Uncrowded streets. Lazy strolls along the promenade. Expansive views of New York’s cityscape. Ahhhhhh – the beauty and splendor of Island living. And yet (insert heavy sigh) . . . where to eat? This is a daily dilemma facing those of us who call Roosevelt Island our home. And for those of us new to the Island, including myself (as of December), figuring out what to do when your stomach starts growling can be a downright traumatic experience. There are almost no words to describe what it feels like to walk outside your apartment and only see squirrels, a river, trees, a few buildings, and a few people, many of whom are either on bikes or playing soccer. What is this alternate universe into which I’ve fallen?
While I have a laundry list of things I do not miss about living in Manhattan, there is one amazing perk that I do miss: the freedom to, at the drop of a hat, take a short walk to any one of a hundred restaurants offering whatever cuisine might be calling me in the moment. Italian. Greek. Indian. Thai. Persian. Brazilian. French. Cuban. Korean. Mexican. Or, perhaps, just plain old American fare, courtesy of some corner diner, where your waitress is invariably named Flo, and the java is magically infused with that wonderfully burnt, irreplicable, this-is-diner-coffee flavor.
Alas, such a luxury disappeared the moment I got the keys to my new home on Roosevelt Island which, although fabulous in many ways, suffers from a severe lack of cuisine options. Fortunately, I’m the adventurous type. As soon as I had finished putting all of my books away, completed the re-assembling of my IKEA bed, and made sure my internet connection was in good working order, I journeyed forth in search of food. (Much like our Neanderthal ancestors, I’m sure.)
And now, to save other newcomers the same life of desperation I once lived, I’m sharing my discoveries with the world. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list of Island eateries (apparently editors insist on “word counts”) and your mileage – and taste buds – may vary. But with that said, here are my top five places to satisfy your appetite on Roosevelt Island.
I am not even joking. I begin with our Island’s only supermarket. Why? Because it offers a hot food bar that serves breakfast and lunch cooked on the premises. Early morning choices are the usual: eggs, bacon, hash brown potatoes, and even french toast. But when it comes to lunch, Gristedes pulls out all the stops. I often drop by around noon, in fact, just to see what’s on the menu, which is surprisingly varied. Some of my favorites include: meatloaf, mac n’ cheese, stuffed cabbage, grilled chicken, and a scrumptious pasta bolognese. At $7.99 per pound, it’s a good deal by New York City standards. Besides, while you’re there, you can just pick up some milk and eggs. You can’t do that at Katz’s Delicatessen.
Open Mon-Sat 7:00 a.m. - 12:00 a.m., 7:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m. Sun ; 686 Main Street; (212) 371-2680
Wholesome Factory Market
I like this little place because it has an Asian flair, complete with cooking ingredients I have no idea how to use (and I cook a lot). Like Gristedes, it also has a very nice hot breakfast and hot lunch bar. I’ve enjoyed both, especially on lazy days when I simply can’t bring myself to break out a single pot or pan. They also make and deliver pizzas.
But what I enjoy most about this place is the great selection (and exceptional quality) of donuts, muffins, and pastries. I often want one of these treats to start the day. (I’m somewhat ruled in life by a vicious sweet tooth I’ve named Fang.) I usually go for one of the muffins: blueberry, cranberry, pineapple. They’re incredibly tasty (and big). Also, their giant croissants are only $1.50, which is a pretty good deal. There’s also a fresh juice bar and espresso maker to satisfy other cravings. And if you ever need fresh flowers, this store has baskets full of affordable bouquets (take note, any of you husbands/boyfriends, who tend to forget birthdays and/or anniversaries). As an added bonus, WFM even has a loyalty card that gives one point for every dollar spent. Just total up 1,000 points, and congratulations, you get a $20 gift card.
Open Mon-Sat 6:00 a.m. - 12:00 a.m., Sun 7:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.; 530 Main St; (212) 207-1912
China 1 Kitchen
Ok, truth be told, I order from this place at least once a week. It’s cheap. It’s tasty. It’s fast. It’s filling. And, before 4:00 p.m., you can get a more-than-plentiful lunch special for a measly $7-$8. You basically get a lot of bang for your buck here, from a menu that’s essentially the exact same menu found at every other Chinese take-out place in the City. I always order the Wonton Soup and the BBQ ribs, no matter what else I may get. My other go-to favorites are: Chicken Lo Mein, Beef With Broccoli, Roast Pork Fried Rice, and Orange Beef. (They also deliver.) Don’t expect anything extraordinary from China 1, but you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.
Open Sun-Thu 11:00 a.m. - 10:45 p.m.; Fri and Sat 11:00 a.m. - 11:45 p.m.;
609 Main St; (212) 588-0806
Riverwalk Bar & Grill
Well, we’ve come to our first, uhh . . . upscale establishment. Ok, so it’s a sports bar, but that doesn’t matter on Roosevelt Island. It’s actually a fun place that has shockingly good dishes (for bar food) and potent drinks. I love kicking back here with a Cosmo (or two), a few glasses of wine, or maybe a couple of beers. FYI, if you order just one of their speciality Roosevelt Island Ice Teas, you won’t need another (or maybe I’m just a lightweight). The food, as I previously noted, is darn good. Lunch choices range from Baja Fish Tacos, to a Pulled Pork Sandwich, to classic Fish & Chips. All of them are only $11.95. Stop by later in the day for dinner selections, which easily rival, in flavor, the plates served at similar bars scattered around Manhattan. None of the following dishes will disappoint: Ribs; Roasted Chicken; or any signature burger. My personal favorite is the Fried Calamari – so good! You definitely won’t break the bank here, even after a night of hearty food and plenty of booze (drink responsibly). But wait! There’s more! They serve breakfast and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. I know, crazy.
Open weekdays Mon-Thu 8:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m., Fri. 8:00 a.m. - 12:00 a.m.; Sat-Sun 10:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.; 425 Main Street; (646) 833-7050
Fuji East Bistro
I’d like to welcome you to Roosevelt Island’s crème de la crème restaurant. Take out. Dine in. Delivery. They do it all. Using these three options, I usually eat at this place at least twice a week, especially before 3:00 p.m., when they offer some awesome lunch specials.
Now, I happen to be a sushi-lover, and I’m happy to report that Fuji’s fish is fresh, clean-tasting, and attractively served. Several of their other dishes are just as well-prepared, particularly the assorted teriyaki meals, the chicken yakisoba, and miso lobster soup. As for cost, Fuji’s prices hover well within acceptable parameters for the metropolitan area. Its prices, in fact, are slightly better than a lot of sushi restaurants of similar character. You can definitely afford to enjoy yourself here for a couple of hours with a friend, especially if you order a bottle of sake (something I highly recommend).
Open 11:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.; 455 Main Street; (212) 583-1688
A Dreamer Can Dream
I’d love to see more eateries going up on the Island. A 24-hour New York-style diner would be outrageously fantastic, as well as a decent Thai place. Hudson Related, the developer in charge of Main Street retail, has promised us a Mexican restaurant, though it’s been more than nine months and construction hasn’t begun. An Indian restaurant would also be nice (like The Drunken Monkey in Manhattan). Even if just two of these establishments were added to Main Street, that’d give us a true Island paradise – at least for me.
We Asked: What’s Your Favorite Island Lunch Spot?