A few times a year, something magical happens: you get a weekday off. Maybe it’s due to a national holiday, or maybe it’s because you called in sick despite the fact that everyone knows you’re in fine physical condition. Whatever the reason, you should be making the most of this free day of yours - and an easy way to do this is by getting a great lunch. On this guide, you’ll find a bunch of restaurants where you can get something about 10 times better than your normal weekday meal, and, as an added bonus, they should all be easier to get into in the daytime.
Unless you live or work in FiDi, you probably never go there. So if you have the afternoon off, and you want to feel a tourist in your own city, head over and check it out. Go see the Brooklyn Bridge and City Hall, and, once you get tired of looking at old things, get some food at Augustine. It’s a big French brasserie in the bottom of the Beekman Hotel, and it looks like a place from 19th-Century Paris. Have some steak tartare and duck l’orange, then go ahead and leave FiDi, because it gets pretty boring after that.
Unless you’re willing to eat at 5 or 10pm, getting a reservation at Loring Place can be tough. And that’s mostly because the food is great, there are plenty of sort-of-healthy options, and a vegetarian can eat here without feeling like nobody loves them. Plus, the whole place isn’t too stiff, most things cost less than $20, and the space is clean, bright, and minimalist in a West Elm kind of way. It’s also open at lunch (when it’s much easier to get a table), although you should still make a reservation if you come in the daytime.
If you’ve never been to Gramercy Tavern, you probably hear the name and think, “Huh, I’ve been meaning to go there.” If that sounds like you, try it at lunch. It’s a little less pricey then, and you also have the option of ordering a la carte, so you don’t necessarily have to get three courses or a tasting menu. The main dining room is very upscale, but you can always sit in the bar area if you want something a little more casual. It’s essentially its own separate restaurant, and you shouldn’t be afraid to come in jeans and eat a burger there.
Cafe Altro Paradiso is bright, somewhat spacious, and it’s about two times better and more interesting than the Italian place where you eat pasta and stare into your iPhone screen on Tuesday nights. The food is also a little bit lighter than the stuff you find at your average Italian spot, although there’s also a burger (which you can only get at lunch). So if you’re aren’t working for whatever reason, feel free to stop by, drink an espresso, eat some pasta, and pretend that you live in Italy, where having fun in the daytime is more socially acceptable.
Stop by Sugarfish on pretty much any night of the week, and you’ll find a pretty long wait. They don’t take reservations, and, for reasonably-priced sushi, it’s one of your best options in NYC. Seeing as how you probably don’t enjoy waiting several hours for a table in Flatiron, and the next-closest location of this mini-chain is in Los Angeles, lunch here might be a good idea. The wait won’t be as long, and the sushi will taste just as good.
If you have several hours of free time in the middle of the day, there are any number of things you could do. You could read a book, knit a scarf, call your parents, or take the train to Prime Meats in Carroll Gardens and eat something beneath a taxidermied deer head. The food here is German/American, with stuff like a sausage, schnitzel, steak, and a few sandwiches. The space is also divided into two rooms, one of which is slightly more casual (and has a bar for solo dining), and whole place feels like a classic NYC establishment. It’s also from the same owners as Frankies 457, which is another great lunch option just a few doors down.
If you want to eat a lot of pasta while watching celebrities get into Escalades on Bowery, then check out Bar Primi. The pastas are very good, but they won’t leave you in need of an afternoon nap. There are two floors, plus outdoor seating on Bowery, just in case your day off also happens to be sunny. Almost everything on the lunch menu is under $20, so share a couple pastas and try one of the sandwiches, which are only available at lunch.
Cherche Midi is an upscale French bistro next to a bunch of Chinese kitchen supply stores. The space reminds us of Balthazar, but smaller and without quite as many tourists. Besides the Black Label Burger, the lunch menu is pretty straightforward with a few light salads and sandwiches. If you find yourself in Soho, Cherche Midi is a great place to sink into a booth for a couple hours and enjoy some French music, food, and wine. Without the French tourists.
Upland is one of the few restaurants that we fully endorse for just about any type of lunch. You will likely be surrounded by people having business lunches, but you came to Upland with your aunt who wants to “have a little fun.” You’ll likely end up stumbling out of here, but only after you get some excellent food. So share the beef tartare, have a midday martini, and dive into a plate of pasta. Also, the burger is only available at lunch, so you should probably order that too.
