Back in May I spent three weeks working on Showtime at the Apollo at the famous Apollo Theater on 125th Street — smack dab in the middle of Harlem. Since we ate so many meals out, we got to experience the flavor of this neighborhood in a short span of time. I’m no expert on the area but am happy to pass along my food, coffee, and dessert recommendations.
My friends / co-workers joined me for most of these meals — here’s Adam, Sophia, Thomas, and me posing in front of the Apollo Theater. (I Photoshopped in Adam since he wasn’t with us when we took this marquee pic after the last day of taping.)
Without further ado…
LUNCH & DINNER
During our first week in Harlem, before we surrendered to the fact that we were going to eat fattening foods every day, Sophia looked up places where to get salad nearby. That led us to soul food salad bars… which are decidedly unhealthy, but SO delicious. You fill up a clam shell dish with whatever you want (fried chicken, macaroni salad, collard greens, banana bread pudding…) and then pay by weight. Jacob’s was my favorite. We also went one called Manna’s that was way more expensive. Both were delectable.
Sylvia’s is one of the most popular places to eat in Harlem — they serve large portions of Southern comfort food, like fried chicken & waffles or smothered chicken accompanied by sides of collard greens, mashed potatoes, and mac ‘n cheese. We waited a long time to be seated but it was worth it.
We stopped in the last week that their 128th St. location was open (a tiny counter with a few metal tables and stools) — they were in the process of moving to a larger, more upscale place down on 116th St., and they’ve since officially changed their name to Harlem Dandy. Our salmon burgers were undeniably delicious and the fries were noteworthy. Glad we checked them out.
Red Rooster is extremely popular and extremely delicious. It is pricier than most of the places on this list but if you go during lunch there are some good deals. We paid $16 for the crispy bird sandwich and sweet potato bisque soup, and I highly recommend them both. Would love to return and try more items on the menu. We didn’t have a reservation, but during lunchtime on a weekday we had no problem getting a table.
Maison Harlem is the other splurge restaurant on this list. We read about it a recent NYT article on Harlem’s French Renaissance and prioritized this place. I got the classic coq au vin, while one of my friends ordered the above dish: tagliatelle carbonara. Isn’t it beautiful? Everything here was utterly delicious.
It’s funny that Fuel Pizza follows Maison Harlem, as they are at total opposite ends of the spectrum — Fuel is as lowbrow as Maison Harlem is highbrow. But I ate at Fuel at least three times and loved it. They make custom pizzas, salads, and subs so you can select your preferred toppings. It’s cheap — like under $10 — and filling. Bonus points for being a 3 minute walk from the Apollo Theater for a quick lunch getaway.
I went to this place on my first day when I was by myself. Kitchenette is a bit of a walk from the Apollo (it’s over on Amsterdam) but it’s super cute and the food was great. They have a bakery too and I would have loved to try their sweets. Looks like they have multiple locations.
Other places we ate at, but forgot to take a photo:
— Corner Social — Loved this spot; so many great things on the menu. Outdoor patio seating that is perfect for people watching. Loved the sangria and tiramisu.
— Manna’s soul food salad bar — Overpriced but delicious; I preferred Jacob’s soul food salad bar as detailed above.
— Juke Box Juice & Salads — We got protein bowls in a genuine attempt to eat something healthy after so many “salads” from the soul food places. They also have smoothies, juices, etc. Small place but good food.
Places I did NOT eat at, but are on my list if go back:
LOVE this place on 145th St. — my favorite coffee shop on this list, hands down. They serve great coffee and unique pastries. They make lots of varieties of cinnamon rolls but the only one I order is the maple bacon because it’s incredible. They also have a menu of avocado toast with various toppings. Lots of tables and space for laptops.
This is a solid coffee shop — they’ve got delicious beverages (I’m drinking a horchata iced latte in that photo which isn’t on their regular menu but happened to be the special that day), mouth-watering pastries (I didn’t get one but stared at them for awhile), and lots of places to sit with a laptop. Bonus points for the sleek decor. I only remembered to take a photo after I left so you get a shot of me drinking coffee on my way to work!
What a fantastic coffee shop. They serve great java as well as sweets and brunch-y items like granola bowls and avocado toast. Lots of nooks for seating. Great atmosphere. Super popular spot but the line moves quickly.
An unassuming coffee shop up by 145th St. Their prices were the best out of all the coffee places on this list. When I was unsure what to order, they offered to let me sample two of their cold brews in a blind taste test so I could pick my favorite. Pretty small place so not somewhere you’d bring your laptop for a work session.
Can you tell I love all the coffee places on this list? They are setting the bar high. Harlem Coffee Co. has lots of seating, with local art available for purchase lining the walls. In addition to pastries, they serve sandwiches, etc. It’s a little more off the beaten path than the others but I’m glad I got over here to check them out.
Coffee shop I visited but forgot to take a photo:
— Lenox Coffee — Small, cute coffee shop. Overpriced but happy with what I ordered.
Literally the best cookie I’ve ever had. Levain Bakery has a few locations and when I found out we’d be working near one, I knew I’d have to get there a few times during our Apollo run. They sell fresh-baked cookies that are enormous and STILL WARM. They typically offer chocolate chip, oatmeal, and a few others varieties. You can see them baking in the back — they roll the cookie dough into practically the size of baseballs! They are so gooey on the inside. I can’t rave about these more highly.
Rainbow Icy from a street cart
I can’t believe I only just recently tried the utter goodness that is a rainbow icy, served from a street cart in a paper Dixie cup for a dollar or two each. Our PA Thomas brought them back for us to try one afternoon and I’ve been obsessed ever since.
A dessert place I did NOT eat at, but would like to in the future:
— Lee Lee’s Baked Goods — Homemade rugelach. ‘Nuff said. Sorry I didn’t make it here this trip!
Have you been to Harlem? Do you concur with any of the places on this list? What did I miss?!