The Absolute Best Lunch Spot in 40 NYC Neighborhoods
Stock photo models will try to tell you that there is nothing better than a good desk salad -- but we know better.
You have one blissful opportunity to leave your neuron-incinerating computer monitor in the midst of your work day, and that sacred hour is lunch. Rather than hold your nose and grumble your way through a container of grilled chicken and wilted kale from a bodega’s iffy hot bar, why not eat something that actually tastes good? You need fuel to continue plugging away at those TPS reports, after all.
Lucky for you, we’ve found the tastiest, more affordable daytime stops in 40 New York neighborhoods, to save you from the blight of the desk salad doldrums. You deserve a lunch break.
What you’re getting: The Great Gatsby
You’d be very lucky to nab one of Shelsky’s very few seats. Fortunately, the sandwiches here are good enough to eat . . . standing up. Grab a preconceived go-to like The Great Gatsby (pastrami cured salmon, honey mustard, horseradish cream cheese, and red onion on seeded rye), or choose a bagel or bialy as your vehicle for sturgeon, gravlax, white or bluefish salad, herring, and all manner of schmear.
What you’re getting: The classic Vietnamese sandwich
This Brooklyn baby-chain with locations in Carroll Gardens and Brooklyn Heights is a best bet for affordable bites in an otherwise spendy neighborhood. Vietnamese sandwiches are stuffed with shredded white meat chicken, sardines, vegetarian options, or the classic pate, ham, and roasted ground pork combo. Noodle soups and rice entrees are flavorful and generously portioned with your choice of protein. And, for under $10, each feels like a steal.
What you’re getting: The fried chicken leg and collard greens
Harlem has plenty of food and drink destinations to recommend it, but Sylvia’s should be your first stop with many happy returns. Rather than dine out on its history (the original location opened in 1962), the quintessential soul food spot whips up crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside fried chicken, creamy mac and cheese, melt-in-your mouth chicken livers, and rich candied yams, year after year. It’s hard to keep a good thing a secret in this town, so visit at lunchtime for marginally more manageable crowds.
Tacos El Bronco
What you’re getting: Carnitas tacos
The flagship operation of the bustling Fifth Avenue food truck has a lunch crowd that comes for show-stopping tacos. In the carnitas tacos, smoky bits of pork are plopped on freshly rolled corn tortillas, along with a spoonful of grilled green onions, cucumbers, and radishes. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even have those yellow tortillas topped with buche (pork stomach) and lengua (tongue).
Smile to Go
What you’re getting: Half sandwich and market item
The second outpost of the Smile’s counter-service, to-go spot in SoHo, Smile to Go offers excellent sandwiches (think manouri cheese and pear with truffle oil and fig jam), a daily rotating selection of market items (like broccoli with hazelnut gremolata), and a host of enticing house-made pastries.
My Cuban Spot
What you’re getting: The Boss
What Gowanus lacks in potable water, it makes up in a slew of repurposed factories-turned-bars and the best Cuban sandwich outside of Miami. Bits of pork, ham, Swiss, and pickles are layered on crusty Cuban bread with a swipe of yellow mustard, then pressed until browned and crisp. The huge sandwich will almost make you forget about the canal’s toxic sludge.
Birds of a Feather
What you’re getting: Pork dumplings in chili oil
From the esteemed Michelin-starred duo behind Cafe China, Birds of a Feather is a wildly chic, minimalist Sichuan spot. With white walls, towering windows, and long, blond wood tables, the place is a breezy daytime option for a plate of hand-sculpted, made-to-order dumplings that will leave you satiated, not stuffed.
What you’re getting: Beef pad see yue
This dim, buzzy Fifth Avenue spot is a local favorite for lunch and dinner. The heaping portions of flavorful, classic Thai dishes should cost at least double what they do, both for quality and quantity -- but good luck stopping yourself before you’ve demolished your full order. Be warned: A food coma is inevitable.
What you’re getting: Pastrami on rye
It would be easy to presume Frankel’s is Brooklyn’s trend-chasing Zabar’s or a Russ & Daughters knockoff -- but their classic Jewish fare is, without a doubt, the real deal. A display case beneath the register is packed with rows of sliced smoked salmon, seating is limited to the counter, save for two small sit-down tables, and the pastrami is cured just a few blocks away, where the Frankel brothers personally ensure it stays true to their family recipe.
What you’re getting: Cheddar chive biscuit sandwich
Bright Australian cafes have taken over NYC, and this sunny parkside joint certainly does the cuisine justice. Far enough from central Park Slope to keep crowds at bay, the place offers heated, covered patio seating, coffee refills, buttery Balthazar pastries, and a full menu of tasty soups, egg dishes, and sandwiches.
