Upper West Side
Cheap, low-maintenance places to meet near Columbus Circle are virtually nonexistent. So is Burger Joint: It’s ultra-small, barely taking up any space in the vast lobby of the Parker Meridien Hotel, where it’s hidden behind a curtain. The trappings are a bit gimmicky, true, but the gimmick works, in that it consists mainly of no-fuss burgers, perfectly cooked and served on a basic white bun with the usual fixings if you want them (lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles)—and with pretty much nothing else on the menu beyond fries and pitchers of beer. It’s easy to keep the tab in the single-digits here. And although you have to keep a sharp eye out for an emptying booth or a smattering of free stools to sit on, this is a reliable, likable place to meet friends for a bite and a beer.
Telepan, a smart little seasonal-American restaurant near Columbus Circle, helped rescue this formerly restaurant-challenged neighborhood from perpetual humiliation. Telepan’s menu telepathically taps into basic cravings and creates new ones, with dishes like smoked corn with grits souffle and corn agnolotti, or house-smoked trout with oniony sour cream. Lunch is a joyful surprise here too, with more locals than suits in attendance—although the restaurant could no doubt benefit from a few more execs expensing wine-soaked lunches these days.
If a full-on splurge at the luxe-seafood den Marea will do in what’s left of your bank account, stop in to try some crudos at the bar, and get a feel for chef Michael White’s brilliant Italian spins on raw fish. The crudo dishes here are some of the most spectacular taste sensations in the city. The silky raw fish, cut like sushi or sashimi, comes dressed with spicy, sweet, or acidic flavors, as in the geoduck clam with chilies and chive blossoms or the fluke with lemon thyme and basil oil. As for the rest of the menu: White’s masterful seafood pastas and other marine concoctions helped Marea earned two Michelin stars just barely into its second year.