HOME > Chowhound > Manhattan >


Luch near Columbia University

  • m

My daughter who is a high school senior is coming with a journalism group to Columbia University for four days. They will be eating lunch in the University area at least two or three days. Any recommendations for a reasonably priced lunch for high schoolers?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Ollie's Noodle House.

    22 Replies
    1. re: Jason Perlow


      Taste is taste, but have you really eaten at the Ollie's on 112th? What did you have that could possibly pass for acceptable food? That place is truly god-awful. Rancid grease, bad meat, and MSG by the scoopful. Worst Chinese restaurant on the Upper West Side, and that's saying a lot.

      Here's a mesage of mine from a while back, with some dated Columbia recommendations; there are other useful suggestions in that thread.

      Please don't go to Ollie's; no one deserves that.

      Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

      1. re: Steven Stern

        It's not a question of that one branch. The chain's quality ranges from contempt to beneath contempt. The difference between the two is that the former has a few survivable dishes.

        1. re: Jim Leff

          True enough. But in my experience, the 112th St. branch is the lowest of the bunch. It has to crane its neck to look up at contempt.

          1. re: Steven Stern

            44th & B'way is a close second. To add insult to quality issues, a tiny pile of sesame noodles at that location is now about $6.50 and presented in a very shallow bowl. Entrees there are priced at least $1-2 higher than at other chinese restaurants with better food and more competition nearby. More of a tourist rip-off place, but incredibly convenient.

            That said, Ollies'ss are still fast, easy places to take hungry, non-discerning kids and the overworked wait staff tends to be efficient and friendly.

            1. re: Alison

              Its really not that hideous.

              The fried rice and noodles are fine. Hell we're talking COLLEGE STUDENTS. Most of them eat microvaveable bagel dogs, burritos and ramen noodles purchased from vending machines anyways.

              Amazing that I can walk away practically unscathed by Jim and Steven by border French bashing... but mention Ollies, good grief.


              1. re: Jason Perlow

                When I was young and broke I became violently ill after eating at Ollie's--twice!! (Gave it a second chance at the urging of a so-called friend.) Not even college students deserve that.

                1. re: Chowbabe

                  Oh come on now, rancid grease is half the recipe of fried rice and lo mein and egg rolls. It just aint the same without it.

                  Ollie's isn't half as bad as a takeout/delivery joint named Blue Diamond ("Herro? Bru Diamond?" we used to joke about the guy who answered the phone) we had right by American University in Washington, DC's Tenleytown back in the late 80's. The place was closed down TWICE for health violations and yet everyone still ordered from the place, including myself.

                  I've seen and eaten -WAY- worse Chinese than Ollies.

                  1. re: Jason Perlow

                    "I've seen and eaten -WAY- worse Chinese than Ollies"

                    That may or may not be the case. But advising people toward "better-than-the-very-worst" options is NOT the purpose of these boards or this site (except, of course, when those are the ONLY edible options).

                    That's why I don't pipe in on each and every thread. If I don't have compelling advice to offer a given poster, I cede to those who might have something really good to suggest, rather than dilute the discussion.


                    1. re: Jim Leff
                      Jason "Screw it, I'm not a card carrying Chowhound" Perlow

                      That may be so, but the area immediately surrounding Columbia U. is a complete culinary wasteland. So under these conditions and the parameters that were given I still think Ollies is a good choice, irregardless of whether or not you and Stern hate the friggin place.

                      I'll also note that you and Stern hating the friggin place (or any particular place) for that manner does not preclude other people from eating there. And it doesnt invite bashing someone else's culinary tastes or value of their advice either.

                      Man I hate Mondays. I need a friggin drink.

                      1. re: Jason "Screw it, I'm not a card carrying Chowhound" Perlow

                        If Ollie's was truly a restaurant you really dug, then I'd indeed be completely off-base in bashing you for the opinion. But you yourself have made clear that you recommended it because 1. it's for students who won't know the diff, and 2. it's not the very worst Chinese you've ever had. In fact, you've just now described it as essentially a last-ditch bite in a culinary wasteland. So it's innappropriate for you to consider my reaction an attack on your Personal Aesthetic. You don't particularly like this place yourself.

