Best Midtown Lunches As Voted By You: 2008 Edition

As is customary here on Midtown Lunch, I turn the site over to you at the end of the year to vote for your favorite Midtown Lunches. So… you voted… and here are the results, along with my picks. Some are expected… some are surprises… and a couple were downright shocking. Here are the results of the 2008 Midtown Lunch Readers’ Poll:

Best Fast Food Hamburger: Burger Joint

Burger Joint, Midtown NYC

Five Guys put on a good show this year, but it wasn’t enough to unseat the consensus best burger in Midtown: Burger Joint at the Parker Meridien (on 56th btw. 6+7th).  There’s been a lot of talk about City Burger in recent days, but not nearly enough people have tried it for them to have had a legitimate chance… maybe next year.  And while I admit Burger Joint and City Burger are making the best quality burger in Midtown, the free toppings and fresh cut fries make Five Guys tops in my book. Editor’s Pick: Five Guys (poll link)

Best Korean Fast Food: Woorijip


There is plenty of Korean food in Midtown if you work too far away from 32nd street, and want your fix. But if you’ve got time, and you want the best- 32nd Street btw. B’way+6th is the place to be, and Woorijip is far and away the best Midtown Lunch’ish option on the block. The readers have spoken, and I have to agree. Editor’s Pick: Woorijip (poll link)

Best Falafel: Olympic Pita

Olympic Pita: Midtown

Midtown Lunchers take their falafel very seriously, and there is no shortage of great options. Last year the famous Kwik Meal took home the best falafel prize, but now that word has spread about Olympic Pita (on 38th btw. 5+6th) their popularity was enough to edge out the competition in a very tight race. Admittedly, you can argue that Olympic Pita doesn’t make the best falafel balls, but their fresh baked laffa, amazing salad bar, and huge 2 lunch sandwich which they will happily add french fries to for free- makes them my favorite too. Editor’s Pick: Olympic Pita (poll link)

Best Indian Fast Food: Biryani Cart

Briyani Cart on 46th Gets New Cart

It’s been a huge year for the Biryani Cart (on 46th btw. 6+7th), as they hit their stride with a great menu of kati rolls, biriyani, and their special version of chicken tikka masala. You could argue that it’s not Indian food (the owner is from Bangladesh), but it was Indian enough to best Midtown heavyweights Minar and Kati Roll. And while I think they make the best kati rolls, and their chicken tikka masala and biryani are also the best in Midtown, I can’t help at marvel at how good the vegetarian food is at Khodiar Lunch Services/Taj Delhi Chat in the former Newsstand on 6th Ave. btw. 37+38th. Trying their chat this year was a huge eye opener, and the fact that their hot food is so good without using meat deserves some extra special recognition. (Plus, Biryani Cart doesn’t need any more accolades, right?) Editor’s Pick: Khodiar Lunch Services/Taj Delhi Chat (poll link)

Best Cheap Chinese Food: Hing Won/Hop Won

Hing Won, Midtown

I love Chinatown style (or so called “authentic”) Chinese food, but I also love me some General Tso’s chicken… and rare is the place that does both incredibly well. And that is what makes Hing Won & Hop Won so special. Steam table for the cheap American Chinese food, order off the menu for the real stuff. It won last year, and ran away with the top prize again this year… and it’s hard to disagree. Editor’s Pick: Hing Won (poll link)

Best Latin Food: Margon

Margon, Midtown NYC

If you don’t include Indian food, there is probably more Latin food in Midtown than anything else. Even with the loss of La Strada and the Sophie’s Cuban on 41st, you will always be able to find a bit of meat served with rice, beans, and plantains. And while every one of the nominees has a special place in my heart, the king of them all has got to be Margon (on 46th btw. 6+7th). Sure it’s Cuban food made by Dominicans, and they put salami in their Cuban sandwich (sorry, I don’t care what people in Tampa do, I’m not down with it), but walking in that place instantly takes me back to my hometown of Miami, and their octopus salad is out of this world. I still say Cafe Cello (on 46th btw. 5+6th) makes the best roast pork in Midtown (you may say the secret ingredient is crispy pork skin), but overall Margon is the best. Editor’s Pick: Margon (poll link)

