Harlem is known as the mecca of Black culture for a reason. Home to Langston Hughes, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and W.E.B. Du Bois, Harlem has been a major influence on some of the most impressive and influential Black Americans. Key to the historical excellence that lines the streets of Harlem is its dedication to community and culture through politics, art, and—most importantly—brunch spots.
Brunch is always a good idea. But Harlem brunch? Harlem brunch is a good life choice. Black and brown people coming together over good food and drinks was a form of self-care before the term was coined. Brunch has long been a beckoning call from the elite of Harlem society. The likes of young families after church, college students, queer folks, and the remarkably well-dressed groups of friends looking to catch up before a long workweek all indulge in brunch from time to time.
Harlem has a way of doing brunch like nowhere else. One can indulge in a plate of foie gras buttered hash browns one weekend, and have some home-cooked flavor in traditional Southern Black American dishes like shrimp and grits or chicken and waffles the next. Whether you’re in Central, West, or East Harlem, you can find a brunch spot that meets your needs for good food, good community, and good fun.
239 Lenox Ave at 122nd St
Nestled in a basement-floor restaurant in the heart of Harlem, BLVD Bistro merges good home cooking, Harlem’s art culture, and the atmosphere of a family-run restaurant while maintaining elegance and community. BLVD plays host to a number of community events, including a recent reading by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and is a community staple for artists, activists, politicians, and the bad and bougie. My two favorite dishes are the pan-fried catfish and grits, served in a cast-iron skillet, and the homemade buttermilk biscuit sandwiches (I order mine with chicken). The sweet tea mimosa carafe is a delicious, perfectly sweetened option, and the bread basket is a must for a group appetizer.
2168 Frederick Douglass Blvd
On a quiet, easy-to-miss block, Lido is the perfect mesh of Harlem’s unique Black culture and the Italian roots that still influence East Harlem. The restaurant has a full menu and an impressive bar and staff, and fosters an environment of art, excellence, and peace. The photos on the walls show African Americans living their best lives at the beach and other places, reminding us of a pleasant history that is often easy to forget. But I go there for the brunch menu—a true masterpiece. While opting for the $16 bottomless mimosas, I’ve ordered the polenta mushroom ragù dish, but typically find myself completely enamored with my favorite dish, the braised short-rib hash: English muffins, covered in braised pork, poached eggs, and hollandaise sauce, sit on a bed of potatoes and spinach, creating an amazing medley of flavors sure to send any food lover into a frenzy of food happiness. Be sure to get there early, because the brunch waits can be a bit excruciating.
300 W 114th St
When you’re a Southerner trying to make a life in the North, finding that comforting community of Black folks can be a challenge. It’s what makes Melba’s such a special place. My most memorable experience at this restaurant was going one Easter morning and being seated immediately. Unlike most brunch restaurants in Harlem that require a reservation for Easter or a minimum hour-long wait, Melba’s accommodated me and my companion with ease and warmth. It’s this kind of service and determination to make the restaurant a place of comfort and safety that makes Melba’s a place for all who are looking for a kitchen like Grandma’s. The Southern fried chicken and eggnog waffles won Throwdown! with Bobby Flay for a reason. Impeccably seasoned, the delicious combination of savory and sweet is the perfect way to kick off a cold morning in the city.
101 Edgecombe Ave
Sometimes, I want to read a book or have a really thoughtful conversation with those closest to me while enjoying a delicious meal. Here enters the Edge, a brunch spot for bookworms, where I’d imagine a thoughtful writer with their matte Warby Parkers reading a tattered hardcover while sipping a hibiscus mimosa. Located on Edgecombe, the Edge is extremely representative of the Hamilton Heights community. Beautiful Black art circles the building, and people of color help to run and orchestrate the restaurant. The Edge is one of my favorite places to go and read a book at the bar, and I often find myself ordering a latte and the shrimp Parmesan cheese grits with scrambled eggs for a quiet afternoon of food and conversation.
The Grange Bar and Eatery
1635 Amsterdam Ave
The Grange Bar and Eatery is my favorite restaurant in New York City. The first restaurant I ever visited in Harlem during a bitterly cold winter, the Grange has managed to maintain a romantic yet urban atmosphere, while also clearly being a safe haven for Harlemites. Chef Alec Storey is known for frequently changing the menu, and it seems like he manages to create an even better collection of food every single time. From shrimp and grits to chicken and waffles to the best crab Benedict in town, it’s difficult for me to pick a favorite dish here because they’ve all been uniquely wonderful. A brunch menu item and the bottomless Bellinis or mimosas total just $35 on Saturdays and Sundays, and the deal is definitely worth the money. It’s also imperative to not skip the incredible drink menu. Handcrafted cocktails, such as the mescal-based Le Jazz Hot, will inevitably make you toss all responsibilities for the day. There’s also a robust beer menu for those who like to sip a cold one with their meal.
For late-night eaters, the Grange is open until 4 a.m., and on Sundays you can enjoy great drinks and live jazz, surrounded by some of the best people in the city.