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The Midtown Chain Power Rankings

PHOTO: Noah Devereaux

If you’re playing blackjack and you get a 20, you should settle for that. And when you’re working in Midtown, and you need a quick lunch, you might just want to settle for fast-casual. If you do, you'll probably wind up at one of these places.

Of course, this guide’s a little different from our usual stuff, because we, technically, don’t recommend any of these places. Not in the usual sense, anyways. These are the places you eat at out of necessity. We've ranked from best to worst, taking into account food, vibes, and wait time. For food and vibes, the scale is 1-10 (and everything is more or less graded on a curve). Now get out there and settle for some lunch.

To check out the rest of the Midtown Survival Guide, click here.

the ranking

1

Pret A Manger

1200 Avenue of the Americas
MAP

Food: 7

Vibes: 7

Wait: Minimal

Haters try to tear Pret down because the sandwiches are “mostly bread.” To those haters, we say: yeah, that’s kind of true. But you never have to wait for your food at Pret, because everything is made in advance - and that has to be worth something. Also, it’s always clean, and we’re pretty confident that their not-bad, healthy-ish stuff will never give us food poisoning. And have you tried the cookies? They keep them warm. McDonald's doesn't do that. Oh, they do? Well, Milk Bar doesn’t.

2

Potbelly Sandwich Shop

19 West 45th Street
MAP

Food: 6

Vibes: 8

Wait: Minimal

Is it the name? Is that why it isn’t that busy here? Or is it because people stopped eating 500-calorie sandwiches in favor of 800-calorie salads? If you’re in Midtown, and you don’t want to deal with a huge line at lunchtime, hit up Potbelly. If there’s any sort of wait, an employee will go down the line and start taking orders. And once you tell them what you want, they’ll ask if you want bacon - at which point two timelines will stretch out before you: a life with bacon and a life without. Also, the toaster here is fun to watch. And definitely add bacon.

3

Hale & Hearty

745 7th Ave
MAP

Food: 6

Vibes: 4

Wait: Moderate

Last time we were at Hale and Hearty, they were playing Smashmouth. Which makes perfect sense, because that’s about how trendy they are. Yes, you can get a salad here - but it won’t have wild rice and local raisins. And you should be in the soup line, anyways. There are, like, twenty soups to choose from, and your choice defines your personality. (If you get the sloppy joe soup, that means you’re confident, charismatic, and just a little bit sad.) Also, don’t forget the bread on the side. It will probably be stale, but you can feed it to ducks in the park after work.

4

Dig Inn

150 E 52nd St
MAP

Food: 5

Vibes: 8

Wait: Long

Is Dig Inn the worst? No, Dig Inn is not the worst. Is Dig Inn the best? No - it’s like you haven’t even been reading this guide (it’s all about settling). At Dig Inn, you choose a protein, a grain, and two sides. Mac & cheese is extra, but it doesn’t even taste like cheese, so f*ck that mac & cheese anyways. There are definitely some odd flavor combos going on here, and the dishes are mostly hit and miss. But this is where you go if you just want a few scoops of warm food that might be healthy. Also, for Midtown, the decor is really just, wow - we know where we’re having our next NPR-listening party.

5

Chop't

165 E 52nd St
MAP

Food: 6

Vibes: 7

Wait: Long

Did you bring a fleece vest to work? And, at lunch, are you going to take off your blazer and put on this vest? Just to keep things casual? You should go to Chop’t. You’ll fit right in, and you’ll appreciate the efficiency of the salad choppers. Think of this place as a Sweetgreen for people who don’t drink matcha and have never been to Coachella. It's like a really nice hospital cafeteria, and you don't even have to drink too much or get in a skiing accident in order to eat here.

6

Essen Fast Slow Food

290 Madison Ave
MAP

Food: 7

Vibes: 0

Wait: Extreme

Captain’s log, day one: the situation here is bleak, not unlike a DMV, only here you’re waiting for the opportunity to scoop your own food, buffet-style. At the back of the line, our only hope is that none of the thirty people before us cough into the trays of food we desire to eat. There is no room to move, and one can only stare as one shuffles forward. No music, only voices. The balloons should have tipped us off. Why so many balloons? Now we understand. The balloons are there to boost our morale. This does not work.

7

Così

61 W 48th St
MAP

Food: 5

Vibes: 3

Wait: Minimal

When you're on a plane, you'll eat not-great food, and you’ll be grateful for it - and the same goes for Midtown. Because there isn't enough time to wait for good food, and there aren’t that many outstanding options anyways. So, yeah, maybe you’re going to settle for lunch at Cosi. It’s a little depressing there, but at least they bake their own bread. There might even be a bowl on the counter with free bread scraps you can pick at while you wait for your decent sandwich. Be warned, however, that grazing on free bread scraps at Cosi will lower your self-esteem in the long run.

8

Lenwich

202 40th St
MAP

Food: 5

Vibes: 2

Wait: Minimal

The artist formerly known as "Lenny's" makes sandwiches in the New York deli tradition, and they are very much not-terrible. Their signature “Lenwich” is a strong choice - but eat more than two of these corned beef/pastrami sandwiches and you technically have to disclose this fact to your life insurance company. Also, the lighting in here isn’t very flattering, and (depending on which location you visit) the furniture might look like it was acquired from a prison that went out of business. But you probably won’t have to wait in line and there’s so much Diet Snapple.

9

'Wichcraft - Midtown

555 5th Ave
MAP

Food: 4

Vibes: 5

Wait: Minimal

Have you always gotten everything you’ve ever wanted? Do you long to know what disappointment feels like? Get your next lunch at Wichcraft. On paper, everything sounds pretty good - but the sandwiches themselves are always a letdown. They’re ambitious, you can at least give them that, but they never taste as good as they should. So go ahead and head over to Wichcraft if you’re craving a not-that-great, sort-of-fancy steak or chicken sandwich that you won’t have to wait in line for.

10

Au Bon Pain

125 W 55th St
MAP

Food: 4

Vibes: 2

Wait: Minimal

Very roughly translated, the name of this chain means, “Oh, good pain.” And that’s a little misleading. Because it isn’t so much “good” pain that you feel here, it’s more of an unpleasant throb that you feel in the back of your skull as you wonder why you’re settling for lunch in this place (and why it’s so yellow). If you have to get a sandwich here, get a sandwich. And in the morning get a muffin, why not. But don’t get pasta here. Pasta is too good, and you shouldn’t let people do bad things to it.

11

Toasties

23 E 51st St
MAP

Food: 4

Vibes: 2

Wait: Minimal

Crying people need food too - and that’s where Toasties comes in. The next time you plan on crawling underneath your desk and having a good cry, get a sandwich here first. We suggest the “Sloop Dan B.” It has turkey, pastrami, Monterey jack, cole slaw, and Russian dressing. And if that doesn’t do it for you, there are a bunch of other hot and cold options (and they also do salads). When you need to fill a void in your life with bread and cheese, and you just don’t care how you get it, Toasties is there for you.

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