Part of the MTA + James Beard Foundation DineAWAY series

The best way to get to know an area in the city that you haven’t explored much is through the wise eyes of a local. Up in Harlem, one worthy guide is JJ Johnson, chef and owner of Fieldtrip.  

Chef JJ Johnson in his restaurant, Fieldtrip, in Harlem, NYC

Just steps from the 116th Street station (which is your portal to the area’s growing Restaurant Row area), you’ll find Johnson’s fast casual restaurant, where the menu is rich in rice. (“Rice is Culture,” the walls and employee t-shirts declare of Johnson’s favorite ingredient.) A bustling spot in the community, it’s worth the trip even if you aren’t living or working nearby, though you may find these all over the city one day — talks for a third outpost are happening now (a second is already open in Rockefeller Center). 

Fieldtrip opened in the area in 2019, quickly becoming an integral thread in the fabric of the neighborhood, which is filled with classic Harlem spots as well as newly beloved storefronts.

“Some of my favorite spots in Harlem are what I consider the anchors of the community,” Johnson said. “The people who have been here for a really long time, or celebrate the community.”  

In the video below, Chef JJ takes you through his kitchen at Fieldtrip and on a walk around the 116th Street stop. So get ready to stretch your legs and check out a few local faves.


FIELDTRIP 

JJ Johnson opened his first Fieldtrip, this flagship in Harlem, in 2019. The menu’s big highlight is the rice bowl, and Johnson does it like no one else. There’s plenty of variety even if you're a vegetarian – the veggie bowl has a kick and comes with vegan coconut yogurt and plantains complimenting the jollof rice and greens perfectly. There’s also a shrimp bowl, a fried chicken bowl, veggie bao buns and so much more to explore here. Save room for Nana’s Bread, or grab a dragonfruit lemonade or soft serve for the road.

Two rice bowls from Fieldtrip in Harlem NYC

Fieldtrip is located at 109 Malcolm X Boulevard

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1 minute walk from 116 Street

Plan Trip

SUGAR HILL CREAMERY 

This ice cream shop was opened by Nick Larsen and Petruschka Bazin Larsen in 2017, the first of their two scoop shops in Harlem. The neighborhood locals wanted to bring an ice cream shop to the area, which at the time was lacking in such a sweet offering. Their homemade ice cream, with fun names like Fly Girl and Sweet Socialism, draws big crowds and has even become a destination spot for ice cream lovers in other boroughs.  

Sugar Hill Creamery is located at 184 Malcolm X Boulevard

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3 minute walk from 116 Street

Plan Trip

SETTEPANI 

Settepani has existed in New York City in some form or another since 1992, starting as a bakery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In 2000, the Settepani family expanded with a full restaurant in Harlem, now a staple in the neighborhood offering Italian-Mediterranean cuisine (and a nice outdoor dining area in the front).  

Settepani is located at 196 Malcolm X Boulevard

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4 minute walk from 116 Street

Plan Trip

MELBA’S 

Melba Wilson’s restaurant is an institution in Harlem and beyond. Serving up southern comfort food since 2005, Melba has built a destination-worthy spot that both New Yorkers and tourists have flocked to over the years. You’ll find chicken & waffles, crab cakes, catfish, collard greens, original cocktails, and so much more. 

Melba’s is located at 300 W 114th Street

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2 minute walk from 116 Street

Plan Trip

LOLO’S SEAFOOD SHACK 

A small spot with big flavors, Lolo’s serves up seafood with a Caribbean flair. You’ll find lobster rolls, conch fritters, a fish fry basket, and even some seafood-based grain bowls. Vegetarians are covered here too, with options like an avocado and plantain sandwich served on their johnny cakes. And don’t let the tiny facade fool you, you’ll find a little hidden outdoor oasis in the back.  

Lolo's is located at 303 W 116th Street

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1 minute walk from 116 Street

Plan Trip

VINATERIA 

Harlem native Yvette Leeper-Bueno’s hot spot has a menu with both Italian and Spanish influence, and is a favorite among many, including Lin-Manuel Miranda. Get the Huevos Rancheros for brunch, the Grilled Calamari for the table, and the Beet Root Campanelle or Short Rib Ragu for an entree (though your options here are plenty). You can also just sit outside with some wine and snack on crispy fries with blue cheese and scallions.

Vinateria is located at 2211 Frederick Douglass Boulevard

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3 minute walk from 116 Street

Plan Trip

GRANDMA’S PLACE 

If you’ve got little ones in your life, whether they are with you or not on your trip, swing by Grandma’s Place to pick them up a treat. Johnson says he’ll do just that for his own kids, because, as he says, “...who knows toys better than grandmas?”  

Grandma’s Place is located at 84 W 120th Street

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4 minute walk from 116 Street

Plan Trip

NILU GIFT SHOP 

NiLu opened in 2015 as a way to highlight the independent makers, while also creating “a vibrant space for the community to make themselves at home.” The shop features a curated selection of gifts, home goods, and accessories that you won’t find in chain stores, offering a true local shopping experience.   

NiLu Gift Shop is located at 191 Malcolm X Boulevard

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3 minute walk from 116 Street

Plan Trip

Bonus Tip:

During our visit, Johnson noted that if you see the guys with a sidewalk table across the street from Fieldtrip selling watermelon, you’re going to want to get some. “They have it shipped from Georgia,” he said, calling it the best available in the city.  


For more DineAWAY ideas:

Rockville Centre: Village Vibe on Long Island's South Shore
Explore Garrison, A Hudson River Gem
Guide To A Perfect Day In Crown Heights
A Local's Guide to the Bustling Neighborhood of Astoria
Staten Island Might Just Be the Next Great Culinary Destination
A Local’s Guide to Park Slope
A Delicious Walking Tour of Arthur Ave in the Bronx