While I generally advocate for eating whole foods as often as possible, if you’re going to go for a quicker meal, I strongly suggest it be from a local small business rather than one of those mega chains that dominate the field of fast.
But, before we dig in, I want to define what I’m considering fast food here, as this category could include a lot of different things. I’m not including delis. That’s too far and wide to consider in this category and could probably include several of its own subcategories to properly be written about. No bowls or juice bars here. I know there are a bunch of places that have food in bowls that are considered fast-casual, but those require both hands to be eaten and who has time for that.
Boba tea is not a food, it’s a fad, and I’m not interested in it.
Also, I’m not covering bagel shops – those too belong in another category.
Finally, all of these places originated on the UWS. I love Shake Shack as much as the next person, but it started in Madison Square Park, and so it does not count. Now, let’s dig in!
2090 Broadway (corner of 72nd Street)
This humble hot dog stand is more famous than any of us are and ever will be. Our beloved Upper West Side location was the first in Nicholas Gray’s expanding, contracting, and expanding again empire of salty sausage sandwiches and sweet tropical drinks.
This shop has been on the corner of 72nd and Broadway since 1973, after Mr. Gray broke from his partnership in Papaya King. While the original papaya and hot dog combo was created on the east side, it’s Gray’s that brought the idea big time.
Science may argue that all of these places create an equal product as they all use the same ingredients from the same places with the same equipment. But those of us raised on these dogs know better. You can tell a New Yorker based on their favorite hot dog and Gray’s has always been mine. And the editor of this website loves them so much he included them in our list of best Upper West Side restaurants!
As a kid, I preferred a Gray’s flat-top seared dog to a fire-grilled fat sausage link any day of the week. My favorite way to have a Gray’s is the more traditional mustard and kraut, but you can top yours however you like.
If you’re smart, you’ll pair it with one of the tropical drinks for that classic salty sweet combo, and if you want to make it a meal you’ll go for the recession special, which has gone up significantly over the last few years, but so has everything else. It’s still two hot dogs and a drink for under $10, which is pretty good for the Upper West Side.
Freddie & Peppers Pizza
303 Amsterdam Avenue (between 74th and 75th Streets)
OK, so I know that pizza is in the name, but that’s not what I want you to get while you’re here. The pizza here is fine. I recall many nights in my late teens and early twenties enjoying a late night slice of pizza after consuming many adult beverages. That’s right, I was drinking underage. GASP.
Anyway, this pizza place that’s been around for as long as I can remember is actually owned by Chileans and offers some pretty good Latin eats if you’re not interested in a slice of one of their extravagant pies.
Their empanadas are pretty solid and are usually available in beef, chicken, and spinach. And if you’re extra hungry you can treat yourself to a hero of a Chilean Sandwich—their Chacarero. The churrasco beef is paired with veggies and served sub-style. When you’re craving a quick latin bite and you’re nowhere near Queens, these eats will hit the spot.
Sal & Carmine Pizza
2671 Broadway (between 101st and 102nd Streets)
OK, so I teased you earlier with a slice shop that I suggested you get empanadas at, but if we’re talking fast food in New York City, OBVIOUSLY, we have to talk pizza. Even on the Upper West Side, we’ve got some good ones.
Sal & Carmine opened their slice shop to the delight of the neighborhood residents back in 1959, and through the years they’ve had quite a bit of ups and downs. As the shop today is run by the third generation and beyond, they’re still serving up some of the best slices around.
One of the biggest changes in the last few years was the decision to offer delivery, so for those lucky enough to live within range, you can actually have your favorite bite of the UWS brought right to your door. Sal was adamant about not offering this service to his customers as he wanted to be sure he was always serving a superior product, which he didn’t feel would survive in the transit. But, as Lou (Sal’s grandson) gets to set the rules today, he’s realized that it’s just a requirement.
Of course, if you’re like me and you’re often just walking by the shop, it’s well worth stopping in for what I believe to be the epitome of a good NYC-style slice of pizza.
2715 Broadway (between 103rd and 104th Streets)
The beauty of Middle Eastern fast food is that it feels like it’s so much healthier than American fast food. Perhaps because they use more vegetables in theirs, or because the pitas mean you’re consuming a lot less carbs than a standard bun or roll. Whatever it is, I’m grateful for it. Of course, you can get yourself a feast of Israeli fare here, and you might be tempted to. But, in keeping with the theme of fast, I suggest you select only from the long list of sandwiches and wraps which include the freshly fried falafel as well as the spiced lamb shawarma. Aside from the healthful feeling you get from this food, it’s a great stop for a crowd because you can accommodate pretty much any diet in your party. Whether you’re an omnivore or a limitedvore, they have a sandwich to fill your belly.
2848 Broadway (between 110th and 111th Streets)
OK, I know that I’ve already included a pizza place (or two) on this list, but I’m a city kid … I don’t know what you want from me! The shop that’s been serving jumbo slices to the masses since 1981 was renovated back in 2018, it looks brighter and shinier than ever.
Now you can pick up some swag along with your pizza and have the perfect lighting for that Instapic where you pose with the slice that’s bigger than your head. While people may argue about their favorite slice throughout this city, I will always consider Koronet as one of the absolute best.
Maybe it’s because I’m just always impressed by how well they pull of a pie that’s so much larger than the norm without under or overcooking the dough or losing an inch of flavor. Or maybe it’s because when I came out of the hospital several years ago when I couldn’t eat solid foods for a week, a jumbo slice from Koronet was among my daily cravings. Whatever it is, I love this pizza, I love this place, and I think that more shops should try their hand at a jumbo slice.
Honorable Mention: Lucky Pickle Dumpling Co
513 Amsterdam Ave (between 84th and 85th Streets)
So, I wouldn’t really advise Lucky Pickle for the dumplings. I mean, I honestly didn’t expect much from the Jacob’s Pickles team in terms of this beloved Chinese dish. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jacob’s and Maison—they know pickles. And fried chicken. And mac and cheese.
But with all of the hubbub about the pickle soft serve when they opened in 2018, I had to try it. I mean, they DO know pickles. And honestly, I was not disappointed. While I personally sat down and devoured much of this sweet treat with a spoon and patience, you could most definitely lick away as you walk, so I do believe that this qualifies for the fast food definition I’ve set up above.
I didn’t really have a need or desire for the thin-sliced candied pickle slices that hang out on the side of the yogurt, but I suppose it works for the Instagram crowd. The flavor itself is definitely sweeter than you might imagine, but don’t go in expecting a dill pickle food; this is more of a bread and butter type of product. It’s a rather huge serving so you may want to share.
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