Cafe 52 May Be the Best Bargain in the FiDi

At Midtown Lunch we’re always looking for outstanding dishes, but we also like to get as much food as we can for as little money as possible. Cafe 52 may not serve the best food in the Financial District – not even close – but if you’re looking to stretch a dollar, and maybe your waistline as well, this is the place for you.

Tucked away in the back corner of the United Federation of Teachers building at 52 Broadway, Cafe 52 is unassuming to say the least. But a sign inside the door reveals what might be the best bargain in the area: $4.75 for a sandwich/salad/pasta, a cup of soup, and a garlic knot. That may only sound OK at first, but the portions here are huge. The food isn’t amazing, but it’s pretty good, and you definitely won’t leave hungry…

There’s nothing about the building’s entrance that hints at the deal inside. It is a secure building, but Cafe 52 is on the public side of the security desk, so this food is not just for teachers. The cafe is located all the way in the back of the building on the right if you’re entering from Broadway, but there is an entrance on New Street as well.

Once you’re inside, a smorgasbord awaits:

OK. It’s actually not all that large of a smorgasboard. There are some pretty run-of-the-mill sandwich and wrap options, a few salads, and a couple of cold pasta salads of the vinaigrette variety, not with mayonnaise.

Here’s a closer look:

Not normally a selection that I’d get very excited about, but I’m in it for the deal. The day I went there were three soups: chicken noodle, chicken gumbo, and lentil. I grabbed a cajun chicken pasta, a cup of chicken noodle soup, and a garlic knot, and headed for the checkout.

This is where things got a little weird at Cafe 52. The woman rang up my food and told me it would be $5.50. When I asked why it was that much more than advertised, she told me “tax.” Tax? Unless New York has raised the sales/restaurant tax to over 15%, something is awry here. It’s still a great deal at $5.50, but I left a bit confused.

Here’s my haul. The angle doesn’t really convey how large the soup and pasta were. I’d say the soup was a standard large size from a deli, and the pasta is a relatively large clamshell container stuffed absolutely full.

The cajun chicken was definitely better than I expected. The chicken was tasty and actually spicy. The tricolor noodles were mixed with shredded carrots, red onion, and red pepper, which were all very nice. Unfortunately, there were also a few chunks of unripe, inedible tomato. I just picked them out, but I wish they hadn’t been there in the first place.

The soup was unremarkable, just a very standard cafeteria-style chicken noodle. There was very little chicken or vegetables in it, but there were lots of noodles, which I actually care more about. Not a memorable cup of soup, but a tasty one and – more importantly – a big one.

Oh, garlic knots. Always so tempting, always so disappointing. Like street cart pretzels, I stopped buying garlic knots after my fifth or sixth totally disappointing experience.

This knot was actually less disappointing than usual, as it was still soft and relatively warm. It wasn’t very good, though, and holy crap was it greasy. It basically seemed to  be made out of butter. I took about two bites and then was done. If you’re a garlic knot fanatic, you might enjoy it, but I didn’t really care for it.

So Cafe 52′s food is just fine, but this is not your mothers 1/2 sandwich and small soup combo. I’m pretty sure that this is the most food I’ve gotten for the price down here. In my book, that makes up for the alright food and makes this place a worthy Lunch destination.

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

  • I love getting bang for my buck, and Cafe 52 really fits the bill.
  • The food is better than I’d expect for the location/appearance/price.
  • I love the “hidden” aspect of this place.

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

  • OK food is still just OK food, no matter how cheap it is.
  • The “tax” here seems like some kind of scam.
  • Their garlic knot is an untasty butter bomb.

Cafe 52, 52 Broadway (btw. Beaver & Morris), (212) 425-2321‎



  • This seems awfully “generic deli” to me. I can understand a place like “dukes” because of the novelty of the “shrimp” and the korean food, but otherwise, isn’t there one of these “cafe 52″ type places on every block?

  • @ adamprato – Definitely a pretty generic deli, but also the cheapest I’ve been able to get this much food.

    There are similar places on every block, but you could easily pay close to $10 for a similar amount of grub. Such is the FiDi…

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    Any vegetarian options at Cafe 52?

  • is there public space seating with tables and chairs inside there?

  • 5.50 doesn’t sound bad for the amount of food but that’s a bit shady on ‘Tax.’

  • @emak84 – Sorry I didn’t address that above, but yes, there is. There are a like 8 or 10 small tables right outside the entrance. You can see a couple in the main picture.

  • price has dropped to $4.50 + tax = $5 with one sign on b’way even saying $4.25.

    didn’t see any cajun chicken, so i went with pesto chicken pasta salad. no red onion, but broccoli instead, and both green and red bell peppers, maybe even a stray roasted red pepper. could have used some more dressing so pretty bland, but it would probably have made a mess in the paper bag since the woman dropped it in sideways. the chicken rice soup (12 oz), which may have been simmering since yesterday given the texture, was pretty bland, too. as you ladle your own, i loaded up on rice for some extra carb action.

    i wouldn’t say the portions are huge, but it’s definitely a better value than the typical half-sandwich and soup combo for $6.50 and up.

    @brownbaglunch: i didn’t notice veg options, but i wasn’t seeking.

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