Uncle Vanya’s $8.99 Lunch Special is Perfect For a Rainy Day

As you probably know we’re always open to receiving lunch recs from you guys, and every once in awhile somebody goes the extra mile sending us a full write up of a place that has flown under the ML radar. This week Lunch’er Jen was kind enough to send this report on the $9 lunch special at Uncle Vanya’s.

I’m not an expert on Russian food. In fact, the last time I ate the cuisine was over 10 years ago. But it seems there aren’t many Russian cuisine choices under $10 in Midtown, and I found a place that looked like the real deal. Uncle Vanya Café (on 54th btw 8+9th) has a reasonably priced $8.99 lunch special, and I thought it would be a perfect place to check out since it’s never been mentioned on Midtown Lunch (save for this comment back in 2006.)

Uncle Vanya Café is an authentic, laid-back Russian café where you can hide when you’re looking for a bit of an adventure. It has the ambiance of being both low-lit and glowing red at once–a look and feel I was really hoping for (even though it made taking pictures of my lunch a bit difficult). The place is decorated with a mix of folk instruments, faded movie posters in cyrillic script, and Russian teapots. You can *totally* pretend to be a spy in here if you so choose. For the full experience, I’d personally recommend going to the restaurant for a unique sit-down lunch with your coworkers or for their $5-a-beer happy hour from 5-8 (including huge-ass bottles of obscure Russian and Eastern European beers). But if you’re in a rush, the café provides both delivery and pick-up services.

Uncle Vanya’s $8.99 lunch special runs from noon – 3:00 pm; a cheaper version of their theatre pre-fixe menu. You can select either the borscht (hot or cold), or a traditional salad, PLUS an entree of pelmini (tortellini-like meat dumplings), a dish they call “village appetize” (potatoes or grains with mushrooms and onions), golubtsy (cabbage stuffed with ground beef and tomato sauce), or vareniki (potato dumplings).

I tried the hot borscht and the golubtsy, and I was highly impressed by the quality of both dishes. I would tell you it was perfect, but unfortunately I don’t know much about Russian food. What I can tell you is that I felt that my meal was carefully prepared and had an excellent combination of flavors. Some folks might consider the portions to be small–both the soup and the main course were served in bowls about the same size as teacups–but between the heaviness of the sour cream and the complimentary bread, I thought it was pretty satisfying.

I’d like to highlight a few outstanding ingredients at Uncle Vanya Café –the soft, yummy, brown bread, the *obviously special* sour cream, and the fresh dill. I noticed from fellow diners’ dishes that these three ingredients accompany many of the items on the menu. According to the server, the bread is baked on the premises, and the sour cream is made by a Russian vendor in Brooklyn. I forgot to ask about the dill, but you can’t beat fresh herbs in your midtown lunch, right?

With tip and tax, this will run you slightly over our $10 Midtown Lunch limit, but for the quality of the food, the rustic Russian experience, and the divergence from the ordinary, it’s well worth it. If you’re not up for the lunch special, there are many other items on the menu under $10, like salads and hot or cold appetizers. I say: do it.

The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)

  • Hard-to-find Russian cuisine (for under $10 in midtown)
  • Interesting atmosphere
  • Fun for a group lunch celebration or for a singular adventure
  • High quality ingredients like Brooklyn-made sour cream and homemade bread

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

  • Slightly out-of-bounds on price and just on the brink regarding location
  • Not good for the time-constrained (although they do offer delivery and carryout options)

Uncle Vanya’s, 315 W. 54th St. (btw. 8+9th) 212-262-0542


  • this sounds awesome! update us on all the entrees and take pictures!

  • How was the speed at lunch? I’ve only ever been for dinner (and admittedly not in years) but they were always amazingly slow with service…even for things you wouldn’t think would take long.

    And now… I want their Chicken Kiev… mmmm butter filled fried chicken.

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