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Fine dining in Harlem: for a rib joint or stylish bistro, take the A train to soulful eating - lifestyle cuisine

Harlem is home to great places to eat. Most are modest, with reasonable prices and hearty portions. No matter which eatery you choose, you're bound to have a dining experience with local color and character. In addition to traditional and contemporary takes on southern cooking, you'll find places specializing in African, Caribbean. Latin and East Indian fare. Follow this guide for uptown restaurants to match your every dining mood.

We polled locals for their favorite spots, and these are the enthusiastic recommendations:

HOW ROMANTIC

The curvaceous, lyrical design and heady, aromatic dishes make Jimmy's Uptown a good choice for a date. The "Nuevo Latino" menu includes Caribbean chicken empanadas, grilled mahimahi and coconut rice and beans. Without a date? The bar area is lively with the see-and-be-seen singles crowd. 2207 Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Blvd.; (212) 491-4000.

POWER LUNCH

Starting around noon, deals are the order of the day at Londel's Supper Club. Politicians, business leaders and other pacesetters gather to talk and enjoy lunchtime dishes like savory carrot soup, fried whiting sandwiches and grilled chicken salads. And most know to save room for the warm bread pudding with caramel sauce. 2620 Frederick Douglass Blvd.; (212) 234-6114.

GOSPEL BRUNCH

Copeland's is one of many restaurants that can make your taste buds sing and your toes tap on a Sunday afternoon. There's a live show and a buffet laden with jambalaya, fried apple rings, warm biscuits and other Southern classics. 549 W. 145th St.; (212) 234-2356. Sylvia's and Sugar Hill Bistro also feature uplifting, after-church meals and music (see following page for more on these restaurants).

COZY CORNERS

Bayou, just off bustling 125th Street, has a mellow vibe. Creole and Cajun specialties, like the spinach salad with fried crawfish tails, practically transport you to the Big Easy. 308 Lenox Ave. (aka Malcolm X Blvd.); (212) 426-3800.

CLASSIC SOUL

Miss Mamie's Spoonbread Too feels like a country kitchen with its full menu of sentimental favorites. Can't make up your mind? Try the generous sampler plate. 366 W. 110th St.; (212) 865-6744. Sister restaurant Miss Maude's Spoonbread Too is at 547 Lenox Ave.; (212) 690-3100.

NO FRILLS BUT TASTY

Pan Pan sits in a hub of village life. Staffers of across-the-street Harlem Hospital and neighborhood regulars take out or eat daily at the fifties-era (and noticeably worn) Formica counter. They swear by its chicken and waffles (a Harlem classic) and salmon cakes. 500 Lenox Ave.; (212) 926-4900.

THE LEGENDARY

Sylvia's--Sylvia Woods, known as the Queen of Soul Food, opened her restaurant in 1962, and it has become known around the world. 328 Lenox Ave.; (212) 996-0660.

Perk's Fine Cuisine--This long-running establishment, serving soul and standard American fare, sits in a row of timeless brownstones. 553 Manhattan Ave.; (212) 666-8500.

Amy Ruth's--Famed for generous portions of well-prepared dishes as well as celebrity patrons, it quickly became a dining landmark. 113 W. 116th St.; (212) 280-8779.

Africa--Its Senegalese fish and vegetable stew, thiebu djen, draws a dedicated following. 247 W. 116th St.; (212) 666-9400.

HOT NEWCOMERS

Sugar Hill Bistro--This renovated triplex includes a bar area with live music. You'll pay a bit more to dine at this showplace, which recaptures Harlem's glory days. 458 W. 145th St.; (212) 491-5505.

Home Sweet Harlem Cafe, with easy chairs and a homey setting, offers soups, sandwiches and salads made with natural and organic ingredients. 270 W. 135th St.; (212) 926-9616.

Revival--Soulful cooking in an artsy environment. 2367 Frederick Douglass Blvd.; (212) 222-8338.

For a taste of Harlem's best in your kitchen, turn to Recipes on page 170.

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