Where To Get Lunch In Midtown East
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
If Midtown were a mullet, Midtown East would be that business-y section up front. It’s full of offices, banks, and hotels where dentists stay when they’re in town for a convention - and there are plenty of lunch options for everyone who works in the area. You’ll find everything from sit-down restaurants for when you have an hour to spare, to a lot of counter-service places where you can pick up something to eat at your desk while you attempt to use magical thinking to get someone fired. This guide has both types of spots, so take a look, and try to make your Midtown East life a little more like the back of a mullet.
One of the biggest things to happen to the area around Grand Central this century? A giant food hall. Urbanspace 570 Lex has everything from Roberta’s pizza to a ramen stall from the Ippudo people, with new vendors regularly rotating in. 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.
Urbanspace Vanderbilt is another food hall from the same people. It’s just a few blocks south, and it’s essentially the same thing, but with a few different vendors (like The Gumbo Bros and Red Hook Lobster Pound). It gets extremely busy around 12:30pm, but if you’re looking for something good and quick, it’s still one of your best options in the area. There’s also a lot of seating, but it tends to fill up quickly, and if you want to sit down, your best bet is the semi-hidden Seamore’s location on the mezzanine.
Maybe someone in your office knows more than you about tax exemptions or bird law, but you can always be the go-to person for pizza knowledge. A good way to establish yourself in that position is to bring slices or a pie back from Sofia Pizza Shoppe. If you want to keep it relatively light, get the grandma square, which is mostly just sweet, salty chopped tomatoes on crunchy crust, and for something much less light, get the spinach dip pizza, which is a big slice of thin, doughy crust topped with melted white cheese and big scoops of delicious spinach artichoke dip. The tiny, brick-walled space on First Avenue only has five counter seats, so it’s best for takeout.
Depending on where you work, you’ll either find it a lucky coincidence or a confusing inconvenience that the two best pizza spots in Midtown are both located at 54th and 1st. Two doors down from Sofia Pizza Shoppe is Marinara Pizza, which is much bigger and works if you want to dine in. They serve the same square and round pies as at the original location on the Upper East Side, like the thick, doughy Sicilian slice topped with oil-filled spicy pepperoni, and a margherita that’s thin, but sticks out straight as a board when you pick it up.
Ask anyone who works near Grand Central and Bryant Park how often they go to Omar’s, and they’ll probably get embarrassed about their answer. This is a very dependable Lebanese lunch option in the area, and it’s the kind of thing that will help you get through an otherwise sh*tty week. There’s a sit-down area if you have a full lunch hour to spare, and a take-out line that usually snakes out of the restaurant and on to 39th Street (and moves extremely quickly). The chicken shawarma pita is the first thing you should try here, but they also have platters with lamb, beef, and chicken that come with salad and two sides of things like tabbouleh, hummus, and eggplant salad. Plus, you get a tiny piece of baklava with every order.
If the desk you happen to sit at is a little closer to Central Park than Bryant Park, then the Omar’s on 55th Street should be your Omar’s. It’s nearly identical to the one on 39th Street, but with a little more full-service seating.
On an average day with decent weather, it’s not uncommon to see 40+ people standing in line to get some Greek food from this truck, and for good reason. The food is excellent, and $7 will get you a lamb platter to show off to your coworkers.
You can only reheat your leftover green beans and ravioli so many times before needing to go to Num Pang and pick up a sandwich. Like a lot of other fast-casual spots, there are a few different proteins that come in your choice of salad, grain bowl, or sandwich. But the Cambodian sandwiches here are better than what you’ll find at most dining establishments with their own iOs apps. They come on huge soft baguettes with pickled carrots, cilantro, chili mayo and your choice of meat (the catfish and skirt steak are both really good). While there isn’t any seating in Num Pang, there’s an outdoor plaza about 100 feet away with benches and metal tables with chairs fastened into the ground.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Sweetgreen. It’s a chain where you can get a pretty good salad (which, if you’re unfamiliar, is a bowl lettuce with various toppings). For some reason there’s only one location in Midtown East, so it gets incredibly busy, and you should order in advance online.
