AQ Cafe is Best Deal for Chef Obsessed Midtowners

There once was a time when it was very difficult for chefs to make big money.  And while being a professional chef is still a tough racket, the opportunities for cashing out are much wider.  Following the leads of Todd English and Bobby Flay, more names are lining up to open up gigantor restaurants in Vegas, which with a built in clientele basically just serve to print money.  On the other end of the spectrum some chefs are going downscale, opening up chains of faster, cheaper food- perfect for lunch.

The most famous in Midtown is ‘wichcraft, Tom Colicchio’s upscale sandwich shop which opened its first location in Bryant Park a few years ago- and now has 4 stores in Midtown (with a 5th coming soon to Herald Square).  David Burke also has Burke in a Box in Bloomingdales, which is best described as “cheaper”, but not exactly cheap.  And of course there is Matt Kenney’s FreeFoods NYC.  (The latter pair, both too pricey to be considered Midtown Lunch’es.)  But by far, the best deal in Midtown for chef obsessed eaters is AQ Cafe, a downscale cafe in the Scandinavian House from Aquavit’s Marcus Samuelsson.  And the best part is, it falls in the Midtown Lunch price range.

What they’ve got and a +/- after the jump…

If you pay attention to the comments here on Midtown Lunch, AQ Cafe pops up every so often as a recommendation- but for the most part it’s relatively obscure.  For some reason, people either don’t know it’s there- or just don’t think of it as a real lunchtime option.  But Swedish meatballs, a famous chef, and everything on the menu under $10 make it one of my favorite places for a “nice” lunch in Midtown.


The first time I ever went, I had the Gravlax Club- a much better than I expected sandwich with smoked salmon and avocado served on a hearty (and tasty) 7 Grain bread.  It came with potato salad, and pickles and felt worth every bit of the $8.25 I spent on it.  (Every good Jewish boy knows that lox is expensive!)


I love Swedish meatballs (you may say the secret ingredient is lingonberries), and while AQ Cafe’s version is tasty- it doesn’t replace my dream of one day having an Ikea in Midtown.  $9.50 makes it pretty close to being outside of the Midtown Lunch price range, but it tasted good- and they give you enough mashed potatoes to make up for the fact that there are only 5 meatballs.

For true lovers of Scandinavian food though, there is only one option- and that is the Smorgasbord.  Served cold, your $9 gets you a taste of everything, including two kinds of smoked salmon, 3 different pickled herrings, a couple small potatoes, a piece of cheese, a small scoop of shrimp salad, and two meatballs with lingonberries.  I love smoked and pickled fish, but even I had trouble finishing all the herring- which is certainly an acquired taste.  It comes with bread, crackers and sour cream too, making it incredibly filling (and satisfying for those of us who are into variety).

Not down with the smoked fishes and hot plates?  There are four other sandwiches that look pretty damn good, including an open faced roast beef with horseradish and a “Nordic Cuban”, featuring Swedish ham.  They also have soups and a few salads in addition to three other hot dishes.  Amazingly though, despite the pedigree of the place, nothing on the menu is over $10, making it a true Midtown Lunch, and the perfect place for those of us looking for slightly more upscale food, without have to pay through the nose.


  • We can’t afford to eat at Aquavit, so this is the next best thing
  • Marcus Samuelsson’s food for under $10
  • It has a nice sit down cafe, but you order at the counter- so there is no tipping to drive the price of the lunch up
  • High quality Scandinavian food, served on nice plates, during lunch in Midtown for under $10.  Amazing.
  • Did I mention everything is under $10???

THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)

  • The seating area fills up during lunchtime, so you may have to take your food to go.
  • The hot plates teeter close to being outside the Midtown Lunch price range
  • The gravy on the Swedish meatballs may be too creamy for some
  • It’s not Ikea
  • I hate smoked and pickled fishes
  • The sandwiches are a little too small for the price
  • Not always the most filling lunch, depending on what you order

AQ Cafe inside the Scandinavian House, 58 Park Ave. btw. 37+38th, 212-847-9745


  • Sigh, I could live on their herring plate.

  • I live close to AQ Cafe so I often make it a late saturday lunch. I stick with the Swedish meatballs (one of my favorite dishes of any kind), the Knackwurst and the Nordic Cuban. Love all 3. For cafeteria style gourmet food its really good. The setting is not much more than the Ikea cafe, but if you’ve never been to the Scandanavia house they sometimes have some good exhibits and films playing.

  • I went to the AQ Khan cafe and it was the bomb.

  • Zach, every good Jewish boy should know that Lox is NOT smoked. Lox is SALTED salmon – just brined. Similarly Gravlex is not smoked. It is brined and dilled. Trouble is that Lox is too salty for many people, so they prefer smoked salmon.


  • I stick with Nova.

    Is Sakae open?

  • Always good to see herring getting a write-up

  • Clearly I’m not a good Jewish boy (something my mom has known for awhile). I always wondered what the difference between lox and nova was. Is that the difference? Lox is brined, and nova is smoked?

  • DAMMIT Zach that’s the last time I blab endlessly about my favorite “hidden” lunch places on ML. First Piece of Chicken, now this. Why don’t you do a week-long spotlight on the soup & sandwich deal at Fika while you’re at it!

  • sharing is caring wayne… =)

  • Alas Zach, the prices at AQ Cafe just went up and now there are several items over $10. Including the Gravlax club (now a whopping $11.95) and (I’m sorry to tell you) the meatballs ($10.95). On the up side they have a new menu with new items that are just as tasty as the old menu. The Nordic Cuban hit the dirt though.

  • I work for AQ and who is this Marcus fellow? I’ve never met him.

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