There’s no way around it: Midtown Manhattan is essential to our collective New York experience. Whether it’s because you’re playing Times Square tour guide to out of town visitors, hopping on a train out of Grand Central, or clocking in for a good old-fashioned 9-to-5 near Bryant Park, there’s a strong likelihood that you’ll have to have lunch in Midtown from time to time.
And as much as our New York existence depends on it, rarely do we find ourselves excited to go to Midtown -- a defeated, “oh I have to go to Midtown,” the familiar refrain. It’s overcrowded, too commercial, and lacks the charm of neighborhoods like Little Italy or Brooklyn Heights. When we do have to head to Midtown, we’re usually hoping to get in and out quickly, and finding a place to eat is a low priority. Good options are seriously limited: it’s just a part of town where restaurants and cafes can get away with mediocrity.
Luckily, there are plenty of salad, soup, sandwich, smoothie, sushi, taco, pasta, ramen, pizza, and even mid-day cocktail exceptions to that rule. Each of these spots are guaranteed to make your next stop between 34th and 59th Streets more delicious, even if not more bearable otherwise.
213 E 45th Street (between Second and Third Avenues) This warm and intimate izakaya is just a few short blocks from Grand Central. Go for the positively decadent Aburiya lunch set, which includes two kinds of the freshest sashimi you’ll find in the city, grilled washu beef (which arrives perfectly seasoned on a fired up robata grill) and exquisitely buttery simmered black cod ($31).
688 Tenth Avenue (at 47th Street) Añejo’s weekday express lunch special ($14), including your choice of a torta or two tacos with chips and salsa, rice and beans, and a (non-alcoholic) beverage, is one of the best deals in Midtown. If you don’t have to rush back to the office (or maybe even if you do, depending on what you’re going back to), pair it with one of their outstanding margaritas ($11-$14).
34 W 35th Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues) The farmer’s meal at Korean gastropub Barn Joo is one of the heartiest and most delectable lunch deals in NYC ($18): choose a protein to enjoy with a giant platter of brown quinoa rice, veggie wraps and miso soup. If you’re with a group, the small plates great to share -- the crunchy tofu with caramelized kimchi ($9) is especially tasty -- and the soju cocktails are available by the pitcher ($32).
260 W 40th Street (between Seventh and Eighth Avenues) Boqueria is a fantastic option for a group lunch. The lively Spanish tapas restaurant offers a prix fixe 3-course lunch menu for $35 per person, including blistered shishito peppers to start, a selection of tapas like patatas bravas (Spanish potatoes) and gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp), and churros con chocolate for dessert, all served family style.
135 E 62nd Street (between Park and Lexington Avenues) Located a bit north of Midtown’s 59th Street boundary, David Burke Tavern is a perfect option for lunch with your friend who works on the Upper East Side but can’t get away for too long. If you’re both meat eaters, you’ll split the “clothesline bacon” starter, which is as delicious in flavor as it is delightful in presentation ($22).
243 E 58th Street (between Second and Third Avenues) Though a bit pricier than other nearby three-course prix-fixes, the simple decadence and rich sophistication of Felidia’s dishes make the $39 price point seem like a downright bargain. Choose from options like the barbabietole, a salad of baby beets, ricotta, pistachios and stone fruit to start, the vitello tonnato, a thinly-sliced veal topped with tuna carpaccio and artichoke to follow, and the caramel corn panna cotta to finish, then go home very happy.
326 W 47th Street (between Eighth and Ninth Avenues) Hell’s Kitchen’s Fresh From Hell is tiny -- plan to grab-and-go -- but perfect choice for days when you’re in a hurry but still want to eat something healthy and delicious. And if you’re looking to keep your lunch ultra-light, their smoothies ($9-$10) and açai bowls ($11-$13) are the best in the city.
450 Tenth Avenue (at 35th Street) If you find yourself at Hudson Yards or en route to an event at Javits Center and craving a weekday brunch, Friedmans is your best bet. Settle in for high quality, well-executed American fare in a rustic modern farmhouse setting and go for either the wild mushroom toast ($18) or the chicken and cheddar waffle ($25).
