The Upper East Side has long been associated with high-end shops, hoity-toity residential buildings, and ladies who lunch at overpriced restaurants. However, there was a dearth of affordable, cool, high-quality restaurants.
All that has changed as rents in the area have become increasingly affordable, luring in young people who are priced out of the more trendy neighborhoods downtown.
And with the young people come more innovative and affordable restaurants. When I moved to the Upper East Side last year, I was surprised to see how many cool new restaurants have made their home there.
For the purpose of this list, we’re defining the Upper East Side as the area between 70th and 96th Street and between 5th Avenue and the East River.
Here are 25 UES restaurants and bars that are hip, affordable, and excellent.
Sample stinky cheese, mussels Provencale, steak frites, and other classic Alsatian dishes at Cafe D'Alsace, a quaint brasserie. Sit at the long, open bar or in one of the cozy banquettes while enjoying your meal.
With its ambient lighting, cozy banquettes, and vintage vibe, Felice 83 is a great spot for a date. There's an extensive wine and cocktail list, and a nice array of Italian bar snacks, like veal meatballs, fried artichokes, and gooey burrata. There are also heartier mains.
Opened in November 2013, the Drunken Munkey is a 'craft cocktail' bar that channels colonial India and the supper clubs of Old Bombay. Mini bicycles adorn the walls, door handles are made from cricket balls, and servers wear traditional Indian kurtas.
In addition to Indian-inspired cocktails, they serve classic Indian dishes as well as some Anglo-Indian specialties.
This local spot calls itself 'an American Bistro,' serving organic, locally- and sustainably-sourced produce, an grass-fed meats in its seasonal menu. Enjoy those high-quality ingredients at brunch, when you can get a great meal at a reasonable price.
The brunch menu is extensive -- think eggs Benedict, green eggs and ham, and shrimp and grits -- and each dish comes with a choice of house-made beverage, like a Maplejack Apple Pie (house specialty cocktail), Sobieski Bloody Mary, mimosa, or organic coffee or tea.
Feast on steaming bowls of fresh mussels cooked in savory broths, like Thai coconut curry broth or Mexican chipotle adobo. There are other items on the menu too, but the thing to order here is mussels, of course.
Flex has a location downtown too.
Heidi's House is a cozy, intimate wine bar on a quiet street. They have an awesome happy hour with special deals on wine, beer, and snacks. The food menu is small, but all the items are organic. People rave about their mac & cheese, which can be topped with lobster, bacon, or chorizo.
They also have board games, like Scrabble and Checkers to keep you entertained while you imbibe.
Il Salumaio started out as an informal Italian deli, but was such a hit that locals insisted that it expand and become a sit-down restaurant. Now they call themselves a 'wine bar,' but the focus here is still on the delicious Italian cheeses and cured meats, which still hang from the ceiling.
Infirmiry opened in late 2013, and it's already regularly packed. This New Orleans-inspired joint serves Creole and Cajun food in a sleek setting. Try the po boys and gumbo, while enjoying a Sazerac, a classic NOLA cocktail.
The bartenders at Jbird use high-end ingredients to stir up creative concoctions like the Mucho Gusto (tequila, avocado, agave nectar and lime juice) or the Moscow Mutt (vodka, lime juice, blueberry syrup, ginger).
They also make drinks for two that are meant to be shared.
And if you crave more than a liquid dinner, order one of their tasty food items, like grilled octopus, roasted shisito peppers, or braised pork sliders.
Kaia is a South African term that refers to home, and this cozy wine bar does feel homey. It serves South African-inspired small plates that are meant to be shared. Try the honey rooibos ribs or the bison sliders.
There's also an impressive list of wines and craft beers from South Africa.
A tarte flambee is basically a very thin, crispy flat pizza from Alsace. It's so thin it's more like a cracker, or even a crepe. Order the traditional tarte flambee, topped with crème fraîche, caramelized onions and bacon, and wash it down with a glass of crisp white Alsatian wine.
The famed Meatball Shop opened its newest location on the Upper East Side in August. Diners can sample all sorts of meatballs, including classic beef, spicy pork, and veggie.
This UES location is larger than other Meatball Shop locales and has a nice room in back which you can rent for private parties. It's also the first Meatball Shop to serve brunch.
Parlor is a lot more casual and trendy than other NYC steakhouses, but the food is no less satisfying. It has a fresh raw bar, high-quality meats, and tasty drinks. It also has a great brunch, which features a lot more than just steak -- though of course that makes an appearance, too.
The team behind downtown hotspots The Wren and Wilfie & Nell are responsible for The Penrose, a trendy uptown gastropub with a downtown vibe.
Come here for small plates, fancy cocktails, and a bumping scene -- especially during happy hour.
San Matteo serves chewy, bubbly, Neapolitan-style pizza pies topped with high-quality ingredients, like prosciutto, burrata, and truffle pate.
It's a small, crowded space, but on nice days, diners can enjoy their pizza al fresco.
As its name suggests, Sojourn takes customers around the world with its globally-inspired small plates. The eclectic menu features a mix of cultures and flavours, with items like duck confit spring rolls, manchego and chorizo croquettes, and burrata. This place is always packed, and the bar scene is especially lively.
Toloache has several locations around the city, and the Upper East Side locale serves the same delicious high-end Mexican food as its other spots. There's a wide selection of tacos, quesadillas, and guacamole, all made with top-quality ingredients.
UVA calls itself a wine bar, but it has such a large selection of excellent Italian dishes that we think it qualifies more as a restaurant. They have great snacks to nibble on, including a variety of cheese, cured meats, and bruschetta, as well as heartier dishes, like homemade papardelle pasta with veal ragout, seared duck breast, and braised short ribs. But our favourites are the pasta dishes, many of which are handmade in-house.
There's also a late-night menu of sliders, pizza, and more, served after 11pm.
The Writing Room opened in January in what was Elaine's, which was a favourite haunt of local writers and the like. With its cozy leather banquettes, curated photography inspired by famous authors, and bookshelf-lined walls, the literary theme lives on at The Writing Room.
It serves classic American bistro fare, like veal meatloaf, rotisserie chicken, and smoked brisket.
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