Local Highlights

Visit Harlem’s favorite burger stop, Harlem Shake


Jelena Pasic, a native of Croatia, and Dardra Coaxum, who grew up in Harlem, built a global, female partnership and founded Harlem Shake in May 2013. Located in Central Harlem, this local favorite serves everything from burgers (with custom blend Pat LaFrieda patties) and NY-style hot dogs to entrée-size salads and hand-spun shakes, made with organic Blue Marble Ice Cream.

Founder Jelena and Partner Dardra talked to us about the restaurant, their favorite things on the menu, and their advice for newcomers to the Upper Manhattan community, like our members at Common Hamilton.

How would you describe the atmosphere at Harlem Shake during its peak hours?

A mix of local moms, hipsters, tourists, and kids coming in for a shake after school. Oh, and you’ll almost always see a celebrity or a local politician in the corner trying to be inconspicuous!
harlem shakePhoto courtesy of Harlem Shake

What went into making the glorious menu at Harlem Shake?

Our friend Kenji Lopez-Alt, who now lives on the west coast and owns a fantastic beer hall called Wursthall in San Mateo, was the guru behind the menu. I cold-called him one day after reading his “Serious Eats” articles and deciding that he is the biggest authority on earth for smashed burgers (and probably, food in general).

He was so low key, said he lives in Harlem and that he’d be happy to help. We went for Pat La Frieda Meat and tasted 8 different blends and 12 different types of milk before setting our minds on the right fit. It was so much fun to work with Kenji, and the results were obvious.
harlem shake

Is there a story behind the name, Harlem Shake?

Yes, a friend of mine simply said that since it will be in Harlem and sell shakes, we should call it Harlem Shake. The name opened so many associations that we immediately set out to trademark it. This was before the 2013 internet dance craze, and the rest is history.

What’s your favorite part about the neighborhood?

Jelena: The sense of community, colorful outfits and fabulous style of people, interesting slang, amazing food, incredible architecture, sitting on the stoops in the summer…I love so many things about Harlem, it’s hard to nail down just a few.

Dardra: My favorite part about Harlem is definitely our sense of community. Everyone looks out for one another, and everyone’s name is heard and remembered.
harlem public

Personally, what’s your favorite item on the menu? What combo would you suggest for a newcomer?

Jelena: My new favorite is actually a chicken sandwich — Mama Fried Chicken. Because it has fried green tomatoes that I adore and a fresh, herb-laden, light ranch dressing that we make in-house. Shake-wise, I love the classic, Harlem Shake, which has lots of red velvet cake bits mixed in and topped. You just can’t go wrong with it!

Dardra: My favorite item on the menu would definitely be the Jerk Fries. They have such a unique taste with the right amount of spice, made most delicious with Jerk Mayo! For a newcomer, I would keep it classic, with a Harlem Classic burger & The Harlem Shake. The salty and sweet combo together is incredible.
harlem shakePhoto courtesy of Harlem Shake

Besides Harlem Shake, where else can people go in the neighborhood for good food or a good time?

Jelena: ‘Blvd Bistro’ has yummy southern comfort food options. There’s amazing pizza at both ‘Sottocasa’ and ‘Babbalucci,’ and a fun new bar with a delectable choice of drinks is ‘Ruby’s Vintage.’ If you want a bottle of good wine to drink on the stoop, just call ‘Pompette Wine Shop.’ All of the above are locally run and on Lenox Avenue, which is, of course, my favorite avenue. For cultural experiences, you can’t go wrong with Apollo Amateur Night, a visit to the Studio Museum, or a night at the Schomburg rotating exhibitions on African-American culture.

Dardra: A great place for people to go for a good time would be ‘Paint n’ Pour.’ It’s a trendy paint studio that is Black-owned on 8th Avenue. It’s a great place to go to with friends, or to make new ones, where you can paint, have a drink, and listen to music.
harlem shakePhoto courtesy of Harlem Shake

What’s one piece of advice for someone new to Upper Manhattan?

Jelena: Be open-minded and friendly. People here still say hi to strangers, so accept drink invitations, and open your heart to the neighborhood, and you will find the biggest heart ever!

Dardra: One piece of advice I would give to someone would be to get to know your neighbors and definitely learn the history of the neighborhood. All the experiences of the people from here made the neighborhood what it is today.

Interested in moving to Upper Manhattan and visiting the Harlem Shake? Consider our beautifully furnished home, Common Hamilton, in Hamilton Heights. It’s close to all of Harlem’s most exciting spots — including Harlem Shake — and offers private bedrooms, incredible amenities, and free laundry. Sign up for a free tour today!

In the meantime, follow Harlem Shake on Instagram.

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