Note: This guide was published in 2011. See our updated version here!
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a can't-miss destination for many New York visitors. But a day at the Met requires serious fuel. Wandering between the grand halls, rooftop sculpture displays, and photography exhibit after gallery after statue display, hours tend to disappear quickly.
So before you venture into the belly of the beast, or once you get back out to the steps, here's where to eat. Though this stretch of the Upper East Side isn't the most vibrant food neighboorhood, there are plenty of places to grab a solid lunch, relax over a mid-afternoon treat, or enjoy a fine dinner. (In the interest of providing more good eats than fewer, we've ventured a few blocks in every direction. Some spots are closer than others; check the map if you're short on time or not big on walking.)
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Untitled: Yes, that's the name of the restaurant, not a copy-editing error. New York restaurant king Danny Meyer's newest venture is a cafe in the Whitney called Untitled; in the morning, it's essentially casual but beautifully prepared breakfast food (under the stewardship of Executive Chef Chris Bradley, formerly of Gramercy Tavern).
Papaya King: A quintessential New York hot dog, reliable, fast, and cheap.
Pastrami Queen: While it won't quite compare to Katz's or Carnegie Deli, Pastrami Queen does more-than-solid deli sandwiches uptown, with tasty diner fries to go along with them.
Shake Shack: Our favorite burger mini-chain's Upper East Side outpost.
Wrap and Run: Reasonably cheap, Ed Levine-approved burgers.
Mimi's Pizza: The sort of pizzeria that inspires nostalgia, even for first-time visitors; it's not a destination slice, but at $2, it's a simple and satisfying lunch.
Luke's Lobster: Reasonably priced lobster rolls (and crab rolls, and shrimp rolls) from Maine-born Luke Holden; with multiple locations, they've taken NYC by storm of late.
Le Pain Quotidien: It's a little sterile and a little pricey for what it is, but this café chain serves reliably decent tartines (open-faced sandwiches), pastries, and salads. Not a destination, but a fair refuge from the tired and hungry who want something one step up from Starbucks.
E.A.T: While Eli Zabar is indeed related to the family behind famed Upper West Side market (and "appetizing store") Zabar's, his Upper East Side operations are purely his own. His gourmet deli and café on Madison Avenue, E.A.T., opened in 1973, and while it's expensive, everything is fresh and tasty. Anything you eat should involve bread.
The Mark Restaurant by Jean Georges: The "Jean Georges" name is synonymous with fine dining in New York, and while this may not be his most adventurous or exciting restaurant, it's a fine establishment nonetheless.
Cafe Boulud and Bar Pleiades: Like the Mark, a non-flagship restaurant from a celebrated chef; unlike the Mark, it's an established restaurant in its own right, with its own long history in New York. A huge number of New York's most acclaimed chefs (Andrew Carmellini of Locanda Verde and The Dutch, David Chang of the Momofuku restaurants, Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi of Torrisi Italian Specialties...) have moved through its kitchen; these days, it's Gavin Kaysen, whose work has already been recognized with a Food + Wine "Best New Chef" award and a James Beard "Rising Star Chef." If you're not in a jacket-and-slacks mood, try Bar Pleiades next door—sliders (and madeleines afterward) would be a fine choice.
Via Quadranno: Recommended by Babbo pastry chef and Serious Eats contributor Gina DePalma, this restaurant and paninoteca on East 73rd Street just off Madison Avenue oozes Italy, from its shiny espresso machine to its many varieties of sandwiches, open-faced and closed.
Square Meal: We first encountered Square Meal's owner Yura Mohr through her fantastic Manhattan catering business and take-out storefront, with excellent prepared foods and mind-blowingly good desserts; Square Meal is her restaurant, refined but relaxed and comfortingly homey. Dessert is not optional.
Flex Mussels: Seafood fans only; the menu is divided into "mussels" and "not mussels," if that gives you a sense of what you'll be eating. Don't skip chef Zac Young's desserts, like fresh doughnuts and deep-fried whoopie pies.
Land: Elegant, carefully prepared Thai food by David Bank, who's come through the kitchens of Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
Candle 79: A highly acclaimed, upscale vegan restaurant, for the meat-averse in your group.
Sweets, Snacks, and Desserts
Yura on Madison: As noted above, Yura Mohr is a supremely talented baker; her bundt cakes and angel food cakes and cookies we love, but her pies are truly unparalleled.
Two Little Red Hens: Up there with Yura as one of our favorite all-around bakeries in the city.
William J. Greenberg Desserts: A venerable Jewish bakery and a great stop for classics like babka, black-and-white cookies, rugelach, and more.
La Maison du Chocolat: Every manner of chocolate beautifully done, from decadent hot chocolate to truffles to eclairs and cakes.
Lady M: The baked goods here are somewhat precious but undeniably delicious, from a cloud-light cheesecake to a strawberry mille-feuille to their famous crepe cake—more than 20 layered crepes stacked and bound with custard.
Cafe Sabarsky: A cute little spot that serves quite a collecton of classic Austrian desserts.
Bar Pleiades: We mentioned this offshoot of Bar Boulud earlier, but we've got to give dessert another shout-out—Daniel Boulud's madeleines, legendary at his flagship Daniel, are served here, and they alone make Pleiades worth a visit.
You Tell Us
Where would you reccomend to eat near the Met? Let us know!