photo credit: Dane Isaac
Finding a solid dinner option within a half-mile radius of Times Square can be a daunting task. In this part of Midtown, restaurants typically fall into two categories: overcrowded megachains with unlimited table bread and tasting menu spots where a basket of dinner rolls will cost you over $10. Thankfully, Iris exists. It’s a Greek and Turkish place with a massive dining room and excellent seafood and mezze that has become our to-go option for a sit-down dinner in between 42nd Street and Columbus Circle.
This spacious spot from the team behind The Loyal sits on the bottom floor of a 26-story office building on the corner of Broadway and 55th Street. From its front entrance, you can spot the latest pyrotechnic Samsung ad beaming brightly from a 40-foot billboard - but stepping inside Iris is a total departure from that scene outside. With its light filtering curtains and comfy leather chairs, the dimly-lit dining room feels like a lounge where a pianist could start performing at any moment. There’s nothing stuffy about this place, though. There are no white tablecloths or strict dress codes, so you could show up after a sweaty day of shopping at the M&M store without feeling out of place.
Aegean mezze, grilled seafood, and meat-heavy entrees make up the majority of Iris’ menu. So if your ideal meal involves creamy hummus, fresh eggplant dip, and warm pita, you will be very happy here. Share some small plates at a sleek leather booth in the back, and make sure that the pungent lamb flatbread and tender quail kebab are also on your table.
The “Near & Far” section of the menu should be your focus if you stop by Iris on a date. The rotating list of seasonal specials is where you’ll find all of the best simply-prepared seafood and meat dishes, most of which are made to share with one other person and cost less than $30. Nothing about Iris’ grilled dorade from Spain is particularly mind-blowing. But the refreshing caper vinaigrette served on top adds a briny, lemon-garlic flavor that makes this fish stand out.
No matter how often you find yourself waddling around Midtown in search of a decent sit-down meal, make it a point to try Iris at least once. The restaurant caters to out-of-towners and native New Yorkers alike. Which is why you should convince your second cousin to come here instead of waiting in line for shrimp scampi at Olive Garden down the street.
Start your meal with the ground lamb flatbread, which has the lightness of a homemade cracker and the peppery flavor of minced meat, sumac, and cilantro. This foot-long bread boat is on the crispy and airy side of the baked goods spectrum. The sumac gives the minced lamb on top a red tint and peppery flavor that’ll wake up your senses in a good way.
From crunchy dolmas and roasted eggplant with golden raisins to whipped feta and sesame seed-covered hummus, the mezze should never be skipped at Iris. If you’re indecisive like us, you can always order this mezze mix platter to share with the table.
Each order comes with two whole quails that are about the same size as your fist. The crispy skin is browned in sage butter, so the skin has a satisfying crunch. Share this dish if you’re looking for an entree that doesn’t involve seafood.
The tender white flesh in this Spanish dorade was grilled to perfection, but the caper vinaigrette on top is the real reason you should order this. That dressing gave this simply prepared fish a light coat of acidic bliss that we can’t stop thinking about.
Pair a few dips and some fish with this minty cocktail, and you’ll be transported from the home base of tourists in mustard-stained T-shirts to a swanky beachside restaurant overlooking the Black Sea.
Aegean Pastry Cart
We could taste every moist layer of the pistachio baklava we ordered from the pastry cart at Iris, and from now, we’ll never look at baklava the same way. Get this bite-sized ball of joy, plus some sorbet, rice pudding, fried doughnuts covered in honey syrup, or whatever else catches your eye. You can choose any three options from the cart for $10 or get one of everything for $18.