Each day, thousands of people converge on Grand Central Terminal; some are rushing to catch a train, others are simply content to gaze up at the magnificent zodiac ceiling as crowds swirl around them. Others are there to eat, as the Terminal boasts dozens of restaurants, kiosks, stalls and shops where you can procure everything from a 40 ounce steak to a basket of tomatoes to a frothy cappuccino, all under one beautiful, Beaux-Arts roof. Below, a selection of our favorite dining destinations within the hallowed walls, where there's always something new to discover down one of the myriad passageways and tunnels that course through the building.
THE DINING CONCOURSE Nestled below the bustle of the Main Concourse lies the Dining Concourse, a food court-style cornucopia of eateries, bars and kiosks boasting all kinds of goodies to nourish the body and/or get you a little tipsy before your train to Poughkeepsie. Several spots include their own seating areas with waitress service and a more personalized dining experience but there are also plenty of places to perch inside the beautifully decorated public seating areas, which are vaguely reminiscent of a well-appointed train car. We all know about that Shake Shack, but what other gems are waiting to fuel your Metro-North adventure?
Central Market New York: This family-owned sandwich shop eschews flabby deli meats in favor of daily meat specials, which are roasted in-house and sliced to order. Patrons can opt to design their own sandwiches from a variety of cheeses and other toppings, or take the eatery's suggested pairings, which include Pork Loin with brie and mango chutney on ciabatta (Tuesdays) or Chicken Thighs with tostones and mango (Wednesdays). Their grilled cheese menu is also a hit, especially the fresh mozzarella and prosciutto version ($6.95) served pressed on ciabatta.
When it's time to unwind, they offer more than half a dozen wines by the half bottle or personal bottle plus seasonal sangrias and craft beer on tap; if you have a group and time to kill, opt for any of their tap beers served in "Beer Towers" for $45.
Shiro of Japan: It's a literal smorgasbord of sushi at this grab-and-go kiosk, where there are dozens of rolls to select from simple salmon maki to more complex rolls with tempura shrimp or spicy tuna or vegetable medleys. Their popular "Track Boxes" feature several types of rolls in one box if you're looking for variety; they'll also make any combination you want to order if you don't see your favorite in the case. In addition to sushi, try a hot noodle soup, seaweed salad or rice bowl.
Two Boots Pizzeria: Tucked away in one corner of the concourse is this little outpost of NYC's favorite funky pie slinger. On first glance, you may just see the pizza counter, where you can procure slices like the vegan Earth Mother or Mr. Pink with chicken, garlic, mozzarella and tomatoes. Look deeper into that corner and you'll discover a miniature version of their proper restaurants, complete with zany decor and a full bar. There you can order full pies and sandwiches or just sip on a martini before your train, as a gentleman on a recent visit was doing.
Manhattan Chili Company: Even if you don't eat the meats you can still enjoy a comforting bowl of chili from this fully-stocked bar, which boasts all manner of chilis from traditional beef to lamb to turkey to vegan options. A fiery Texas version is one of the stand's most popular—we'll forgive their inclusion of beans since the flavors are otherwise on point—as is the High Plains, made with tender ground turkey. Regardless the fillings, everything is all natural with no added sugar and animal proteins like the beef are grass fed. Chilis come in a variety of sizes and can be adorned with toppings like cheese, sour cream and veggies; similarly, items like hot dogs, corn bread and mac & cheese can be slathered in your choice of their many chilis.
Also in the concourse: Cafe Spice (Indian), Chirping Chicken, Ciao bella Gelato, Dishes, Eata Pita, Feng Shui (Chinese), Frankies Dogs on the Go (hot dogs), Golden Krust Patties (Jamaican), Hale and Hearty Soups, Irving Farm Coffee Roasters, Junior's Restaurant (burgers and cheesecake), Magnolia Bakery, Mendy's Kosher Delicatessen/Dairy, Shake Shack, Thai Toon, Tri Tip Grill and Zaro's Bakery.
THE MARKET: Did you know there's a place to do all your gourmet grocery shopping mere steps from the subway entrance? Well, there is, and you can, inside the Terminal's open, multi-store market located outside the Main Concourse. Inside are all manner of purveyors selling fresh fish, breads, cheeses, meats, chocolates and a whole lot more. Price-wise, it's not the local Met Foods, but prices are comparable to Fairway, Whole Foods and the like; plus for sheer convenience it can't be beat, whether you have last-minute house guests or need something fresh and funky to bring as a hostess gift.
Pescatore Seafood Co: If fresh fish is what you desire, the lovely staff at this beautiful seafood palace are happy to help you. They were the first lease signed when the market debuted; since then they've built a loyal following of fish fans, some of whom stop by daily to grab the freshest catch. From recommending a filet of the day or doing the hard work for you with their pre-cooked selection, Pescatore won't let you walk away empty handed. They also have a large selection of pre-made items like incredibly fresh seafood spring rolls (try the poached salmon or shrimp) and seafood salads that make for a refreshing and healthful meal on the quick.
Spices and Tease: If the intoxicating fragrance doesn't completely win you over, the sight of bowl after bowl of beautifully-hued spices, spice blends and teas definitely will. For those whose experience with spice is limited to jars, this stall is a game changer, allowing you to see and smell the spices you're buying before making a commitment. They offer spices by weight, too, which means instead of buying one full $7 jar of cardamom you only need for one recipe, you can buy an amount tailor-made to suit the recipe you're using. The kiosk offers "70 original spices and seeds, 180 exotic imported teas, 30 varieties of homemade spice blends, 18 different types of peppers, 13 types of gourmet salt and 25 herbs and botanical plants."
