Lots of ink has been spilled about the promised revamping of the food offerings at Rockefeller Center. Upstairs, there’s Lodi, a full-blown Italian restaurant, and Other Half Brewing’s beer garden. Downstairs, through an unmarked entrance at the northwest corner of the new roller rink called Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace, a hairpin-shaped food court boasts 40 or so storefronts, only about half of them with tenants. There are some major restaurant spaces including Le Rock (which hadn’t yet opened when we visited) as well as upcoming Jupiter from the King team and Five Acres from Olmsted chef and owner Greg Baxtrom. As the din of hammering and sawing suggests, construction is ongoing.
The staff of Eater NY went to Rockefeller Center for lunch recently to reconcile conflicting accounts as to what was happening there, and to try their hands at sourcing a meal. We arrived with $50 each and the imperative to find the best food we could within the spending limit. Read on to see how we fared.
Robert Sietsema, senior critic
I found the food court dark and discouraging. There was no seating, except a table or two in a few storefronts, forcing customers to go outside and perch along the planters on the sweltering day we went. The selection of eats seemed under-curated, making it difficult to find burgers or soups. Sweetgreen, Ace’s Pizza, and Black Seed Bagels — wherein workers were fantastically cramped behind a tiny counter — seemed to be overwhelmingly popular, whereas other establishments were devoid of patrons.
I went right for the Blue Ribbon Sushi, figuring it would be easy to blow a quick $50, and knowing the reputation of the original Blue Ribbon Sushi as a late-night haunt for chefs. The place offered carryout sushi and a poke counter, and also a conventional sushi bar with three white-suited chefs and seating for eight. The menu was short and reasonably priced, and the chefs were busy breaking down whole fish when I arrived.
For $24, a sushi assortment includes six pieces of nigiri sushi plus a California roll. Feeling flush, I upgraded the roll with blue crab for $7, and it was worth it. All the seafood was of scintillating freshness, though the selection was the most common of fish. Two pieces of fatty salmon belly were remarkable, though, a delightful pale orange in color and smooth as a silk handkerchief. I drank tap water, and also ordered a seaweed salad ($9), for an all-in price including tip of $52. Not bad for a sushi meal, and I’d return to this place.
Feeling like something sweet, I went to Lady M, a small shop with an icy white ambiance and no seating. The chain is famous for the richness of its pastries. I borrowed $10 from Melissa and ordered a slice of plain cheesecake ($8). It was a paragon of the New York style, creamy as all get out with the slight tang of decay, utterly wonderful.
Total: $52 Blue Ribbon sushi assortment plus add-ons.
Caroline Shin, interim reporter
I’m a veggie-protein-and-caffeine kinda girl with a softness for hot saucy platters that, like water, take the shape of their containers. There weren’t too many options that fit the bill, so I headed to Fieldtrip first thing.
Chef JJ Johnson learned to cook with his grandma in her kitchen (just like me) and in 2019, launched Fieldtrip to wild success with an emphasis on multicultural iterations of a dish from the perspective of a person of color (another connection I share). His focus was rice, and so I found myself ordering a rice bowl with crispy fish that came to me hot out of the fryer, al dente veggies that still maintained their structure, and rice grains that were longer, thinner, and much less sticky than the ones I grew up on in my Korean grandma’s home cooking.
To wash it down, Enroot’s bottled cold brew tea flavored with apple, lemon, cayenne, and sparkling yerba mate indulged a love for a high-caffeine mate — which I may have gotten addicted to while I lived in Argentina. This version was bitter, barely sweet, just right for me. I might’ve been an oddball though because the cashier warned that a slew of guests have asked for refunds for the drink. Shrug. I liked it. It also lubricated the fried chicken sandwich from my next stop, Fuku from the Momofuku team, which was just fine. But then again, I’m just not really into sandwiches.
This was a special occasion for me — my first group outing with the editorial team during my summer tenure on staff — so I treated myself to Lady M. I did, however, cheat on my go-to matcha mille-feuille — whose forest green glory took the spotlight at my wedding — and I got the passion fruit version. It was tangy, creamy, just delightful. It wasn’t enough to satisfy my bitter palate though so I paired that with a chicory coffee from Blue Bottle, and with the caffeine boost, I was able to fly through the subway stations on my way back home to Queens.
Total: $45.45: $18.18 Fieldtrip, $9.80 Fuku, $7.62 Blue Bottle, $9.85 Lady M.
Emma Orlow, reporter
Not to cop out, but: how to spend $50 at Rockefeller Center? I say, don’t. Despite all the PR attempts to establish Rockefeller Center as quote-un-quote cool, there are a gazillion better ways to spend your money on overpriced meals in the city and I would never go out of my way to go here again (unless the company I work for asked me to, of course!). However, if you absolutely must dine at the food court here — say, you’re already in the area for the dentist, or you have a hungry, angsty child in tow — I have a few suggestions.
