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.
This small, order-at-the-counter outpost of Taboon in Hell's Kitchen 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.
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).
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.
A Southeast Asian restaurant that blends Malaysian, Singaporean, and Thai food, this is fusion worth getting excited about. 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. Go wild.
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 daze off into that blissful moment where you're both incredibly happy and incredibly full.
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.
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.
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.
People love an upscale Mexican restaurant, and ABC Cocina is a great version of that. We actually prefer it to ABC Kitchen these days, making it our #1 favorite restaurant located in a carpet store.
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.
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.
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 inablity 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, if you’re #PALEO. Just get the rice.
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.
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.
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.
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.