Click here for some local menus, courtesy of GothamToGo.
TOM'S is good, and quite cheap for a diner. It is, however, only a diner, so don't expect anything more, and if you are a tourist, please don't come on Saturday or Sunday mornings, when it is stuffed with your kind. The inside doesn't look like that TV show, anyhow. The Broadway shake is key, as are French Fries with gravy. The roast chicken dinner is good. Some people are annoyed at them for leaving their trash improperly on Broadway.
LE MONDE (sidewalk view) completely sucks. It is pretentious, expensive and they simply don't know how to cook. A few can't-miss French favorites like escargot are OK, but you can cook a better steak at home. The service is sloppy, too, but being a French sidewalk cafe covers a multitude of sins.
CAFE PERTUTTI is sublime. Their Italian and American dishes are both good, and their deserts are amazing. The owners are very nice civic-minded people who help keep up their piece of Broadway.
SYMPOSIUM is the place with a spot in the hearts of the locals. Top-notch authentic Greek food at a reasonable price. The paintings decorating the dining room are by an artist with a long-standing connection to the neighborhood whose works you will occasionally run across in local living rooms. Don't miss the garden out back in warm weather.
TERRACE IN THE SKY, at Butler Hall, has an awesome view (campus side) of all of Upper Manhattan and a nice terrace, but it's expensive. Still, all those Ivy League deans et cetera must have a 3-star restaurant handy, no?
DYNASTY is in the local doghouse for its illegal sidewalk extension. The Chinese food is better at Columbia Cottage on Amsterdam, anyway. And they seem to have a rat problem, according to the NYC Health Dept's web site.
COLUMBIA BAGELS is very very good at what they do. Once you've had baked goods from them, anyone else's version of the same thing will seem "not right." But it's just baked goods, not a dinner. Some say their quality has deteriorated, especially the coffee, in recent years, but their iced coffee in the summer is impeccable. Their key items are: 1) the raisin bagel, 2) The cinnamon roll, 3) The double-chocolate muffin, 4) the "energy bar," a curious stick-like thing with raisins and oat bran.
MIKE'S PAPAYA is something some people swear by, and it is a Manhattan tradition, though others think it's just greasy hotdogs and too-sweet fruit drinks. Still, the best (and cheapest) breakfast sandwich by far.
THE HEIGHTS has a fun
roof-top terrace and good frozen drinks. Mexican-style food - OK. The terrace is, interestingly, heated, so you can go when it isn't quite warm enough for outdoor dining but you have a yen for it.
DELUXE DINER is awful. It's the same diner food as Tom's, but pretentious and expensive, and not good. The grilled-cheese sandwich is dry and greasy. Still, love the decor, particularly those highly atmospheric photorealist paintings.
1020 BAR also has great paintings. That one of the airplane is so amazing that it's odd that it's hanging in an obscure local place like this. Drinks OK, bar staff companionable, no food, pool, movies in background. Noisy. Darts. Frat boys.
THE HUNGARIAN PASTRY SHOP is the local intellectual hangout where undergrads sit and read Jean-Paul Sartre. The pastries are dry but top-notch if you like that kind of thing. The plastic chairs on the sidewalk are a bit tacky, though.
V&T's PIZZERIA is probably the second-best pizzeria on the East Coast after Pepe's of New Haven. Not good for your arteries, but this is pizza, for heaven's sake. Kinda traditional atmosphere. Quiet.
THE WEST END GATE is the quintessential Columbia hangout. Food OK, but most bohemian spirits, i.e. ghosts of Jack Kerouac, Ginsburg, et al, long ago yuppified away. Decent basic American food. Selection of beers not as wide as it could be. A bit noisy. Sidewalk section the perfect place for people-watching.
NUSSBAUM & WU BAKERY is always full of people, some of whom swear by the place. Others don't see what the fuss is about unless you really like Chinese pastries. Still, nice bench outside and good baked deserts if Pertutti is closed. Laptop heaven for some reason.