Shout out to national holidays. Also, shout out to birthdays, “sick” days, and the days between one job and the next. Because less time working means more time for the things in life that really matter - such as lunch. We like lunch because it’s just as good as dinner but you spend a lot less money. Plus, restaurants aren’t as busy in the daytime.
So here’s where you should go the next time your lunch hour is more than an hour. Pick one of these places and have a little vacation in the middle of your day.
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, and at lunch they do a $26 three-course prix fixe. That’s a great deal, and it’s even better when you take into account the fact that the food is actually good. 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 fresh 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, have 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 three-thousand 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.
Good sushi costs money. And while bad sushi also costs money, good sushi requires more of it. So if you aren’t actually down with cutting a hole in your checking account and watching it drain onto your table, you should hunt around for some lunch specials. 15 East does a three-course daytime prix fixe for $32. Get the sushi option, and you’ll have some food that would cost you twice as much at dinner. Lunch here only runs from 12:00 pm until 1:45 pm, however, so be sure to get there in time.
The Gander feels like a place you’d find in Midtown. That isn’t a bad thing - it just seems a little fancy for Union Square. You can pay extra for a white truffles, for example, and the word “accoutrements” appears on their lunch menu. That said, this place has a more casual vibe than the white-tablecloth places you find above 42nd Street, and they do a two-course lunch for $35. If you’re spending your day off with your parents or your grandparents, bring them here.
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.
At $49, this isn’t the cheapest prix-fixe in the city, but dinner here starts at $149 - so at lunch you’re pretty much making $100. Or something like that. Anyway, you can try some first-rate Italian food for a third of the normal price, and, more importantly, you don’t have to go to Midtown. This is Mario Batali’s fanciest place, and you should absolutely go in in the daytime if you want to try it without spending a stupid amount of money.
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.