                        This is not a clash of food opinions. It's just my latest attempt to ask you to please pick and choose your postings, and follow the example of myself and pretty much everyone else on this site by chiming in when you have something valuable to add.

                        I don't mean something *I* might personally consider valuable. I am NOT the arbiter here, I do NOT need (or even want!) to agree with all opinions expressed on this site. I'm just asking you to pause and make that determination for YOURSELF before chiming in. Consider whether you're adding value to the discussion or just injecting your fast/loose two cents for the heck of it. Consider whether you really need to send people, without caveat, to what you know is a mediocre-at-best chinese place. Whether you really need to weightily pronounce on the origins of the word "baklava" when you actually have no idea. Whether you have sufficient experience to confidently declare that gas-fired barbecue tastes exactly the same as wood-smoked as long as you add some wood chips. Whether it's mere empty provocation to interrupt a serious thread on French culinary history with a blustering insistence that the French haven't contributed "squat" to cuisine. Etc, etc, etc.

                        Not every message from every poster needs to be a gem, not by any means, and there is room for your often bombastic voice in our mix. But you post in staggering profusion, Jason; there have been days when you've personally accounted for over 10% of all postings. I've literally pleaded with you to self-edit and resist the temptation to weigh in on every single issue. You've periodically heeded these requests, but old habits creep back.

                        If we all contribute just the cream of our knowledge, this site will continue to be an unparalleled resource for us all. You obviously value this resource. All I can do is request that you please help us to keep it valuable.


                        1. re: Jim Leff
                          Jason "French-bashing, Baklava-history confusing, Barbeque-ingoramus, bad Chinese Food liking" Perlow

                          Jim you should have us sign a Ideology Acceptance Policy before letting anyone post here. Then we can all conform to Lefftopian behavior as you see fit.

                            1. re: Simon Majumdar

                              I'll be fine in a couple of weeks. Just gotta get through closing and renovating the new house.


                              1. re: Jason Perlow

                                I don't know you. Why do I have to suffer through crankiness caused by your personal problems?

                                Sez you about Ollie's:

                                First just the suggestion of Ollie's with no additional information about cuisine or quality, and then...
                                "The fried rice and noodles are fine. Hell we're talking COLLEGE STUDENTS. Most of them eat microvaveable bagel dogs, burritos and ramen noodles purchased from vending machines anyways."
                                "Oh come on now, rancid grease is half the recipe of fried rice and lo mein and egg rolls. It just aint the same without it."
                                "Ollie's isn't half as bad as a takeout/delivery joint named Blue Diamond. The place was closed down TWICE for health violations and yet everyone still ordered from the place, including myself."
                                "I've seen and eaten -WAY- worse Chinese than Ollies."

                                In general, you can go to any restaurant, order food, eat it and not be hungry anymore (various haute spots in SoHo notwithstanding). You can wrap yourself up in miscellaneous pieces of cloth and you will not be naked or cold anymore. This does not necessarily mean that these are good ideas, and so far as I can tell, that is not what these message boards are about.

                                We're not a bunch of college kids who are content to stuff our collective maw with whatever is 4 for a dollar at the grocery store this week (and if any of you are in college--obviously you do care about what you're filling said maw with). Any city guide can tell you which restaurants are in a neighborhood. This site is a unique and fantastic way for people to share their experiences on which ones are actually worth visiting (and avoiding!) and which are worth the schlep.

                                The original poster cared enough to ask where was worth going for lunch. The least we can do is appreciate the effort and offer our best suggestions, rather than the least offensive alternative.

                                My $.02: Toast. I haven't been there in a little while, but it is shabbily charming and serves sandwiches crafted by someone who obviously cares a great deal. Tasty catsup as well. It may be homemade.


                                1. re: Virginia

                                  (Hopefully, a thread title change can get us all back on track and away from endless nastiness.)

                                  Anyway: Toast.

                                  Glad you mentioned it. It opened about a month before I moved out of the neighborhood a year and a half ago. I only got to go a couple of times before I left, but I was really impressed. Like you said, there seems to be obvious care involved. The staff was outrageously flakey, but the guy in the kitchen really knew what he was doing.

                                  So, what's the story these days? How's it doing? What's good? Is it all sandwiches (the only thing I've had there) or has the menu expanded?