Fort Greene/Clinton Hill
What you’re getting: Spicy eggplant sandwich
From the team behind neighborhood bakery and Smorgasburg favorite the Good Batch, the teeny Gordon Savory layers roasted eggplant, pickled jalapeños, pesto, and feta on Sullivan Street Pizza Bianca Bread. The shop also plays home to a handful of local goods, so pick up a hunk of New York State cheese or house-made bread on your way out.
DeKalb Market Hall
What you’re getting: Sample platter at Pierogi Boys or doner kebab sandwich from Kotti Berliner Doner Kebab
Without DeKalb Market Hall, the Flatbush extension off the Manhattan Bridge would be a sad scope of high rises juxtaposed with NYC’s few remaining gas stations. But here you’ll find City Point’s underground market, 40 food stalls strong and home to plump potato and cheese pierogi and a Middle Eastern, focaccia-like sandwich piled high with doner meat, feta cheese, cucumbers, and red onions.
What you’re getting: The Lunch
At lunchtime on any given day, Bunna will be a cornucopia of devoted long-time Bushwick residents, offering some good natured side eye to anyone who looks like they might hail from somewhere absurd like Manhattan. The cozy, casual cafe offers a melange of seven tasty Ethiopian treats scooped onto a plate and served with traditional injera -- a sourdough flatbread -- all for a meager $8.
Bobwhite Lunch & Supper Counter
What you’re getting: Fried chicken supper
Fried chicken, biscuits, and beer -- that’s the tagline for this Ave C spot serving mouthwatering soul food. Get the juicy, crackly bird as a platter with a biscuit and slaw, or stuffed into a grilled bun with pickles and optional (hahahaha yeah right) pimento cheese.
Battery Park City
What you’re getting: Brisket sandwich at Mighty Quinn’s or spicy chicken sandwich at Fuku
Brookfield Place’s vast food court features a who’s who of lunch vendors (BBQ guru Mighty Quinn’s, fried chicken experts Fuku, among others). While the line for Chop’t consistently snakes through the hall each day between 12pm and 3pm, there are plenty other choices that aren’t just salad, namely Mighty Quinn’s robust, meaty brisket sandwich and Fuku’s towering fried chicken sandwich.
Los Tacos No. 1
What you’re getting: Adobada taco
Trust us, fighting through the Chelsea Market crowds will be worth it once you bite into the griddled tortillas piled high with your choice of spit-roasted pork and pineapple, guac-covered carne asada, or grilled cactus.
What you’re getting: Big Tray of Chicken
Ditch the dollar dumplings for specialities from China’s Henan province. Plates like the Spicy Big Tray of Chicken, pork dumplings, and beef pancakes are delicious and more (most?) importantly, dirt-cheap.
What you’re getting: Any piadine from I Panini & Le Ciabatte
Eataly’s downtown iteration of the Italian-centric grocery store-meets-restaurant is flush with quick-service options, but the piadines (house-made, grilled Italian flatbread overflowing with fillings like meats, cheese, and vegetables) come wrapped in paper -- the perfect, on-the-go sandwich.
Mimi Cheng’s Dumplings
What you’re getting: The 50/50 Dumplings
Split your dumplings 50/50 by selecting half one flavor, half another, and one preparation method. The Mimi Cheng dumplings burst with chicken, zucchini, scallions, and ginger, while the Reinvented Classic is folded with pork, bok choy, cabbage, scallions, and ginger. There’s also a vegetarian dumpling, plus a monthly rotating special, all of which should be tossed vigorously with the house-made special sauce.
Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop
What you’re getting: Pastrami sandwich
For a top-notch pastrami experience minus the tourists (MINUS THE TOURISTS!!), hit up this old-school deli, where Jewish classics share the menu with tuna melts, BLTs, and other all-American eats.
What you’re getting: Upland Cheeseburger
With incredible pizzas (order the ‘nduja) and one of the best cheeseburger splurges in town, Justin Smillie’s California-Italian restaurant is the lunch spot that every other neighborhood wished it had, but doesn’t (sucks to be you, every other neighborhood!).
What you’re getting: The basil pesto fusilli or spaghetti and meatballs with marinara sauce
Founder Mark Ladner left fine dining for fast casual, and now he cooks up noodles in under three minutes -- for under $10. Ingredients are shipped from Italy, and sauces are made in-house, like the bright green basil pesto that clings to every turn of fusilli.
The Handpulled Noodle
What you’re getting: Ding Ding Noodles with spicy cumin lamb
No need to trek down to Chinatown just for a quick lunch: This uptown favorite twirls stretchy, pliant ribbons for build-your-own bowls smothered in stir-fry beef, spicy cumin lamb, or ginger chicken soup.
Gotham West Market
What you’re getting: A Corner Slice slice
Just about every neighborhood has a food hall these days, and in a dead zone like 11th Avenue in the 40s, Gotham West Market is a much-needed haven for good food. Grab a corner slice at the eponymous Corner Slice: crisp, focaccia-like crust piled with fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil.
