If you’re a true New Yorker, you have a natural and established distain for Times Square. You avoid it in the same way that you would avoid the scruffy dude with the hacking cough on the cross town bus, or the overly-boozed woman talking to herself on morning 6 train. When you work in Time Square, you are forced to brave the unrelenting gridlock of photo-taking tourists and adults dressed in animal costumes before you have had your morning coffee. For me, I go into sensory overload when I emerge from my cubicle at lunchtime, when my eyes are still cloudy from staring at the computer screen all morning.
It’s difficult to find a decent place for lunch. Beyond this, it’s even more difficult to find a decent lunch within a tight budget. As we all know, New Yorkers all have tight budgets, and lunch can be one of the most difficult meals to regulate. You have geographical and time constrictions, and are often tempted to grab the fastest boring deli sandwich you can get your hands on, day after day. For a diehard foodie like me, a blasé lunch choice can literally suck the joy out of my day (dramatic, but accurate). As long there is not monsoon-like rain, subarctic temperatures, or a heat wave (because Times Square in July is essentially a human oven, secretly cooking us to feed to those furry Disney characters), I will make it a point to scour the area to its outermost points in search of lunchtime choices that don’t break my wallet in half. Here are a couple of my discoveries:
Blossom Du Jour
617 9th Avenue between 43rd & 44th Street
This hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop has something unique going for it–it’s 100% vegan. Before I lose my carnivore readers in a cloud of sidewalk dust, hear me out. I am not a vegan, or even a vegetarian. I love me a good marinated steak with bacon-wrapped anything, and a heaping mound of mashed potatoes. Now that you realize that I can be trusted to recommend this spot to foodies of all genres, I can confidently declare that this is one of my favorite sandwich shops in the whole city. The bread is fresh, the “soy-chicken” is full of flavor, and will leave meat-eaters scratching their heads and trying to figure out how it tastes so much like the “real thing”. A sandwich will run you about $9, which is at the high end of my budget, but the portion size is generous. My favorite choice is the “Un-Chicken Avocado Griller”, which contains lemon-marinated “chicken”, fresh avocado, pesto, vegan-mayo and lettuce sandwiched between a toasted roll. Grab a stool if you are quick enough (there aren’t many), and slip into lunchtime Zen while listening to the Beatles music that occasionally echoes inside.
37 West 43rd Street #2, between 5th & 6th avenue
This is the kind of place that I recommend if you are hungrier than usual, and broker than usual (at the same time). On the surface, it looks like any other generic midtown-area deli and grill. The one thing that differentiates this location is the lunchtime deal—a cheeseburger with fries and a fresh lemonade for $5.95. It’s pretty difficult to find more food for less money. The fries are surprisingly fresh and crunchy, and the lemonade tasty. The one drawback (there has to be one) is that the burger buns are perpetually less-than-fresh. That being said, many would consider this a minor indiscretion in the scheme of things, and a small sacrifice for a full wallet (and stomach). The burger itself is nothing over-the-top, but it’s a decent choice for the price.
255 West 43rd Street between 7th & 8th avenue
This small buffet and juice bar is easy to miss, with its quiet and unassuming exterior. Healthy, tasty, filling lunch that’s only a few yards from 7th avenue? It is possible—I would never lie when it comes to food. Inside, there is a small but diverse buffet ($7.89/lb) that includes mostly organic and fresh options, such as Hawaiian turkey meatballs, glazed salmon, Indian tofu salad and mashed sweet potatoes. The deli portion offers organic rice bowls, salads and sandwiches, which range in price from $6-8. The entire establishment is a health-oriented, good quality version of the average sub-par Time Square deli, but at the same (if not cheaper) price tag. They have a small number of tables and chairs, and assorted breakfast items to go. This spot is most definitely worth the visit, and the quality that you get compared to similar spots is surprising.
If you have time for dessert…head over to Schmackary’s at 362 West 45th street & 9th avenue for a maple-bacon cookie. You will not regret it.