                                  At the time, it looked as if it was going to be head and shoulders above anything else in the neighborhood (though I am a fan of the cubano at Floridita). I'd love to know if it's lived up to its promise.

                            2. re: Jason "French-bashing, Baklava-history confusing, Barbeque-ingoramus, bad Chinese Food liking" Perlow

                              That is absolutely ridiculous and highly offensive. I'm surprised someone as bright as you is so unable to see my point. Especially when it's a point you'd previously agreed with. See link below.

                              Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                              1. re: Jim Leff

                                I do respect it, Jim. But I dont think my Ollies recommendation fits within your concerns of me chiming in for no reason.

                                1. re: Jason Perlow
                                  Pat Goldberg

                                  Jason, I think that Jim is legitimately calling attention not to your recommendation of Ollie's, but the manner in which you did it -- Namely, just saying "Ollies" without qualification.

                                  If you had written something like...

                                  The area around Columbia does not have much to recommend it, but one possibility is Ollies. It is by no means the best Chinese restaurant, but it is popular with the college kids, and if you stick to the noodles and rice dishes you will not do too badly...

                                  Then I don't think 1) you would have had such a rapid and negative reaction from the community at large and 2) you would not have had to insult the original poster by implicitly claiming that all his kid were looking for was junk food. I personally found that aspect quite offensive.

                                  I hope this is helpful

                                  1. re: Pat Goldberg
                                    Jason Perlow

                                    Such is possible Pat, but I think people are looking for excuses.


                      2. re: Jason Perlow

                        Yeah, accents are really funny! Must mean the guy spoke at least 2 languages. BTW, how many languages do you speak?

                        1. re: KT
                          Jason "Archie Bunker" Perlow

                          English, Spanish, some italian, some japanese, and I'm actively learning Mandarin.

                          And I still think accents are funny.

            2. re: Steven Stern

              Say what you want, when my friend Jonathan went to Teachers College, I used to meet him there all the time. I happen to think they make a mean fried rice. Grease is good.

              Granted the last time I went to Ollies was the midtown branch about six months ago, but still.

              The combination was Lunch, starving students and Columbia. I think I satisfied the criterion!

          2. s
            Simon Majumdar

            When I am over in NY, I tend to have lunch in a faux French Bistro called Le Monde ( on Broadway between 112th and 113th)

            While it is far from Haute, the food is always well prepared and very reasonable.

            They also have a great list of Belgian beers and a range of some of the even better British beers,

            I can only think of that and the West End bar in what is otherwise a gastronomic ghost town

            1 Reply
            1. re: Simon Majumdar

              After an experience that had me pleading for a stomach pump and left me eating baby pap for a good month, I feel compelled to send out a warning about Le Monde. DO NOT EAT AT LE MONDE if you have any fear of food poisoning. Or at least, NEVER order mussels in any form there. Two friends came from Japan to visit and offered to take me out. One of my professors (not to be trusted again on food) recommended Le Monde. Well, we all spent the night over the toilet bowl. I called Le Monde to complain and they were mildly apologetic but really didnft seem to give a shit. When I told friends about my experience three people told me independently that they had also been sick aftering eating at Le Monde.
              Be forewarned.

            2. I have to say that area is pretty bleak in terms of chow. But there is Columbia Bagels down around 110th and Broadway. Ollie's definitely sucks, imho. Tasteless and pedantic. Le Monde is all right -- especially liked the calamari appetizer. The Mill is pretty popular for its stone pot bi-bim-bop, although I can't recommend anything else there. There's also a decent pizza place around there as well -- I think it was called V&T or something like that.

              1. For a group of high schoolers (you didnt say how many), V&T Pizza at 110th and Amst across from the cathedral would be a good choice, with plenty of sitdown space.

                If they are not too many and adventurous, they could try Amir's Felafel on Bway at around 112th St or walk down BWay to Flor de Mayo for ok hispanic food.

                They might want to try out some of the on-campus food. There are probably cafeterias open to the public in Ferris Booth Hall and other campus locations.

                Finally, SOMEBODY posted on this website a while back about a source on Amsterdam for Philly cheesesteaks - there are a couple of lunch-type places on that side of the campus - any updates on this?

