Midtown Manhattan Lunches – Xian Famous Foods, ‘wichCraft, Zucker’s Bagels & Smoked Fish

So when I last left off from my New York trip recap, I had mentioned my first lunch was at Bouchon Bakery Rockefeller. That still leaves a few other days of lunches to cover.

Thanks to my hotel refrigerator, I was able to eat dinner leftovers one day for lunch. Another day, I followed a recommendation for Xi’An Famous Foods. Not only was it personally recommended by another foodie (who got it from another foodie in Portland!), but it also made the Serious Eats guide of “Where to Eat Near Rockefeller Center“, among other good press. From reading beforehand I knew they accepted cash only, so I came prepared.

They often have quite a queue to get the food as well- on their website they actually list all their locations and if you click on each specific location, they have a real time store traffic-meter to show how busy it is! That’s awesome. I was lucky enough to get there right in time for a meal turnover- all the seats were full but were finishing up.

This was extremely lucky because there are only maybe a dozen or so little stools by counters in the back, and you can only hope that by the time they call your order # from that back window, a stool has opened up so you can eat. In theory the logic should be until you have food in hand you shouldn’t sit down, rather then letting luck of the draw of you standing by people vacating so you can grab a seat and others are left balancing their tray of food wondering how to eat it. While I was there, I witnessed one angered conversation when 2 girls tried to grab 2 stools and a woman ahead of them pointed out she had ordered before them. They relinquished the seats, others opened up, and 3 more actually opened up so I was able to get one next.

The stools and little bar to eat on are very low, the light is dim, it is definitely a feel of a questionable hole in the wall but that also seems very authentic to what often good Asian places offer- not much atmosphere and full focus on the food and good prices.

Xi'an Famous Foods, Midtown Location on 45th Street

I also knew exactly what to order thanks to my foodie friend- the N1 Spicy Cumin Lamb Hand Ripped Noodles, Lamb sautéed with onions, garlic, and scallions in Xi’an Famous Food’s secret spices, mixed with their original hand-ripped wide biangbiang noodles. I thought it was spicy but not too much (I have a medium-high spice tolerance), and definitely it is a multiple napkin meal from the dripping chili sauce, a mix of Muslim Chinese flavors that you will be hard-pressed to easily find, so I thought it was worth the wait. I didn’t order the Lamb Burger that Anthony Bourdain had so enjoyed on No Reservations, but I needed to save myself for dinner.

Do not wear a white shirt- I almost put on a light colored shirt earlier that day but realizing this would be my probable lunch destination, switched to a black top instead.
N1 Spicy Cumin Lamb Hand Ripped Noodles from Xi’an Famous Foods

When I left, there was a line out the door, and a line all along the wall of those who were taking food out. As I noted, remember it’s cash only, AND don’t be one of those people who doesn’t know what you want. They have a menu of 40 items which have pictures and numbers on the wall. Do everyone a favor and look online and pick out your item # and order by it (aka N1 for me). And if you eat there, do NOT linger over your food talking like 3 people I saw where 2 were done eating and still sitting there talking to the last person- there were lots of people just boring their eyes at them.

Xi'an Famous Foods on Urbanspoon

Also a few blocks down, by Rockefeller, I tried out ‘wichCraft, a craft sandwich chain of which one of the partners is Tom Colicchio. The location I went to at Rockefeller Center is a little hidden- you have to go downstairs (so it is at the same level of the ice rink) and it is tucked in the back of one side. This one didn’t quite fare so well. The tomato soup I had here with san marzano tomatoes, basil, sherry vinegar & parmesan was a poor comparison to the one you can get on the main street at Bouchon Bakery (as I wrote in my last post). I still clung to the soup to balance out the dry mushyness of the multigrain half sandwich with goat cheese, avocado, celery, walnut pesto & watercress. I’m pretty sure I can make a better version of what sandwich myself at home. So sad to waste money and calories that could have been enjoyed better with this lunch. At least I had great company (I met up with an old coworker- a complete surprise since she is usually in Seattle and we unbelievably ended up meeting in New York!)
'wichCraft, in Rockefeller Center 'wichCraft, in Rockefeller Center
'wichCraft, in Rockefeller Cente, multigrain half sandwich with goat cheese, avocado, celery, walnut pesto and watercress, with tomato soup with basil, sherry vinegar and parmesan 'wichCraft, in Rockefeller Cente, multigrain half sandwich with goat cheese, avocado, celery, walnut pesto and watercress, with tomato soup with basil, sherry vinegar and parmesan 'wichcraft on Urbanspoon

My last recap here is for Zucker’s Bagels & Smoked Fish, which required me take a nice scenic walk that brought me by Grand Central and also the Library and Bryant Park. Is it wrong that I actually knew Bryant Park pretty well thanks to the Lego Super Heroes game, including the detail of Le Carrousel? I was disappointed that most of the park was under construction.
"Grand New York Public Library New York Public Library New York Public Library View of the moon at Bryant Park Le Carrousel Bryant Park Fountain Bryant Park

I was pretty determined to enjoy New York bagels while I was here though, so the brisk walk in order to get to the conference in time was worth it. For a little bit, I got a little taste of what it would be like if I a New York regular as I strided purposefully towards Zuckers among the rest of the downtown commuters. Zucker’s gets their smoked fish from Acme Smoked Fish which sounds like something from Looney Toons but is an establishment that has been in the family business for four generations.

I ordered the Zucker’s Traditional, with Nova Scotia salmon with plain cream cheese, Lucky’s tomatoes, red onions and capers, on a their hand rolled kettle boiled malt sweetened baked daily in their store Everything bagel. The bagel was exactly everything everyone always talks about, incomparably chewy but soft, crackly-crusted with the lightly smoky Acme Nova lox, cool thick generous 1/2″ schmear of cream cheese, crisp beefsteak tomato and red onion, capers providing an extra pop of brine.
Zucker Bagels & Smoked Fish's Traditional, with Nova Scotia salmon with plain cream cheese, Lucky's tomatoes, red onions and capers, on a their hand rolled kettle boiled malt sweetened baked daily in their store Everything bagel

If I lived here I would definitely be a regular here. This location I went to downtown on Lexington doesn’t have the old world atmosphere of their Tribeca flagship location with its pressed tin ceiling and subway-tiled wall, but the bagels are still beyond.

Zucker's Bagels & Smoked Fish on Urbanspoon

In the next New York trip recap post, I’m going to share the best bagel sandwich I had during my trip- and my progressive eating day, yes a single day that included that bagel sandwich breakfast followed by lunch at Chelsea Market (plus there was a break for dessert at Milk Bar, but I covered that previously in a Momofuku post) and then a dinner at the Todd English Food Hall!

Which of the 3 lunch places I tried out would you have also picked out to try? Or did I miss a Midtown Manhattan lunch spot that you want to tell me about for next time?

Other New York highlights from this trip that I have blogged about:

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