888 Third Avenue (at 54th Street) Hillstone is as awesome for a romantic lunch date as it is for a great meal with a few colleagues. The decor is dark and sleek, giving the space a cool, classic steakhouse vibe. Standouts on the entirely superb menu are the spinach and artichoke dip ($18), the spicy tuna roll ($19) and the heaven-sent “famous” French dip sandwich ($25).
485 Seventh Avenue (at 36th Street) Legasea is an impeccably designed seafood brasserie that lives on the second floor of the Moxy Hotel Times Square, making it a great choice for a nice pre-matinee lunch. And not to worry if your group includes folks who don’t eat seafood: the vegan ‘bLT ($17) and the pastrami and kale reuben ($21) are excellent options on a menu full of hearty selections.
235 E 53rd Street (between Second and Third Avenues) Go for the JB melt jiabing sandwich combo ($13) -- a crisp scallion pancake stuffed with tender and spicy beef shank and melted cheese curds, served with marinated cabbage and chicken broth for dipping and sipping -- at this quick-service outpost of owner-chef Simone Tong’s beloved East Village dinner spot. Arrive early to avoid the reliably long lunch rush lines.
88 Madison Avenue (at 29th Street) Named for the Italian idiom “fare la scarpetta,” (the “little shoe” of bread you use to soak up the last bite of pasta sauce), this NoMad restaurant is s little south of Midtown, but worth walking the extra blocks for. The three-course lunch prix-fixe ($32) is a great way to taste a few items, but if you just want one drool emoji-worthy dish, go for the spaghetti ($24).
15 W 44th Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues) There’s something about being in Midtown that can make one crave a bloody steak. If the mood strikes while you’re near Bryant Park, head to Strip House for the filet mignon and beefsteak tomato salad ($26), and if you’re feeling particularly indulgent, make a selection from the Scotch cart (ranging $28-$395) or snag a slice of the 24-layer chocolate cake ($18).
461 Fifth Avenue (at 40th Street) Yes, a meal at the two Michelin-starred Sushi Ginza Onodera is certain to set you back a tidy sum. But hear me out: lunch here is just a fraction of the cost of dinner, but is equally life-affirming. Choose from three omakase lunch menus ($100-$150), each featuring 10-15 pieces of sushi flown in from Tokyo, along with an appetizer, egg cake, miso soup, dessert, and roasted green tea.
1065 Sixth Avenue (at 40th Street) Longtime West Coast fast casual favorite Tender Greens arrived in NYC about a year ago, first at Union Square, then most recently at Bryant Park. Although there are now 30 locations nationally, each venue offers a slightly different menu, focusing on healthy dishes made with locally sourced ingredients. The salt-and-pepper chicken sandwich is divine, and an absolute steal at just $10.
542 Third Avenue (at 36th Street) Previously only open for dinner service, Tenho Ramen recently completely changed the lunch option game in Murray Hill. The lunch combo set includes a bowl of ramen (the spicy tomato ramen prepared with tomato and tonkotsu broth, and topped with basil and Parmesan cheese is utterly delightful) along with a rice bowl topped with either fried chicken, chashu pork or spicy takana (pickled mustard leaves) ($18-$23).
701 Seventh Avenue (at 47th Street) Escape the mayhem of Times Square and step into the lush green oasis that is The Terrace at EDITION, a boutique hotel that opened earlier this year. The lunch menu is comprehensive, with vegan options like the mushroom carpaccio ($14) and the carrot bolognese ($14 appetizer portion), and decadent dishes like the wagyu beef tartare ($22) and the king crab pasta ($24 appetizer portion) for turf-and-surf fans.
598 Eighth Avenue (at 39th Street) Upside is the perfect place to grab a quick slice ($3-$5) en route to Penn Station. Their pies are prepared with dough made fresh daily from filtered water and flour milled in-house, and topped with housemade ingredients like sausage and pickled peppers. Ask about seasonal specialties, like The Sunny Goldstein, featuring fresh mozzarella, garlic slices and locally sourced sungold tomato sauce.
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