                6 Replies
                1. re: jen kalb

                  Amir's is terrible

                  1. re: Lora Frisch

                    agreed. No Amir please. Three strikes Amir's was out - never once did I receive a fresh falafel. Old, greasy, overcooked.

                    1. re: rebeccahodgson
                      Leslie Brenner

                      I got food poisoning!

                      1. re: Leslie Brenner

                        Maybe I should quit while I am behind, but I had a pretty good kefta kebab sandwich (as usual) there last summer. I dont have the faith I did 20 years ago when i ate there several days a week, but the kefta and kibbe were at that time the bestpicks. Nuf said. Im in the minority on this one.

                        1. re: jen kalb

                          If you really want decent felafel, go 10 blocks down Broadway and get it at Jerusalem's (it's still there, right?). Worth a little hike. Blows Amir's out of the water. Also good baba ganouj and fava bean salad.

                          1. re: MU

                            Still there--we really like that place. The combination sandwiches are great deals.

                2. y
                  yvonne johnson

                  i've spent several years as a student at CU looking for something decent to eat in the area, but i've not found it. I'm not up there so much these days.....that darned dissertation.

                  On broadway, bet 112 and 113 (a few doors down from le Monde) up some steps there's the Heights. mediocre mexican food.

                  I've not been to Le Monde, but it looks attractive, and given earlier comments might be the best bet.

                  The West End (if it's still standing on b/way, bet 113 and 114): huge sandwiches and fries, tables on sidewalk. i found the overall quality poor. (This is a big bar, btw)

                  Again on broadway, b/w 112 and 113, east side of street there's an italian cafe, *huge* cheap salads, sandwiches. the name escapes me, but it's easily spotted.

                  Tom's deli (broadway and 112?): famous for being in Seinfeld. Agree with earlier post. Yucky.

                  there's a little tea shop on Amsterdam Ave at 113th, across the street from the Cathedral St John the Divine (worth a visit). tea shop is quaint for tea and a bun. it's cozy on a rainy day.

                  Been once to Fish Restaurant (2799 b/way, at 108th st, 864-5000) a couple of years ago. it was OK-nothing more.

                  Maybe the new students' ctr on broadway will have something....but then again. I'd suggest hopping on the subway and coming downtown for lunch.

                  and...oh, in case Ollie's is attempted, it's at 116 street immediately across from CU main entrance, not 112. Be kind of ironic after debate below if the highschoolers decide ollie's is the tops!

                  1. r

                    For some seniors making a trip to NYC to study journalism for four days I am sure they want to eat in all the "spots," as long as the food is okay. I'm a law student and older than the average one so I can't guarantee that all my answers here are exactly the COOLEST. I also have yet to find a really good restaurant in the area. See Manhattan MEssage Board number 9 & search for my name - I asked for advice on restaurants in the area last summer and got lots of advice (which all turned out to be accurate - basically that everything here is mediocre).

                    Other than all that advice which you can sift through here are two dining halls and a few words on some of the mentioned spots which I find tolerable and/or think the kids would like for other reasons:

                    1) Columbia has a GREAT high-end lunchroom in the the Faculty House with excellent prices ($5- 7.00 per meal) It's at 116 and Morningside). It is not listed on the link I sent you but if you look at the map it will show you where the faculty house is - the cafeteria is on the third floor. It has a great selection of grains, vegetables, fish, gourmet sandwiches, pasta, fresh exotic fruits, desserts, etc. I love their vegetable salads - I can be healthy and eat yummy food. And everyday they focus on a different international cuisine. A lot of SIPA students and international students eat there so its an older crowd but very international ooh la la...they can dine and hear various languages all around them and feel very New york melting pot.

                    1a) Columbia also has dining in John Jay Hall - the main dining hall - all you can eat dinner for $10 - I am not sure what the lunch rate is but I think its also buffet not fab food but definitely lots of choices and filled with all the undergrads on the plan who your daughter will enjoy eating among (thus I ate their once!)

