I love to go to popular places when they are not crowded, when the pace is leisurely, when the staff is unfrazzled, and the prices are lower.
Onera is an excellent Greek restaurant at 222 W. 79th St. At night, the place is usually packed 7 nights a week. The owner/chef decided that since he had to prep for dinner every night, he'd open for lunch. I've visited on weekdays three times now, and every time there has been no other guests eating. The service is informal, and so is the dress (I wore shorts and a t-shirt last time). The food is fabulous with big portions and the choices are numerous, including many of the standout dishes from the dinner menu, such as the crispy sweetbreds, chiled roasted octopus salad, and seared sea scallops with braised cauliflower and wilted spinace in a browned butter sage sauce. Entrees include the grilled branzino with artichokes and dandelion, and the sheep milk dumplings with lamb sausage, dandelion greens, sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts, feta cheese and a fabulous tomato sauce.
For dessert, ice cream, sorbets, and Greek yogurt drizzled with honey and crushed walnuts. All of this is only $20 with a few supplements (usually $2) for some of the pricier items. I spoke to the owner and he mentioned that he was planning to institute a brunch menu on the weekend sometime in the Fall, but until then, I believe this menu is available seven days a week, but I'd call to confirm.
I went to Ono on Labor Day Monday, so perhaps it was atypical, but there wasn't more than five tables occupied the whole time. The prix-fixe lunch menu is quite a deal at $24. It includes a tasty mixed robato grill (shrimp, chicken, and beef), sushi (six pieces, half eel, totally mundane), one big plate meant to be shared (we tried a delicious roast duck), and two elaborate desserts, which are only vaguely Japanese (e.g., green tree fry bread).
Our waiter was fabulous, loads of fun. No pretension, no attitude, no crowds -- I forgot I was in the meatpacking district.