Jerk Pan is a Caribbean food truck parked on the corner of 48th Street and Park Avenue almost every day. It’s right next to the J.P. Morgan building, so if you don’t want to retreat immediately back to your desk, you can go sit next to a bunch of people in suits, who are all talking into AirPods, smoking cigarettes, and eyeing your jerk chicken platter. Jerk Pan serves an $8 “mini” lunch special which gets you a small styrofoam box filled with things like oxtail or jerk chicken and rice and beans. If they ask you if you want gravy, you need to say yes - it’s for your own good. There are also medium and large platter options that cost around $11-13, and come with a few different containers for sides like cabbage, greens, and macaroni salad.
Another truck, and probably our favorite truck. There are two Mysttik Masala’s - one is usually parked at 40th and Park and the other is at 47th and Park - and they both have the same menu of excellent Indian food. Like the chana masala platter, which comes with a spicy sauce, and daal and rice on the side. The food here is exactly the sort of thing everyone in your office will ask you about when you return carrying a box of it (except for the people who’ve already been inducted into the Mystikk Masala fan club). On the off chance you need a 2pm samosa pick-me-up instead of a $7 iced coffee, that’s also an acceptable way to use this truck.
It’s not a secret, but this fast-casual Middle Eastern spot is really useful. It’s pretty much Lebanese Sweetgreen, with beef shawarma and freekeh bowls instead of kale caesars - and you’ll be able to get a ton of food for around $11. The one on 43rd and 3rd Avenue gets really busy during lunch time, but you can always order ahead for pick-up.
Shukos is a Guatemalan food truck that’s especially good to know about if you want to work cut-up hot dogs on homemade corn tortillas into your lunch routine. It lives on the corner of 41st and 3rd Avenue, and you can get a ton of food for under $10 - including the mixtas tortilla and a pile of fries with steak and mayo on them.
It’s only noon, but it feels like several lifetimes have passed since you got to work - and now you just want to sit somewhere peaceful and eat some good food. Walk over to Poulette. It’s a counter-service spot at 49th and 2nd that doesn’t get too busy, and there are a few tables where you can sit down and have a plate of crispy rotisserie chicken with some sides like mashed potatoes and brussels sprouts. As an added bonus, the whole place smells like chicken.
Grk is a counter-service Greek mini-chain, and we like to pretend it’s pronounced “gerk.” Try it. It’s fun. We also like to watch the big spinning columns of shawarma behind the counter. There are a few different kinds, including chicken, pork, and beef-and-lamb, and you can get this meat in a pita or on a platter with a couple of sides like fries and butter beans. It can get a little busy here, but the line moves quickly.
If you want to keep things simple for lunch, try Gai. This place only has four things on the menu, and they all involve chicken and rice. The signature item here is Hainese-style steamed chicken, but you can also get your chicken fried - and all the dishes come with some rice, vegetables, and a tiny bowl of mildly spicy (and incredibly good) radish soup. The space is tiny, but it’s a great spot for takeout, and you can order directly from an iPad if you don’t feel like talking to anyone.
In an ideal world, you’d pack your lunch every morning, and it would consist of things like kale, brown rice, and other stuff that you assume is very good for you. In other words, you’d pack a lunch very similar to what you can get at Mulberry & Vine. This counter-service chain serves food like roasted salmon, chicken, tofu, and a bunch of different vegetable sides, and it’s perfect for when you need to feel like a responsible human who eats things with fiber and vitamins.
Sometimes you just want a sandwich for lunch - but not a sad one that’s been sitting in shrink wrap at a grocery store, waiting for a kind stranger to put it out of its misery. That’s what Le Petit Parisien is for. This is a French sandwich shop in Midtown East, and it serves some very good sandwiches on soft, chewy baguette, with ingredients like ham, smoked salmon, and duck rillettes. It’s also a charming little place with a patio out front where you can eat your sandwich and pretend you’re in Paris (if you squint).
