Union Square is one of the most highly trafficked areas in New York, which means we frequently field questions about where to eat in the area. While you could always fill yourself up at one of those permanently parked falafel trucks, there happen to be some better options that don’t require walking too far. Just promise us you won’t go to the TGI Fridays.
If Union Square Cafe were a Starburst flavor, it would be that pink one that everybody likes. It’s a crowd pleaser. The food is part American, part Italian, and they do things like grilled chicken, fluke crudo, and many different types of pasta. Plus, the space is huge and well-decorated, with a great bar area that feels slightly more casual. The only downsides are the fact that it’s a little pricey and that it’s tough to get a prime reservation. The food is excellent, however, and you should by all means come here for a special occasion.
Much like driving and complaining about driving, Sugarfish is big in Los Angeles. That’s where this relatively affordable sushi chain started, and there are a bunch of locations. NYC has only one (on 20th Street), and it tends to stay busy. The thing to order here is one of their “Trust Me” meals (ranging from $39 to $51) that comes with an assortment of sushi, sashimi, and handrolls. None of it is particularly mind-blowing, but it’s all more than solid, and you should come here if you A) want some sushi that isn’t crazy expensive and B) don’t mind a wait.
Korean barbecue is always a good time, but eating at Cote is like getting upgraded to business class. Everything’s just a little bit fancier here. The cocktails are great, the meat is top-of-the-line, and the $45 prix fixe will get you more than enough food. Plus, if you want, the servers will stop by and cook your meat for you, and the space looks like a nightclub where we’d actually hang out. Stop by for a group dinner or a family-bonding type scenario.
The original Babu Ji was in Alphabet City, and, while we liked that location much more, the new spot is still good to know about if you like Indian food. It’s a mix of traditional and untraditional, and they do things like “unauthentic” butter chicken and yogurt-filled croquettes in a magenta beet/ginger sauce. Like most of the food here, either dish is worth your time, although you should know that the portions are on the smaller side, and a full dinner can get a little pricey. We’d recommend the $62 prix fixe, which lets you try most things on the menu. And be sure to sit upstairs. It’s nicer up there.
Let’s say you want steak, you don’t feel like cooking, and you don’t really care if you have to stand while you eat. This probably isn’t a common scenario, but if you ever start feeling this way, go to Ikinari. It’s a chain from Japan, and they do a counter-service, stand-while-you-eat style of dining that’s ideal if all you want is some quality steak cooked well. Just choose your cut and how much you want, and it’ll get delivered to your own little standing kiosk where you’ll eat your steak too fast.
Vegans, vegetarians, and anyone who spends time with vegans or vegetarians should know about Peacefood. This is a casual spot on University Place where you can grab a quick lunch or dinner when you aren’t doing the meat thing. It’s vegan, and the food doesn’t really look or sound too impressive (tempeh sandwich, quinoa salad, etc.), but it sort of grows on you as you eat it. Take the chickpea fries: they look like brown bricks, and by third one you’ll wonder what makes these so good. Plus, everything is pretty healthy, and you’ll feel good after a meal here.
Tim Ho Wan is a dim sum chain from Hong Kong, and they have one location here in NYC. It’s on 4th Avenue in a fairly plain, straightforward space. The dim sum itself is very good - not the absolute best in the city, but if you’re near Union Square and you want some rice rolls and pork buns, it will get the job done. It’s pretty affordable, but you might have to wait for a table.
Cava is primarily a lunch place. It’s a fast-casual spot where you can get some salad or grains topped with various Mediterranean ingredients like braised lamb, falafel, and about twenty different kinds of vegetables. And, essentially, you can be as healthy as you want here. If you want some rice, meat, and feta - that’s doable. And if you just want some greens with cucumber salad, that can happen as well. We suggest something in between, although it’s your lunch break, so do what feels right.
