After the hustle of getting to work on time and tackling the morning inbox, the first thing most of us start thinking about is that blessed midday reprise called lunch. In Midtown East, chains proliferate, but if you look beyond your usual humdrum lunch suspects, there exists a wider range of options: for everything from a quick 20-minute bite, to sit-down and read a magazine (maybe even with a glass of wine), to that classic institution, the power lunch. In fact, along with the Financial District, Midtown is tops for power lunching. Read on for our recommendations of where to lunch in Midtown East, whatever the circumstance.
NUM PANG Is there a more perfect food at lunchtime than a sandwich of baguette, pickled vegetables, mayo, and pork? Num Pang is one of NYC's most beloved chains, known for its updated Cambodian banh mi sandwiches made with creative, artisanal, and often locally sourced ingredients. Banh mi here boast fillings like coconut tiger shrimp ($10.50), glazed pork belly ($8.75), and Khmer sausage made by Brooklyn Bangers ($9). There are salads, too: spicy tofu ($9.50) or grilled skirt steak ($13.25) will be the perfect, filling but healthful mid-day fill-up. It's quick, fresh, and good.
Num Pang is located at 140 East 41st Street, (212) 867-8889; numpagnnyc.com
UNCLE GUSSY'S GREEK FOOD CART
Gussy and Franky are two brothers from a family of food vendors who set out eight years ago to provide Midtown East with authentic, quality Greek cuisine. They serve platters consisting of meat, rice, sauce, and lettuce and tomato, like the pork souvlaki platter ($6); there are salads as well, like the Greek chicken salad ($10.50) and gyro sandwiches stuffed with marinated meats ($6, add fries for $3.50). Many of these dishes come smothered in the unique, homemade, addictively good Uncle Gussy's Tzaziki sauce. Each week there are specials, such as the roasted gemitsa pepper platter, coming with thick-cut fries and a Greek salad (price varies).
The ingredients are carefully chosen, including an oregano imported from Greece, but the main reason the food has so many devotees is that it's all "prepared, seasoned and marinated" by Gussy and Franky's mother Katerina. Uncle Gussy's offers online ordering so you can skip the line, although it does move quickly and food is prepared efficiently.
Uncle Gussy's is parked at 51st Street and Park Avenue from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; unclegussys.com
MYSTIKK MASAALA Spice up your workday with fresh and authentic Indian street food in an area where cheap and good lunch options are scarce. Bonus: it's also especially good for vegetarians. The owner of Mystikk Masaala, a food cart found near Grand Central, is from Mumbai, and he grinds his own spices for the cart's daily-changing menu. For $7-9 you can get your choice of platters—"veg" or meat (or veg-meat combo)—served with dal (lentils), black eyed peas, salad, yogurt-based raita sauce, and aromatic Basmati rice. Add oven-baked butter naan for just $2. Homemade, delicious and warming Masala Chai tea comes free with any platter and the truck also offers many snacks for around $4, such as aloo (potato) tikki, samosas, and chicken momos, a Tibetan dumpling.
Mystikk Masaala is located at 399 Park Avenue between 53rd and 54th Streets
SPREADS SANDWICH SHOP When most of us think of lunch, we have one particular food in mind: the sandwich. In New York, sandwiches are all over the place: at bodegas, diners, food carts. But more and more, we want our sandwiches to be healthy, fresh, seasonal, and locally-sourced. Enter Spreads, a casual cafe with excellent sandwiches that meet all the above criteria, plus one other important one: they're all under $12. The indulgent Tuna Melt ($9.75) is a popular choice, as is the House Smoked Chicken ($10.50), which comes piled high with aleppo pickled roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella, basil and a roasted garlic aioli on toasted ciabatta.
Spreads Sandwich Shop is located at 441 Park Avenue South, (212) 758-5555; spreadsny.com
UDON WEST New York City would be nothing without its divey, cash only eateries. Here's one for the Midtown East crowd, with fast service and great prices. As the name suggests, there are bowls of udon, a wide and thick noodle made from wheat. It's a welcome alternative to ramen, although udon is served in a similar umami broth, hot or cold depending on your mood. What makes this spot unique is the extensive options in terms of toppings, which add life to the noodles. There's a wide range, from the popular chicken and shrimp tempura ($11.50) to marinated beef and kimchi ($8.50), to fried fish cake ($7.50). Get creative, and build your own udon bowl. You might throw in an order of gyoza (potstickers, $5) to satisfy your savory craving even more fully.
Udon West is located at 150 E 46th Street, (212) 922-9677; udonwest.com
PIZZA BY CER TÉ In New York, there is no standard too high for pizza. Not only are the slices and pies on offer at Cer Té uniquely delicious in terms of their combinations, which range from traditional options like the deep-dish Italian Wedding (meatballs, spinach, Grana Padano and mozzarella cheeses, hot peppers, $3.95/$28) to more unusual ones such as the Buffalo Artichoke (roasted artichoke with blue cheese and celery hearts, $3.50/$24).
But the place also focuses on using sustainably and locally-sourced ingredients. This goes beyond just farm-to-table, with "organically fed" salmon as an entree (served with potatoes and one side of your choice, $14.25) and a "green restaurant" certification, indicating that Cer Té has a reduced carbon footprint. But most importantly, the food is fantastic. Also at Cer Té: salads ($6.95 and up), cold and hot Italian sandwiches ($7.25 and up), freshly cooked veggies sides ($4.95), and hand-made pastas ($9.95-$11.45).
