The Upper West Side saw quite a few restaurant openings during 2021. There were also a handful of reinventions, with old classic haunts getting makeovers and new menus.
We recently ran a series of polls to see which new restaurants our readers are most fond of. We asked our readers to vote for their favorite, while also giving each new eatery a score of 1-5 stars.
Here are the results:
Dagon: 22% of votes … 4.3 stars
2454 Broadway (between 90th and 91st streets)
This Mediterranean and Israeli restaurant opened on Valentine’s Day, replacing former tenant Big Daddy’s (which closed in 2019 after ten years). Executive Chef Ari Bokovza has won Dagon an enormous amount of praise from the press and locals alike. “The salmon is outrageously good and of course the hummus is a must,” wrote one of our readers. “Their breads are so fresh, warm and yummy, sit at the bar near the cozy open oven and watch the staff baking up the loaves to perfection.” dagonnyc.com
Bánh Vietnamese Shop House: 15% of votes … 4.2 stars
942 Amsterdam Avenue (between 106th and 107th streets)
While Bánh Vietnamese Shop House opened as a popup during Halloween 2020, its official grand opening took place in mid-January. The former occupant at this address was La Toulousaine, which closed in 2019. Bánh was a huge hit right away, processing over 1,100 orders during its soft-opening weekend and quickly receiving high praise from media outlets including Eater and Gothamist. The restaurant offers its guests Bánh Mì (Vietnamese sandwiches), Pho (noodle soup), steamed rice rolls, traditional Vietnamese rice cake wrapped in banana leaves, crispy pork belly, banana ice cream and more. banhny.com
Chama Mama: 7% of votes … 3.9 stars
373 Amsterdam Avenue (between 77th and 78th Streets)
This Georgian restaurant opened in La Vela Ristorante’s former space in April 2021, marking its second NYC location (it can also be found on West 14th Street). Chama Mama’s “Classic Georgian cuisine with a modern spin” includes lots of fresh baked breads, “cheeseboats,” doughs filled with meats and cheeses, cold veggie plates and natural Georgian wines. Shared plates include a grilled cornish hen, kababs and skewers, and other meat dishes. chamamama.com.
Felice: 6% of votes … 4 stars
240 Columbus Avenue (between 71st and 72nd streets)
This NYC Italian chain expanded to the Upper West Side in August, replacing Oxbow Tavern (which closed in June but expects to reopen at another location at some point.) Felice’s UWS restaurant marks its seventh location in the city, where it offers an extensive drink menu with several Negroni cocktails and a build-your-own-Negroni option. Some popular plates include Felice’s Fusilli, Cacio E Pepe, Arancini, Branzino, and Fettuccine Alla Bolognese. felicenyc.com.
Wau: 6% of votes … 4.1 stars
434 Amsterdam Avenue (at 81st Street)
This Southeast Asian restaurant serves primarily Malaysian cuisine, but also has Thai and Singaporean plates on its menu. It opened in September at the space previously occupied by The Tangled Vine. Some of Wau’s signature plates include Rendang Beef, Charred Lobster Tail Salted Egg Hokkien Mee, and Singapore Black Pepper Prawns. Wau’s stir-fry noodles have also been a consistent favorite since it opened. Wau also made it onto Eater critic Ryan Sutton’s 2021 list of best dishes for its salt and pepper young coconut, a vegan version of calamari. waunyc.com.
Mamoun’s Falafel: 5% of votes … 3.9 stars
508 Columbus Avenue (between 84th and 85th streets)
The popular downtown falafel spot expanded to the Upper West Side in late April – so maybe it’s new to you. New York City’s oldest falafel restaurant, Mamoun’s first location opened in 1971 and today they can be found in Greenwich Village, the East Village on St. Mark’s Place, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Its newest space on Columbus Ave was formerly home to Pasta Franco, which closed in June 2020 (after just having opened during the fall of 2019). mamouns.com.