Best Midtown Sweets: Wafels & Dinges Truck

Wafels & Dinges
Photo courtesy of Lazy Sundae

There were some who thought this category was a forgone conclusion (Treats Truck) but I guess not… all of the nominees are great in their own way- and I think that all this poll says is that the Wafels & Dinges truck mobilizes their fans better than the Dessert Truck and Treats Truck (all three linked to the poll and instructed their fans to vote.) A waffle topped with chocolate (or pulled pork for that matter) can’t be bad, and I love Kim and the Treats Truck (it’s my go to Midtown cookie and brownie spot) but the way to my heart is through puddings and custards… and only one of the three does it. It’s hard for me to pick anybody over the Treats Truck, but restaurant quality bread pudding for $5 off a truck? I’m drooling just thinking about it. Editor’s Pick: Dessert Truck

Best Chicken/Lamb Over Rice Cart: Famous 53rd St Halal Guys

Mixed Combo @ the famous Chicken & Rice Cart on 53rd & 6th Ave.

Street Meat Palooza is vindicated! Poll 20 people, or 20,000 and the answer seems to be the same… the famous cart on the SE corner of 53rd & 6th (whose nighttime cart on the SW corner has lines down the street) makes the best standard chicken/lamb over rice plate in Midtown. Say what you want about the “hype”, it’s downright good- and when you factor in the price, I think it’s safe to say it’s “the best”. And what’s even better, they added another daytime cart on the SW corner of 53rd & 7th. Just don’t be fooled by the impostors… Editor’s Pick: Famous 53rd St. Halal Guys (poll link)

Best Japanese Fast Food: Cafe Zaiya

Cafe Zaiya, Midtown NYC

The mark of a truly great Midtown Lunch is not being able to decide what to get every time you walk into a place… and if there’s one place that gives me more trouble than any other, it’s Cafe Zaiya (on 41st btw. Mad+5th). The simple fact is, every single thing they sell looks good. And it’s so damn cheap! (Even with the price hikes, which were recently rolled back.) The other two places that make up the 41st Japanese trinity (Yagura and Chiyoda) are good, and Go Go Curry made a nice run for the prize this year- but Zaiya is still the undisputed champ. Editor’s Pick: Cafe Zaiya (poll link)

Best Mexican Food: Pampano Taqueria

Pampano Taqueria, Midtown NYC

There was a time when even having a category like this would be laughable… but with the influx of some great Mexican options, it is a tad bit easier to find good Mexican food in Midtown. And for the record, if Chipotle or Qdoba had won, I might have just closed up shop. I only included them because I knew people would complain if I didn’t. Slightly less offensive, is the very popular winner of the poll- Pampano Taqueria (on 3rd Ave. btw. 49+50th), and there is no question that their gussied up Mexican offerings are tasty… but I prefer something a little more authentic (read:less fancy) and for that there is only one choice. The El Rey Del Sabor cart (on 60th & 3rd) burst onto the scene in September, and my hunch is given a little more time, they will be the undisputed winner of this newly meaningful category. Editor’s Pick: El Rey Del Sabor (poll link)

Best Chicken Parm Sub Hero: Labeleca/La Bellezza


Most of the nominees in this category make a decent chicken parm sandwich, and with no definitive “best” in Midtown you’re probably best off sticking to whatever option is closest to your office. Luckily the winner has two locations… one on the east and one on the west. And while I really like their version, I’m wondering if maybe Lazzarra’s is better. Or what about Tuscany Catering? Theirs is pretty good too. Urgh. My quest continues… Editor’s Pick: Still Undecided (poll link)

Best Sit Down Chinese Food: Szechuan Gourmet

Double Cooked Pork Belly w/ Chili Leeks @ Szechuan Gourmet, Midtown

I don’t normally like eating at sit down restaurants during lunch, but when it comes to Chinese food all bets are off. Plus it’s cheap enough, that you can probably get away with spending under $10. Plus they all do take out… but it seemed a little unfair to put them up against the fast food Chinese options. After all, it would be tough even for a place like Hing Won to compete with a New York Times rated 2 star restaurant, serving lunch specials for under $10. In a lot of ways, Szechuan Gourmet’s breakout year is the reason this category was created. You voted for them, and I have to agree. Editor’s Pick: Szechuan Gourmet (poll link)

Best Sandwiches: Sophie’s Cuban/Tina’s Restaurant

The Fried Pork Sandwich from Tina's Restaurant, Midtown NYC

It was a tough year for Milant, my previous pick for best sandwich in Midtown. They were closed by the DOH a few times, and have never fully rebounded- opening the door for a new sandwich champ. The ‘wichcraft chain (which you can get a filling under $10 lunch from, if you order smartly) made a good effort, but in the end how can you compete with a fried pork sandwich, topped with sweet plantains. Simple answer? You can’t. The creation, which is available at Sophie’s Cuban and Tina’s Restaurant, was hands down the best sandwich of the year… and their cuban isn’t bad either. Editor’s Pick: Sophie’s Cuban/Tina’s Restaurant (poll link)

