The Best of Midtown Manhattan: Where to Eat Near Bryant Park

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Photo: John Gillespie

Bryant Park is something of an oasis in Manhattan—the New York Public Library and wide open space (when not occupied by an ice skating rink) offer a respite from the hustle and bustle of midtown. That the park is dangerously close to Times Square means that most of its surrounding food options are counter-serve chains, ranging from Starbucks and Panera to Le Pain Quotidien and Pret A Manger. There’s no shortage of sandwiches and salads, but what if you’re looking for food that’s more than just fuel? Here’s our pick of restaurants near Bryant Park, from one-of-a-kind sandwicheries to authentic Asian eats and a taste of old New York.

Cafe Zaiya

1073 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY

Located on the second floor of the bookstore Kinokuniya, Cafe Zaiya is more of a Japanese bakery than anything else. Though cream puffs and flaky, donut-like pastries are the speciality, the café, which has a nearby location close to Grand Central, is a go-to for lunch with savory options like premade bento boxes and onigiri, seaweed-wrapped rice balls.

Good for: To-go Japanese lunch

What to get: One of the bento boxes, a to-go lunchbox with any combination of fish, meat, rice, and vegetables.

restaurants-near-bryant-park

Photo: Bento box at Cafe Zaiya (credit: Stu Spivack)

Untamed Sandwiches

43 W 39th St, New York, NY

If you’re a sandwich eater, you can thank Untamed Sandwiches for saving you from the banality of fast-casual lunch chains. Since opening its doors in January 2015, this specialist of slow-braised meat has been drawing armies of desk job folk during peak lunch hours for sandwiches, hearty and creative in both name and ingredients. The wood-lined space is casual and small with less than 20 stools, split between a communal table and window seating. It’s open for breakfast as well as lunch and dinner, so you might as well stop by on a hungover Friday morning for an egg sandwich.

Good for: Workday lunch, to sit or to go

What to get: The Hot Goldie, beef short-rib, red onion, sweet and sour cabbage, black pepper aioli on ciabatta roll

Keen’s Steakhouse

72 W 36th St, New York, NY

Of all the New York steakhouses dotted around Midtown Manhattan, Keen’s is the one to try for a taste of old New York. It’s been around since 1885, and everything about the place resembles a traditional dinner club, from the white tablecloths and wood-paneled walls to its mutton chops and creamed spinach specialities.

Good for: A classy steak dinner

What to get: Go surf and turf with an order of oysters and the legendary mutton chop.

restaurants-near-bryant-park

Photo: Keen’s Steakhouse (credit: Edsel Little)

Ootoya 

141 W 41st St, New York, NY

If you’re craving Japanese and have time to sit and stay a while, consider Ootoya, an outpost of a Tokyo izakaya chain. The menu features the Japanese equivalent of comfort food, specializing in set menus consisting of a main dish like breaded and deep-fried pork or chicken, served with miso soup, rice, pickled vegetables, and egg custard. There’s sushi, soba, udon and more, making it a one-stop shop for a well-priced and satisfying Japanese meal.

Good for: Reasonably-priced sit-down lunch or dinner

What to get: Tonkatsu teishoku (set meal with breaded pork loin) or homemade soba

Szechuan Gourmet

The name might be ordinary, the outdoor facade drab, and the interior basic, but Szechuan Gourmet on 39th Street is one of New York’s most authentic spots for spicy cuisine. You don’t come here for General Tso’s chicken (though it is on the menu and very good), but for fiery Szechuan specialities.

21 W 39th St, New York, NY

Good for: A casual sit-down for hot and spicy authentic Chinese

What to get: The tea-smoked duck, sliced pork belly with chili leeks, and ma po tofu with chili-minced pork.

Nue Studio

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Album-covered floors, vintage signage, retro couches, and rabbit-eared TV sets are evidence that this isn’t your ordinary salon. Nue in Midtown is as rock ‘n’ roll as the music it plays and as avant-garde as the cut you’ll get. At the helm of Nue is Todd Jameson, his scissors just waiting to snip you into shape. He’ll also straighten what God made curly, curl what God made straight, and color it darker, lighter or bright blue – if it’s a nue hue you’re after.

Gigi

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Another cutesy chic Asian, Gigi proves its worth with fantastic (and fantastically priced) noodles, buns, dumplings, BBQ and salads. Cute crowd, too.

Kouzina Greek Bistro

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Rowdy go-to place for an authentic souvlaki. Charming homage to Aegean gastronomy. Part Zorba, part chic, Kouzina’s blue/white interiors serve as nice canvas to the meze and dips.

Ring Finger Studio

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It may not be PC to recycle spouses, but when it comes to engagement rings and wedding bands, eco-friendly is the rock on which the eco-luxe Ring Finger Studio resides. Rings are custom made with recycled metals and conflict-free diamonds. Now, if only marital bliss came in the conflict-free variety.

Sakaya Kitchen

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No need for frills when your food is the kind that would make Anthony Bourdain moan in gustatory ecstacy. Sakaya Kitchen serves stellar Asian street fare with gourmet twists. Blackboard of daily specials. Plush pork buns are the stuff dreams are made of, as are the bahn mi and bulgogi. Doesn’t matter if you can’t pronounce or spell it, just eat it.