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Where Should I Eat If I Commute Through Grand Central?

Photo: Thos Robinson/Getty Images

Two or three times a week, Hua Hsu leaves the city for work. In addition to being a staff writer for The New Yorker, which he can do remotely, he’s also an English and American Studies professor at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie. And while the campus is a nice escape from the chaos of the city, it’s a pretty poor place to find a meal. “I have to think about what I’m going to eat in advance,” says Hsu. “Because our campus has really nice flowers, but not very many places to get something delicious and healthy.” So, after years of commuting, Hsu has come up with his own personal list of go-tos for a quick meal or a meal that will survive the hours-long trip north intact. Here’s where he likes to eat near Grand Central.

Maison Kayser
370 Lexington Ave., at E. 41st St.; 212-598-5800

“I really value places that are within two blocks of the train station in case I’m running late. And this place is the most reliable, all-around option. I often feel like I must seem like incredibly indulgent because I’m buying $25 worth of snacks and pastries at once, but it’s sort of what you need to get through two long train rides and a day of teaching. I always measure a sandwiches worth in terms of its integrity, like will it still resemble a sandwich two and a half hours later and Maison Kayser has pretty good sandwiches that aren’t too dry and are flavorful. I usually get the Rosette ‘in a baguette’ with cured sausage and butter.”

Sunrise Mart
12 E. 41st St., nr. Madison Ave.; 646-380-9280

“I was really thrilled to find this place. I mean, I dream of opening Sunrise Marts in underserved areas because it’s a perfect place. You can get a premade onigiri or, if I can fit it in my bag, a full-on salmon rice bowl. There’s a lot of different things you can get and there’s also just really great flavors of Kit-Kats and other snacks. There’s also a café right next door that has a public restroom, which is great.”

Cafe Zaiya
18 E. 41st St., nr. Madison Ave.; nr. Madison Ave.; 212-779-0740

“They have really great desserts like bubble tea and soft serve and sandwiches and curry bowls. I really prize places that have good premade food and this place delivers on that.”

Great Northern Food Hall
89 E. 42nd St., nr. Park Ave.; 646-568-4020

“Of course, Grand Central has some very good options inside, too. I remember walking into it the first time and feeling incredibly out of touch because I didn’t realize that Nordic cuisine was a thing, nor did I know that it could sustain an entire food plaza in Grand Central. It’s been a bit of a life-changer. They have sandwiches that definitely can withstand being thrashed about in a backpack and their food is pretty fresh. I love this one sandwich with smoked salmon and smoked cream cheese on these Nordic rolls that have nuts and dried fruit.”

Taylor St. Baristas
33 E. 40th St., nr. Madison Ave.; no phone

“I was initially drawn to the fact that they have a public restroom. But they also have all these things that I probably would never have tried if I wasn’t a commuter, like chia pudding cups, overnight oats, and all sorts of things. Like, the people who order them tend to look healthy so I figured I’d try it. This place breaks the sandwich hegemony.”

Restaurant Riki
141 E. 45th St., nr. Lexington Ave.; 212-986-5604

“If I have a lot of time, I go to this Japanese place. It’s just a cool, kind of casual izakaya place and it’s usually nice to go there and get some karaage and some rice. It’s one of the odd things about the area around Grand Central where the food is generally bad. There’s just a ton of really good Japanese places that are very low-key and in the basement of an office building, off the beaten path.”

Where Should I Eat If I Commute Through Grand Central?