Li-Lac Chocolates: This 90-year-old confectionery recently opened a new Brooklyn factory, allowing them to expand their operations at both GCT and their Jane Street outlet. At the shop you'll find delights like addictive almond bark and butter crunch candies, salted caramels and chocolate-covered orange peels, plus specialty truffles, cherry cordials and marshmallow bars. They also boast an extensive collection of chocolate molds, from animals to fashion to King Kong, which you can order in advance for a quick gift to pick up at the Terminal.
Murray's Cheese: What more can we say about Murray's cheese that we haven't already said? The fromagerie's second shop inside the Market just got a nice expansion, so there are even more curds on hand from the sharpest of cheddars to the creamiest of camemberts and all the varieties in between. In addition to the cheese, they're also totally stocked up on yogurts, butters and other dairy delights, plus charcuterie, dried pastas, crackers and all the fixings to make an excellent cheese plate or fancy picnic.
Eli Zabar's Bread & Pastry / Farm to Table: Bookending the market are two offerings from NYC's most famous grocer, offering up prepared foods like salads, vegetarian pizzas and dried fruit, nuts and granolas or raw items including juicy heirloom tomatoes and produce, crusty baguettes and fresh flowers. Less virtuous items including fresh-baked pies, cookies and cakes can also be procured, as well as pantry staples like flour and sugar for DIY dessert.
THE RESTAURANTS & BARS
Grand Central Oyster Bar: The most famous of all the Terminal's eateries, this iconic seafood restaurant just reopened following a little facelift to its beautiful Rafael Guastavino arches. The old gal's looking better than ever and still serving up solid seafood options from fried seafood platters to whole lobsters to their extensive raw bar, stocked with plenty of oysters, naturally. Enjoying a glass of buttery Chardonnay while slurping a few briny bivalves is one of the most quintessentially New York experiences.
Michael Jordan's The Steak House: Chances are slim you'll spot His Airness devouring a Tomahawk on your visit, but you'll be too distracted peering down at the busy ants making their way through the Main Concourse below or gazing up at the constellations on the ceiling to even notice. On the menu you'll find traditional steakhouse fare like Shrimp Cocktail ($18), a burger ($23) and of course large hunks of meat, including a Boneless Rib Eye ($41), a Marinated Skirt Steak ($30) and the enormous Porterhouse for Two ($89). In addition to the restaurant, the balcony bar offers a more casual spot to sip and sup, and the small wine alcove sets the scene for tastings and small parties throughout the year.
The Campbell Apartment: With access to this stately bar tucked inside a passageway on Vanderbilt Avenue, it's safe to say this hidden gem won't be flooded with tourists looking for a quick beer as they check off landmarks in their guidebooks. Ascend the carpeted staircase and find a watering hole seemingly unchanged from the 1920s. The space boasts ceiling-high windows, an enormous stone fireplace, a gorgeous wood ceiling and the feeling that you've been let in on a little secret. Cocktails fit the atmosphere as well, like their signature Prohibition Punch ($19), a potent mix of several spirits that softens the blow of its hefty price tag. It should be noted that the bar enforces a dress code that prohibits such vulgar attire as T-shirts, shorts and baseball caps.
Cipriani Dolci: Across the balcony from Michael Jordan's you'll find one of many offshoots of this Italian restaurant group, which caters to the after-work set with its large bar area overlooking the Main Concourse. Things can get hectic on the landing but diners and drinkers are safely tucked away from most of the mayhem and left to sip bellinis and munch on dishes like Pappardelle alla Bolognese or Grilled Mediterranean Branzino in relative peace.
THE SHOPS: Scattered throughout the terminal, these often tiny kiosks provide both retail outlets for food gifts, groceries and other goods, as well as a place to grab a quick coffee, pastry or sandwich if you're just running through. There are dozens tucked away in the stately passages on the main level of the terminal, like a very high-end shopping mall for things to eat.
Joe the Art of Coffee: There are an incredible amount of coffee shops at the Terminal, including this tiny gem that serves some beautiful and delicious lattes to the commuter set. During peak times, expect a bit of a line, but the creamy, frothy drinks turned out by the talented baristas are worth the wait. A small latte sets you back $3.75 but a ginormous drip coffee runs just $2.50; they also sell Doughnut Plant goodies in addition to muffins, croissants and other pastries. Note: cash only.
Beer Table To Go: The Brooklyn outpost of this suds shop closed but their satellite beer operation inside the Graybar Passage is still going strong. The retail shop offers both bottle and tap beers to go, making that commute to Connecticut a little more reasonable. Opt for either a single bottle or mix-and-match your own six pack of brews from dozens of different beers, all of which are kept chilled for immediate consumption. Their draft program features a rotating selection of six brews, three to four of which are usually produced in New York state. Grab a growler to go—they offer neoprene sleeves for longer journeys—or a single pint kept sturdy inside a lidded mason jar. They also sell little snacks like beer chocolate and McClure's potato chips to accompany your brew.
Cafe Grumpy: If you require a little more Brooklyn cred with your caffeine, the Lena Dunham-approved coffee shop recently opened a GCT outpost inside the Lexington Passage, ousting a Starbucks in the process. Sip the byproduct of sustainably-sourced beans, which are roasted and shuttled over the bridge to the Terminal. They also offer their own house-baked pastries, including a new Commuter Combo that gives you a 12 ounce coffee plus a scone or muffin for just $5.50 on Mondays through Fridays from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m.
O&CO.: Knowing that the provenance of one's olive oil should always be questioned, why not shop at a place where they've already done the legwork for you? This French shop sells olive oils from all over the Mediterranean, like the decadent Rameaux D'Or from France and the more casual Everyday Olive Oil from Spain. In addition to the 23 different types of oil, the shop also offers other olive products like tapenades and vinegars for a killer salad dressing.
Find a full list of shops here.