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Jul 12, 2001 10:07 AM

Good food on Upper West/Columbia area

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Hi! Relative newcomver to site, and I am impressed with the valuable information that is here. It's amazing...Anyway, I was wondering if anyone could recommend a good, relatively cheap restaurant for a calm, laid-back birthday dinner on the U-West Side, preferably in the Columbia University area. Any suggestions would be appreciated.


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  1. It's been a couple of years since I've been, but there's an Ethiopian restaurant called "Zula" at 1260 Amsterdam, cross street is either 122, or 123 st. My judgement is clouded I'm sure, as I had a very nice "2nd Date" dinner there. I just remember that the honey wine was sweet and smooth and eating the bread was like nibbling on somone's ear lobe..

    I've never been, but have seen some postings about "Massawa", also an Ethipoian restaurant that's on 1239 Amsterdam/122nd street, if you prefer a more level-headed choice.

    6 Replies
    1. re: HLing

      Unfortunately, this not a great chowing area of town. For a casual, but fun, birthday dinner I would try Mamma Mexico at Broadway and 102nd or Turkuhazs (sp?), a Turkish place on Broadway and 100th. Either should fit your bill and both have a festive atmosphere. Make sure to have the zuccini appetizer at Turkuhazs.

      1. re: HLing

        I was just at Zula last week (was jonesing for some injeera) and I found it to be a tasty experience. Two of us had the Vegetarian Platter for Two ($14.95) and the presentation was nice. It consisted of lentils, pureed chickpeas, greens, salad, and potatoes, all served atop a huge circle of spongey injeera bread. There were 2 samplings of each dish, by the way - they duplicate a semi circle's worth of 5 dishes to accomodate 2 diners, thus completing the full circle. The seasoning was good, if a tad restrained. I asked for hot sauce on the side, and they brought me a deep reddish brown paste. It tasted slightly smokey, but mostly it tasted of delicious dried red chiles seasoned with african spices. They had some ristras hanging as ornaments, and I wonder if the chiles used to make this sauce weren't plucked from one of these. It enhanced the food greatly. I'd recommend the place, but it may not be festive enough for everyone's definition of an atmosphere worthy of a birthday dinner. Incidentally, they have a similar platter with assorted meats that looked great at the next table. This was also reasonably priced - under $20 but I can't remember exactly.

        1. re: foodpimp

          Thanks for supplying the name "injeera" for the spongy bread. Did the honey wine have a name as well?

          Prior to the last time I was there, I think I was there with 4 or 5 people. Somehow I thought they were able to serve us with increased portions but with all the food still on one large round injeera. Does this sound right?

          I think Emily stated in her post that she's looking for a calm, B-day celebration. Mama Mexico would be a festive place(also it just expanded to include the corner space), but when the trumpeter plays, one can only chew and smile frantically. The dB level can be deafening if it's pointed at your ear.

          1. re: HLing

            I'm sorry, I do not know what the honey wine is called. Yes, you are correct about the food just being piled high on the injeera, because if one doesn't order the combination platters, the dishes are served on top of the communal bread, and spooned out of their cookware tableside by the server. I believe that nearly every item served in this (or any other) Ethiopian eatery is served thusly, because they do not supply silverware, and you are expected to scoop up the food with your bread. More injeera is served on the side in case the 'plate' becomes too soggy.

            1. re: foodpimp

              Thanks for the confirmation about the group eating at Ethiopian restaurants. Also nice to know that Zula's still there and still good!

              1. re: HLing

                Thanks everyone! We actually ended up trying Sophia's on 109-110 and Amsterdam. The food was decent, but cheap enough that I wouldn't complain too much. Standard, run of the mill Italian, but the restaurant is quiet and comfortable. The panini sandwiches were not very good although the pastas looked like the best deal there, plenty of food, pretty good...Toast, by the way, is just near my house and I LOVE it. The sandwiches are so good.

      2. Max-great little italian place (branch of East Village original) on 123rd and Amsterdam

        The Mill-112? $ B-way-Pretty good Korean

        V&T-109? and Amsterdam-Pizza in an old school Italian atmosphere (not as good as Sal and Carmine's on 102nd and B-way, but more room to sit and more chices)

        Mexicana Mama (or something like that - 102nd and B-way- Pretty good mexican with a fun atmosphere

        1 Reply
        1. re: AndyK

          The Mexican place is called Mama Mexico. It's been discussed here before. I like it a lot, although I think the mariachi band is a mistake. But the food is excellent, the margaritas are good, and the staff is friendly.