                    2) Ollies no matter what we think about the food it is a hot spot for group meals and right at 116th & Broadway - so its convenient. I, personally, have eaten there twice and liked the arugula salad I had the first time. I am now however conducting a boycott over the treatment I received the second time I ate there (I have three fellow boycotters thus far- they were all witnesses to "THE INCIDENT"). When I tried to send back the largest fattiest lump of grizzle anyone has ever tried to pass off as beef, I was told that they are a Chinese restaurant and this is how "real" Chinese people eat their beef - the ABSOLUTE ABSURDITY of this place justifying this HUGE grizzleball as "real Chinese" can only be fully appreciated if you have been there! REGARDLESS - the very unauthentic chinese aspect of this chinese restaurant might be good for out of town teens (and its hipness and not bad prices).

                    NOT SO RELEVANT ANECDOTAL NOTE : I once took a non-Ny 16 year old who I thought to be quite capable to a dim sum meal where we were seated with 6 non-English speaking (yet smiling:))Chinese people and where she was faced with carts containing strange food w/out description - my dream moment but of course, not hers! and she was pretty clear about that!)

                    3) West End - burgers and fries (Broadway & ? 113/114) okay.

                    4) The Mill - but only if they are more adventurous than my 16 yr old visitor was b/c it is Korean. Decent Korean and no more. Broadway & ?114? i eat there pretty often actually

                    5) I hate to say it, advertise this place, but there is this famous place called Tom's Diner - its the Seinfeld diner - food is no better or worse than the average (meaning not so great) NY diner. they might enjoy having been there regardless

                    6) I like this place - Hungarian pastry shop - 112 & Amsterdam - across from the very beautiful and romantic looking cathedral - it's not real meal food just pastry and coffee and tea but its SOOOoo university ofhigherlearning/sit around and think great thoughts/ wear a beret kind of place (in other words - a typical cafe if we were in Europe!!)

                    7) Oh yah and speaking of tea - Tealuxe - as convenient as Ollie's - right next door to them (or maybe one down). They have those sandwiches that you make in a toaster thingy - nice and warm and gooey - for about 5/6 bucks and they come with a small but good salad (or you can get potato salad i think) - You have to go all the way in the back for tables) I have been happy there.

                    8) A new italian/gourmet grocer opened on Broadway around 114/113 on the east side that has all kinds of salads, sandwiches, etc at lunch - might be worth checking into, no other decent sandwich place around here

                    9) Tomo sushi - another adventurous choice ( of course my first exposure to sushi was watching it eaten in the movie Valley Girl - so what do I know about sophistication levels right?) (113/112? & Broadway is good - I like their sushi.

                    So um - hope this is helpful. I am SURE that the links on board # 9 will be even more so - pizza and stuff like that - I barely leave my little corner of campus all day so I dont get out much at lunch :) and then when I do eat out its usually for dinner and a bit more adult (Le Monde & Pampa).


                    Link: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/dining/lhm...

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: rebeccahodgson

                      The only things I have ever had at my myriad experiences there were shrimp or chicken fried rice, shrimp lo mein, pan fried noodle and pork buns and egg rolls. And I think their wonton soup. The key to not screwing up at Ollies is dont go for anything fancy. Keep it simple.

                      No beef. I dont see the point of eating beef in a low end Chinese place. Its just asking for trouble. baby shrimp and pork and chicken are slightly harder to screw up.

                      "When I tried to send back the largest fattiest lump of grizzle anyone has ever tried to pass off as beef, I was told that they are a Chinese restaurant and this is how "real" Chinese people eat their beef - the ABSOLUTE ABSURDITY of this place justifying this HUGE grizzleball as "real Chinese" can only be fully appreciated if you have been there!"

                      1. re: rebeccahodgson

                        welcome back rebecca! Hope law school is better than intolerable, and that we will see you around the boards more often. Have you or any one you know made it down to Dahlia on Amst to try their tapas yet? It was pretty good last summer. Any recent word on it?

                        I learned to drink coffee at the prior incarnation of the Hungarian Pastry Shop before the Greeks bought it in the 70s. They have done a pretty good job of carrying it forward over the years and I still enjoy occasional visits there when Im in the neighborhood.

                        1. re: rebeccahodgson

                          Rebecca, great to hear from you (we'd missed you!) and I wish you good luck with your studies.

                          Hey, can anyone get into the faculty house to eat, or is it private?

                          "Ollies no matter what we think about the food it is a hot spot for group meals"

                          This site--as you know as well as anybody!--is the refuge for those who care ONLY about the food.

