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Aug 5, 2009 07:11 AM

Help Me Love 97th & Lex

After living on the UWS for the past few years, and witnessing the evolution of my quiet neighborhood into a full-fledged foodie destination, I am reluctant to move to my new digs in the Upper East Side/Spanish Harlem. Walking around the neighborhood, there is nothing to compare to Fairway, Zabar's, Barney Greengrass or even my Korean bodega with fresh tofu. Happy hours at Fatty Crab followed by dinner at Shake Shack look like they will never be adequately replaced.

For those who know, help me see the greener grass on the UES. Any good shopping (particularly for fresh vegetables)? Any specialty shops worth nothing --- especially for Asian goods? Any restaurants worth noting for take-away or casual evenings (no Italian, please)? Any bars worth stopping in (extra points for good nachos or wings)?

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  1. Taco Taco
    Chinese Mirch (new UES location, though I've only been to the one on Lex in the 20s)
    Flex Mussels (haven't been, but heard good things)
    Burger One
    Greek grocer on corner of Lex and 81st
    Wu Liang Ye

    13 Replies
    1. re: LeahBaila

      I much prefer El Paso Taqueria (97th between Mad & Park) to Taco Taco, and they have another "branch" further up on Lex, but I've not been there for ages.

      1. re: MMRuth

        Been meaning to hit El Paso for the longest! What do you like there? Thanks.

        1. re: LeahBaila

          Their pollo al carbon is my favorite!

          1. re: LeahBaila

            I particularly like their guacamole, the blue corn fried calamari, and the huitlacoche quesadilla when they have it. My husband raved about a shank (lamb?) that he had there recently. I usually then just have a couple of tacos.

            1. re: MMRuth

              I think they also have a pork taquitos appetizer that is super delicious! Good sangria, too.

          2. re: MMRuth

            i was just at the 104t st branch. excellent mex. (mexcillent)

            1. re: MMRuth

              I have eaten El Paso more times than I care to recount in the past few months and have been just about uniformly disappointed with every order. I had thought the 97th St outpost was the problem, but I visited the 104th St. original and discovered that it had moved into much fancier digs across the street. Sadly it seem to have left the dynamic spicing and quality behind. The guacamole is bland, salsa lack heat and even the sauces meant to define the mains are woefully simple.

              I have, however, discovered a humble storefront in the JalapeƱo Deli on 102 and Lexington. There is little English spoken, though this was the same stumbling block I overcame with El Paso when I started going in 2001. So far I have found it hard to resist their tortas, which are some of the best in the neighborhood. True they could use more vegetable and beans, but the meat and quesillo are both of such high quality that I almost forget the missing texture. Their chorizo is a perfect combination of spices, nothing too much dominating the other. Their quesadillas threaten to be an addiction bedecked with cotija and with the off-menu option of very flavorful chicken bursting out of the flour tortillas (regulares are served with homemade corn tortillas). The one fail has been their carnitas, which are not at all crisp. They are mostly flaccid pieces of fat, but that has only been more reason for me to make meals of their chorizo.

              Jalapeno Deli
              1629 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10029

              1. re: JungMann

                Thanks for the update - I will have to give your find a try. In terms of El Paso and heat, sometimes they really have to be convinced. I think it helps when my husband insists in his Dominican Spanish that we want piquante.

                1. re: MMRuth

                  Given your familiarity with Dominican cuisine, I was wondering if you and/or your husband had ever tried Judy's. I pass by every day and my interest is piqued but I have never seen food on any of the occupied tables!

                  1. re: JungMann

                    Actually, we haven't. He tends to not be into going out for Dominican food. Where is it?

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      It is on Lexington between 97th and 98th. Both my roommates have been too intimidated to venture inside, so it looks like I may have to be the intrepid explorer.

                      1. re: JungMann

                        Thanks for the tip on Jalapeno Deli. I like El Paso, but am always interested in branching out. Just passed Judi's last night, on the way back from Giovanna's. I've seen it for years and do think the hygiene looks sketchy. If you do go I'd be interested in hearing about it but not sure I'm brave enough for that one.

                        Giovanna's (Lexington & 100th) by the way, continues to be excellent for both great pizza with generous, fresh toppings (the chef/owner is a spinoff of Nick's) and very good, homestyle Italian pastas and entrees. Lovely service, reasonable prices, and not nearly as busy as it deserves to be.

