The soul of Harlem has always been in its food, and every year that phrase becomes more and more true. With new restaurants opening up everyday, Harlem’s culinary presence is fast becoming the most interesting place to try new things and experience fresh twists on old favorites. By all means, take a ride up there for the jazz, the culture and the art. But don’t forget to grab a bite or two, or three. In fact, have all three bites at Red Rooster Harlem (310 Malcolm X Blvd; tel: 212-792-9001). You’re going to want to. The global soul food bistro is a mix of Southern-fried, East African, Scandinavian, and French flavors, and it’s packed every night of the week. Try the inspiring warm duck liver pudding, served with a few strips of pastrami-cured duck breast, or their savory spin on molten chocolate cake, with spiced foie gras bubbling out from the center.
A very welcome addition is Chez Lucienne (308 Malcolm X Blvd, tel: 212-289-5555) a French bistro bringing traditional dishes like beef bourguignonne and not so traditional dishes like calf’s-foot croquettes to Harlem’s streets. Sitting right next to the Red Rooster, this brick-walled establishment and its sinfully delicious coq au vin is brought to you by chef Matthew Tivy of Daniel. Yet, if you’re still craving something completely unexpected, then head over to Zoma (2084 Frederick Douglass Blvd, tel: 212-662-0620) for a sleek and candlelit visit to Ethiopia. Surrounded by crisp white dining room with a cascading chandelier overhead, you’ll sample lemony azifa, a lentil spread served in crunchy endive shells instead of on traditional injera bread, and doro wot, a slow-cooked chicken stew with a smash of ginger and berbere spices. Even though you’ll feel like you’ve had a decadent evening, the prices are refreshingly affordable and you walk away feeling like you’ve gotten plenty of that Harlem magic for your buck.