With an estimated 42 million visitors annually, Central Park is New York City’s most visited attraction next to the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. This makes tracking down the top eats near Central Park trickier than you’d expect, thanks to hundreds of restaurants and carts geared towards tourists that are either overpriced or aggressively average.
Your Guide to the Best Restaurants Near Central Park
Luckily, there is still plenty of excellent food amid the mediocre, which is why we’ve put together our guide to the best restaurants near Central Park. From innovative grilled cheese sandwiches to authentic Vietnamese fare and high-end brunches, you’ll be prepared to stroll the park from dawn until dusk with a satisfied stomach.
Parm started with humble beginnings in the heart of Little Italy and now kicks off our guide to the best restaurants near Central Park with its location on the Upper West Side. Just off 72nd, this Italian spot endeavors to both provide a cozy, hospitable pitstop after a long walk through the park and to make the absolute best versions of classic Italian dishes that also remain faithful to their history. Known for their prized chicken parm and homemade meatballs, the restaurant’s from-scratch pasta is equally memorable. The fresh Fusilli Bolognese is especially a standout, with a generous dollop of creamy risotto and savory meat gravy coating every crevice of the pasta shells, served fresh and al dente. Their chicken parm and meatball parm dinners—each of which come with a spicy rotini pasta—are also excellent choices.
10. El Paso Taqueria
Founded over 12 years ago, this little cantina on the Upper East Side offers some of the neighborhood’s most delicious Mexican bites. You’ll find plentiful antojitos, tasty tortas, and classic al pastor and bistec tacos. However, take the expansive menu in stride and skip straight to the sautéed, lime-cured octopus tacos. They come on a plate of three and are topped with onions, cabbage, and pico de gallo. It gives all the authenticity of more standard street tacos with an unexpected twist. If seafood isn’t your preference, their chorizo tacos are oily, crispy, and packed with flavor. Either way, you’ll enjoy your time at one of the best restaurants near Central Park.
One of the best restaurants near Central Park is located at the very northeast corner near the Conservatory Garden. Teranga provides a grand welcome to West Africa for tourists and locals alike in the lobby level of the Africa Center. Rooted in traditional African home cooking, this East Harlem establishment offers authentic dishes that promote sustainably-grown African ingredients. There are several bowls to choose from, but one of the most popular is the Suya Bowl. Fluffy jollof rice, which is cooked in a spiced tomato broth, fills the entire bottom. Next comes grilled Suya chicken steeped in lime, garlic, and thyme, as well as Kelewele (spicy roasted plantains), and Ndambe (black eye pea, sweet potato, and okra stew). The bowl also includes a side of Mafe, a zesty, creamy peanut sauce.
8. Shake Shack
Shake Shack doubles as one of the best restaurants near Central Park (specifically their UWS location) and also one of NYC’s most classic joints. Once just a simple hot dog stand in Madison Square Park and now a global business, their custom Angus beef burgers are just solidly tasty all around. And while their ShackBurger is good, their SmokeShack is really where it’s at. With chopped cherry red peppers, Niman Ranch apple-smoked bacon, cheddar, and their zesty ShackSauce, it’s the smokier, crunchier, and all-around more flavorful choice. Obviously, you also have to get a side of their super salty, fluffy, crinkle-cut fries or a signature shake (or both!) for the full experience.
7. Earl’s Beer and Cheese
Falling somewhere between a bar and a hunting lodge, Earl’s Beer and Cheese isn’t quite what you’d expect to come across on Park Avenue. But that makes its charm all the more undeniable. Recognized year after year as one of NYC’s top places to try, it’s also one of the best restaurants near Central Park thanks to its quirky food and first-rate craft beer. There are a few different kinds of grilled cheese here, but the one you have to order is the NY state cheddar. It comes with pork belly, kimchi, potato chips, and a fried egg on buttery, toasted sourdough. A truly elevated grilled cheese experience—but not so complex it loses its nostalgic roots. You can even take your food to the park just across the road and bask right in the middle of one of New York’s most iconic streets.
