Maybe your job forces you to come to Midtown East every day. Maybe you choose to live here (because your job forces you to come to Midtown East every day). Or maybe you’re in the area because your go-to first date idea is taking someone to Grand Central and pointing out that tiny piece of the ceiling that’s still dirty from back in the day. Whatever your reason for being in the neighborhood, let this list be your guide to the best options for client dinners, family meals, drinks with friends, and dates - it’s a good idea to have a fallback option in case that Grand Central plan doesn’t work out.
You were supposed to have a quick dinner with your clients from Milwaukee last night, but somehow by 10pm you’d been to four bars and taken six UberXLs. You’re going to need something more substantial than a yogurt parfait for breakfast. Stop by Little Collins on your way to the office and pick up a really good breakfast sandwich, like the one with eggs, tabasco, and caramelized onions. Grab some extras for your clients, too - they’re not going to say no.
It’s not controversial to say that Ess-A-Bagel serves the best bagels in Midtown. People around here seem to agree, as evidenced by the lines that stretch out the front door. But the lines move fast, and while you’re waiting you can figure out your order - we like their signature one with whitefish salad and nova. Have one of these for breakfast and you probably won’t be starving at 11:29am like usual.
Hide-Chan has long been one of the best places for a bowl of ramen in this part of town, and the fact that it’s open until 1am on Thursdays and 3am on Fridays makes it even better. You may have to wait for a table, but once you sit down and try the tonkotsu ramen (order it as spicy as you want), you’ll see that it’s worth your time.
Totto opened this East Side location in 2014, and it’s been popular ever since, especially for lunch. It also happens to be right underneath Hide-Chan, at street level. The difference between this and the ramen spot upstairs is that Totto feels a little bit less traditional, and the ramen here has a chicken-based broth, as opposed to Hide-Chan’s pork. We love them both.
Yesterday you got a salad for lunch, but you were so hungry two hours later that you ended up eating a soggy turkey wrap from the closest deli anyway. Today, just go straight to Pampano. This Mexican takeout counter in the atrium of an office building on 3rd Avenue serves massive burritos and really good tacos. Get the chicken or shrimp tacos on corn tortillas, and load up on the different options from the DIY salsa bar. If you want a breakfast change-up from your usual oatmeal and half a banana, stop here on your way to work and get a breakfast burrito with chorizo.
It’s not usually our first choice to eat in a food hall, but this one in Midtown East is convenient and has some good options. Vendors range from Roberta’s, Seamore’s, and Hard Times Sundaes to Ovenly, so you’ll probably be able to find something you want no matter what kind of mood you’re in. There are also some picnic tables and bar seats inside, so it’s not a bad place to hang out for a little while.
For some reason, the people behind Urbanspace Vanderbilt opened a second food hall just up the street. It’s called Urbanspace At 570 Lex, and while it’s the smaller of the two, we like the food selection here a little bit more - you’ll find everything from a Taim, a Bobwhite Counter, and a Rockaway Clam Bar to outposts of Little Collins and La Pecora Bianca.
If it hasn’t happened yet, the time will come when your parents, your friends, your coworkers, or you parents’ friends’ coworkers will ask you if you know any “nice places to get a drink in Midtown.” Ophelia qualifies. It’s a cocktail bar on the roof of the Beekman Tower that has an indoor/outdoor wraparound patio with nice views of Midtown and the East River, and while the cocktails are expensive (most are around $20), they’re all well-made. The same can be said of the upscale bar food, like the steak tartare topped with a quail egg - as long as you don’t mind paying up for it, you won’t be disappointed.
At Sushi You, you can watch Japanese music videos on the TVs behind the bar while you eat an $80 omakase. It’s a pretty good deal, especially for the neighborhood - our only criticism is that some of the sauces tend to be a little sweet. You can also order a la carte if you sit at one of the tables, and they do some great lunch specials, like a big bowl of chirashi with soup and a salad. There’s nothing too fancy about the little basement space, but it’s great for when you want to eat sushi in Midtown and not spend more than $100.
You need a spot for a group dinner in the neighborhood, and one person told you he just started a keto diet while two others are in the mood for “maybe seafood.” Rather than spending half the day studying menus and reading fitness blogs, just tell everyone to meet you at Socarrat. This Spanish spot has a long menu of tapas - we especially like the grilled calamari and the beef cheeks - as well as big bowls of paella ideal for sharing. If you’re here with just one other person, grab a small table outside on 2nd Avenue.
