Still tasty after all these years
Prime Burger is seriously retro. (Ryan Thatcher)
Sure, you have no shortage of lunch spots to choose from in the city. But some offer lunch with a side of history.
Eating at some of these spots is a lesson in how city restaurants used to look and feel, before the onslaught of the national chains, and that (along with great grub) is what keeps the regulars coming back year after year.
5 E. 51 St., btwn Fifth and Madison aves., 212-759-4729
This place isn't just "retro" — it's what all retro-style restaurants strive to be. Prime Burger's modish interior hasn't been touched since 1965. Co-owners Michael and John DiMiceli cherish their restaurant's idiosyncrasies, like 24 box seats with swing-out trays. For the ultimate experience, tuck yourself into one of these seats and tear into a cheeseburger and side of fries served by waiters like Arthur Ward, who has been at Prime Burger since the 1950s. Prime Burger serves between 200 and 300 burgers each day.
174 Fifth Ave., btwn 22 and 23rd sts., 212-675-5096
The luncheonette was once a staple of the New York dining experience, with their evocative long counters, rows of turn-stools and delicious egg creams. Eisenberg's was one of many such places when it opened in 1929, but today, it's part of a dwindling breed. Owner Josh Konecky was a long-time patron who loved the place so much, he bought it. Today, Eisenberg's operates just as it always has, and its counter is always packed at lunch. From the pastrami sandwiches to lime rickeys, it's all good.
27 Second Ave., btwn East 7th Street and St. Marks Place, 212-505-8065
An East Village staple since 1942, B&H Dairy remains a neighborhood favorite. Among a dwindling number of old-time dairy restaurants, B&H is a draw for regular and NYU students alike. Fawzy Addelwahed has owned the joint for eight years. It's a "unique place," he said. "The place has a history." Favorites include blintzes, pierogies, and soups. But for many, the biggest draw is its link to a vanished era in East Village cuisine.
2901 Emmons Ave. at East 29th St., 718-769-6000
The Roll-n-Roaster, which opened in Sheepshead Bay in 1971, is a community treasure where you sidle up to the counter and order a fresh roast beef on a brick-oven-baked roll and a side of cheese fries… and wash it down with a fresh-squeezed lemonade. The Roll-n-Roaster goes through just under two tons of roast beef a week, and has served more than 17 million roast beef sandwiches over the years, said general manager Ayet Karce. The secret to its longevity is simple: "I never get bored of the food ... It's really simple. It's delicious," Karce said.
Locations include 1286 Broadway, btwn 33rd and 34th streets; 212-630-0315, Penn Station LIRR concourse, 212-630-0312
Nedick's was once as common as Starbucks on city streets. The drill was to get a hot dog with a butter-toasted bun, paired with Nedick's special orange drink. But the chain disappeared as other fast food joints eclipsed it. But earlier this decade, the Riese Restaurants revived Nedick's at three locations near Madison Square Garden — appropriate since Nedick's used to be a sponsor of the Knicks. Riese brought back the orange-and-white color scheme, the orange-head man, and the proprietary recipes.
They’ve been slinging burger patties at 5 E. 51 St., since 1938, when, what is now Prime Burger was part of a chain called Hamburg Heaven. The restaurant is across the street from St. Patrick's Cathedral, and used to be open 24 hours a day.
That led to the quip that once graced the menu: the Gates of Heaven Never Close. Co-owner Michael DiMiceli says the church didn't give its blessing to the line, so the words were stricken from the menu.