Old John’s Diner: 5% of votes … 4.2 stars
148 West 67th Street (between Broadway and Amsterdam)
While the original Old John’s Luncheonette (which had been at this location since the 1950s) closed its doors in October 2020, the reincarnation – by former employee Louis Skibar – made its debut in June. The team (many of whom worked at the original diner) have leaned into the old school atmosphere so many had grown to love over the years, designing the space with fixtures like a 1950s soda fountain, black and white pinwheel mosaic floors and neon signange. The menu includes many old favorites and modern twists on traditional diner fare. iloveoldjohns.com.
Vanessa’s Dumpling House: 5% of votes … 3.7 stars
452 Amsterdam Avenue, between 81st and 82nd streets
This popular dumpling spot replaced previous tenant Treat House in early February. In addition to handmade dumplings, Vanessa’s offers buns, sesame pancakes, and noodles. Vanessa’s opened its first location in Chinatown in 1999, and has since expanded to Williamsburg, the Financial District and Long Island City. The downtown dumpling spot is planning its next location on the Upper East Side. vanessas.com
Chick Chick: 4% of votes … 4 stars
618 Amsterdam Avenue (at 90th Street)
This Korean fried chicken spot opened in early March, replacing Coffeeberry, a kosher eatery which ran at this location since 2015. Chick Chick’s menu items include wings, tenders, half and whole fried chickens, a Nashville style hot chicken sandwich, a Japanese style sweet pepper soy chicken, and a spicy Thai chili herb chicken. Upon its opening, Chick Chick’s co-owner told us how delighted she’s been to see Korean fried chicken become mainstream, making appearances at well-known chains like Shake Shack. chickchicknyc.com.
Taqueria 86: 2% of votes … 3.9 stars
210 West 94th Street (between Broadway and Amsterdam)
Taqueria 86 opened in August at the former home of Whispers Restaurant & Bar. The soccer-themed taco spot has since been praised for the authenticity of its menu items, which include nine taco options made with gluten-free handmade tortillas and with proteins including pork shoulder, chorizo and shrimp; appetizers including Flautas Doradas (fried, stuffed corn tortillas) and Elote Asado (grilled corn with chipotle mayonnaise, queso fresco, Tajin & lime); quesadillas, burritos and tortas; and desserts including a tres leches horchata and churros. taqueria86.com.
New Cottage: 2% of votes … 3.9 stars
2199 Broadway (at 78th Street)
Another new version of an iconic Upper West Side restaurant. The original Cottage restaurant opened on 76th and Columbus in 1981, relocating to 77th and Amsterdam a year later. This location closed last year when the building’s new landlord refused to renew the restaurant’s lease. The New Cottage opened at 2199 Broadway (at 78th Street) in October – formerly home to La Caridad, which closed in 2020 after serving the Upper West Side since the late 1960s.
While it’s definitely different from the original restaurant, reviews for New Cottage have been overwhelmingly positive, with high praise for its wontons, Szechuan dumplings and overall authenticity.
Sushi W: 1% of votes … 4.1 stars
2673 Broadway (between 101st and 102nd streets)
This omakase spot opened in December and is trying to stand out for its relatively low prices (12 Nigiri pieces & 2 Handrolls for $48). Early reviews for Sushi W’s 1-hour dinner sessions are positive, with praise for fish freshness, staff friendliness and a positive experience overall. sushiwny.com.
Covacha: 1% of votes … 4.1 stars
368 Columbus Avenue, between 77th and 78th streets
Restaurateur Cristina Castañeda opened Covacha in the home of her previous restaurant, Cafe Frida, which closed in 2020 after serving the Upper West Side for 22 years. Covacha is a revival of Cafe Frida, serving “revised versions” of traditional Mexican dishes. Menu highlights include Covacha’s signature guacamole, ceviches, aguachiles, and “covachas” (regional small dishes), using Oaxacan heirloom corn masa, and rancho-style desserts. The team at Covacha includes Execute Chef Fabian DelPa, creative director Isaac RedMan Padilla, and operator Milena Gernandt. covachany.com.
