Fast Casual

Grab-and-Go Never Tasted So Good

Thanks to an increasing number of top chefs embracing the timeliness of fast food and upgrading it with quality ingredients and creative recipes, mealtime quick fixes have never been more delicious and health-conscious while still maintaining their affordable appeal. Here are Manhattan’s best.

GRK (41 Lexington Ave., 111 Fulton St.)Greek fast-casual may be best known to come from silvery street carts parked by Manhattan’s sidewalks, but the growing chain GRK is shaking this up in a big way, offering a health-focused approach to comfort foods like gyros and plates of grilled meat. Proteins (including Portobello mushrooms for vegetarians) are sourced from local farms, marinated, and slow-roasted, served with tzatziki and a side such as brown rice or Aegaen slaw, wrapped in pita or atop a bowl of orzo cooked in a rich tomato sauce and sprinkled with fresh feta.

Salads are no less filling, topped with a slew of beans and cheese and olives and peppers. Even the dessert here feels guiltless: imported Greek yogurt served fresh or frozen, plain or decked up into an isle-style sundae with sesame and rose petals. The baklava smoothie is the biggest splurge.

 

Fuku+ (15 W. 56th St.)In chef David Chang’s global Momofuku empire, Fuku+ in Midtown’s Chambers Hotel is the requisite funky “fast food” joint that really isn’t fast food at all. Sweet and Spicy Fuku Fingers, also available in sandwich form, may sound like a Wendy’s kids’ meal, but don’t be fooled. This chicken has been brined, marinated in habanero peppers, then fried and topped with a sauce inspired by Korea’s fermented red pepper paste that’s sweet, salty, spicy, and sour all at once.

The kimchi-bacon burger and slow-roasted pulled pork sandwiches are equally complex and painstakingly made, despite their “oh, this?” appearance, served in a basket with fries. Another high point of this menu is the cocktails—iced tea slushies, or the Seven Spice Sour with yuzu, lime, and Japan’s Shichimi spice mixture—that are all under $10 during happy hour from 5–7 p.m. daily.

 

Made Nice (8 W. 28th St.)
Fulfilling a similar portfolio role but offering completely different fare, Made Nice opened this spring in Flatiron, just steps away from its hospitality group siblings Eleven Madison Park and NoMad. Former EMP chef Danny DiStefano was tapped to run the joint, he’s designed a number of dishes that sound too cheap, toothsome, and internationally inspired to be true: curried cauliflower stew with tofu, cous cous, and coconut, infused with lemongrass and topped with watercress, almonds and grapes for $11, or French-style seared cod with chickpea purée, braised fennel, tomatoes, and olives for $15.

There are even homemade fruit sodas, a signature Made Nice beer brewed at Brooklyn’s Evil Twin brewery, buckwheat honey-drizzled soft serve, and cold brew topped with cocoa nibs. In short, the name of this joint is quite the understatement.

 

Dos Toros (Various Locations)Save Chipotle for those times when it’s the only option available and instead head to Dos Toros for a build-your-own Mexican meal in New York. This San Francisco-style chain (i.e. portions are large and cheap) has more than 10 locations around Manhattan and Brooklyn—conveniently often near a park to eat in, as the small joints can get pretty packed—ensuring there’s a burrito, salad, taco, or Cali-style quesadilla somewhere nearby, no matter which neighborhood you’re in.

The health-focused will be glad to know that all meat is naturally raised, and gluten-free and vegan options are as abundant as the warm corn chips freshly fried in soy oil. Wash away the spice with a Tecate or Jarritos Mexican soda, and you’ll be back on your feet in no time.

RAW MKT (61 E. 8th St.)
The best new addition to the Hawaiian seafood meal trend known as poke bowls is Raw Mkt, a cool new spot down in the West Village’s NYU area. Past a row of shelves stocked with Japanese foodstuffs for purchase (a range of Pocky and Hello Panda flavors among them) is a simple counter serving up poke bowls, rolls, or combos of both that come with a choice of various side salads and mochi for dessert.

The fish recipes are pre-designed—Shoyu Tuna with radish, onions, and sesame; Salmon Avocado with edamame, macadamia, and fresh lemon—but the base is yours to pick from either white, brown, or cauliflower rice or zucchini noodles. Extra toppings ranging from watermelon radish to masago and crab salad let meals become customizable, while early birds can filter in early for acai bowl breakfasts loaded with superfoods and micronutrients.