                        1567 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10029

                    2. re: JungMann

                      I went there last week for one of their lunch specials (a GREAT deal for $6.50). I had the chicken stew with a side of rice and beans. The portions were huge and the food was hearty and good in that home-cooked way. I definitely recommend it!

            2. The Associated Supermarked at 96th and Lexington has actually very good produce. Not a fancy store, but the produce selection is quite good.

              1. Not our nabe, but our daugher and son-in-live up there. We've been to Cafe d'Alsace a couple of times. Good food and bustling atmospherics.


                The two of them really like Flex Mussels (mentioned by LeahBailah).


                For Zabar-style shopping:

                Eli's (as in Zabar) and his Vinegar Factory-

                Agata & Valentina (Daughter often shops here.) -

                Bakery: Two Little Red Hens -

                10 Replies
                1. re: RGR

                  Vinegar Factory produce is terrible and really overpriced. The bread is good, though.

                  1. re: Toot

                    Yes, unfortunately, Eli's and Vinegar Factory are nothing like Zabar in terms of pricing- quite to the contrary. I do buy things occasionally at Eli's when I can't find them anywhere else.

                    Schaller & Weber is just north of Two Little Red Hens - they have a good butcher counter, etc. Though, now that I think of it JungMann, I think you are already familiar with it.

                    Liquor Stores - there are two on Lex that are open on Sundays - one between 93rd & 94th, and one south of 92nd Street. (Always good to know!)

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      I visit Zabar's mainly for appetizing and well-priced cheese. I'm willing to spend for good liver, fish and especially whitefish salad, but it doesn't sound like Eli's and Vinegar Factory are quite what I'm looking for?

                      Schaller & Weber are well-noted. They will replace Salumeria Rosi for me, which is quite fine since I prefer German charcuterie anyway.

                      Ah, liquor stores! You know me only too well! Any recommendations price-wise? I am more of a spirits drinker than wine and do believe you gave me a fantastic recommendation on Columbus a while back.

                      1. re: JungMann

                        I don't think Eli's/Vinegar factory will do that for you - they may well sell those things, but oy gevalt re: the prices.

                        Liquor stores - no particularly good recs (just the open on Sunday thing!) - we usually order wine from K&D and have it delivered, and you might enjoy perusing it as it is a nice shop (96th & Madison - just south of Mad.). There is also Mr. Wright over on Third Avenue and 90th or so - near the post office. Their prices may be a bit better. I don't buy much in the way of spirits.

                        (BTW - I emailed you in case I can help with non-chow stuff.)

                        There is Tal Bagels - - E. 86th Street that might work for whitefish salad.

                        Fish - I get mine delivered from Dorian's mostly, but it is v. expensive. Or, I buy it at Citarella. I do think there are some fish mongers maybe on Third Ave. in the 100s, but I've not tried them.

                        1. re: JungMann

                          Here's a whitefish salad tip: a new bagel place opened on Madison (west side) between 96th & 97th Sts. I don't love the bagels, which I get from Gourmet Garage and think are very good, but the whitefish salad is excellent!!! As good, IMO, to the whitefish salad at Russ & Daughters and better than Zabar's, Westside Market, etc. I learned that the guy who makes it used to work at the now defunct Petak's. Not sweet or too much mayo, normally my chief complaints. The baked salmon salad is also good but not as good.

                          Very good fish store on Second Ave. btw. 105-106.

                          1. re: City Kid

                            Oh that is good to know about that bagel place - I've not been in.

                            1. re: MMRuth

                              Name of the place is "Fresh Bagels on Madison" at #1392, b/w 96/97 and alas the bagels are not good -- they somehow manage to be simultaneously fluffy and gummy, even when toasted (which they do upon request), and often have an odd, slightly bitter aftertaste. I think this place is connected with Salata up the block -- FBM replaced a redundant Salata take-out offshoot that always looked empty and wasn't good either.

                              1. re: JP_nyc

                                I did visit to try their whitefish salad. It's very respectable, but I think I prefer the version I had back on the west side with more mayo and a bit of celery.

