Birria + Ramen = Birriamen
Best for a quick bowl of noodles: Totto Ramen
248 E 52nd Street & 366 W 52nd Street
Catering to the rushed Midtown lunch and dinner crowd, Totto is as efficient as it is delicious. The menu keeps it simple, headlined by the signature chicken paitan ramen, made with umami-packed chicken broth, house-made spicy sesame oil, pulled chicken or pork, and long, thin noodles. Just try not to splatter on the people sharing your communal table.
Best for Scandinavian food: Great Northern Food Hall
The peak of the New Nordic trend may be over, but lucky for you that means thinner lines at the best food court in GCT, which has eight distinct stands peddling everything from Nordic coffee to Danish hot dogs. Find your way to Meyers Bageri, the Denmark-imported bakery vending buttery, sweet frøsnapper and other pastries made from organic, heirloom grains or head to the grain bar for hearty, healthy-feeling porridges topped with fruit.
Best for fancy ramen: Momosan Ramen and Sake
342 Lexington Avenue
Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s first official foray into the ramen world is an always bustling ramen bar/restaurant where the sake pours are generous, and the broth is insanely flavorful. Tie on a plastic bib and dive into the tantan, a spicy ramen based in coconut curry and topped with both ground and roasted pork, a soft-boiled egg, and cilantro, to cut the heat.
Best for a big steak dinner: American Cut
109 E 56th Street
The uptown encore to Marc Forgione’s Tribeca steakhouse, New York’s second American Cut is outfitted in retro-feeling geometric chandeliers and leather lounges, perfect for relaxing after a meat-induced coma brought on by 30-day dry aged steaks (optionally topped with chili lobster), a potato puree that’s probably mostly butter, and fontina-soaked creamed spinach.
Best for a business lunch: The National
557 Lexington Avenue
Geoffrey Zakarian’s bistro adjacent to The Benjamin hotel is one of the few celebrity chef restaurants that gets it right. The clean, well-lit dining room is relaxed and quiet enough for a first-time meeting, and several types of fresh fish, like pan-roasted Scottish salmon, as well as meal-sized salads, are sophisticated enough to order in a business setting. You could also skip the whole meeting thing and just go for the $27 beer and burger lunchtime combo.
Best for fancy Szechuan: Cafe China
13 E 37th Street
Boasting a much-deserved Michelin star, this small Szechuan restaurant offers an extensive menu packed with explosively spicy (as well as more manageable) shareable dishes. Start off with a few orders of dim sum, like crystal shrimp dumplings, before moving on to larger entrees, each of which is distinctly fragrant and flavorful. First-timers up for a spicy challenge should go for the chungking spicy chicken, stir-fried with red chili peppers that may have you ordering a few cooling lychee cocktails from the bar.
Best for laid-back, high-quality sushi: Sushi Ann
38 E 51st Street
Completely unpretentious and understated, the fluorescent-lit, trend-free Sushi Ann offers some of the city’s best sushi. Start with a miso soup with pleasantly chewy Japanese mushrooms and, depending on your budget, move onto either the a la carte menu (rolls start at $6) or the chef’s selection (starts at $75), all delicately crafted with fresh Japanese-imported fish.
Best for a hefty Italian-style sandwich: Alidoro
18 E 39th Street
Replace your daily deli run with a visit to this hero shop using Italian ingredients to craft over 40 types of meat- and veggie-loaded sandwiches on its signature crusty bread. You could go the build-your-own route, but trust the process and go for one of the signature creations, like the Sofia loaded with salami, fresh mozzarella, artichokes, and olive paste, or the warm, melty Tommasso, layered with speck, Gorgonzola cheese, and radicchio.
