After five years in East Midtown (enough to make you look for a new job, I know), I'm constantly scouring these boards for new ideas. I figure if I post something about the places I've already discovered, maybe I'll get some good responses/suggestions.
Here are the places I visit again and again.
DISHES (45th between Madison and 5th): Crowded, expensive, cramped (the new location hasn't done much to improve that), but food's worth it. Favorites: chicken fingers, any of their meatballs (although the turkey with curry sauce is my all-time fave), pumpkin-corn bisque, chicken bento box lunch (used to be better when they let you have a soup instead of a salad), and that cold pasta dish with tomatoes, olives, mozzarella and gemelli.
Best Cheap Salad Place CAFE BASIL GOURMET (3rd between 47th and 48th) I don't like the protein add-ins except for the shredded turkey, but this is the only create-your-own salad bar I know of that charges by weight, not by add-in (like Europa or Cafe Metro or Devon and Blakely), keeping the cost down. And it's a true salad bar with dry ingredients, not just prepared salads with dressing (like the Korean delis). Extra points for interesting ingredients like dried cranberries, cashews, and crumbled bleu cheese.
Best expensive salad place SPOONS (53rd between 2nd and 3rd) I'm addicted to their ginger snap salad with poached salmon -- love the ginger vinaigrette. You can call ahead and pick up, great timesaver.
DAISY MAE cart on Park and 47th Love their chili, but that's been well covered on these boards.
PAMPANO (Crystal Palace food court, 3rd Avenue and I believe 52nd) I know it's been debated whether their fish tacos are good or not, but my fave is their shredded chicken tomatillo tacos.
Best indulgence: two slices of eggplant rollatini pizza and a Coke at LITTLE ITALY PIZZA (43rd between Madison and 5th).
Soup: I have yet to find good soup around these parts, except for the pumpkin corn chowder at Dishes, but in a pinch I'll hit the GRAND CENTRAL OYSTER BAR takeout counter for their Maryland She Crab Soup. Sometimes the Chicken Vegetable at HALE AND HEARTY (various locations, I visit the one on 47th between Madison and 5th) is OK.
My favorite cheap sushi is the eat-in lunch special at HIZEN (45th between 2nd and 3rd) -- can't beat $9.95 for a hand roll, six pieces, and soup. The selection has gone downhill -- you almost always get either a crabstick or an egg piece -- but it's still good.
If I want a burger to go, I go to the GRAND CENTRAL FOOD COURT to Junior's.
Overrated in my opinion are the rice ball lunch specials at OMSB (or however you spell it) -- where's the food? -- and Menchanko-tei on 45th st between 3rd and Lex (maybe I'm not ordering the right thing).
Any additions to this list would be greatly appreciated.