I went to Columbia College from 2005 to 2009, during which I spent a perhaps disproportionately large amount of time eating. I was also lucky enough to intern at Serious Eats, work at some really great restaurants, and immerse myself in intensely delicious New York food life. Though I left New York to work in restaurants in LA and Philly, I've ended up right back near my old Columbia stomping grounds. These days, I work at Fairway Market (corporate HQ is by the Harlem store) so I happily live, shop, dine and hang in my hood a lot. Here are my old faves and some new loves. And for everything I left out, check out Kenji's guide to the neighborhood.
Coffee: Joe the Art of Coffee opened on 120th Street in Columbia's newish Northwest Corner Building, and all was well in the world. Flawless single origin coffee made by exceedingly serious baristas, with room to sprawl.
Best Bagel: Absolute is a barebones, old-school bagel shop that will fill that bagel-shaped hole in your heart. The mini bagels are my favorite: crusty on the outside, tender on the inside, not too sweet, and perfectly chewy.
Comfort Food: Rack & Soul has all the soul you expect from serious soul food. There's a pit-smoker responsible for the juicy, crisp-skinned chicken and the saucy pulled pork. I like to go with a crowd so we can order everything, including baby back ribs and a whole lineup of sides.
Munchies: M2M sells a random and sometimes genius assortment of Krispy Kreme donuts, sushi, shaving cream, kimchi, mochi (chewy rice flour dough filled with ice cream or sweet bean paste), Pocky, noodles, sauces galore, and a dazzling array of Asian snacks in all colors of the rainbow. Sweets editor Carrie recommends lychee gummies, to-go containers of lotus root, and her all-time favorite mushroom candy. They're called Kinoko No Yama (that means "mountain mushrooms"), chocolate mushroom tops on a biscuit stem.
Brunch: From local farm-sourced ingredients and reclaimed wooden tables to energy-saving kitchen equipment, Community Food & Juice is super green. It's also slammed without fail on the weekends, but perhaps worth braving the crowds for killer blueberry walnut pancakes with maple butter and the biggest, meltiest warm chocolate chip cookies. Kitchenette is cuter than cute with the flaky biscuits, quality meatloaf, and incredible cherry pie to back it up.
Awesome Ramen: Jin is ramen worth traveling for, and it's right in my 'hood. Start with Nankotsu Kara-age, fried chicken with cartilage for a tender crunch, followed with whatever bowl of hand-made slippery ramen suits your fancy. I love the Spicy Tonkotsu with rich pork stock, hot chili oil, and roasted garlic for oodles of depth.
Best Pizza: Buca's wood-oven Neapolitan-style pies with crisp-chewy crusts and fresh, bright sauce hit the spot. The Quattro Formaggi e Salamino—a four cheese white pie with soppressata—is dangerously awesome, and the tiny candlit spot is charm central.
Best Hangout Spot: I read all my Homer and Marx in Max Cafe. It's kind of dark for studying, but the comfy well-worn couches, thrifty posh décor, chicken liver crostini, and cool (for Morningside) crowd made me feel like cozying up with Das Kapital was a treat. Well, almost.
Bakery: You smell Silver Moon Bakery before you see it, which is always a good sign. The baguettes are crispy and ethereal, the olive-rosemary loaves fragrant, the croissants buttery and perfect. You can't go wrong here, but don't leave without a macaron.
Dive Bar: The Ding-Dong Lounge is dive bar perfection. Not too many Columbia kids, just exposed bricks, cheap drinks, a Ms. Pac-Man machine, a pool table, and a DJ rocking punk-y, rock-y, indie-y tunes. For when you want to go out but don't want to trek downtown.
Date Night: There's nothing to woo a lover like pitch-perfect ragu and juicy red wine in Max Soha's cozy little dining room. The dark wooden tables get full fast, so you might have to squeeze in tight. Their rigatoni with eggplant, oozy melted mozzarella, bright tomato sauce, and basil will seal the deal.
Late Night: Roti Roll, Bombay Frankie: Does a more satisfying midnight meal exist? I think not. Buttery roti come wrapped around a generous flavor bomb of pickled paneer, tender marinated lamb, or fire-roasted eggplant. The hot aloo fries are like crack. Open until 4 a.m. on the weekends.
Where to Take your Parents: The Neapolitan trattoria Sezz Medi is homey yet refined, with simple and lovely wood-fired pizzas, bacon- and pea-strewn parpadelle, and a Barolo-braised lamb shank to make any family a happy family.