                          2. re: JungMann

                            There is a wonderful wine shop, bottleandsoul at Lexington & 81st. Open Sunday with a terrific selection of spirits as well as a great wine selection. Many producers that aren't all over town. Plus, it is beautiful. Check it out

                            1. re: smarty

                              They also have quite an impressive selection of Kosher wines.

                    2. Hey JungMann,

                      Where is this Korean bodega on the UWS?

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: kelea

                        I get tofu from the guy on Columbus and 70th who says it's made in-house. It's not as good as what I get at H-Mart, but it makes for fine curry or mapo tofu when I'm in the mood.

                        1. re: JungMann

                          Anything close is good for me! tThanks! :)

                      2. As a Carnegie Hill resident who is always carting food home from elsewhere -- particularly the UWS -- you have my sympathies!

                        For fresh veggies, the Associated at 96th & Lex is the way to go. Don't be put off by this down-at-the-heels store. The stuff is fresh and the store clean, the produce as good or better than most greengrocers and a bargain. As an all-around grocery store it is pretty good, too.

                        If you are accustomed to Fairway and Zabar's you may have a stroke when you see the prices at EAT (not too convenient anyway), Eli's and Vinegar Factory, aka the food museum. Agata and Valentina is good, but not really for every day shopping and, again, not very convenient.

                        For good, informal restaurants my advice is, go north. Many good places in East Harlem and along the new restaurant row on Lexington in the low 100s: Itzocan for slighly more upscale, Moustache for cheap Turkish.Med, Joy Burger...a bit farther up on 106th is La Fonda Boriqua for homestyle PR food, great takeout chickens, stews, rice and beans, etc. at El Barrio Restaurant on 103 St. btw. Third and Lex.

                        I feel your pain and longing for the UWS food scene but you'll survive and there is always the crosstown bus!

                        13 Replies
                        1. re: City Kid

                          There is Gourmet Garage too at 96th & Park, though I'm not generally a fan of Gourmet Garage.

                          Ottomanelli Burger & Waffle Fries - 93rd & Lex - About $8.00 or so before tip. They have a full bar too, and some nice wines by the glass. I often stop in for a quick lunch after a visit to Kitchen Arts & Letters, which is across the street. Much better than Joy Burger, IMO.

                          Holland Court Butcher - 93rd & Lex - don't let the store front dissuade you - they've got a full meat locker back there and good quality meats. They also have some seafood, but I only by the shrimp from them, and then only in a pinch. They deliver too.

                          Casablanca - I think you would love this butcher up at 110th just west of Lex - v. good prices, every part of an animal that you could possibly want, long lines, but if you place your order ahead of time, you can just pick it up.

                          Tutto Sfoglia - next door to Sfoglia, on 92nd just west of Lex - a bit hidden, but it is a newish food market. They sell their fresh pastas, their amazing breads, sandwiches etc.

                          Pizza - newish place on 96th between Park & Lex - was impressed by their pizza by the slice (oh - you said no Italian, and as usual, I can't remember it's name).

                          Asian - this is a tough one, mitigated by the fact that it takes about 20 minutes to get to Chinatown on the subway. If you give me more of an idea of what sorts of things you are looking for in terms of ingredients, I might be able to come up w/ a couple of ideas.

                          Will see what else I can think of.
                          Farmer's Market - 99th & Madison on Wednesdays - four or five vendors.

                          1. re: MMRuth

                            Thanks for the recommendations! Casablanca sounds like it will be a must for me as I have missed having an affordable, quality butcher while on the UWS. And even while I don't like Italian, I appreciate knowing where I can get Arborio or salume for visitors who want nothing but Italian. Are there weekend Farmer's Markets worth nothing or will I just continue going to Union Square?

                            The UWS is largely a wasteland for quality Asian (Szechuan Gourmet, Earthen Oven and Bar Bao being relative newcomers) so I got used to cooking for myself. But on those occasions I am missing one ingredeient, I have become accustomed to stopping at Fairway where I could usually find Thai, Chinese and Indian products (spices, black bean sauce, curry paste, daikon, etc.). In worst case scenarios I could ask a restaurant to help me out, as I did at Earthen Oven when I ran out of hari chutney a few posts ago. Will I have the same freedom on the UES? Are there any noteworthy Asian restaurants that an actual Asian person would enjoy up there?