There are two Empellon locations downtown (Taqueria and Al Pastor), and both of them are pretty casual. The flagship in Midtown, on the other hand, is a fancy spot with two floors, lots of larger tables, and a big shelf of white sculptures that look both delicate and valuable. The food is expensive and mostly good, but never quite as good as you want it to be, so consider this spot mainly for meals you can put on a corporate card. You absolutely don’t need the $125 fajitas, but you should get the uni nachos, all of the salsas, and a couple of tacos.
Located down the stairs in the back of the lobby of a nondescript office building (you’ll most likely need to double-check that you’re in the right spot), Sakagura is a dark cave full of sake and Japanese food that will make you forget you’re a few blocks from Grand Central. The menu is full of excellent small plates ranging from sashimi to soba to chicken meatballs to rice bowls topped with uni. Order a lot of them, and a lot of sake.
Grand Central Oyster Bar has been around for a little over a century now, and it’s still the best place to kill time inside the station. First off, it’s an enormous space with plenty of bar seating and tables. There are lots of different oyster varieties to choose from, and there’s also a full menu with everything from lobster rolls to pasta. Plus, if you show up before 7pm on a weekday, you can take advantage of a Happy Hour that involves $1.35 oysters and $9 martinis.
La Pecora Bianca is like an Italian version of The Smith - it’s never going to be a destination spot, but it’s a very useful fallback. The pastas are good, but we like the charcuterie and antipasti best (the creamy burrata with ramp pesto, in particular), and it’s very possible to make a full dinner out of shareable small plates, especially if you come with just one other person and sit at the long bar. Keep this in mind for just about any situation - whether you’re with clients, parents, friends, or a date.
The Grill is a big restaurant in the Seagram Building, from the same people behind Carbone and Dirty French. It’s the fanciest place on this list, and it’s where you should go when you want to have a celebratory dinner and simultaneously feel like you’re on the set of Mad Men, or aboard an extremely nice cruise ship from the 1960s. The servers all wear tuxedos, and, if you order correctly, they’ll bring a duck press to your table and let you watch them squeeze the juices out of a roasted bird. Those juices will then go on top of pasta - and the resulting dish is one of the best things here. Just be prepared to spend a lot of money.
The Lobster Club is another restaurant in the Seagram Building, also from the Carbone team. The menu here is Japanese (with sushi, grilled meats, and dishes like wagyu with uni), and the space looks kind of like the lounge of a spaceship as imagined by someone stuck in the year 1971, with pepto-bismol-pink chairs and big green booths with gold footrests. It’s a little less special-occasion-y than The Grill, but it’s still quite expensive.
Use Crave for date night or dinner with your boss or a solo lunch at the bar, but whatever you do, use it. It serves the highest-quality food at its price point in Midtown East, and unlike a lot of places nearby, it doesn’t feel corporate at all. The seafood small plates and entrees, like grilled octopus over sweet potato and lobster curry, are always great, and there’s also a raw bar with a huge selection of East and West coast oysters, which are $1 during Happy Hour (5-7pm every day).
A classic, traditional sushi spot that’s kept up its quality over the years, Hatsuhana is not cheap, but it’s also not overly pricey for what it is. You can order a la carte, but we endorse getting either The Box of Dreams, i.e. a box with nine little bowls of rice and fish ($48), or the Sushi Deluxe ($45), which is like a small Chef’s Choice selection (ten pieces of nigiri plus a roll). This place is popular for work lunches, but walking in at any time shouldn’t be too hard.
Naya is a Lebanese restaurant that sort of looks like a shower inside a boutique hotel. It’s a narrow room with lots of white tile, and weird little booths. But once you get past that, you’ll see that they serve some great Middle Eastern food, ranging from hummus and falafel to kebabs and lamb chops. Come here for lunch when you want a sit-down option in Midtown, but don’t want to spend two hours eating $28 salads from a hotel lobby.
Aburiya Kinnosuke is one of those restaurants you’ve probably never heard of, and once you finally eat here, you’ll spend a lot of time wondering why. The food is traditional Japanese, including a bunch of amazing things cooked on a robata grill. Line it up for a client dinner and prepare to get promoted.
The National works for just about any situation - from a date near your Midtown East office building to an 8am breakfast with someone who’d “love to chat” so much that they won’t stop messaging you on LinkedIn. While we wouldn’t tell you to travel just for the straightforward American food here, know that the long menu will have options for everyone. Plus, the space is big, and there’s almost never a wait.
You know The Smith. You’ve almost certainly been to one of its locations, either with a big group of friends, your baby, or your baby’s big group of friends. Just like the other Smiths in the city, the Midtown location is a good spot for a meal with a bunch of people who all have different tastes. It’s also a good spot for brunch. Just know that it gets really loud at night, and the bar can be very crowded.