Pizza By Cer Té is located at 132 East 56th Street, (212) 813-2020; certenyc.com
URBANSPACE VANDERBILT Is there anything more blissful than a food hall chock full of artisanal food options with plenty of things to eat under ten bucks, and communal benches? That's UrbanSpace! There's no need to suffer from midday cravings for your favorite Brooklyn and Downtown restaurants and purveyors like Roberta's, Delaney Chicken, Maiden Lane, AsiaDog, and Ovenly—since UrbanSpace Vanderbilt opened this past summer, it's been providing Midtowners with a wealth of dining options. Located in the original waiting room for the New York Central Building, architectural and urban historians will delight in the steel roadway and terrazzo floors. With over twenty vendors, it's casual, quick, and pretty awesome.
UrbanSpace Vanderbilt is located at 230 Park Avenue; website
THE BAR ROOM Yes, it's just a hair out of range for midtown, but for a classic, casual, old-school vibe, grab a table at The Bar Room, or better yet, a seat at the 125-year-old oak bar. This New American spot offers on-trend and seasonally-inspired cocktails, as well as upscale bistro food from longtime Le Bernardin sous chef Aaron Philips. Start with a veal Scotch egg, with sriracha aioli and whiskey pickles ($7), or a half-dozen oysters ($18).
Other tasty offerings include short rib sliders with pickled jalapeno carrot slaw ($15), the lamb Merguez sandwich, served with mint yogurt and chickpea salad ($16), and the classic Moules frites ($17). You might also want a side of fries with herbs, Parmesan, and truffle oil ($12) once you smell it at another table. And if you just really need a big salad, they have several to choose from ($12-15, with the option to add protein for $5-9 more).
The Bar Room is located at 117 East 60th Street, (212) 561-5523; thebarroomnyc.com
ALFREDO 100 A longtime staple at Rockefeller Center—and also home to the original Fettuccine Alfredo recipe from Rome 101 years ago—Alfredo 100 found a new home on East 54th Street two years ago. But this is the place for those days when you are in the mood for rich, hearty and authentic Italian food. At lunch, there's a $29 deal featuring a diner's choice of pasta and salad. You might need a nap afterward, so be sure not to schedule any important meetings. If you don't have time for a nap, you could just recline in the comfy red leather chairs at the restaurant, and sip a proper, Italian-style espresso, before returning to the office.
Alfredo 100 is located at 7 East 54th Street, (212) 688-1999; alfredo100.com
LA MANGEOIRE Take a break from the hustle of city life and step into a rural French kitchen. Over the years, La Mangeoire has come to be known as a reliable mainstay for those looking for excellent, traditional French country bistro cooking. The French owners and staff will make you feel right at home in the charming, cozy ambience. The $25 prix-fixe is a good deal, although the menu is very limited. The deal gets you a cup of the soup of the day, a choice of a main course, and a coffee or tea.
To sample some classic French dishes, have an appetizer of buttery escargots in tomato confit ($17.50), and then enjoy a plate of warm and savory, wine-drenched coq au vin ($20 half-portion, $30 full). Sop up the juice with some fresh housemade bread and wash it all down with a glass of Sancerre. And why not finish with an assiette de fromage featuring the finest imported French cheeses ($7-25)? Reservations are recommended, as the space is small; note that there is no lunch service on Sundays.
La Mangeoire is located at 1008 2nd Avenue, (212) 759-7086; lamangeoire.com
SAKAGURA Go down an inconspicuous flight of stairs into a basement, where Yelpers have lauded Sakagura's sashimi as the "best you'll have outside Japan." The daily lunch specials here are well-priced and delicious, comprising handmade buckwheat soba noodles; the protein of the day, which might be sashimi, tofu, or beef; and flavorful sides ($11.50). If you're fond of sake, Sakagura is your spot: bottles of the rice wine line the walls here, and you can try an enormous range of bottles and by-the-glass options (as well, there are flights and pairing options). Hankering for sea urchin? There's a $20 lunch special of homemade soba noodles topped with uni that will blow your mind; keep in mind sometimes wait is longer for this dish. For dessert, ask about the seasonal cherry blossom flan.
Sakagura is located at 211 E 43rd Street, (212) 953-7253; sakagura.com
ARETSKY'S PATROON If you're looking to impress clients or your team, head to the classic Aretsky's, located in a four-story townhouse from the 1950s, with a heated rooftop festively illuminated by strung lights. The menu at Aretsky's features seasonal New American dining standards that are filling, but light and flavorful, as well as excellent cocktails and wines. Start off with the steak tartare with a quail's egg ($19), or a shrimp cocktail ($19) and a glass of refreshing, bubbly Crémant ($18). For a healthy option, try the perfectly moist mushroom and lentil burger topped with kale, roasted tomatoes, crispy shallots and truffled mayo ($2). To satisfy a stronger hunger, go for the dry-aged sirloin steak sandwich topped with caramelized onions, cheddar, and horseradish ($24). There are seafood options and hearty protein entreés as well, like the grilled lamb chops ($34) or the saffron risotto paella ($32).
Aretsky's Patroon is located at 160 East 46th Street, (212) 883-7373; aretskyspatroon.com
AQUAVIT This year, Aquavit received its second Michelin star, and it is well-deserved. Not only is the Scandanavian décor impressive, and the service impeccable here, but chef Emma Bengtsson's approach to Nordic fine dining is profoundly creative. Lunch here is a great opportunity to sample her ambitious (and highly Instagrammable) food in a quiet and calm setting that's perfect for conversation. There is a $52 three-course prix-fixe option, as well as a la carte choices. The a la carte menu in an opportunity to try Aquavit's take on two classic Scandinavian dishes: the housemade Gravlax appetizer ($18), and the Swedish meatballs ($26) with lingonberries and a cream sauce. Aquavit also has an excellent wine list, and—per its name—a selection of housemade aquavits, which are basically infused vodkas.
Aquavit is located at 65 East 55th Street, (212) 307-7311; aquavit.org