        2. Try "Fish" on Broadway and 108th. They are reasonalbly priced, have great fish dishes and nice service. There's also a new place on the corner of 110 and Amsterdam called Bistro looks very nice, rather elegant yet casual and got a pretty good review in the NY Daily News.

          1. i agree w/the other suggestions pointing you towards zula (ethiopian) and the mill (korean, though supposedly inauthentic). i haven't checked out max's yet.

            i would also add pertutti's, the italian place on bway and 113(?). the food isn't stunning, but they haven't overcooked my pasta. it has a little more room than the aforementioned suggestions. they also have a relatively wide dessert selection, and if you tell your waiter someone has a bday they'll do the whole candles/singing bizness. oh and they also have outdoor seating. reasonably priced. i think the pasta dishes are around $10.

            i haven't been to miss mamie's spoonbread too (soul food?)on 110th and columbus. it has mixed reviews, but you might wanna look into that also. might be slightly more expensive than the other three.

            i would skip on mama mexico's (or whatever) and v&t's. mexicana mama is your typically overpriced, lame, nyc, mexican. i'm always surprised when i hear v&t's recommended. it's what i think of when i think of suburban family style italian restaurants. the pasta isn't really worth looking at and the pizza's good. . . if you're drunk. plus the service is horrible.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Mari

              MExican mama--I think you mean the unfortuantely named "Nacho Mama." Do not enter. Trust me. Used to be decent, back when it was owned by the same people who own The Heights (good brunch, esp. breakfast burrito/brunch cocktails). Now owned by completely indifferent management, and the great steak chili is missing from their menu, too. Had a spinach burrito there that just sucked, even by NYC standards. It involved...peas. Don't ask me why, just know that I almost cried.

              I am in the area three times a week. I love the bi bim bop at The Mill, served up sizzling in a hot stone pot with a crunch rice crust and a raw egg that cooks as you stir it in. Have it with a lime rickey, a holdover from The Mills' days as a luncheonette.

              Also love Toast, up on Broadway and LaSalle (near the 125th ST. subway station). Great sandwiches on homemade bread, excellent scrambled eggss at brunch with perfect grilled flank steak, and lovely fries with jalapeno ketchup. Am also starting to love Max Soha on Amsterdam and 123rd for homemade Grandma kind of Italian. My mexican fix comes from the little hole in the wall Mexican cafe a couple of doors down from Toast, near the laundromat. It's called Mi Mexico or something. Great carnitas.

              1. re: Jess Nepo

                Mama Mexico is on the east side of broadway. It's avocado green on the outside, and has taken over the corner of 102 st and b'way recently.

                The old Nacho Mama was on the west side of Broadway. It had a fire a while ago, and then in its place "The Heights" opened up. The new Nacho Mama I think moved a couple of blocks up, still on Broadway. Don't know much about the ownership, though.

                Needless to say, they are not one and the same.

                1. re: Jess Nepo

                  nope. i didn't mean nacho mama. really nyc mexican is so so blah.

                2. re: Mari

                  I'm surprised that someone who recommends the awful Cafe Pertutti would proceed to diss V&Ts. V&T's is very different from the Grimaldi's style pizza with fresh mozzarella, but I actually enjoy V&T's more. It's hard for me to describe, but it's unlike any other pizza I've ever had (including "family style," whatever that is). I'm a cheese lover, and they use plenty of cheese. I also love their sauce, but again, it's a gestalt experience. I do agree about V&T's pasta though--just get the pizza. Fresh garlic makes a great topping. When you're in the Columbia area, also make sure you go to Columbia Bagels at 110th and Broadway. I've tried the others (H&H, etc.), and Columbia Bagels are still my favorite. Also, their olive & pimento cream cheese is divine.

                3. Try Sophia's on 110th and Amsterdam for cheap, satisfying Italian. Their penne a la vodka is subtlely delicious.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Linda

                    i went to sophia's once. they overcooked my tortellini to an offensive degree and the poor things were drowning in sauce.