Best Indian All You Can Eat Buffet (Under $11): Spice Fusion

Spice Fusion, Midtown NYC

Remember when you could find an all you can eat Indian buffet for under $10? There were even a few that were $8. We pushed the price to $11 so Sukhadia could be included… but not all the buffets are $11. You can pay even more at some of the fancy Indian buffets, but why bother when Spice Fusion (on 8th Ave. btw. 47+48th) is so good. Sure, they raised their price to $11, but it’s all you can eat. If you play the game right, you should be getting your moneys worth anyway. Editor’s Pick: Spice Fusion (poll link)

Saddest Midtown Closing: Burritoville

Photo by Kristin Shaw

It’s hard to pick a “winner” in this category, because they’re all sad in their own way… and none of them are really winners. I never considered Burritoville (which went bankrupt this year) a great burrito place, but more like a decent wrap place- and clearly it had a special place in the hearts of Midtown Lunchers. For me though (and I know I’m going to get shit for this) Zen Burger was the saddest closing of the year. It’s not that I ate there so much, or that it was so amazing- but I really believed in the concept. I think chains like McDonald’s do a huge disservice to this world, not for health reasons (I am clearly not a healthy eater) but because the food is chemically engineered to taste the way it does, and it’s so cheap everybody eats there. So why bother using real meat at all? A chain like McDonald’s has such a negative impact on the environment, why not genetically engineer non-meat products to taste unhealthy and good… that was the genius of Zen Burger, and I was sad to see them go. Editor’s Pick: Zen Burger (poll link)

Best Pizza: Naples 45

Pizza @ Naples 45, Midtown NYC

Can a winner really be chosen in this category? I say no. You said yes… Naples 45, with their after 2:15pm special is the winner, beating out Two Boots (last year’s winner), Lazzarra’s (which admittedly is not really a slice of pizza kind of place), and the rest. Naples 45 ran away with it, and the rest of the pack was pretty close together- meaning you should probably stick to whatever is closest to your work… which for me was Bella Napoli. Editor’s Pick: I don’t feel strongly enough about any of them to pick a winner (poll link)

Best Non-Traditional Street Food: Hallo Berlin

Hallo Berlin Cart, Midtown NYC

There is so much great street food in Midtown, I felt bad leaving out the carts which didn’t fit in any other category… it’s tough to judge them against each other, since they all do different things- but it’s hard to argue with the winner. The Hallo Berlin cart has been serving up the best German sausage in Midtown (on 54th and 5th) for as long as I can remember… they’re Vendy Award winners, and incredibly good at what they do. But me? I’m a big Jamaican Dutchy fan (on 51st and 7th), and I’m confident that eventually the Dutchy will get their day in the Vendy Awards sun… Editor’s Pick: Jamaican Dutchy (poll link)

Best Soup: Menchanko Tei

Menchanko-Tei, Midtown NYC

Last year this was a “best ramen” category, but as the weather gets colder I thought maybe we should expand it to all soups… and yet ramen still won out. Last years winner (Sapporo) put up a good fight, but they were edged out by Menchanko Tei. I love them both, but if they were right next to each other I think I know which one I’d chose. Editor’s Pick: Menchanko Tei (poll link)

Best Steak (& Cheese): Carl’s Steaks

Carl's Steaks, Midtown NYC

This could have been a best philly cheesesteak category, but I figured why leave out the cheap steaks in Midtown. The philly cheesesteak argument is one that will be debated forever- with only one thing agreed upon: nobody does them here like they do them in Philly. But you guys voted pretty decisively for Carl’s (on 3rd Ave. btw. 34+35th), and I have to agree. Carl’s cheesesteak is a piece of greasy greatness… and when I want a “Philly” style cheesesteak, that is where I go. But if we’re talking actual steak, there is only one place in Midtown- and it’s a place I thought I’d never step into… that’s right: Tad’s Steak. What can I say? I’m a convert. And it’s a good lesson for you… never judge a book by it’s (old, dirty, wine covered in saran warp) cover. Editor’s Pick: Tad’s Steak

Thanks for voting everybody! And here’s to a great 2009…


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