There may very well be no such thing as a free lunch, but grabbing some eats at one of Manhattan’s best lunch counters will make you feel as if you’re getting a deal, as well as a slice of history. The five restaurants listed below cater to the breakfast and lunch crowds by offering low-cost American comfort food in a low-frills atmosphere. By Jessica Allen.
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Closed for several months following the explosion in the East Village, the newly reopened B&H Dairy is similar to the old B&H Dairy, and we mean that as the ultimate compliment. This institution has been around since the 1940s, ensuring that its customers leave sated, satisfied, and ready to tackle whatever waits in their world. Try the egg sandwich on freshly made challah, potato pancakes, blintzes, or a knish. B&H is vegetarian and kosher, a real throwback that’s worth keeping around.
Eisenberg’s slogan, “Raising New York’s cholesterol since 1929,” just about says it all. You don’t come to Eisenberg’s for the atmosphere, bustling as it might be, or the decor, unless you like linoleum and fluorescent bulbs. Instead, you come for the sandwiches like open-face tuna melts, pastrami, and “the Spitzer” (hot tongue on rye), as well as the “no BS” attitude (“you either get it or you don’t” goes another tagline). Breakfast is available all day! You can grab a seat in the back, but we prefer to belly up to the counter.
Located on a meh block where Chelsea meets NoMad, Johny’s Luncheonette is always packed. It’s tiny, it’s cheap, it’s great. Regulars swear by the omelets, including the western (onions, ham, and peppers), the Greek (tomato, feta, and onion), and the farmer’s (with spinach, tomato, mushrooms, and onions), as well as the pancakes. If you’re particularly famished after waiting for one of the few seats, try the “bigman breakfast”: eggs, French toast or pancakes, bacon and sausage, toast, and homefries, with tea or coffee.
Before or after you trek to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you might want to stop into the Lexington Candy Shop, full of its own relics. Photos of the restaurant from the 1920s line the walls, as does a huge collection of Coke bottles and cans, many of which were gifts from customers. Try a milkshake or egg cream with your hamburger and fries, ham and cheese sandwich, or frankfurter. We really like the “Lexington special”: bacon, roast beef, fried egg, and American cheese, topped with butter and Russian dressing.
Square Diner solidly inhabits its Tribeca space, refusing to change even as the neighborhood grows and gentrifies. You can hop on a stool to watch the action upfront, or sit towards the back, among the families and singeltons and tourists and regulars. The long menu ranges from eggs and homemade corned beef hash to a pastrami omelet to chocolate chip pancakes to salads, quesadillas, and an impressive range of sandwiches. You can’t go wrong with the “NYC classic”: corned beef on rye bread with sauerkraut and melted Swiss cheese.