There are a few locations of Souvlaki GR, and the one in Midtown East is in a basement on 53rd Street. And despite the fact that it’s in a small, windowless space in the bottom of a building, it still manages to feel like something you’d find on a Greek island. Stop by for a quick sit-down lunch, or just come by and pick up a pita stuffed with meat and vegetables. The Greek food here is great, and (possibly due to the fact that it’s semi-hidden) it doesn’t get as busy as it should.
Sip Sak opens at noon every day for lunch, and it’s great if you need a calm place to eat really good Turkish food with some clients or coworkers to celebrate the end of the fiscal year. We really like the roasted lamb over rice and the sizzling shrimp with garlic and olive oil, as well as the table bread - which they’ll keep filling it up until you can’t eat anymore.
If you don’t want to eat lunch at your desk, but you also shouldn’t be away from your desk, go to Pathos Cafe, an all-day Mediterranean spot that’s less commitment than most sit-down lunch spots, but still nicer than fast-casual options. The bright corner space a few blocks north of the UN has sidewalk seating, where you can get fresh-air while eating a salad with calamari, shrimp, and octopus, or a flatbread with tons of prosciutto, arugula, and melted mozzarella.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
Crave is a seafood spot that’s nice enough to send your boss with some clients, and casual enough for the rest of your team to have a quick meal before your boss gets back. Go with the $25 prix fixe, which includes an appetizer and sandwich, like the sea bass crudo and grilled chicken sandwich with burrata, as well as a dessert, like the chocolate chip cookie that’s one of the best in the city.
It’s always stressful to choose a spot for lunch with people who either sign your checks or sign checks to your company, and it’s even more stressful when you don’t know anything about their likes and dislikes. Fortunately, you can just make a reservation at The National, an American spot that will please just about everyone. The space in the Benjamin Hotel is fancy, but not overly expensive, and the menu ranges from entree-sized salads or a lamb burger to filet mignon. And perhaps the most useful thing about it is that it’s just a few blocks from Grand Central.
photo credit: Café China
Cafe China serves some of the best Sichuan food in Manhattan, and the only reason it can be tough to recommend for dinner is that there’s almost always a long wait for a table (they only take reservations for seven or more). But at lunch, not only is it less of a zoo, but they take reservations for four or more people. They serve the same great dishes, with some discounted lunch specials, like kung pao chicken and spicy, perfectly tender mapo tofu, which both come with soup and rice for $11.
If you want to be early for work, you probably shouldn’t stop at Ess-A-Bagel on your way in. The lines in the morning are always pretty long, but they’re much more manageable at lunch, when you can order breakfast-y things like a bagel with whitefish salad and nova, or lunch sandwiches, like a reuben or the BLT with avocado and Russian dressing.
If you’re looking for a high-end lunch option close to Grand Central, go to Agern. Not only does this Nordic spot serve some of the best food in the area, but it’s also located inside Grand Central itself, in an attractive, cavernous dining room behind doors a few feet from the Main Concourse. The $40 lunch prix fixe includes appetizers like creamy beef tartare and entrees like arctic char with brown butter sauce. Everything on the menu is enjoyable, but the best part of the meal here is the housemade sourdough served with whipped butter.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
A serious lunch for serious people, Aburiya Kinnosuke is a very authentic Japanese restaurant, where it seems like several hours went into each and every bite of steamed clams, beef stew, or warm homemade tofu. You’re going to want a reservation and plenty of time to enjoy it.
An east side facsimile of the original Totto Ramen, only this one has more space. That means you have a (somewhat) better shot at getting a seat.
Run by the same people behind Totto Ramen, Hide-Chan specializes in tonkotsu broth. To get here, you walk up a flight of stairs into a room that’s sterile and a little too serious, but we like the fact that you can specify how firm you would like your noodles cooked and that you can tell them how fatty you would like your ramen broth, from rich (lots of fat) to light (please leave). Choose wisely.
If you want to annoy your fellow commuters as much as possible, The Grand Central dining concourse sells a variety of things you can eat on your train ride home. 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.
Katsu-Hama is a great option for a quick sit-down meal. 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.
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.
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 a space at the bar. At lunchtime, there are $17 ramen sets.
Riki is a casual Japanese spot with a giant menu involving things like sashimi, 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).
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
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.