                            1. re: JungMann

                              There is a new Thai place, Osha on 2nd Ave bet 88/89 sts. It's BYOB and quite nice. The menu is in I am not sure how authentic it is because I am not that familiar with Thai cuisine but I had dinner there a couple of weeks ago and the food was very good.

                              1. re: JungMann

                                The farmer's market is only on Wednesdays, and is not too exciting - mostly produce and some baked goods. On the Asian front - I'd say nothing rave worthy that I can think of. Markets do carry some Asian ingredients, but it's usually hit or miss, I often check several stores, and sometimes the brands are not the ones I prefer. There is always Dean & Deluca in a pinch - 85th and Madison - might be worth just peeking in one day to see what they have, in case you find yourself in a pinch in the future. Of course, in a pinch you can also email me, as I seem to have a ridiculous amount of ingredients!

                                1. re: JungMann

                                  JungMann, MMRuth is right about that Wednesday market. It's not so hot but okay in a pinch. You might be better off popping across 96th Street to the farmers market on W. 97th which is just wonderful. It's on Fridays.

                                  1. re: JungMann

                                    For Italian ingredients there is a nice market called Milano at Third and 89th, that I discovered has a number of the products that I like to buy on Arthur Avenue.

                                    1. re: JungMann

                                      In terms of finding asian ingredients. I am like you. I prefer to cook that food myself. I find it tasted better and I know what is in it. I do sometimes go to restaurants and pick up ingredients or sauces from them sometimes. I started doing that in college when I was in Westchester. I grew up on the UES and live here now. I know that there are many overprices stores around here, but I have found that certain things at each store are reasonable. Annie's fruits and vegetables on Lex btw. 88 & 89th has SOME reasonable items and a lot of overpriced things. They have wonton skins, dumpling skins and rice paper for fresh (raw) spring rolls. I do with they had regular spring roll wrappers (I am still looking for those). Most of their groceries are ridiculous, but you have to know what to get and they are open 24/7 if you are in a pinch. They do have good ginger dressing, great bean sprouts that you can buy by the pound and some other unusual veggies (mini zucchini and patty pan (sp?) squash. They do have lots of asian veggies but sometimes you have to ask them because they seem to hide them. If you find any good places (especially a farmers market) let me know. I just moved back here earlier this year and am reacquanting myself to the neighborhood. Welcome to the UES!

                                      1. re: JungMann

                                        Also meant to tell you that I lived in midtown east near 1st avenue in the upper 50's for a few months a while ago. I remember there being a few great Japanese stores that sold lots of authentic (straight from Japan) ingredients. Not produce but great staples if you want to make a Japanese meal. This was a while ago but I am sure at least one or two of them are still around. I wish I could tell you the name but you can always take the subway down to 59th and go east to third or second. I do know the few I went to were all on side streets, I think off third or second and were either on 58th or 59th. Hope your move goes smoothly.

                                        1. re: mccaugheyd

                                          kanoyama is n 59th between 2nd and 3rd

                                          1. re: thew

                                            Don't know a grocery by that name (there's a popular sushi restaurant called Kanoyama downtown). But on that stretch of 59th there's a decent Japanese grocery called Katagiri.

                                            224 E 59th St, New York, NY 10022

                                            1. re: squid kun

                                              brain fart - of course i meant katagiri. posting while half asleep on the couch watching a delayed baseball game is not conducive to clear thought

                                    2. re: City Kid

                                      I have heard that about the Associated, but haven't been in myself. I recommend skipping the Pioneer at Lex & 92nd - lousy produce, scary looking fish, and over priced (which says a lot in this neighborhood).

                                      1. re: City Kid

                                        I echo the rec for Lechonera El Barrio on E. 103rd. Winston & Tee Express is a take-out only place on Park & E. 97th - nothing spectacular but definitely a welcome change from the usual neighborhood suspects.

                                        I can only vouch for lunch at both Yo In Yo Out (French, Lexington between E. 100th/101st) and La Galette (Senegalese, E. 100th near Lexington) but I definitely liked both and am inclined to think that evenings should be fine as well. :)

                                        Winston & Tee
                                        1257 Park Ave, New York, NY 10029

                                        Lechonera El Barrio
                                        172 E 103rd St, New York, NY 10029