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Best quality lunch food-by-the-pound in midtown?

It may seem like a bit of an oxymoron, asking for good quality food-by-the-pound, but I'm hoping one does exist. I work on 42nd and 6th, so something nearby ideally. I've tried places like Cafe Duke and find that everything tastes the same. Anyone?


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  1. There are only two categories of steam table, that I can identify: bad and okay. There are plenty of bad ones, and there are a few like Cafe Duke that rise to the "okay" category. You just need to know what they do well at your particular venue. I go to Azure on 51st and 3rd because they're the only "okay" place in my neighborhood and they have kimchi. There's a Chinese place on 40th and 7th that is generally in the bad category, but they do make good pork and onions.

    1. Dishes on 45th St between Madison and 5th is more upscale both in terms of selection and prices, but very good.

      3 Replies
        1. re: xigua

          I totally agree with this. Great selection, really tasty and fresh, but pricey. I always wind up spending way more than I intended because everything looks so appealing.

          1. re: xigua

            Checked out Dishes today, and overall best food I've had thus far. Price is slightly higher ($9.95/lb, most places seem to average around $7-8/lb), and it was a bit of a mess trying to get through the line, the place was packed. BUT, as my thread subject states, I was looking for best quality and in my opinion this was it. Hot foods were HOT (quite a concept, no?), meat selections were cut into small portions instead of 'strips' which I prefer, keeps the inside meat from drying out. Happy to see brown rice, wish there was a few more vegetable options, and no standard seafood salads or shrimp, but otherwise very satisfied. Think this and Manhattan Cafe will be my main go-to spots from here on. Wish I could try Woorjip but just too far from me (42nd and 6th)

          2. Amish Market on 45th, between 2nd and 3rd ave is very good.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Farfalle

              Thanks all, given the proximity I will check out Dishes most likely tomorrow, not sure it's worth the walk in this weather today.

              1. re: fishermb

                Even better than Dishes in terms of prices, selection and quality is Manhattan Cafe on 45th between 5th and 6th. While they may not offer food that is as ambitiously "gourmet" as Dishes, they do have a lot of unique foods to choose from and it's almost always very, very tasty at half the price of Dishes. Check out their udon soup counter. Yum! They also have pre-made boxed lunches which are a great value, made to order thin crust pizzas, fresh cut fruit by the pound, and sushi. Another huge plus is efficiency. You can get in and out of Manhattan Cafe twice as fast as Dishes, which is just not set up very well at all and is always a chaotic mess at lunch time.

                1. re: Jill

                  Thanks for this suggestion Jill, I'm eating my plate of food from Manhattan Cafe right now. Not only does the food actually taste like it's supposed to, the items that are supposed to be hot are at least warm, which is a pleasant surprise where the majority time that I take 'hot' foods, they're cold. Will be trying this one again, and will head to Dishes next week.

                  1. re: fishermb

                    So glad you're enjoying it. I find I can eat there a few times a week and always be happy with what I've gotten.

            2. woorjip on 32nd between 5th n 6th. I wouldn;t say the quality is very good but the food is different as its korean style. Sometimes they have braised pork belly which is fairly tasty. You can also buy stuff prepacked too.

              1 Reply
              1. re: randumbposter

                I think that is my ideal steam table. When I used to work in the neighborhood, it was my standard. I could always change up the banchan for a new taste while still getting my favorite mains. I was addicted to their sweet-and-sour fried chicken for quite a while.

              2. I've been to the Mangia on Wall Street and their "food by the pound" is very good. They have a midtown location but haven't been to it so not sure if they offer the same.

                1. Zeytins at 40th st. bordering the park for a variety of fresh mediterranean inspired salads and hot prepared foods

                  Dishes on 45th for the most creative option in midtown.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: kayonyc

                    Zeytin's is FANTASTIC. Great call, Kayo!

                    1. re: LeahBaila

                      So Zeytins is 40th between 5th and 6th ave? Not sure why I never ventured in there, I work on 42nd and 6th

                      1. re: fishermb

                        I checked out Zeytins yesterday, and while the quality of the food looks good, there was practically no selection of hot foods - only 2 plates, one with about 3 pieces of roasted chicken that looked kind of beat up, and vegetable lasagna. The rest of the selection was cold and salad related, and while it looked tasty, I need a lot of protein in my diet and unfortunately had to skip out. Tried Cafe Duke again, and despite thinking I was getting 'hot foods'...well everything was actually pretty cold. I think this just might be a lost cause.

                  2. sukhadia is a pretty good indian vegetarian by the pound place. Its located in the 40s . 46th or 45th (i forget. ) between 5th and 6th .

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: randumbposter

                      thought i'd throw an update in here. there's a new place called Free Foods NYC also on 45th between 5th/6th (across from Manhattan Cafe). They mostly have salads, sandwiches, and smoothies, but also have a small (6-8 item) salad bar with prepared foods that all looks like tasty, quality foods (organic/free range). Cost is $13/lb which is considerably more than other places, but you're definitely paying for the quality.

                      1. re: fishermb

                        Looks like somebody's actually beat out City Bakery for most expensive buffet. I never thought I'd see the day.

                    2. I really like Dishes on 54th and Park for this type of food. Excellent variety of hot foods, and creative cold foods, too (plus a salad bar, espresso bar with knockout pastries/cakes/cookies, and an Asian noodle station). Its all high quality and continuously refreshed. It's on the expensive side, but you won't feel like you are eating average food-by-the-pound grub that's picked over.

                      1 Reply