By Ava Stryker-Robbins
Every recipe has a story. Every culture and place has food representative of struggle and happiness and grit and relaxation. Food is something that keeps traditions alive, even when those who created the recipes are no longer with us.
I have always been fascinated by food. I love the flavor combinations, textures, and feeling of fulfillment it provides. I love trying new things and experiencing the comfort and familiarity of longtime favorite dishes. Writing the West Side Rag’s “Here’s the Dish” column for the past year has made me aware of the cultural importance of food and specific dishes as well, and how much the restaurants in our neighborhood reflect the people within.
I talked to dozens of local restaurateurs about the origins of their desire to cook and their restaurants, their love for serving what they create and sharing their culinary traditions with customers. With each conversation, I understood more and more that the Upper West Side is a community not because we all share similar tastes and experiences, but because we understand and appreciate differences.
Some restaurants have been handed down to family members to keep traditions alive, others are the life work of newcomers to New York City, who have traveled here from all over the world. Some dishes have been passed from generation to generation, others are new flavor palettes designed to allow diners to escape from busy, chaotic city life.
Restaurants are not easy to run and surviving the pandemic was no small feat for any of them. Their dedication to keeping their businesses alive has allowed many people to experience happy nights, joyful celebrations, and comfort in their times of stress and sadness. Every restaurant owner, manager, and chef I spoke to repeated one theme: they are in the business because they are passionate about what they serve, passionate about meeting new people every day, and passionate about contributing to the community that is the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
We are privileged to have an incredible array of restaurants and people associated with them. I am so grateful that West Side Rag has given me the opportunity to tell their stories and showcase some of their — and my — favorite dishes. I am also thankful to all the readers who have read and commented on my columns. And I’d like to mention the West Side Campaign Against Hunger, a nonprofit that works tirelessly to ensure that as many low-income people as possible can go to sleep with full stomachs.
Below is a list of dishes I have covered since August 2022. If you have any recommendations for future columns, please feel free to suggest dishes and restaurants in the comments, or email email@example.com.
Here Are the Dishes!
Alice’s Tea Cup’s Mad Brunch: A triple-decker brunch with eggs, a scone, and granola served with tea.
Amber’s Zesty Chicken: Lightly fried chicken garnished with walnuts with sweet and spicy sauce.
Arco Cafe’s Conchiglie: Shell-shaped handmade pasta with veal and beef meatballs.
Au Jus’s Corned Beef Platter With Sides: Oklahoma-style corned beef BBQ with various barbeque sauce options and sides.
Awash’s Sampler Platter With Beg Alicha Lamb and Vegetables: Butter lamb and vegetables served over soft, spongey Injera bread.
Bánh’s Bún Bò Bơ (Butter Beef and Lemongrass): Tender butter beef with lemongrass served over noodles and salad.
Barachou’s Cream Puffs: French pastries filled with sweet cream.
Bodrum’s Manti: Central Asian dumplings with ground beef in yogurt with fresh herbs and butter sauce.
Bosino’s Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina: Potato dumplings cooked in a pizza oven with homemade tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella.
Buceo 95’s Paella Carne: Saffron rice-based dish with tomatoes, peas, onion, garlic, chicken, and ground chorizo picante.
Celeste’s Fegatini Di Pollo Con Pane Abbrustolito: Chicken liver with a balsamic glaze with bread and sage garnish.
Crêpes on Columbus’s Chocolate Lovers Crêpes: Crepes made from scratch with three fillings of consumers’ choice.
Dagon’s Crispy Roasted Lamb: Crispy and flavorful lamb with cucumbers, dates, walnuts, wild rice, and shawarma.
Eléa’s Tuna Tartare: Tuna tartare with yellowfin tuna, mango, chives, yogurt, and avocado served over a base of kataifi.
Flame’s Hibachi Duck Breast: Tender duck meat with sweet hibachi sauce served with grilled vegetables and rice prepared by chefs in front of diners.
Flor de Mayo’s Pollo a la Brasa with Plantains: Spice-rubbed meat cooked on a rotisserie served with a vinegar-like sauce and warm, sweet plantains.
Fred’s Crispy Brussels Sprouts: Crispy and soft Brussels sprouts with a sweet balsamic glaze with bacon and almond garnish.
Gazala’s Moshakal: A meat platter with chicken, lamb, chicken shawarma, and beef and lamb kafta served with yogurt sauce, rice, and cabbage salad.
Gennaro’s Stinco di Agnello: Tender lamb cooked with red wine and served over couscous and served with vegetables.
Gray’s Papaya’s Hot Dogs: The Upper West Side’s quintessential hot dog.
Hula Poke’s Sushi Burritos: The contents of a poke bowl in a seaweed-wrapped burrito.
Indian Tanpura’s Chicken Tikka Masala and Mango Lassi: Chicken with a thick creamy tomato sauce with a sweet mango yogurt beverage.
Jacob’s Pickles’ Pickles: An assortment of pickles and pickled vegetables.
Koko Wings’ Soy Garlic Chicken Wings: Fried chicken wings with a sweet and savory sauce.
Levain Bakery’s Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookie: Chocolate cookies with chocolate chips that are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
Lokal Mediterranean Kitchen’s Tzatziki and Pink Queen Dips: Tzatziki dip and Pink Queen dip made with shredded beets mixed with plain yogurt served with a loaf of bread.
Mel’s Burger Bar’s Prime Burger: Burger with a high-quality patty composed of New York strip steak.
Milk Bar’s Apple Cider Donut Cake: Three-layer donut cake with tart apple cider jam.
Nina’s Great Burrito Bar’s Sopa de Tortilla: Tomato soup with bits of Jack cheese and avocado with strips of crunchy tortilla.
North Miznon’s Lamb Shawarma: Grilled lamb placed with herbs, tomato foam, and sheep yogurt, and served over focaccia.
Red Farm’s Pastrami Egg Roll: Pastrami, cabbage, and asparagus surrounded by a crisp, fried-flour wrapper with hints of red chili and served with a sweet mustard sauce.
Sarabeth’s Basket of Popovers: Airy and buttery roll with a crispy exterior and soft inside served with orange marmalade, strawberry jam, and butter.
Shalel’s Lamb Kofta Tagine: Lamb kofta served with chickpeas, vegetables, Palestinian maftoul, and berbere-Kashmiri chili broth.
The Migrant Kitchen’s Lamb Torta Sandwich: A sandwich with Oaxaca cheese, avocado, tomatoes, jalapenos, romaine lettuce, black bean spread, and tender lamb.
V&T’s Chicken Piccata: Creamy chicken with tangy buttery sauce with white wine and capers with a bowl of pasta or salad on the side.
Zaad’s Falafel Sandwich: A pita bread sandwich with pickled vegetables and falafel within.
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