For years we Upper West Siders

have lamented that there's no place to eat around in their neighborhood. So when I sat down to list my favorite places on the UWS to grab a reasonably priced meal (main courses less than $20) without a reservation and advance planning, I was surprised at how many good places there are. Before I embark on this series of neighborhood guides I need to spell out our rating system:

1 star: Pretty Awful

2 stars: Doesn't really suck

3 stars: Pretty Good Eats

4 stars: Good Eats

5 stars: Serious Eats

La Dinastia: Solid Cuban Chinese hole in the wall steps from the 72nd St. station on the 1, 2, and 3 trains.

Rating: 3 stars

Sushi A Go Go: Awful name for a surprisingly good Japanese restaurant convenient to the Lincoln Sq. cinemas.

Rating: 3 stars

Le Pain Quotidien: Very good (if a little over-priced) sandwiches, breads, soups, and pastries from this Belgian mini-chain.

Rating: 3 stars

Bin 71: A wine bar with shockingly good small plates. No tables, just a crowded and convivial bar.

Rating: 4 stars

Patsy's: The best pizza on the Upper West Side hands down: Fresh mozzarella, fresh mushrooms, and a lovely charred crust courtesy of the coal-fired brick oven that bakes pizzas at 800 degrees.

Rating: 4 stars

Jacque-Imo's New York: Noisy, New Orleans frat-like atmosphere shouldn't obscure the killer fried chicken and credible gumbo and jambalaya served here.

Rating: 4 stars

Raku 2: A true hole-in-the-wall sushi joint manned by sushi chefs who know what they're doing.

Rating: 3 stars

Pasha: Solid if uninspired Greek Food in a very red setting.

Rating: 3 stars

Burger Joint: Stick to the burgers or the lemony grilled chicken sandwich and you'll eat well at this UWS institution with the largest menu this side of Shopsin's. French fries are awful, though.

Rating: 3 stars

French Roast: Surprisingly solid burgers, quiches, fries, and croque monsieurs at this always open eatery. Don't order anything too ambitious.

Rating: 3 stars

Celeste: Fine Neapolitan-inspired pizzas, excellent pastas, a killer Italian cheese course, and ridiculously affordable main courses at this no-frills Italian with improved acoustics. Cash only.

Rating: 4 stars

Saigon Grill: Perpetually jammed Vietnamese with very good soups, dumplings, bo luc lac (seared rare steak cubes served with fried taro chips), and ribs that are better than any other Asian restaurant in the neighborhood.

Rating: 4 stars

Hummous: There is killer warm hummous swirled with olive oil and dotted with beans to be had here. It's like tasting hummous for the first time unless you've been to Israel.

Rating: 5 stars

Fairway Cafe: Fine eggs, amazing pancakes, excellent sandwiches, burgers, and fried make the Fairway Cafe a prime gathering place for entrepreneurs and creative folks in the neighborhood. Ridiculously umcomfortable chairs and lousy if well-meaning service.

Rating: 5 stars (food) 0 stars (chairs and service)

Cafe con Leche: Good Latino pressed sandwiches and unspectacular rice and beans in two prime UWS locations:

Rating: 3 stars

Flor de Mayo: Fabulous rotisseried chicken and generally solid Dominican restaurant with an intensely loyal following (2 locations).

Rating: 3 stars

Monsoon: The only other UWS Vietnamese restaurant worth eating in besides Saigon Grill, and it's a lot easier to get into. Great duck salad.

Rating: 4 stars

Land: Only UWS Thai restaurant worth eating in, and everybody knows it. In fact, Land is remarkably good; carefully prepared Thai food by a young chef who spent some time working with Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Cool bathroom and fantastic lunch special.

Artie's Deli: Excellent pastrami (ask for it well-steamed), french fries, and hot dogs in the best deli in the nabe. Shockingly it's the only deli in the nabe north of Fine and Shapiro (which is markedly inferior).

Rating: 4 stars

Barney Greengrass: World-class smoked fish platters and egg preparations served up with properly surly panache.

Rating: 5 stars

Gennaro: Fine neighborhood Northern Italian where they hurry you out the door when you're mid-bite and at one with your osso bucco.

Rating: 4 stars

Carne: It's not a great steak house, but it's good enough, and you don't have to leave the nabe for your red meat fix.

Rating: 3 stars

Absolute Bagels: The best bagels in the city baked by a Thai family with so much bagel-baking know-how you'd swear they are Jewish. There's even a few tables for your eating pleasure

Rating: 5 stars

Sezz' Medi: Unheralded Morningside Heights Italian with more than decent pizzas and baked pastas.

Rating: 3 stars

Miss Mamie's: A little soul food oasis in the distinctly non-soulful UWS.

Rating: 3 stars

Rack & Soul: The barbecue is the real thing (albeit with too much sweet sauce), but it's the fried chicken that will have you moaning with pleasure here. Now if they would stop pre-frying the chicken at lunch, all would be right with the world.

Rating: 5 stars

Dinosaur Barbecue: One of the only truly integrated restaurants anywhere in New York. All kinds of folks appreciate John Stage's very fine barbecue and equally good side dishes.

Rating: 4 1/2 stars

Toast: There's some fine sandwiches to be had at this Morningside Heights pioneer.

Rating: 3 stars

Did I miss any? A taqueria on Amsterdam Avenue, perhaps? Let me know.

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