6. The Halal Guys
The Halal Guys have served authentic American halal food since 1990. They first began selling traditional halal food out of a single cart to Muslim taxi drivers from all five boroughs in the city. While they’ve grown on a global scale, they remain a fundamental NYC establishment. Located just south of the park, The Halal Guys are a vital component on our guide to the best restaurants near Central Park. You can choose from beef gyro, chicken, and falafel in both pita and platter form. If you want a bit of everything, the combo platter lets you choose two mains over their turmeric-yellow rice with lettuce and tomatoes. Each component is rich in flavor, but the point is to douse everything in their famous white sauce, which is straight-up addicting. Note: their signature hot sauce is legitimately spicy, so tread lightly.
5. The Smith
The Smith is an American Brasserie with four locations in New York City. It offers casual yet upscale dining featuring bistro classics, seasonal fare, and creative drinks. And, with a location in Lincoln Square, it’s also one of the best restaurants near Central Park. Their large menu has something for everyone and for any meal. For brunch, revel in their vanilla bean french toast. It is a celebration of all things sweet, from the fluffy bread with crispy edges to the caramelized bananas that melt the second they hit your tongue. For lunch and dinner, the burger (and the pile of fries it comes with) is the star of the show. Topped with crackly fried onions, sharp cheddar cheese, and punchy aioli, it will check every box you can think of.
4. The Loeb
The Loeb Boathouse lakeside restaurant is an urban oasis with an elegant dining experience and even better views. And true to its name, you’ll enjoy the sight of rowboats drifting atop the lake. One of the best restaurants near Central Park, it has menus for all day-to-evening meals. Their brunch is especially famous—so let’s dig in. The crab cake appetizer is a menu favorite. Stunning in texture and taste without being fishy, it comes perfectly sautéed and served with chipotle sauce and seasonal vegetables. Another standout item is the macaroni au gratin with Vermont cheddar and a toasted bacon-crumble topping. It’s buttery, gooey, and textured, and the resulting cheese pull is gold medal-worthy. Last, but not least, the stuffed French toast is a voluminous mountain of sweet, fluffy carbs. The blueberry mascarpone filling is nothing short of decadent, and the oozing blueberries on top combine with the maple syrup to create magic. Topped with a mint sprig and dusted with lemon-scented sugar, you’ll be tempted to forgo the gorgeous park scenery for the view of your own plate.
Saiguette is a tiny Vietnamese restaurant with a huge menu. But despite the variety in options, the reason you come here is for the best banh mi on the Upper West Side. Get the grilled lemongrass pork shoulder for a sandwich that will rock your world. Between the fresh baguette, the pickled carrots and jalapeño, the crunchy cucumber, and the spicy chile mayo, there’s already more dimension than your mouth can handle. But the addition of the grilled, lemony pork shoulder really takes it over the edge. Another menu item worshipped by Saiguette’s dedicated following is the pho. Go with the spicy pho udon for beef broth unparalleled in depth and flavor. It comes with raw beef eye round and brisket that cook instantly when drenched in the steaming hot broth. With chewy udon noodles, onion, and bok choy, it achieves the ultimate amalgamation of texture.
2. Pastrami Queen
Pastrami Queen has been Upper East Side royalty since 1998, recently extending its domain to the Upper West Side. For those visiting the park, it means one of the best restaurants near Central Park has two convenient storefronts mere blocks away on either side. The World Famous Hot Pastrami on rye is what you’re here for. Their pastrami is genuinely perfect: salty, fatty, and velvety. Sliced into thin pieces, you can really appreciate the tenderness of the meat and its peppery secret spice coating. It also makes the sandwich’s colossal size a bit more manageable. If you’re not a pastrami purist, get some of their housemade slaw or Russian dressing to go with it (and maybe some of their killer Matzoh ball soup) for a feast fit for a queen.
1. Harlem Biscuit Company
New to the Central Harlem food landscape, this little spot just north of Central Park provides a casual place to get authentic, southern-inspired biscuit sandwiches. While they serve a bevy of biscuity delights from bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches to breakfast combos, you’re here for The Langston. Fried chicken, pickles, shaved onion, and a lip-smacking chili garlic honey over a cheddar and chive biscuit (they have several biscuit flavors to choose from but we love this one). The monstrous piece of fried chicken is absurdly succulent yet ultra-crispy and flavored to perfection. If you want to cut straight to the biscuits, get the buttermilk biscuits and gravy. It’s a crumbly, buttery, savory combination that somehow, inexplicably, doesn’t get soggy.