What you’re getting: White mushroom pizza
The pizza at this wide, airy, Italian-American joint by chef Laurent Tourondel is nothing like the stuff at the slew of greasy slice shops bordering Herald Square. Light and crispy, with toppings like sage and fontina, Brussels sprouts, and soppressata, the colorful pies will keep you coming back.
What you’re getting: Rigatoni alla vodka
What’s the point of coming to Little Italy if you aren’t going to eat pasta? Unlike the countless faux Italian restaurants that line Mulberry Street, Aunt Jake’s is an oasis of house-made pasta. Here you can mix and match pastas and sauces; the creamy, cheesy vodka sauce is a crowd favorite.
What you’re getting: Carne mechada patacones
What’s better than meat between two slices of bread? Juicy shredded beef and roasted pork placed inside a crispy, double-fried plantain bun.
Lower East Side
What you’re getting: Tokyo shio ramen
Post up to one of the countertop tables at this ramen shop and slurp noodles like the pros. The Tokyo shio rocks a chicken broth base and comes packed with hunks of pork belly, mushrooms, a soft egg, and long threads of rye noodles.
What you’re getting: Croque maman
From a team of elite New York chefs (one of whom is Michelin-rated), this cozy French cafe has opened up several spots across Brooklyn and Manhattan. Serving up a tasty roster of rotating quiches, a lengthy coffee list, and a full menu of sandwiches -- like the croque maman with Parisian ham, Comté, and house-made bechamel -- the place is a fast, easy daytime go-to.
The Halal Guys
What you’re getting: Chicken over rice (with extra white sauce)
The Halal Guys’ 53rd Street food cart is truly the street meat that started it all. This cart slings grilled meats over rice, drenched in a mysterious, remarkable white sauce, from 10am-4am each day. Yes, there will be a line -- but fear not, it’ll move quickly. These guys know what they’re doing.
What you’re getting: Banh mi
From the team behind Jin Ramen, this laid-back bistro serves an array of dishes that span the globe: kale niçoise salad, a New England lobster roll, bibimbap, and, most importantly, a hearty banh mi stuffed with marinated beef brisket.
What you’re getting: Whaleys burger
This pint-sized spot is known for drawing a lengthy line, even on weekdays. Thankfully, they recently expanded into the space next door, which means you’ll likely get a table and you won’t have to knock over a series of water glasses while you shuffle to your seat. Munch on light Australian snacks and salads, or indulge in the decadent Whaleys burger topped with an interesting (but nevertheless delicious) pineapple-fried egg combination.
What you’re getting: De lechon tacos
This bi-level Mexican eatery by Julian Medina specializes in authentic, outlandish Oaxacan-style tacos (think savory dried grasshopper and cactus salad). There are plenty of insect-free dishes, too -- like the tasty suckling pig carnitas tacos -- but there’s a reason the grasshopper is such a popular menu item. Hop to it.
What you’re getting: Pizza
Tucked inside an office building, this hidden bakery owned by Bouley and Bouchon alum Roger Gural isn’t just turning out superior croissants and babkas -- come lunchtime, it’s also home to bubbly, freshly-baked pizzas and French sandwiches that make most deli orders look downright depressing.
Upper East Side
What you’re getting: Meijin miso beef ramen
It’s all about the beef at this noodle joint, which has honed a luscious, marrow-infused broth for bowls brimming with wavy noodles, fermented bamboo shoots, garlic chips, and green onions. Lunch service ends at 2:30pm, so don’t be late.
Upper West Side
What you’re getting: Chicken Parm on a hero
This long-anticipated outpost of the OG Nolita Parm finally brings red sauce-drenched Italian fare uptown. Here’s to baked ziti, meatball subs, and flawless heros that won’t break the bank.
What you’re getting: Barbacoa tacos
What started as a bodega has turned into a full-blown restaurant slinging superb Mexican street food like tacos al pastor and cemitas stacked high with meats and cheeses.
Mary's Fish Camp
What you’re getting: Lobster roll
Mary’s Fish Camp is the closest you’ll get to a Montauk fish shack without leaving the West Village. The charmingly ramshackle mainstay is lauded for its so-fresh-it’s-crazy seafood, and the famed lobster roll is the menu’s crown jewel. Be sure to stop in on the early side; supply is limited.
Num Pang Kitchen
What you’re getting: Ginger barbecue brisket sandwich
Named after Cambodia’s version of banh mi, the menu at this chainlet specializes in mouthwatering sandwich fillings like five spice-glazed pork belly, roasted cauliflower, and peppercorn catfish -- but nothing is quite so succulent as the sweet-spicy ginger barbecue brisket.
What you’re getting: Salmon teriyaki bento box
By day, this spinoff of lauded Tanoshi Sushi serves generously portioned bento boxes, donburi rice bowls, and noodle soups (the grilled salmon bento is a crowd favorite). And by night? Who cares. This is a lunch guide, guys.
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