites there include lobster macaroni and cheese; organic, locally grown eggs, vegetables and herbs; a broad selection of wine, beer and liquor; and a varied coffee bar draws crowds around the clock.
“The restaurant could have survived 10-15 years ago, but I don’t think it would have been as successful,” Minter said, noting the changing demographic of Inwood and listing the previous waves of restaurants in the area — first catering to Irish and Jewish residents during the 1960s and '70s, then Dominicans in the '80s.
“I see the neighborhood becoming more mixed in terms of people and those people bring more variety of restaurants,” he said.
Uptown restaurateur Morales, who owns La Sala at 11 Dyckman St. and Apt. 78 at 4447 Broadway in Washington Heights, decided to bring lighter and healthier options to the neighborhood, to offset the heavier foods that have been traditionally served in restaurants.
"Rice and beans are great, but large portions like that all the time is not good for you," he said. "Whether you’re Hispanic, African American or Caucasian, we all know where that road leads us to."
At his two restaurants, carnivores, vegans and vegetarians come together to eat organic salads and small plate offerings.
“It was hilarious, when I first opened up my mother said people would never eat wraps, panini and salads,” he said. “But I knew that’s what people are eating all over downtown.”
And other restaurants have followed suit.
Crowds enjoy Italian food at Saggio's, Japanese at Sushi Yu and Irish American cuisine at the newly opened Le Chéile. Standbys such as 181 Cabrini on 181st Street, between Fort Washington Avenue and Cabrini Boulevard, now serve bistro food, complex salad and steak dishes and a great brunch selection.
A few blocks north, a cluster of restaurants on or near 187th Street feed locals and tourists who come to visit the nearby Cloisters Museum in Fort Tryon Park.
Morales credits changing demographics for expanding the community's exposure to other cultures, opening up a world of dining options.
“The more diverse the community becomes, the more our culture — old and young — is changing,” he said, adding that as people discover the world of Upper Manhattan, the area gets the chance to redefine itself and grow.
On Frederick Douglass Boulevard, a group of restaurants has sprouted up, creating a restaurant row. The several block stretch features everything from soul food at Melba's to American cuisine with Spanish and Mediterranean flair at 5 and Diamond. There's also Les Ambassades, which opened a buffet-style outpost on Lennox Avenue.
A few blocks from Red Rooster is Central Harlem pioneer Settepani. The owners are doubling down their bet on the area with a brick oven pizza restaurant a few blocks away.
Across the street from Settepani is where Greenwhich Village stalwart The Pink Tea Cup will be opening a new outpost.
In East Harlem, Lexington Avenue from 106th to 99th streets is seeing restaurants pop up, said Raphael Benavides, co-owner of Ricardo Steakhouse, which opened in 2004.
"When we told everyone that we wanted to open a steakhouse in East Harlem, they thought we were crazy," said Benavides. "The first couple of years were hard times but then there were changes, new people started moving in."
Now there is enough foodie diversity in East Harlem to support a Taste Trolley tour of area restaurants. The tour is so popular that it has gone from happening just once a year to up to four times in a year.
"Little by little people are finding out there are great things uptown, when people actually come and look and do a little research," said Benavides. "There is no reason to go downtown or Midtown for a restaurant because you have everything here."