Union Square is one of the busiest areas in New York, which means we get a lot of questions about where to eat there. Fortunately, there are plenty of great options. So whether you live nearby, work in the area, or really like riding the escalators at the multiplex on 13th Street, here are all the best places for a sit-down meal.
If Union Square Cafe were a Starburst flavor, it would be that pink one that everybody likes. The food is part American and part Italian, with dishes like roasted chicken, 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. It’s certainly pricey, and you might have trouble getting a prime reservation, but this is the perfect place to celebrate just about anything.
Usually, you end up eating in Union Square because that’s what’s most convenient. Maybe you’re meeting friends all coming from different neighborhoods, or maybe you’re picking up a salad after you took a workout class, because those are the primary activities of Union Square. But there are no situations in which you just end up at Shuko. You have to plan to come to this fantastic Japanese restaurant - and you absolutely should. The omakase at the bar here is one of the greatest special-occasion experiences you can have in this city.
AbcV isn’t just excellent for a vegetarian restaurant. It’s excellent, period. This place is from the people behind ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina, and like those spots, it looks like a cross between a restaurant and a high-end furniture store (which makes sense because it’s actually in one). The menu has a range of things including a roasted head of cauliflower, various pastas, an excellent plate of cheese and stone fruit, and dosas that you can get with or without eggs. (Those dosas are part of the reason abcV is one of our Brunch Greatest Hits.)
Casa Mono is a reliable classic that will impress anyone in the market for tasty small plates of seafood, meat, and vegetables. Just know that a tapas dinner here can get expensive quickly, and you usually can’t just walk in (even the bar next door, Bar Jamon, is often too busy for you to find a seat). So make a reservation and come here on a double date with people who won’t mind sharing.
photo credit: Emily Schindler
There are two different ways to experience Gramercy Tavern. In the back, there’s the dining room, where you can book a table and eat a three-course prix fixe for $134 (or do the more extensive tasting menu). If you want a special occasion spot that feels less like a museum and more like someone’s very nice home in Aspen, that’s where you should sit. But we prefer the walk-in-only tavern area up front where you can eat some excellent brick chicken or a top-notch burger. If you need a last-minute spot to impress some people, stop by and put your name in for a table or get a few seats at the bar.
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 over there. New York’s first location is on 20th Street, and it tends to get really, really busy. So consider whether you’re prepared to wait several hours for your dinner, and if you are, put your name in. (If you’re not, consider this for a day-off solo lunch instead.) Once you get seated, you want one of the “Trust Me” sets (ranging from $28 to $52), which come with an assortment of sushi, sashimi, and handrolls.
Thai Villa is the best Thai restaurant near Union Square. The space is impressive and a little bit dreamlike, with a bunch of lamps and candles and a full tree’s worth of gold leaves hanging from the ceiling. And while it’s always nice to stare at shiny gold things, the real reason you come here is for the food. Start your meal with the fried chicken wrapped in pandan leaves, and then get some of the tapioca dumplings filled with minced pork (you’ll probably want several orders). This is an ideal spot for a weeknight meal, and it’s perfect for when you have some in-laws to feed. But it does get busy, so call ahead for a reservation.
Whether it’s a birthday brunch, dinner with clients, or a double date with your brother and his future spouse, this Mexican spot is the best place for a fun, upscale meal around Union Square. It feels a little like the set of a Cirque du Soleil show inside, with dramatic lighting and loud music, and the food is very good (assuming you’re OK paying $21 for two fish tacos and $19 for a small plate of shrimp).
If you have a date you need to impress or you’re heading out with people who want to eat a giant sesame bagel with lima bean dip, 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. Just keep in mind that it’s on the more expensive side (with entrees mainly in the $30 to $40 range).
It’s tough to spend time around Union Square and not notice Barn Joo. It’s located on Union Square West, a few steps from the entrance to the subway. From the outside, you’ll notice the lines waiting for a table or bar seat during Happy Hour (4pm-7pm every day), and if you get closer, you’ll hear the loud music from the DJ or live band inside. The clubby space offers Korean BBQ at tables on the second floor, but we recommend sticking to some share plates and bottles of soju at the bar or booths on the ground floor. We especially like the bibimbap, which comes with nicely charred rice at the bottom, plenty of spicy gochujang, and a big portion of meat.
It’s hard to overstate how much we like Han Dynasty for any kind of casual meal. Sometimes we just sit at home, stare at the food we’ve made for ourselves, and wish it was Han Dynasty instead. So stop by this Szechuan spot the next time you need something quick and relatively affordable with a friend or by yourself. Whatever else you get, dan dan noodles must be on your table.
After all these years, you’ll still find a wait at Ippudo. Is it really worth it? If you have a few hours to kill and you want to get a great, affordable meal, then yes. We’d eat the Akamaru Modern ramen here any day of the week, and the pork buns are excellent (in part because of the mayonnaise).
If you’re the type of person who spends 15 minutes in the cereal aisle trying to decide between the one with the Dracula mascot and the one with the bunny, then you may have some trouble with the very long menu at Ootoya. This Japanese spot in Chelsea serves everything from yakitori to sushi to soba to hot pot, but our favorite part of the menu is the selection of rice bowls. We recommend the one with a few different grilled skewers, including two of the best options from the yakitori section, the chicken meatball and thigh. There are a bunch of bar seats that work for a solo lunch or dinner, but the big, two-floor space is best with a group, when you can try more things.
Daily Provisions is the all-day cafe offshoot of Union Square Cafe, and it’s one of the 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 excellent breakfast and lunch sandwiches, as well as crullers we’d eat every day if our doctors told us to up our dessert intake. They do run out, though, so get there early if you don’t want someone else eating the crullers that rightfully belong to you.
