The best fast-casual dining in New York

21 August, 2017

I’ve been to New York City a number of times, and eaten in all sorts of places from swanky fine-dining restaurants to middle-of-the-night hotdog kiosks. Without a doubt, my favourite way to eat in the Big Apple is somewhere in between the two extremes.

Fast casual dining has been booming in recent years, both in London and in New York, though I can’t help but feel like it’s an eating style that must have been born in NYC – its attitude, vibrancy and pace just feels so native to the way people live there. That said, when New York-based food mag Eater launched their UK arm earlier this year, the newly-appointed editor said that he felt the stateside city’s influence on London’s dining scene is waning, so perhaps both cities cottoned on at the same time.

Our sister company Flavour Feed looked at the rise of fast-casual eating as a trend earlier this year in a great piece. Even fine-dining chefs are looking to fast-casual sister spots as a way of introducing customers to their food at a more accessible price point – much in the way that high-end fashion designers do with their cheaper, ‘ready to wear’ collections. It’s not quite ‘try before you buy’ – more ‘try before you splash out big time’. Counter service is at the heart of the movement with the airs and graces of traditional restaurant service stripped back, but without any compromise on the flavour or quality of the food itself.

Here are a few of my top fast-casual eateries for your next trip to New York, starting with my favourite.

Eataly, Flat Iron

An absolute must-visit for any food lover in New York, the Eataly marketplace in Flat Iron Square is home to a fantastic mix of high-calibre food stalls, counter dining venues and traditional restaurants. Whether it’s hand-pulled mozzarella, regional Italian seafood or a classic cup of gelato you’re after, Eataly’s focus on high-quality produce is second to none. Think 100 different varieties of extra virgin olive, authentic soft drinks and sauces imported from Italy, as well as an extensive selection of charcuterie, cheese and wine. You can easily lose hours wondering from stall to stall, and all that shopping is hungry work, so make sure you stop for a bite in one of the dining spots too. Highlights include butcher-focused restaurant Manzo for a real farm-to-fork feel, veg-centric venue Le Verdure, and the simply named Il Pesce – a high-quality fish restaurant which serves the catch of the day to your taste – crudo, pan-seared or roasted.

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Roast Kitchen, Madison Square

New Yorkers are big on bowl food, and this spot is a favourite haunt. While breakfast means a sautéed kale mix, goat’s cheese, zucchini linguine and scrambled egg-white bowl at Roast Kitchen, the more substantial Chef’s bowls are both lunch and dinner appropriate. Salad bowls complete with punchy flavours – from the Spiked Caesar to The Gaucho with ancho-chipotle sauce – provide for something a little lighter are also not to be missed. Or for the more adventurous, Roast Kitchen gives BYOB a whole new meaning, encouraging customers to build their own bowls with greens, sauces, grains, and flavour-packed toppings such as umami pork meatballs, shio koji marinated pork and grilled garlic shrimp. It’s comfort food that’s also superfood-food. Perfect for lunch or a light supper.

Chobani, Prince Street

Dominating Instagram with its vibrantly coloured mix-and-match meals, Chobani is the ideal place for a pit-stop while cruising around the Big Apple. From peanut butter and banana breakfast bowls, through a range of labne-loaded ‘simit’ sandwiches (skinny Turkish bagels), soups and salads, to savoury creations such as hummus and za’atar with simit chips and roasted beet and quinoa tabbouleh, you can go half-and-half at Chobani for a seriously pretty plate. We recommend doubling-up with the classic pastirma and kasseri simit – packed with Turkish aged beef, sheep’s milk and pickles – alongside the mixed berry acai for both balance and ballast.

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Honeybrains, Lafayette Street

A forward-thinking eatery focused on nourishing brain food, Honeybrains takes grab-and-go eating to a whole new level with an all-day menu of innovative salads, bowls, sandwiches, sides and breakfasts. The brain-boosting breakfast menu includes favourites such as power oatmeal with quinoa and spiced coconut milk, alongside their health-conscious yet nostalgic take on the PJ&B sandwich with blueberry jelly, house-made peanut butter and raw honeycomb. For the remainder of the day, you can pick up avocado and salmon packed sandwiches, alongside buckwheat bowls and protein-rich sides. One of the founders is even a neurologist, so they’re bonafide experts when it comes to creating dishes that really do make a difference to our body and mind.  

Sons of Thunder, Murray Hill

Poke – a Hawaiian dish often described as ‘deconstructed sushi’ – has gone from strength to strength as a food trend, becoming a lunchtime staple for urban professionals. Our sister company Flavour Feed has been covering the evolution of the trend since it first cropped up back in 2015, but its popularity among city workers started with New Yorkers. Sons of Thunder is a casual restaurant in Midtown that serves some of the best poke in Manhattan, as well as top-quality hot dogs and milkshakes. With both ahi tuna bowls and the classic Chicago dog – with tomato, onion, pickle, dill relish and celery salt – on the menu, this venue fuses on-trend superfood perfectly with more indulgent answers to lunch, perfect if you and your travelling companion can’t decide on what to eat!