True story: we once took a Metro North train from Grand Central where we sat behind three suburban teenage girls talking about how they had just shoplifted Juicy Couture velour jumpsuits from a department store. Slightly disturbing, but highly memorable.
Regrettably, we can't promise that level of entertainment from a trip to Grand Central, but we can hook you up with some places to eat. If you commute, work, or simply enjoy spending time around Grand Central, you know it's not teeming with millions of awesome restaurants, unless you really enjoy Pret A Manger. So we’ve put together a guide to your best options - now updated with more spots - whether you’re looking for a sit-down meal outside the terminal or a sandwich to go with your velour hoodie. (Please pay for the sandwich.)
One of the biggest things to happen to the Grand Central area this century? Dropping a pretty killer food hall in the middle of it. Urbanspace Vanderbilt is now serving everything from Roberta's pizza to a chicken-based ramen made by Ippudo, with new vendors being switched in regularly. 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.
Alidoro, the famous Italian sandwich shop in Soho, opened a location on 39th Street. Why did they do this? No idea. But go for any sandwich - we like the prosciutto or chicken with mozzarella and arugula, drizzled with some of the housemade vinaigrette - and you will be pleased.
Another local empire was wise enough to set up shop in the East 40s, and you're kidding yourself if you think there's a better lobster roll around. There's also ample space to sit both outside or inside.
The Totto family of restaurants knows its way around a noodle. Hit Soba Totto for a quick meal of soba or yakitori, or come at lunch for the special $10 chirashi bowl.
Num Pang is an NYC empire at this point, and 41st Street is lucky to have an outpost. The Cambodian sandwiches – similar to banh mi – feature a winning combination of pickled carrots and daikon, spicy mayo, cilantro, and a protein of choice. We say go for catfish.
Frequenters of Midtown all have their go-to sushi spot, 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 under $30, but if you are going to spend, the big draw is the $42 "Box Of Dreams," a set of nine mini boxes of sashimi.
The fast-casual cuisine of choice at Naya Express is Lebanese, and we're big fans of the excellent build-your-own bowls and pita rolls.
Pietro's fans are a diehard bunch. This is an old school Italian spot in every sense, straight down to the fact that tables are named for loyal patrons. The menu is consistent across the board, but the chicken or veal parm, plus a Caesar salad, are probably what you want to order.
The question: "Where do I go for a nice but not-too-formal business meal? Near Grand Central, please." The answer: The National, every time.
What's that, there's a kind of cool bar serving good burgers on 39th and Madison? This is correct. The Shakespeare is brought to you by the people who run Jones Wood Foundry uptown, and it's a great place to hang with a small group.
Xi'An Famous Foods locations are opening all over the place, and that's a great thing. Come for cheap, spicy soups and noodles. If you're a first timer, try the noodles with spicy cumin lamb.
Look - it's not the best taco in America, nor the cheapest. But April Bloomfield's Mexican operation in a hotel bar is a solid place to hang with a margarita and a cauliflower taco if you need to kill time. Just plan on bringing a friend (or coming hungry), because the tacos come in minimum orders of 3.
For a more grab-and-go taco situation, direct yourself to Choza, a mini-chain that we've found to be a bit better than its competitors. This location is a weekdays-only situation, but they do open at 8:30 am, and they DO serve breakfast tacos and tortas.
Speaking of important morning eggs, we point out the Grand Central location of Shake Shack for one primary reason: it has a breakfast menu featuring egg sandwiches until 10:30am. Now you know.
In general, we're going to steer you away from tourist-heavy destinations. Wanna go to Tavern On The Green? We won't see you there. But if there's one old-timey classic worth visiting, it's Grand Central Oyster Bar. Grab some oysters and a cocktail before hopping on the Metro North.
Finding Sakagura is at least a quarter of why we like this restaurant so much - you literally have to walk into a nondescript office lobby, and down a random staircase in the back. At the bottom of the stairs, you'll find yourself in a big, dark room with bottles of sake lining the walls. The menu is mostly Japanese small plates - sashimi, tofu, little rice bowls, and so on - and extremely good. You'll achieve immediate pro status for bringing anyone here.
If you want to fill your body with grilled meats in a fine dining setting, you could go to Michael Jordan's steakhouse located right in Grand Central. Much love to MJ, but we're going to suggest you not do that. Instead, head to Aburiya Kinnosuke, an excellent upscale Japanese spot that specializes in meats on a robata grill.
A meal at Kajitsu is a serious event. The restaurant serves a four and eight-course tasting menu, both exemplifying the vegetarian shojin cuisine that originated in Buddhist monasteries. Everything about the meal is beautiful, interesting, and delicious - it's absolutely an experience worth having at least once.
If Kajitsu sounded cool, but you're not sure if you're ready to commit to the idea of a vegetarian tasting menu experience (you should, though), check out their sister restaurant, located in the same building. Kokage is a la carte, and serves everything from wagyu beef rice bowls to some excellent udon noodle soups to pressed mackerel sushi.
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