Variety Cafe

Riding down the elevator yesterday on my way to lunch, I heard a very funny and ironic (considering where I was headed) conversation. One guy asked another guy where he was going to lunch… and when he responded “Downstairs for a salad”, the question asker was like “Nice, another one of those $11.00 salads”.

I asked the guy where he was talking about. “Metro”, he responded. “You start adding all the good stuff, and by the time you’re done- it ends up being 11 bucks.” Well, my friend- your days of spending $11 on a salad are over. Solved by 1 trip to the Variety Cafe.

Now, let me first say I’m not a big fan of all the one-stop-shop delis/salad bars (i.e. Metro, Europa Cafe) that litter Midtown. Usually, pre-made sandwiches are a bad idea, and I’m definetely not a big salad eater. And while I like the idea of a buffet, one that charges by the pound is never a good thing for a fat guy like me. 

Which is why the salad bar at Variety Cafe is so great. For $6.45 ($6.99 with tax) you get a bowl of lettuce, and get to add any 6 items you want from their gigantic selection of toppings. Sounds like other places you’ve been to, maybe? Well here’s the best part… they have good, fat guy toppings… what I like to call “big money items”. The things you always want to get more of, but are afraid it will lead to a 17 pound salad that costs $436. 10 different kinds of chicken (including my personal favorites Thai Grilled Chicken, Cajun Chicken and Fried Chicken Cutlet), salmon, cubes of ham, avocado, mini fresh mozarella balls, blue cheese… everything. And of course all the fruits, vegetables and beans you find at every other salad bar in the city. And to top it off, your choice of 20 different kinds of salad dressings.

And the best part for a fat guy like me is, you get *whatever* you want. Want letuce with 4 kinds of chicken and two kinds of cheese, they’ll do it. They look at you like you weigh 700 pounds, but they’ll do it.

My perfect salad, and the +/- after the break…

Here’s what I got…

Mixed Greens (you can get iceburg or romaine if you want) w/

  1. Thai Grilled Chicken
  2. Fried Chicken Cutlet
  3. Mini Mozzarella Balls
  4. Avocado (sometimes they don’t have it though)
  5. Chinese Fried Noodle thingies (or candied walnuts if you prefer something sweeter. It’s always tough for me not to just get both)
  6. Shredded Carrots, so it can still be called a “salad”

Total weight of salad: 1.33 lbs
Total cost of salad if weighed: Something like 10 bucks! (I’m not so good at math)
Total cost of salad at Variety Cafe: $6.45 plus tax

Some alternate ingredients that get added depending on the day…. roasted eggplant, cherry tomatoes, or Artichokes. Did I mention the candied walnuts? Those are pretty good too.

Anyway, you get the idea. Also, if you’re a real fat guy, you can bump yourself up to 8 options for $7.99 plus tax. And the past part is, you can tell everyone “I had a salad for lunch!”. Eating healthy never tasted so good!


  • Cost and selection. It’s cheap, and they have all the fillings you could ever want. Including some nice, big money “items” that cost the same amount to add as the cheaper lighter choices.
  • Variety (um, it’s in the name). For those in your party who don’t want a salad, they have sushi that I’m not scared to eat, 472 different kind of wraps, panini and sandwiches. I had a wrap once, and it was surprisingly pretty good. They also have a by the pound hot and cold buffet bar with some pretty good looking stuff…. plus hot cafeteria style meals as well (i.e. roast chicken, meatloaf).


  • It can be a little overwhelming. There really is a ton of stuff. The name is fitting.
  • It’s a deli/buffet/salad bar place. If you are not into those places, you probably won’t be into this one. (Although I don’t usually eat at those place either- and I find myself at Variety Cafe once every couple of weeks)
  • They put too much salad dressing on the salad. Ask for 1/2 the amount if you don’t like your salad swimming in dressing.

Variety Cafe, 48 W. 48th St., 212-302-9888


  • Bistro on 51st btw 6th and 7th has the best salads. $7(incl. tax) for 6 items and they put in A LOT of stuff into the salad.

  • Variety Cafe was on Fox 5 News a few years back for unsanitary conditions in the salad bar.

  • You work right in the hood. Can’t believe you haven’t been to Bistro!

  • As of today, Variety Cafe is closed by order of the health department. Yikes!

  • I actually planned to try Variety today, and was one of the confused throng.

    Another salad alternative, on the same block, is City Market Cafe. 7.53 (includes tax) for unlimited — at least they’ve never cut me off — toppings. Seems as fresh as anywhere else, though I’m not much of a carnivore, so I can’t vouch for the meat. I had the shrimp once during a mad protein craving, however, and it seemed fine.

  • Bistro 49, 49th St between Park and Madison. A salad with *unlimited* toppings for $6.99. They usually have 2-3 kinds of chicken, bacon, turkey, ham, avocado, grape leaves, 4-5 kinds of cheese (incl. mozzarella balls), etc. And they are generous. Lots of other good food there too: bento boxes, udon, sushi, salad bar, sandwiches, etc.

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