                          I hope we'll see you from time to time...though I'm sure you're hitting the books like crazy. Maybe compensate by posting a lot over summer vacation?


                          PS-- mostly for those reading along: if you'll take a look at this board's index, you'll see why super-long message titles don't work well with this (good for nothing) message board software!

                          1. re: Jim Leff
                            Rebecca Hodgson

                            Yes I know - shame on me - I was torn over mentioning Ollie's (or Tom's for that matter)but was trying to keep the eventual recipient's of the information in mind when forming my answer. Plus I just had to mention my grizzleball and it got me there.

                            And damnit - I LOVE naming my messages with long titles - but I understand the issue - you'll notice my title's often violate this point of etiquette. I will try.

                            Your important question = The cafeteria (which I noticed today is officially named the CLinton DeWitt Dining Room) is open to all (or at least they're not checking passports). Its on the third floor. Definitely my favorite - especially since my forte (even stronger now as a student!) is in sniffing out the low-cost/high-taste establishments.

                            Law school is challenging but very rewarding and thus worth the effort. I do miss hanging out on chowhound and I will post in the summer. And I may be ( I can only hope) in Moscow/St. Petersburg so it could get interesting...

                            I do lurk around - last semester I would log on as a treat on Sunday mornings. This semester I am already less studious and come around a bit more. But have no fear..."I'll be back"

                            1. re: Rebecca Hodgson

                              Hey, Rebecca

                              No, not a point of etiquette...I personally get a kick out of long titles (consider the title of my book: "The Eclectic Gourmet Guide to Greater New York City: The Undiscovered World of Hyperdelicious Offbeat Eating in All Five Boroughs"). It's just that very long titles (especially when they become major threads) clog our indexes, to the point where they can actually crash browsers. Some may remember our Netscape crashing issues a year or so ago....since then we've been working hard to prevent repeats.

                              It's paper clip/rubberband technology, but for the time being it works, sort of!

                              Can't wait to hear the Moscow reports!


                          2. re: rebeccahodgson

                            Tom's Diner is also from the Suzanne Vega song, no? It used to be a viable place to eat. It has been there for probably 30 years - long before Senfeld "discovered" it.

                            1. re: rebeccahodgson

                              Concerning the infamous "grizzleball" that you got at Ollies...was it grizzle or was it stewed tendon? I've had the beef noodle soup at Ollies and they've included stewed tendon several times. If it was tendon, then, yes, it's often included with stewed beef dishes. Grizzle, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter. The beef noodle soup isn't that bad. It's the subpar noodles that kills the dish.

                              1. re: rebeccahodgson
                                Melanie Wong

                                There are several cuts of fatty beef shot through with gristle and other connective tissue that are considered very delicious by Chinese folk. Chinese brisket isn't good unless it is marbled with fat and has a fatty layer and a layer of what I think is called fascia. Also the flatiron steak is prized for the silver line of gristle that runs through the center. I watched Jacques Pepin make this on TV and he butterflied it cutting out this layer. A Chinese cook takes this same piece, cuts it across the grain to make sure that each slice has some of the gristle and then stir-fries it. I would pay extra for this particular cut of meat. And, haven't you noticed Chinese people collecting the cap meat from a prime rib roast? That's the upper part with the fatty meat, layer of fat and streak of gristle - oh so good!

                              2. There's a decent Greek place (or it was OK a few years ago anyway) called Symposium on 112th or so.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Peter

                                  toast is quite good. sandwiches and salads, everything fresh and well-made. it's at 3157 broadway, between tiemann place and lasalle street.

                                  i also love the ethiopian, zula's, that's on around 127th i think. your teens might not be very adventurous, though.

                                  1. re: emily

                                    I believe Zula's is at 122nd and Amsterdam. I lived in the neighborhood three years ago and found it to have some of the best and most affordable Ethiopian in the upper west side, if not the city. The shiro is fabulous, and the vegetarian plate is a great thing to order if you're not familiar with Ethiopian.

                                  2. re: Peter
                                    yvonne johnson

                                    symposium is, or used to be, on west 113 bet b/way and amsterdam. i've not been in around 4-5 years. it was ok...but keep in mind i'm the misery guts who's yet to find great stuff up that way!