Tim Ho Wan is a dim sum chain from Hong Kong, and they have two locations in NYC now. The one on 4th Avenue near Astor Place was the first, and when it originally opened it was next to impossible to get a seat. (It’s still walk-in-only, and you’ll still probably have to wait.) While the dim sum is not our favorite in the city, it’s very good and pretty affordable.
When you want to share a lot of good food and drinks with a group and not worry about Wells Fargo’s overdraft policy, check out Tortaria. This casual spot serves tacos and a few small plates, but they specialize in Mexican sandwiches (our favorite is the one with pork carnitas and chipotles). Everything on the menu is around $10, so you should order a lot, which will also help balance out the pitchers of margaritas and caipirinhas.
Tsurutontan is big in Japan, and their first location in America is right here on 16th Street (there’s also one in Midtown). It’s famous for udon, which comes in all kinds of varieties - thin, thick, in soup with wagyu beef, covered in sea urchin, etc. One bowl of noodles is 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.
Ribalta is a big space in an area that’s definitely not short on restaurants, and yet it rarely ever has room for walk-ins. Probably because it’s a fun group dinner spot that’s convenient for everyone and not too expensive. The Neapolitan pizza is pretty good, there are a bunch of bottles of wine for around $40, and during the day, they project soccer matches on the wall.
Like Ribalta, Gupshup is a good option for a fun, not-very-expensive group dinner two blocks off Union Square, but the good news is you won’t have to worry about every table being taken for the night at 6pm here. You’ll find colorful cocktails infused with Indian spices, and fusion-y dishes like tomato rasam ramen and roasted bone marrow with five-spice naan.
If you need to get some dinner with a couple of people who are looking for something “cool,” but don’t want anything too loud or full of 21-year-olds, Kyma works. It’s an upscale Greek spot with a big dining room and a lively bar area, and it’s easy enough to get a table here most nights. The food is a little more expensive than it should be ($36 for seafood linguine, for example), but you can get a very good whole grilled fish here, and everyone should like the spanakopita and grilled octopus. There’s also a little bit of scene, so if you just got a haircut and wouldn’t mind an audience for it, Kyma’s not a bad choice.
This is a big neighborhood Greek restaurant on University Place, and it’s ideal for casual meals with parents, friends, and any children of yours who might go to NYU. The food is perfectly fine, and sometimes that’s all you need.
Vegans, vegetarians, and anyone who spends time with vegans or vegetarians should know about Peacefood. This is a casual spot on 11th Street where you can grab a quick lunch or dinner when you aren’t looking for meat. The vegan food doesn’t really look or sound too impressive (tempeh sandwich, quinoa salad, etc.), but it grows on you as you eat it. Take the chickpea fries: they look like brown bricks, but by the third one you’ll wonder why they aren’t served in every establishment with a kitchen and a cash register.
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. The menu is a mix of things like “unauthentic” butter chicken and yogurt-filled croquettes in a magenta beet/ginger sauce - and most of the dishes here are worth your time. Dinner can get a little pricey, though, so if you want to eat a good amount of food, we recommend the $62 prix fixe. Also, try to get a seat upstairs (we like the space there more).
15 East has been open since 2006, and it shows - the space feels a little stuffy and dated. That said, the sushi is still high quality, and you might find this place useful if you have to get an upscale meal with a few clients in the Union Square area. Plus, you can get an omakase meal at lunch for around $40.
This is a steakhouse on 12th Street, but when you walk in and see the overwhelmingly red color scheme, waiters in white coats, and walls covered with photos of celebrities, you might briefly wonder if you’re in Midtown. It’s a good spot for a meal with a couple of people who want to pay a not-insignificant amount of money for a ribeye, a side of truffle creamed spinach, and a slice of 24-layer chocolate cake for dessert.
Everyone at your desk knows not to ask any questions at the end of 5pm meetings. Both because no one in the office has had any fresh air in nine hours, and because an extra few minutes will probably mean the difference between getting a table at Headless Horseman and fighting through crowds three-deep to order a drink at the bar. This place is very popular during Happy Hour, which goes from 4pm-8pm daily, but if you are able to get a table, then you should pair the discounted wine, beer, and well drinks with some bar food. The buffalo wings are meaty and not over-sauced, and if you want something more substantial, get the fried chicken sandwich.
Ever since you discovered that you and a few friends from high school all work near Union Square, you’ve been texting on an endless chain about a group dinner. You need someplace fun, casual, and relatively affordable - and Laut is all these things. This Southeast Asian restaurant is only a block from the park, and all the Thai/Malaysian/Singaporean dishes here come family-style. Get some wine and the garlic soft shell crab, and you’ll start meeting up with these people more regularly (instead of just texting about it).
Yama Japanese Restaurant
If you like to talk about the difference in taste between uni from Santa Barbara and Hokkaido, you have a favorite sushi chef at certain restaurants, and you’re ready to drop a double digit percentage of your last paycheck on dinner, congratulations: in Union Square, you’re close to lots of options - like Shuko and O Ya. But if you just want 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 spot with sushi that’s super reliable.
Taboonette is the small, counter-service outpost of Taboon (a Hell’s Kitchen restaurant), and it serves quick, filling Middle Eastern/Mediterranean food you can eat several times a week. We’re big fans of the chicken platter and the salmon pita - and if you’re not taking your food to-go, the shakshuka is a good order as well. Try this place for a solo meal on a weeknight when you’re tired.