With endless towers full mostly of office workers, Midtown Manhattan has plenty of hungry mouths to feed come lunch. And it's a sad truth that most of those lunches are downright bad, especially if you're looking for something quick and affordable.
So if you're tired of the same sad delis and fast food chains, we have you covered with the neighborhood's best, most reliable fast and cheap lunches, from deli sandwiches to falafel to Indian street food.
Falafel: King Of Falafel & Shawarma Express
Astoria falafel superstar Fares "Freddy" Zeideia made a lot of lunchers happy when he opened a cart in Midtown. His falafel are oblong rather than round, giving them a great ratio of crisp exterior to light interior. The Midtown menu is more limited than that of the Queens original, but you can still find those signature falafel and two versions of shawarma: chicken and a beef-lamb mix. You'll also find Zeideia's homemade sauces and pickles.
Egg Sandwiches: Eggs Travaganza
In Midtown, some of the best (and worst) lunch options are food carts. Eggs Travaganza upgraded to a truck, but still makes a great Mexican grilled cheese with chorizo, bacon on multi-grain bread. The truck is a great place to stop before work for breakfast—where else can you get freshly made pancakes on the side of the street?
Inventive Sandwiches: 'wichcraft
Tired of the typical Italian combo? Tom Colicchio's sandwich shop 'wichcraft doesn't just lean on the classics, but instead features a seasonal menu of inventive options. Offerings change frequently, but you're always likely to find something good. Like in Colicchio's high-end restaurants, a lot of importance is placed on using quality meat and produce.
Solid Slices: Pizza by Certé
Pizza by Certé has a large menu, so we recommend sticking to the sandwiches and pizzas. The Italian Wedding pizza, topped with juicy, light meatballs, spinach, grana Padano cheese, mozzarella, and hot pepper, is a great square slice. The Pomodoro is a great slice too, topped simply with tomato sauce and mozzarella.
Indian Street Food: The Kati Roll Company
Kati rolls, Indian street food consisting of various fillings wrapped up in a paratha, are a great snack that easily turns into lunch. If you can trek west to 6th Avenue, hit up the Biriyani Cart, but in Midtown East, the Kati Roll Company also makes a great roll. Go for the undo aloo, gently spiced eggs and potatoes wrapped in flaky, doughy flatbread. The cheesy achari paneer is a solid option as well.
Greek Classics: Uncle Gussy's
Uncle Gussy's isn't your average gyro cart. Brothers Nick and Franky Karagiorgos are making restaurant-quality food in their truck, like pork souvlaki and some of the best fries you'll find on the street. The brothers' mother Ekaterini and aunt Georgia are also involved, marinating pork chops or baking baklava for daily specials. Lines get long at this truck come noon (with good reason), so hit it early or late to beat the crowd.
Southeast Asian-Inspired Sandwiches: Num Pang
New York has no shortage of banh mi, but Num Pang looks just west of Vietnam, featuring sandwiches inspired by chef-owner Ratha Chaupoly's native Cambodia (though authenticity is definitely not the shop's main concern). These are big, meaty sandwiches, Americanized if you want to think of them that way. The produce gets lost on the Pulled Duroc Pork, but the massive pile of tender, moist marinated pork belly more than makes up for it. Picky eaters beware—Num Pang has a strict "No Modifications" policy.
Chinese Takeout: Hunan Manor
Hunan Manor proves that Chinese takeout doesn't have to be a gloopy mess. This underrecognized Hunanese spot in the shadow of Grand Central is a full-service restaurant, but has cheaper lunch options that will make your coworkers jealous. Skip the Americanized General Tso's and head for the traditional Hunan menu, which has a way with pickled, smoked, and otherwise preserved ingredients. Preserved pork with dried string beans and fish submerged in chili oil are standouts on both lunch and dinner menus.
Updated Deli Standards: Spreads Sandwich Shop
Spreads' sandwiches are balanced, flavorful, and inventive enough to excite, but simple enough to satisfy on a regular basis. The shop proves that with a little care, even a humble turkey sandwich can be great. It elevates its version with aleppo-pickled roasted peppers and spicy chipotle mayo as well as sliced avocado and crumbled tortilla chips. The chicken schnitzel features the same peppers along with a kale slaw and garlic mayo for bite.
Upscale Salad Bar: Dishes
You know Midtown's nightmarish steam table buffets? Dishes is like that, only good. The prices can be a little steep, and during the lunch rush it's packed with office workers, but it's worth it for the wide selection of reliable lunch choices. An indecisive eater can pick from an array of sandwiches, salads, and more. You can also find good desserts, like a creamy, not too sweet mango coconut tapioca pudding and a very nice honey cake.
Mexican Street Food: El Rey del Sabor
New York has a reputation for lacking good Mexican food, but the El Rey del Sabor cart in Midtown challenges that assertion. Owned by siblings Ofelia and Vilio Cardoso, the cart puts out the food from their youth in Puebla, made fresh to order. Overstuffed tortas are delicious—bursting with meat and various fixings. Fat quesadillas, topped with homemade salsa, are a great choice too.