Best for an opulent dinner date: The Grill
99 E 52nd Street
An ode to all that is over-the-top and extravagant about New York and its excess of wealth, Major Food Group’s makeover of the Four Seasons is certainly worth a visit, even if just to scoff at the 1% while slurping up mock turtle soup. The pinnacle of the restaurant, which staffs tuxedo-clad waitstaff and is coated ceiling-to-wall in gold and brass, is the spit-roasted prime rib, delivered by trolley service to white tablecloth covered tables with your choice of sides.
Best for legendary pasta: Marea
240 Central Park S
Michael White’s seafood-inspired pasta restaurant just off of Central Park and Billionaire’s Row is a staple in the diet of town car-traveling penthouse dwellers, though the Michelin-starred dining room is easy enough to make a reservation at. For the best deal, go for the $54 two-course lunch or $106 four-course dinner, which includes an appetizer, pasta, meat, and dessert. You can always order one of the $35 homemade pastas a la carte (sit at the bar, should you want to be less conspicuous about your small order.) The star of the menu is the fusilli tossed with a similarly al dente red wine-braised octopus and lush bone marrow.
Best for gourmet tacos: Empellón
510 Madison Avenue
This elegant spinoff of chef Alex Stupak’s two Downtown Empellon locations is a stylish, two-level celebration of upscale Mexican fare, with just a touch of New York City touch. Think guacamole served in a molcajete with a rainbow of seven salsas; nachos decked out in creamy uni queso; and a fantastically fatty crisp pork belly served in a bread-bowl style chicharron with fresh slices of avocado and radish. The tacos, of course, are not to be missed: served two to an order on warm, thin corn tortillas, with fillings like pastrami or the falafel.
Best for old-school fancy French food: La Grenouille
3 E 52nd Street
Open since 1962, La Grenouille is a throwback to a different decade, when going out to dinner meant brushing your hair and dressing up. Skip the sweatpants and make a reservation to feast on French classics like pate, steak tartare, and seared foie gras with cherries, all to be enjoy in the white table clothed, pristinely serviced dining room.
Best for Korean barbecue: Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong
1 E 32nd Street
At this popular Korean barbecue spot, you can order raw meats like short rib, rib-eye, pork belly, and brisket to sear on the hot grill wedged into your table. Dumplings, noodles, and Korean stews are also on the menu, should you want to keep cooking to a minimum, but you’re really here for the tender, juicy meats, cooked exactly the way you want them.
Best for fancy Nordic cuisine: Aquavit
65 E 55th Street
This two Michelin-starred restaurant helmed by Swedish chef Emma Bengtsson dates back to 1987, long before the hygge-everything craze that defined the winter of 2016. Still, the restaurant feels modern (think chic yet simple Scandinavian design, like sitting in a rich person’s version of IKEA) and undeniably cozy, especially after a few sips of house-infused aquavit in flavors like horseradish, banana, and mixed berry. A three-course tasting menu of seasonal Nordic dishes starts at $105, but to keep your bill low, sit on one of the lounge couches outside the dining room and order $15 open-faced sandwiches on rye, dining room-worthy seafood, and, of course, Swedish meatballs.
Best for never-ending pasta: Becco
355 W. 46th Street
Forget the Olive Garden Pasta Pass: Becco is also home to one of the best deals in the city: All-you-can-eat, actually fantastic, pasta. A daily rotating selection of three pastas -- think spaghetti and fresh basil, penne Bolognese and artichoke ravioli -- is offered for the sinfonia di pasta ($19.95 at lunch, $24.95 at dinner) and replenished on your plate until you can’t eat any more carbs. Caesar salad and antipasti are also included.
Best for street food: The Halal Guys Cart
W 53rd Street & Sixth Avenue
The street meat that started it all (that is, the growing brick-and-mortar Halal Guys franchise), this cart slings chicken and rice slathered in a famously mysterious white sauce from 10am-4am daily. You’ll have to wait in line with a hoard of tourists, but once you get that first whiff of meat from the warm Styrofoam container in your hands, you’ll know the hassle is more than worth it.