Daily Provisions is the all-day cafe offshoot of Union Square Cafe, and it’s one best places to get a super casual, quick snack or meal in the area. It’s counter-service, and there isn’t much seating, but they make some excellent breakfast and lunch sandwiches as well as some crullers that might be the best donut-like things in the city. They do run out however, so get there early if you don’t want someone else eating the crullers that rightfully belong to you. They also make great coffee drinks, and serve wine and Salt & Straw ice cream.
If you have a date who you want to impress or you’re heading out with people who want to eat something more interesting, try Nur. It’s a modern Middle Eastern place a few blocks north of Union Square, and they serve things like eggplant carpaccio, a lamb pita, and beef tartare with yogurt and tahini. The space is on the smaller side, and a lot of the mains are in the $30 to $40 range, but it isn’t as formal (or expensive) as a spot like nearby Gramercy Tavern.
Is your vegan aunt from Berkeley (who still wants a “NYC experience”) visiting? Are you planning dinner with a friend who “really just prefers to eat vegetables”? Nix is an all-vegetarian restaurant, but one where the food is more “cauliflower tempura with bao buns” and “tandoor bread with dips” than steamed macrobiotic vegetables. (Remind us to look up what macrobiotic means at some point).
abcV isn’t just excellent for a vegetarian restaurant. It’s an excellent restaurant, period. This is a place from the people behind ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina, and, like those spots, it too looks like a cross between a restaurant and a high-end furniture store. The menu consists of things like a roasted head of cauliflower, various pastas, an excellent plate of cheese and stone fruit, and a bunch of other stuff. They’re open all day, and if you stop by at breakfast, you can get a dosa filled with egg and cheese.
This small, order-at-the-counter outpost of Taboon (a Hell’s Kitchen restaurant) serves the kind of Middle Eastern/Mediterranean food you want to eat everyday. We’re big fans of the chicken platter and the salmon pita - if you’re not taking it to go, the shakshuka is worth a try as well. Taboonette works for a solo meal or a quick casual dinner, as well as for takeout.
The first time you come to City Bakery you’ll want to try their hot chocolate and their chocolate chip cookie and their pretzel croissant - all the stuff they’re famous for. But when you come back, you should hit up their always stocked, high-end salad bar. This is the kind of salad bar that has grilled cheese.
We once called Ootoya “the Cheesecake Factory of Japanese restaurants” and that’s still a kind of accurate way to describe it. Unlike many Japanese restaurants that specialize in one type of cuisine, Ootoya does it all, and the space is nice as well. Want some soba? Sushi? A rice bowl? Hot pot? A piece of fish? You’re covered at Ootoya. It’s a great choice for an indecisive group.
Joe’s Pizza, home to the best slice in downtown Manhattan (Wanna fight it? Let’s not.), started on West 4th Street, but has expanded to a location on 14th and 3rd. Keep this in mind when the pizza cravings hit, and pick Joe’s over nearby Artichoke’s. Overrated. (Wanna fight it? Again, let’s not.)
For a sit-down, thin crust pizza experience, your best bet in the Union Square area is Ribalta. This place put French fries on a pizza, but they also serve totally solid Neapolitan pies. If you’re a soccer fan, they project games on the wall regularly, and this is a fun place to watch.
Tsurutontan is big in Japan, and their first location in America is right here on 16th Street. The restaurant is famous for udon, which comes in all kinds of varieties - thin, thick, in soup with wagyu beef, covered in sea urchin. They’re served in big bowls that are enough for a meal, but the menu is filled out with appetizers worth trying as well. It’s a sleek, dark, modern space that could work for a casual dinner or a nicer one.
If you want to eat ramen at Ippudo, you’re going to have to wait. It’s worth it. So here’s what you should do: put your name down, and go do whatever it is you need to do around Union Square as you wait for them to text you that your table is ready. Once it is, order the Akamaru Modern ramen and prepare for the kind of moment when you’re both incredibly happy and incredibly full.
ABC Cocina is the upscale Mexican restaurant inside ABC Carpet. You’re going to pay $8.50 per taco here, but the good news is it’s actually worth it. Come for a birthday or a similarly festive night out.
