Dive into the comparative culinary wonderland!
For two railroad terminals only two-thirds of a mile apart as the crow flies, the chow couldn’t be more different. Penn Station is awash in cheesy fast food, and the rancid smell fills your nostrils as you run for the train. By contrast, the culinary offerings of Grand Central Terminal are much more effete — but scarcely more expensive.
In fact, you could treat Grand Central as a culinary destination, as well as an architectural one. While Penn Station has 58 dining opportunities on two levels, Grand Central has 44 on three levels, most in the Grand Central Market area — where the stalls are prohibited from serving hot food, but have plenty of room-temperature offerings — or on the lower level, referred to rather hilariously as the “Dining Concourse.”
Still, in our days of pacing the terminal, we treated the experience of dining there as if we were in a bit of a hurry, as commuters often are. Indeed, you could spend hours in the restaurants Métrazur and Michael Jordan’s The Steak House, but we ignored those places, emphasizing cheaper and faster fare. Even we were surprised at some of the excellent viands available. Here are our top 10.
10. Track Five Sushi Combo at Masato — The $7.50 bento includes kanpyo (dried gourd), pickled daikon, and cucumber with plum paste, along with a couple of inari pockets filled with vinegared rice. Vegan, Dining Concourse
9. Asparagus Salad at Dishes — The perfect asparagus spears have been carefully trimmed, steamed, and slicked with a mellow sesame dressing, then strewn with toasted sesame seeds, and a half-pound ($5.25) feels like a full meal. Vegan, Grand Central Market
8. Almond Croissant at Financier — This Manhattan French bakery (the original was in the Financial District) excels at all sorts of croissants and other butter-bearing Gallic pastry. With a layer of marzipan in the middle, and topped with toasted nuts, the almond croissant ($2.25) is almost guaranteed to provoke pleasant dreams as you fall asleep on the train. Vegetarian, Main Floor, Lexington Passageway
7. Seafood Salad at Pescatore — The quarter-pound container ($4.75) made an ample snack of this lively seafood salad, which contained squid, octopus, shrimp, red peppers, black olives, and celery in a vinaigrette heavy with fruity olive oil. Grand Central Market
6. Plain Cheesecake at Junior’s — Representin’ for Brooklyn, Junior’s has three stores on various levels of Grand Central. Their classic Jewish cheesecake ($6.25 per slice) — slightly runny and funky in the middle, as it should be — retains all the glory of the borough’s best. Vegetarian, Main Floor and Dining Concourse
5. Caramel Nut Bar at Li-Lac — Recently establishing a retail space in Grand Central Terminal, this West Village stalwart makes excellent chocolate that tastes like no other, and one of their greatest creations is the caramel nut bar ($2.75) in either light or dark chocolate, or even without the nuts if you’d rather. Vegetarian, Grand Central Market
4. Texas Chain Gang Chili at the Manhattan Chili Co. — From the list of nearly a dozen chilis offered every day at the Manhattan Chili Co., Texas Chain Gang ($5.25 per cup) is our favorite, and it’s also the hottest: coarsely ground chuck and kidney beans zapped with fresh jalapeños and canned chipotles, served with your choice of toppings (green onions or shredded cheese are both fab) and cornbread or oyster crackers. Dining Concourse
3. Guacamole at Zocalo — Served with a humongous sack of chips, Zocalo’s guac ($6.50) is simplicity itself, laced rudimentarily with onions, cilantro, and chopped tomatoes, and thus the emphasis is on freshness. Nothing’s hiding inside this guacamole! Vegan, Dining Concourse
2. Selection of Oysters at the Oyster Bar — When you pop in the door, don’t turn left into the dining room, go right and take a seat at the snaking lunch counter or at the oyster bar, and enjoy a half-dozen (the price varies, but it’s usually around $15) of the most pristine bivalves available in the city, from sources that include West and East Coast beds. Up a ramp from the Dining Concourse
Epic entrance to the Grand Central Oyster Bar.
1. Chickpea Salad at Ceriello — Never have chickpeas enjoyed such a perfect context! Beans from Umbria, Italy, cooked until tender and not a moment longer, are immersed in good olive oil with plenty of garlic and purple onion and the proper amount of salt and vinegar. Take one bite, and you won’t be able to stop eating. Vegan, Grand Central Market
This salumeria also has amazing vegetarian dishes.