If you plan on spending your day off walking along the High Line or taking pictures of people wearing funny jackets in Meatpacking, then Untitled should be on your radar. Service is a bit more casual here during the day, but it’s still dining in a museum. The lunch and dinner menus don’t vary a ton, so expect things like things like seasonal vegetables and arctic char. Considering the venue and quality of food, the prices are surprisingly reasonable. Spend a couple hours in this very refined setting, then get back to taking Snapchats of people with giant hats.
Seamore’s is casual enough that you could go when you don’t have the day off, but the bar and prime Soho people watching are better enjoyed when you can take your time. They have a few salads and sandwiches, but you come here for the fish, which rotates based on what’s fresh. The outdoor seating and relatively light food make Seamore’s ideal during warmer weather, but the open space makes it a good group lunch option anytime.
For whatever reason, you have the day off. You should take advantage of it. You probably want to hang in a cool neighborhood, like Noho. You may want to eat at a restaurant with a reputable chef, like the guy from Cosme. And sure, you want to be surrounded by people wearing expensive jeans and cool sneakers. At Atla, you can have all of these things, along with one of the best avocado toasts in the city. The bright space and light food are actually better enjoyed during the day, when you can still order almost anything on the evening menu. Order the pambazo (chorizo sandwich) and the fish Milanese while you consider the extensive mezcal list, and you’ll be on your way to a very productive day off.
They call it a “quick lunch,” but the lunch prix fixe here is actually two courses, so your average lunch is probably quicker. Pick one small plate and one pasta for $32 and space out as you stare through big windows onto lower 6th Avenue. If, for whatever reason, you don’t want the prix-fixe option, you can always just order a la carte. Charlie Bird is officially one of our all-time favorite places, and lunchtime is a good way to enjoy it without accidentally converting several hundred dollars of U.S. currency into wine.
Il Buco Alimentari is a hybrid shop/restaurant in Noho, and it’s pretty much a miniature Eataly. You can buy Italian groceries up front or have a full meal in the back, where you can eat pasta, a bunch of huge sandwiches, or a selection of cured meats. It’s a littler fancier and a little better than the stuff you have at your go-to neighborhood place. Bring a friend and pretend you’re in Italy. Once you feel classy enough, go drink at a dive in the East Village.
This place should be called TGI Sundays. Because here it’s always Sunday. Monday? Tuesday? Doesn’t matter. The pastels and hot bagels scream weekend morning. And the employees scream “hot bagels” when they bring out hot bagels. Doesn’t that remind you of the cheesy ice cream parlor your grandma used to take you to on Sundays? Come here on a weekday you happen to have off, eat some bagels or a tuna melt, and pretend your life is one long weekend.
Maybe you can’t afford a vacation in Sweden or maybe you just don’t see the point in traveling 3000 miles to a place where, if anything, it’s colder than it is in New York. Just walk over to Houseman. It’s a little restaurant in Hudson Square, the neighborhood just below the West Village that feels sort of like the nice, quiet capital of a Scandinavian country. Stop by and have some swordfish or a really good burger. This is a nice, calm place for a lunch in a neighborhood that might feel new to you.
If it’s nice outside, walk the Williamsburg Bridge and get lunch on the little patio at Marlow and Sons. You’ll get some prime people watching. And if it’s crummy outside, get a table in the far back of the dining room. You won’t see the outside world, and the wooden decor keeps things cozy. These guys also do a few breakfast things at lunch, so if you celebrated your day-off the night before, you can roll up late and get your biscuit and/or smoked salmon fix.
Le Coucou was one of our favorite new restaurants of 2016, and now you can get lunch there. You should strongly consider this, because it’s tough to get a table for dinner. And if you have lunch here, you can still say that you ate at Le Coucou. Also, a lot of the dishes from the dinner menu are served at lunch, including a pike quenelle that you should order even if you don’t know what a quenelle is. The lunch prix fixe is $48 for two courses, so bring your mother or a friend who wants to ball out just a little bit.
If you’re a fiend for burgers and you need to try every one in the city, you should go to Peter Luger at lunch. It’s the only time they serve it, and, in our experience, the burger is hit-or-miss. But when it’s good, it’s good. Just be sure to bring a friend and have them order a steak, because going to Peter Luger and not eating a steak is like leaving a Paul McCartney show before he plays any Beatles songs. Avoid the nighttime crowds and stop by in the afternoon for some beef and potatoes on your next day off.