15 East is one of the best places to have incredible omakase-style sushi in NYC, provided you’re OK with eating dollar slices for dinner for the rest of the month. Or, go at lunch, when there’s a three-course $32 prix fixe special, as well a mini version of the sushi omakase for $35.
Dark, fun, not located in midtown, and not full of guys in brown suits, Strip House is one of very few steakhouses where you can eat meat, (goose fat) potatoes, and (black truffle) creamed spinach while still feeling cool.
An NYC classic, Casa Mono pretty much never gets old and works in any scenario, provided you enjoy wine and excellent small plates of seafood and meat. If you don’t, there’s a TGI Fridays around the corner.
There are two ways you could make your tongue numb in the Union Square vicinity: 1) Get it pierced on St. Marks, or 2) Eat some Szechuan food at Han Dynasty. We endorse the latter – these are the best dan dan noodles and spicy wontons around.
Laut is a Southeast Asian restaurant that blends Malaysian, Singaporean, and Thai food. It’s a nice space for dinner, and at lunch there are several bento box and noodle specials worth considering.
Ngam certainly isn’t the most authentic Thai restaurant in the city - they have a Thai taco with pork belly and a pad thai made out of zucchini noodles. They call it “modern Thai comfort food” and all you need to know is that it tastes good. Every day from 4:30 - 7pm, there’s a happy hour where beers are $4 and a bunch of plates are discounted.
Sweetgreen’s colonization of New York City has been the best thing to happen to both lunch hour and “I don’t want to eat something too sad for dinner” hour in years, and the Union Square area now has a location of its own.
When you’re looking for a relatively affordable place where you can eat in your gym clothes, but still sort of feels like a restaurant, check out Tortaria. They specialize in Mexican tortas (that’s a sandwich, for those of you who failed Spanish) and also serve margaritas.
Ennju is a Japanese order-at-the-counter cafe, serving everything from sushi to udon soups to donburi bowls, all of which are cheap and pretty tasty. The sushi is good in the way some supermarket sushi is good, in all its refrigerated, spicy mayo-y, imitation crab-y glory. Bargain shoppers know that at 9pm, all the sushi is half off. Expect a line to form around that time.
A simple Italian coffee bar/wine bar/restaurant that works in any situation, from a quick breakfast meeting to a long lunch to a after-work drink.
A funky little bar serving all of life’s essentials: tacos, burritos, and tequila. They may not be the cheapest or most authentic, but they will do the trick.
Hu Kitchen’s proposition is gluten-free, soy-free, paleo food that isn’t taste-free. And for the most part, they succeed. Jury’s still out on whether bread made out of coconut is actually enjoyable, but the proteins can make for a quality (if pricey) dinner. At least all those people who just left Hilaria Baldwin’s yoga class seem to think so.
Coffee Shop may not be the most exciting restaurant around, but this classic spot has some key things going for it: it’s open 23 hours a day, it’s located right on Union Square, and the food is actually pretty decent. Get a steak sandwich or sesame chicken salad.
If you find yourself on the eastern side of Union Square, and unable to cross through the park due to either lack of time or inability to deal with the Hare Krishna people, grab lunch or takeout dinner at Glaze. Get a bowl of teriyaki chicken, steak, or salmon over rice. Or without rice. Just get the rice.
If you like to talk about the difference in taste between uni from Santa Barbara and Hokkaido and have a favorite sushi chef at certain restaurants and are ready to drop a double digit percentage of your last paycheck on dinner, congratulations: in Union Square, you’re close to lots of options - 15 East, Shuko, O Ya. But if you’re a normal human being who wants to eat a few quality pieces of salmon sushi and maybe an eel and avocado roll, Yama is your place. It’s a nice, traditional subterranean Japanese room and the sushi is super reliable.
You may know Breads for having the city’s best chocolate babka and mini chocolate rugelach – congratulations on impressing everyone at Rosh Hashanah. But the non-dessert stuff is very good too. Head to the back of the bakery, where you can get sandwiches and Israeli-style salads.