Prohibition: 1% of votes … 4.3 stars
503 Columbus Avenue (between 84th and 85th Streets)
This Upper West Side venue has been running on the Upper West Side since 1996. In March 2020, the doors were shut, leading to widespread speculation about Prohibition’s return ever since. But on December 21, it officially reopened as a 1920s-themed bar and restaurant, giving off much more refined and upscale vibes. The new chef is Alberto Gomez, and some special plates include Jambalaya Kebabs, Cheese Steak Egg Roll, Wild Mushroom Risotto and Alberto’s Crackling Pork Shank. prohibition.net.
Suram: 1% of votes … 3.6 stars
21 West End Avenue (between 60th and 61st streets)
The newest expansion by Jonah Phillips – the owner of Friedman’s and Pastrami Queen – is this sushi and ramen spot in Lincoln Square, which he brought to the table in October. Suram’s head chef is Frenky Indarto, who previously led the kitchen at Sushisamba in the West Village. Suram staff members told us that the salmon carpaccio, yellowtail jalapeno and crispy rice all became immediate favorites as soon as the new restaurant opened. The menu coms with three types of ramen, over 15 types of rolls and sushi, and sushi bar entrée options that include unagi don, chrashi, and tricolor sushi.
Empellón Taqueria: 1% of votes … 3.1 stars
645 West 59th Street (at Freedom Place South)
Empellón’s Waterline Square location opened in December (after quite a few delays), marking the Mexican mini-chain’s fourth restaurant in NYC. Chef Alex Stupak’s top pick, he tells us, is the Fish Tempura Tacos. The menu at UWS location is the same as that in the West Village, which, since opening, has drawn crowds for its margaritas and creative tacos. empellon.com/restaurants/taqueria/.
Atlantic Grill: 1% of votes … 3.1 stars
50 West 65th Street (between Columbus and Central Park West)
This long-time seafood staple got a makeover when new owners Monte Carlo Hospitality Group (MCHG) reopened in October with a new chef, menu and interior. Since reopening, reviews have been very mixed, with quite a bit of criticism over the service and (now higher) price tags for what some are considering average food. Another source of criticism has been the space itself, which is about half the size as the original Atlantic Grill. Only time will tell if this is just part of the learning curve, or if the redux is not going to do the original much justice. atlanticgrill.com.
Plum: 1% of votes … 3.7 stars
210 West 94th Street (between Broadway and Amsterdam)
This Vietnamese restaurant opened in September next door to Taqueria 86. Named after a fruit which throughout Asia is a “symbol of femininity, vitality, perseverance, and hope,” the menu includes Vietnamese sandwiches (banh mi), noodle soups (pho), and chef’s specials including a ten ounce flank steak with sunny side up eggs, onions, scallions and cilantro served with a baguette; charred Atlantic salmon with fresh ginger, scallions and shiitake mushroom sauce; and a gluten-free Vietnamese crepe with chicken sausage, egg, beansprouts, scallions, shallots and nuoc cham. plumny.com.
You may have noticed that the percentages above definitely don’t add up to 100%. We noticed too. There were quite a few duplicates, and some of you, not to point fingers, didn’t answer the question correctly. As we were strictly polling you about your favorite restaurant to open in 2021 …
BUT, we also polled our readers about their favorite Upper West Side restaurants, new or not.
Here are the crowd favorites:
# 1: Cafe Luxembourg
200 West 70th Street (between Amsterdam and West End)
On the Upper West Side since 1983, Cafe Luxembourg is a posh French restaurant which is usually packed to the brim, oftentimes with celebrity patrons. So make a reservation! The restaurant is known for its shoe string frites which can come with our without parm (get the parm) and are served with mayo. The steak frites entrée is also amazing! Other popular dishes include their tuna burgers, eggs benedict and omelettes. We’re also big fans of Cafe Luxembourg’s French onion soup and Country Frisée Salad. Fun fact: This famous UWS restaurant was featured in When Harry Met Sally! “In size, atmosphere, menu, and objective, Café Luxembourg is the blueprint for a faultless urban restaurant,” writes NY Magazine. cafeluxembourg.com
# 2: The Mermaid Inn
570 Amsterdam Avenue (between 87th and 88th Streets)
Known most for their enticing oysters and raw bar, with east and west coast options for the connoisseur.
