True story: we once took a Metro North train from Grand Central where we sat behind three suburban teenage girls talking about how they had just shoplifted Juicy Couture velour jumpsuits from a department store. Slightly disturbing, but highly memorable.
Regrettably, we can’t promise that level of entertainment from a trip to Grand Central, but we can recommend some places to eat nearby. If you commute, work in the area, or just really like hanging out in the East 40s, you know this neighborhood isn’t teeming with millions of options. So this guide to our favorites should help, whether you’re looking for an upscale meal with clients, or some pizza to go with your velour hoodie. (Please pay for the pizza.)
Your best option for a business meal around Grand Central is lunch or dinner at Agern. This upscale Scandinavian spot - which is actually inside the terminal - offers a seven-course tasting for $155, but we recommend going a la carte instead. The Nordic-themed food ranges from sunchokes with rye porridge to dry-aged duck with cabbage and hay, and no matter what else you order, make sure to 1) get the monkfish with bone marrow, and 2) load up on the house bread with whipped butter. This place serves some of the best food in Midtown, and when you’re done, you won’t even have to go outside to catch your train.
If you want to eat some expensive grilled meats near Grand Central, and you’d rather not go to Keens or Smith & Wollensky and run into all the ex-coworkers you’re avoiding on LinkedIn, head to Aburiya Kinnosuke. This upscale Japanese spot specializes in meats cooked on a robata grill, and some of our favorite dishes are the hanger steak with ponzu and the chicken meatball served with a poached egg as a dipping sauce. Non-meat eaters will also be happy here - the sashimi and handmade tofu are tasty as well.
You’ll almost certainly have to wait for a table at Cafe China (they only take reservations for seven or more at dinner, and four or more at lunch), but it’s worth moving your last meeting of the day to get here early and put your name in. Because this place serves some of the best Sichuan food in Manhattan. The menu is long and the portions are large, so we recommend going with a group and trying as many things as possible. Don’t skip the spicy diced rabbit and the mapo tofu.
Midtown has a number of places where you can sit and eat omakase sushi for roughly the cost of a new iPad. Wokuni is not one of them. Yes, there are omakase options here (for $75 and $95), but you don’t need to splurge. Instead, get a sushi or sashimi combo, and start with a few yakitori skewers if you’re especially hungry. The fish is all high-quality, and the space is nice enough for any relatives who may or may not have cornered you into getting dinner with them.
Unless you enjoy lines, appearing in the background of other people’s family photos, and paying stupid amounts of money for bottled water, you probably tend to avoid tourist-heavy destinations. But Grand Central Oyster Bar is a touristy spot worth seeking out. Between the low vaulted ceilings, the tile floors, and the definitely-real ghost of Cornelius Vanderbilt, this NYC institution still maintains the energy of 1913 (when it first opened). There are several different seating options, like bars, U-shaped counters, and table sections where you can get in and out pretty quickly. Order some oysters and a martini - or more from the seafood-heavy menu, if you have time - and you’ll feel a lot better about being in Grand Central during rush hour.
The Grand Central dining concourse sells a variety of things you can eat on your train ride home, if you want to annoy your fellow commuters as much as possible. But if you have time to sit down for something quick, Prova Pizzabar is worth knowing about. In addition to a takeout pizza counter, it also has a little table-service area off to the side where you can eat a massive $14 square pie in peace. It’s not the best pizza you’ll ever eat, but it is the best pizza you’ll ever eat while sitting in a semi-private space in Grand Central. There’s also a bar where people drift in every 10 minutes or so asking for triple whiskeys.
You don’t need to go to Docks for a full dinner, but it’s a very good option during Happy Hour, which runs until 7pm. Sit at the big horseshoe bar and drink $4 beers and $7 glasses of wine while snacking on fish tacos and $1 oysters. If you’re worried that a dozen oysters won’t do much to balance out all the sauvignon blanc you’re simultaneously consuming, get the fried octopus, too.
For a quick sit-down meal, Katsu-Hama is one of your best options in the area. It’s a little Japanese restaurant specializing in pork katsu, with a bunch of different combinations available. You can get yours with a side of fried shrimp (highly recommended), or some excellent brown curry. Bring a friend after work, or stop by for an easy dinner before a Broadway show.
The National is good to know about because it’s a reliable option for almost any Midtown dining situation. It’s nice enough for business meals with clients, but also not so formal that you’d feel out of place coming for a burger and martini before catching the 8:17 to White Plains. The long American menu has options for everyone, from bar bites like chicken wings and meatballs to large plates like branzino and steak frites.
Many people who work in Midtown East have their go-to sushi places, but the smart ones go to Hatsuhana. It’s probably best described as the lower end of the high-end spots, which means it’s upscale but not unaffordable for a business lunch. Most of the lunch sushi sets are around $30, but if you are going to spend, the big draw is the $45 “Box Of Dreams,” a set of nine mini boxes of sashimi. At night, you can pick from a few prix fixe sushi options, ranging from a pretty basic $28 to a full-blown $100 omakase, and a few in between - we’d recommend the $45 “Sushi Deluxe,” which includes 10 top quality, chef-chosen pieces plus a roll.
Finding Sakagura is at least a quarter of the fun of eating here - you have to walk into a nondescript office lobby, and down a random staircase in the back. At the bottom of those stairs, you’ll find yourself in a big, dark room with bottles of sake lining the walls. (Even though it’s not exactly easy to stumble on this place, it gets busy - so make a reservation if you can.) The menu is mostly Japanese small plates: sashimi, tofu, little rice bowls, and so on. And if you’re interested in learning about sake, or you just generally enjoy drinking it, you’ll probably want to try several things from the textbook-sized drink menu.
