Must-See Midtown: Dining staff

Midtown Manhattan is the principal hub in a city full of them. The bustling, awe-inspiring neighborhood is home to a staggering concentration of cultural institutions, shops and iconic attractions, so it's no surprise that the same holds true for food. Whether you yearn for a sophisticated power lunch, a star-studded dining room or the perfect pastrami on rye, there's a Midtown eatery that fits the bill. While it would be impossible to cover all of the outstanding eats in the heart of Manhattan, we've done our best to assemble a short list that gives an idea as to the tremendous breadth of cuisines and dining experiences available there. If nothing else, it should whet your appetite for everything Midtown has to offer. Grab your fork and knife, and read on.

'21' Club
21 W. 52nd St., 212-582-7200
With its rich history, '21' Club has good reason to hold fast to tradition. Founded in 1929, the place began life as a speakeasy whose elaborate system for hiding and destroying bottles on short notice protected its proprietors from raids during Prohibition. In later years, it became a favorite hangout of the rich, famous and powerful—movie stars, Wall Street moguls and US presidents have all frequented the historic eatery, where gentlemen are still required to wear jackets, thank you very much. Of course, beyond '21' Club's famed jockey-lined entryway, you'll also find some tasty fare, including Dover sole, steak tartare and, for herbivores, a vegetable tasting featuring grilled portobellos and stuffed piquillo peppers.

Courtesy, '21' Club

Carnegie Deli
854 Seventh Ave., 212-757-2245
Yes, “Deli” certainly rhymes with “Fonzarelli,” but there's another reason Adam Sandler chose the Carnegie to cite in his “Chanukah Song.” In short, what the nearby Carnegie Hall is for classical music, this place may be for corned beef, chicken liver and matzo ball soup. And you'd better come starving—the sandwiches, and we're not kidding you, can be about half a foot tall. Otherwise, be ready to pay the $3 sharing charge, which is well worth it if you've only got a regular-size appetite (not that there's anything wrong with bringing half a sandwich home to eat the next day).

Carnegie Deli. Photo: Jen Davis

Le Bernardin
155 W. 51st St., 212-554-1515
Seafood stars at Le Bernardin, and most of the food carries a French accent—but the eatery also offers, for example, Kobe beef flown in from Japan. For its cuisine and service, the restaurant has earned three Michelin stars—an exceedingly rare honor. It's no surprise, then, that Le Bernardin has remained a favorite of diners and food critics alike for nearly a quarter century. Eric Ripert, the eatery's celebrity chef, spends plenty of time in the kitchen, and if you're lucky, you might even spot him in the dining room—he's been known to pose with diners for the occasional photograph. To experience a wide variety of the restaurant's offerings during one visit, try one of the tasting menus.

The Russian Tea Room
150 W. 57th St., 212-581-7100
To call the Russian Tea Room extravagant might be an understatement. The institution—around since 1927—is famous for its eye-popping decor, which includes a 15-foot-tall revolving bear-shaped aquarium, plush red leather booths and an uncanny scale model of the Kremlin. And just as the scenery dazzles the eyes, the food tickles the taste buds. Diners can splurge on imported imperial Iranian Osetra caviar or opt for more wallet-friendly options such as the $35 Children's Tea menu, the $40 Business Express lunch or three vodkas for just $14 during the fittingly named Vodka Hour on weekdays from 5 to 7pm. Highlights include boeuf à la Stroganoff as well as eggplant and mushroom à la russe. Midtown's Russian highlights don't end at the Tea Room, though. The Russian Samovar, Russian Vodka Room, Petrossian and others may make this neighborhood the City's most vibrant Slavic dining enclave outside of Brighton Beach.

Courtesy, The Russian Tea Room

234 W. 44th St., 212-221-8440
It's hard to argue against Sardi's for a pre- or post-theater meal, considering that it has, for eight decades, been the go-to hangout for Broadway stars and behind-the-scenes creative types. Out-of-towners may know this as the place where Kramer dined with his Tony Award on Seinfeld, and, indeed, the honor is named for legendary theater personality Antoinette Perry, a frequent Sardi's customer. The eatery's walls are papered with more than a thousand inspired showbiz caricatures, a tradition nearly as old as the restaurant itself. Of course, one can't be nourished by theater history alone. Fortunately, a continental menu featuring such staples as cannelloni au gratin, sirloin steak and spaghetti al filetto di pomodoro provides ample nourishment, while the classic cocktails can help you unwind after a rough opening night.

The Four Seasons
99 E. 52nd St., 212-754-9494
The Four Seasons' contemporary American cuisine—including such locally sourced dishes as lobster consommé, black bass and rack of lamb—is outstanding. But the food is only one of many reasons to visit this New York City institution; the design and noteworthy company will also stay with you long after your meal in either of the Four Seasons' two distinctive dining rooms. In the Pool Room, guests dine near a white marble pool under the shade of trees. Movers and shakers, meanwhile, often congregate in the Grill Room, which may be home to the most powerful of power lunches. Sure, this might set you back a few bucks more than a typical evening out would, but it's not just a meal; it's an experience.

Courtesy, The Four Seasons

251 W. 50th St., 212-581-1818
Toloache may be authentic, but it's not inflexible. On one hand, the menu features such Mexican staples as fresh, made-to-order guacamole and ceviche, but on the other, that very guacamole is available with such add-ins as mango, pomegranate and Thai basil. The creative approach is a perfect fit for Toloache's home at the crossroads of the world. If you're going for the first time, try the guacamole trio and the truffle quesadilla. Or ask the knowledgeable, attentive staff for their recommendations—they'll be glad to oblige. The margaritas, too, have proven quite popular with the pre-theater crowd.