Mermaid Inn has an awesome, awesome happy hour with dollar oysters – every day from 5-7pm! Plus cool cocktails like their “jalapeno hospitality” with jalapeno-infused tequila, pineapple juice, fresh lime and agave.
Their “Nearly Famous” lobster roll (on their brunch menu) comes with thick and creamy chunks of lobster on a grilled brioche bun, served with old bay fries.
They also offer a scrumptious side of smoked gouda mac & cheese with scallions on their dinner menu. It’s pretty filling and only $9! themermaidnyc.com
# 3: Gennaro
665 Amsterdam Avenue (between 92nd and 93rd streets)
The mid-1990s inspired a game called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” The premise was that any actor could be connected to the fellow thespian through six movies or less. On the Upper West Side, a connection to him is only one degree away at Gennaro.
What does Gennaro have to do with Kevin Bacon? It’s a favorite restaurant of his wife, fellow UWS celebrity Kyra Segdwick. And with good reason! The cozy neighborhood favorite is known for serving up fairly priced, considerably sized classic Italian dishes since 1996. Diners have no shortage of menu choices from the antipasti to the sweets, from the broccoli di rabe to the eleven pasta dishes to the twelve main dishes. Panzanella, polenta, spaghetti alla chitarra, carpaccio caldo con asparagi, tiramisu … it’s easy to get carried away.
As one diner put it, “Gennaro is the type of old-school Italian spot that’s perfect for Sunday night dinners with your family.” If you are familiar with the importance of Sunday dinners in an Italian family, then you know what a true compliment that is.
One word of advice before you head over to the restaurant: bring cash. No plastic or electronic payments are accepted. Gennaro is open seven days a week from 4:30pm to 9:30pm. gennaronyc.com
# 4: Barney Greengrass
541 Amsterdam Avenue (between 86th and 87th streets)
The legend of Barney Greengrass runs deep. The City’s Sturgeon King has been providing New Yorkers with beloved Jewish fare for over 100 years. If you are looking for smoked fish, herring, gefilte fish, potato salad, blintzes and latkes, bagels, bialys, babka, rugelach, black-and-white cookies, this is your place.
Its renowned cuisine is matched only by its renowned clientele. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered up a shipment of smoked sturgeon for Thanksgiving in in Warm Springs, GA. Alfred Hitchcock had Greengrass ship sturgeon to him in Los Angeles. It was one of Nora Ephron’s favorite neighborhood restaurants and was featured in her love letter to the Upper West Side, You’ve Got Mail. Marilyn Monroe, Brad Pitt, and Jerry Seinfeld have all been customers. Anthony Bourdain was a regular. In the early days, Al Jolson, George Burns, and Willie McCovey indulged frequently.
The interior of the store has also been featured as a backdrop in TV shows including “Law and Order,” “30 Rock,” and “Billions,” as well as films including Revolutionary Road and Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close.
The “proudly unreconstructed bastion of the Jewish-appetizing tradition, from bagels and lox to sturgeon and eggs” is open Tuesday through Sunday. Check the website for hours but be prepared to wait for weekend brunch. It’s worth it. barneygreengrass.com
# 5: Boulud Sud
20 West 64th Street (between Broadway and Central Park West)
Daniel Boulud’s upscale Mediterranean and French restaurant near Lincoln Center offers its patrons seasonal fare, fresh vegetables and seafood, and an extensive wine list.
The seafood section should bring your attention to a wonderful dover sole prepared with lemon, olives, capers and brown butter. The Mediterranean sea bass, also a winner, is served with spring peas, walnut and green cardamom tahini.
The pasta happy hour is a daily celebration; after 9pm between Sundays and Thursdays and after 10pm on Friday and Saturday. All pasta is half-priced and served in the bar and lounge. Boulud Sud’s pasta is made-in house using freshly ground local and Italian flavors. Their organic eggs are made at a farm in Pennsylvania.
Another ongoing special is “Paella Sundays”. This traditional Paella dinner comes with family-style tapas, paella “Valenciana,” churros and a glass of Sangria for $49 per person.
The wine list offers reds, whites, roses and champagnes from France, Spain, Italy, Greece and California, with a separate menu for dessert wines. bouludsud.com