What’s that, there’s a kind of cool bar serving good burgers on 39th and Madison? This is correct. The Shakespeare is brought to you by the people who run Jones Wood Foundry uptown, and it’s a great place to hang with a small group.
Momosan is easy to miss as you walk down Lexington, and since the dining room is smallish, you may encounter a wait. But seats turn over pretty quickly, and if you’re by yourself or with one other person, you should be able to find space at the bar. At lunchtime, there are $17 ramen sets, and at dinner, pair your ramen with small plates ranging from poke and softshell crab bao to peking duck tacos.
If you’re looking for a straightforward wedge salad followed by a thick, perfectly cooked slab of filet mignon, you’ll be happy here. This is the sort of spot where you can eat some quality red meat with a client or a few members of your extended family, and it’s only a block from the station. When you get sick of uncle David’s stories about how he almost made the basketball team in college, wander to the entryway and stare at photos of celebrities who have eaten here before you - Warren Sapp and Fountains of Wayne, for example.
This is a solid, crowd-pleasing Italian option. You’ll find pastas, pretty good thin-crust pizzas, and a space big enough to fit your entire extended family (including everyone’s SOs). If your group just includes you, a speck pizza, polenta with meatballs, and a glass of red wine, that’s cool too - you probably won’t be the only one in that situation.
Riki is a casual Japanese spot with a giant menu that has everything from sashimi to okonomiyaki and skewered meats. It’s a good option if you’re meeting a friend for something low-key and want to split everything - or if you want to eat alone at the sushi bar (where they sometimes show videos of cats doing stupid things on the TV screens).
A meal at Kajitsu is a serious event. This place serves a four- or eight-course tasting menu, exemplifying the vegetarian shojin cuisine that originated in Buddhist monasteries. Everything about the meal is beautiful, interesting, and delicious - it’s absolutely an experience worth having at least once.
If Kajitsu sounded cool, but you’re not sure if you’re ready to commit to the idea of a vegetarian tasting menu experience, check out their sister restaurant, located in the same building. Kokage is a la carte, and serves everything from wagyu beef rice bowls to pressed mackerel sushi and some excellent udon noodle soups.
The Palm Too has been open since 1973, and it looks like it hasn’t changed much since then. It’s an old-fashioned steakhouse with white tablecloths and walls covered in caricatures of loyal customers, and it’s a solid place to bring someone who wants a classic NYC experience that’s still convenient to the train. The lightly charred steaks are excellent, the food is otherwise mostly just fine, and everything is a little pricey. But it’s a unique spot that feels like a brief trip back to the time when people wore hats to work and drank martinis at lunch.
The first thing to know about Aretsky’s Patroon is that this place is incredibly expensive. It’s nice inside - with leather booths, a long wine list, and good service - but it’s not a place we’d send you to spend your own money, unless you have so much that you can’t actually remember how much you get paid every month. If you’re getting lunch or dinner on your corporate card, though, that’s a different story. The large plates on the meat-focused menu, like rack of lamb or suckling pig, are fine, but the best dishes here are actually the sides, especially the wild mushrooms over blue cheese grits.
This lively, spacious Turkish restaurant is a good 15-minute walk from the station, but dishes come out of the kitchen so quickly that you can easily make up the extra time. Plus, the food is worth the walk - especially the manti dumplings, which come in a tangy, creamy sauce, and the spicy lamb kebab with lavash. Service is attentive, the atmosphere is relaxed, and the bread in particular is so good you’ll probably want extra.
This is an old-school Italian spot in every sense. It’s been open since 1932, and it’s one big room with big tables and white tablecloths - so it feels like the kind of place where you’d eat with some 1960s ad execs, or before catching Our Town or Hello, Dolly! on Broadway. The service is friendly, and while the menu is full of classics like a caesar salad and chicken, veal, and shrimp parmigiana, the steak happens to be very good, with a thick, crispy char on the outside. Get one the next time you have a group meal planned with your in-laws, or you need to eat alone at the bar after a long day in Midtown. (Pro tip: the bar has free peanuts.)
Akdeniz is next to a 2 Bros Pizza and a fitness club called Swerve, but as soon as you walk into the narrow, one-room space, you’ll forget all about the unfortunate things that happen on 46th Street. This is a casual spot with good Turkish food (like a tasty mixed grill kebab with rice), and you’ll find a few different pre-theater set menu deals as well as $30 bottles of wine.
The dining room at Pera is long and sleek, with plenty of big tables for groups and an open kitchen in the back. And the Mediterranean food here is pretty solid - try the big lamb kebab and the hummus served with paper-thin pita. Will everything cost a little more than you want it to? Of course. This is Midtown. But you can get a table easily, and it’s a perfectly good spot for an upscale meal with some people who aren’t necessarily your best friends. Clients, for example, or some nice strangers you met on an airplane.
Tsushima isn’t our first pick for sushi near Grand Central, but it’s a solid backup plan for when you can’t get into a place like Wokuni or Hatsuhana. The sushi here is decent and not astronomically expensive, and the space is charming and minimalist, with a couple of big semi-private tables around the edge of the dining room. Plus, the service is speedy.
One of the biggest things to happen to the Grand Central area this century? Dropping a food hall in the middle of it. Urbanspace Vanderbilt has everything from Roberta’s pizza to a chicken-based ramen made by Ippudo, with new vendors being rotated in regularly. It does get packed in here at peak commuting and lunch times, but it’s your best takeout option around if you can pop in during quieter hours.