Best for Neapolitan pies: Don Antonio
309 W 50th Street
Don Antonio’s signature crisp, thin montanara pizzas are first deep fried and then wood-fired to order, soupy in the middle with homemade tomato sauce, and weighed down with imported smoked buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil. Dozens of white- and red-sauce-based pizzas, not fried, but baked Neapolitan-style are also on the menu, and it’s totally acceptable to eat the meat-and-veggie heavy pies with a fork and knife.
Best for a seriously over-the-top brunch: Norma's
119 W 56th Street
When your rich aunt from Ohio is in town (or your consultant friend with a generous expense account), ask her to meet for brunch at Norma’s, the restaurant nestled inside the Parker Meridian Hotel. Breakfast items hover around $30, but a bite of the decadent chocolate French toast -- which is essentially chocolate cake decked out with strawberries and pistachios, and drenched in warm Valrhona chocolate sauce -- makes the price tag worth it.
Best for tempura pizza and Japanese small plates: Sake Bar Hagi
152 W 49th Street
Often touted as one of the best (and most affordable) spots near Grand Central, this basement-level izakaya serves a wide range of Japanese small plates to enjoy while exploring an extensive sake list. Perhaps best known for its gimmicky tempura-fried pizza, the restaurant’s real reasons to visit include everything from dumplings to tofu to takoyaki (octopus balls). Should you be more in the mood for a mash-up, there’s also a creamy carbonara-style udon.
Best for a gourmet Indian feast: Indian Accent
123 W 56th Street
An import from New Delhi, this upscale restaurant by chef Manish Mehrotra serves traditional Indian dishes with a contemporary twist. Tasting menus range from $75 for three courses plus a side to $120 for the chef’s full experience. Expect to taste a range of spicy, sweet, sour, and savory flavors, found in dishes like the beef kabob with marrow and soft-shell crab koliwada with dried shrimp.
Best for matcha pancakes at a David Chang-designed brunch: Má Pêche
15 W 56th Street
Translating to Mother Peach, this spacious project by New York’s pork bun and noodle king is perhaps best known for its large format pork rack char siu feast (a worthy endeavor, should you plan to dine with the group), but should also be on your radar as an actually worthwhile Midtown brunch spot. The menu spans everything from matcha pancakes drizzled in lavender maple syrup, to buns stuffed with melty American cheese, eggs, and maple bacon, to an egg-topped brisket rice bowl best enjoyed with a side of kimchi.
Best for a fancy museum meal: The Modern
9 W 53rd Street
Attached to the MoMa and overlooking the sculpture courtyard, this two-Michelin starred, Union Hospitality Group restaurant puts other museum cafeterias to shame. While the sophisticated, hyper-seasonal New American-esque lunch and dinner prix fixes are certainly worth an indulgence, if you’re limited in time or cash, your best bet is to stop into the bar room, where you can order cocktails and dishes a la carte, like an heirloom tomato raviolo with Burgundy truffles and pan-seared salmon with summer squash.
Best for a steak dinner: Keens Steakhouse
72 W 36th Street
If you can’t shake your vision of Midtown dinners being all men in suits chomping on porterhouse steaks while loudly debating office politics, a meal at Keens isn’t too far off. Expect to be welcomed in by a sea of loud voices and wafts of pungent grilled meat scents as you prepare to order chops, steaks, and plenty of butter-drenched sides at this historic steakhouse dating back to 1885.
Best for a pre-theatre dinner: Aureole
135 W 42nd Street
Charlie Palmer’s fine-dining restaurant just off of Times Square is truly a gem in Olive Garden and Red Lobster’s tourist-saturated territory. The menu showcases local produce in New American dishes, and is available as a $96 tasting in the formal dining room or as a more casual meal in the Liberty Room at the front of the restaurant. Expect expertly executed, wholly satisfying dishes at lunch or dinner, like homemade spaghetti twirled with shrimp and lobster in a ginger bisque and juicy roasted chicken breast with crisp fingerling potatoes.