7 Excellent Fast-Casual Spots That Will Feed You for Under $20
Some days call for a fancy-pants power lunch, but for most of us, the average Wednesday means a quick, filling meal that we can eat at our desk if necessary. Lucky for us, a swath of new fast-casual restaurants has meshed New Yorkers’ true passions: quality and speed. Trendy interiors, Insta-worthy branding and, most importantly, excellent meals prepared with great ingredients define this growing genre that proves some of the city’s best food is ordered at the counter.
Nomad office workers rejoiced when the Eleven Madison Park team rolled out this affordable counter-service spin-off (dishes start at $9). A new menu overhaul dedicated to chicken features seasonal salads, like a pea and asparagus combo and a carrot ginger salad topped with chicken thigh, breast, schnitzel or an egg, as well as chicken-centric sandwiches and grain bowls. Weekends bring perhaps the best chicken dish of them all: chicken frites with lemon Parmesan stuffing, rosemary fries and salad. Winner, winner…you get the idea.
8 W. 28th St.; madenicenyc.com
Former Del Posto executive chef Mark Ladner’s love letter to good, quick, inexpensive pasta is colloquially referred to as the McDonald’s of Pasta, with everything on the menu priced under $10 and served within three minutes of ordering. The ingredients are higher quality, of course, and imported Italian pasta in a variety of shapes is served al dente in homemade sauces like pesto, ragu, alfredo and more. Add some garlic dots, a tricolore salad and a glass of wine to round out your meal.
510 Sixth Ave.; pastaflyer.com
Uncle Boons Sister
The more casual spin-off of the perpetually crowded Thai restaurant Uncle Boons, this younger sibling serves both lunch and dinner in a much more relaxed (and quick) setting. Stellar dishes include crab curry over rice noodles, steamed fish in banana leaf, Thai sausage with papaya salad, rotisserie-style chicken and much more. The best part? Everything on the menu is $15 or less.
203 Mott St.; uncleboonssister.com
Italian for “the break,” the Sosta lets you carbo-load and relax in a millennial-pink paradise. Fresh pastas and sauces are all homemade, as are panini, salads and an antipasti board that pairs perfectly with wine on tap when you sign off email for the day. Come weekends, go for a casual brunch of spaghetti pie, spaghetti carbonara and a warm Nutella sandwich.
186 Mott St.; thesosta.com
The name of this Asian-fusion eatery means “three treasures,” and the mix-and-match offerings certainly live up to the moniker. Think soy-garlic grilled steak, lemongrass-ginger chicken and lime-chili roasted cod to top brown rice or sweet potato vermicelli along with a slew of veggies. The addition of tempura avocado to any bowl is never a bad idea, and a chilled barley tea helps wash all those layers of flavor down.
143 Eighth Ave.; sombofood.com
Indian ingredients and flavors spice up healthy (and colorful) bowls at this counter-service spot. Pre-select an Inday-approved combo or create your own, with myriad options including turkey meatballs, curry chicken, grilled salmon, lentil crisps, red curry sauce, coconut chutney, charcoal eggplant, cauliflower rice, and so much more. Lunchtime gets crowded here, so be prepared to order and run somewhere else to dig into your creation.
Multiple locations; indaynyc.com
Xi'an Famous Foods
One of New York’s O.G. trendy grab-and-go (or stay, if you don’t want to risk messing up your noodles, as a sign at every register warns) eateries, Xi’An specializes in hand-pulled noodles from Western China served stir-fried, in soups and cold. All three iterations are fantastic—chewy, savory, sour, spicy and hugely comforting. Those sensitive to spice should start out “mild” and work their way up the heat scale. To lighten up your meal, add a side of vinegary cucumber salad.
Multiple locations; xianfamousfoods.com