On our recent visit, there were no seats at the concourse-level food court, so the move was getting portable food that could be enjoyed while huddling over steps by an Anthropologie. I would’ve opted for Samesa, a long-time Middle Eastern fast casual favorite of mine that relocated from Williamsburg to Manhattan during the pandemic. But when I stopped by, the space was under construction. Even having not been, I trust its prior incarnation enough to say you might want to check it out once they reopen.
Meanwhile, though, I found myself on a different vibe wavelength, having Buffalo chicken pizza ($16 for 10 inch) from the retro-styled, all-ages-friendly Ace’s Pizza, which also has a location in Williamsburg. Honestly, it was a pretty perfect Detroit-style slice, with really crispy cheese corners, crunchy slices of celery, and well-lacquered chicken with that signature orange Buffalo sauce — may be one of the better Midwest imports our city has seen of late (each comes with a few pickled peppers). Get a slice or two, and then head next door to wash it all down with a refreshing, purple-hued sorrel ice tea ($3.95) — not too sweet — from the fast-casual rice bowl spot Fieldtrip.
With the rest of that $50, drop coin at Pebble Bar, the Pete Davidson-backed multi-level glam bar down the street, where cocktails hover around an eye-popping but unfortunately-increasingly-common $20 (or more precisely $21 for the banana bourbon one I ordered), and drown your sorrows for finding yourself in this hell-hole tourist trap.
Total: $40.95: $16 Ace’s Pizza, $3.95 Fieldtrip, $21 Pebble Bar.
Luke Fortney, reporter
Growing up in Southern California, I always felt that places without a proper winter were timeless in a way. Standing in the bowels of Rockefeller Center, I realized the same is true of underground food courts without natural light. How long had I been standing in the doorway of Ace’s Perfect Pizza, basking in the odors of meatball parm heroes when I heard my number called — 10 minutes or 10 years? I looked to a herd of Comcast interns grazing nearby for confirmation. Whew. Patagonia vests were still in style.
You see, the street level of Rockefeller Center is a delight in the summer: Tourists crane their necks down, not up, for once, spectating the skating rink below, and a rotating cast of food vendors sell Detroit-style pies and pastel de nata. But not many of the Center’s restaurants are located here. Those that are can drive up a $50 tab fast.
For more affordable grub, you’ll likely need to descend into this Midtown development’s “lower extremities,” as my colleague Robert Sietsema called them: a series of winding, underground tunnels where most of the newer restaurants reside. Here, office workers roam from storefront to storefront considering the meager options, and at least on the afternoon I surveyed the scene, most seemed to crawl back to old reliable: Sweetgreen.
Avoiding that line is part of how I ended up at Ace’s Perfect Pizza, a Detroit-style pizzeria with another location in Williamsburg I’ve always wanted to try. I ordered a Buffalo chicken slice — my go-to, later snatched up by reporter Emma Orlow — and a vodka meatball sandwich, totaling around $20 before tax and tip. The sandwich was good, loaded with red sauce, mozzarella, and jumbo spheres of pork and beef, and almost worth trekking back to Midtown for. (It doesn’t appear to be available in Williamsburg.)
I wrapped up the soggy second half of the sandwich, before ignoring my better judgment and joining Emma at Pebble Bar, that three-story Pete Davidson cocktail lounge above a Magnolia Bakery. I had attended the bar’s opening party months earlier, apparently missing a Dominic Fike sighting by a few minutes, and knew that the $20 drinks would be strong enough to blur my memories of the tunnels below.
Total: $32: $12 vodka meatball sandwich at Ace’s Pizza, $20 drink at Pebble Bar.
Melissa McCart, interim editor
I’m pretty into bakeries and baked goods so it was a natural choice to stop at Lodi, the luxurious bakery cafe from Ignacio Mattos — across the rink from the Rock Center fast-casual lair.
The last time I went to Lodi — before the restaurant had dinner service — I met a friend and sat outside at a table under the awning and spent about $100 for coffee and a lot of pastries. This time, I was determined to have a sandwich and then some for less than $50, which, admittedly, is not terribly hard when you order to go and you’re not sitting at a table here. I went for the porchetta sandwich ($16), which was more like a pork loin sandwich in that the meat wasn’t crisped up to order, but added as a garnish. The terrific bread made it special; any bread at Lodi is worth a stop alone, coming from the staff of Louis Volle, who is an amazing baker.
Moving on to other pastries: I couldn’t resist the maritozzo — a whipped cream-filled maw of brioche: totally serviceable, but probably less sweaty when it’s not so hot out. I followed that up with an enjoyable griella con pinoli ($7), with raisins, pine nuts, and white chocolate; it’s the pastry I liked most. Might as well get fruits and vegetables in one way or another, so I went for the refreshing carrot-ginger-orange juice ($12).
Total: $55.54: $45.54 at Lodi, $10 cheesecake with tip at Lady M.
Erika Adams, deputy editor
For all the hype, Rockefeller Center — at least on a weekday afternoon — is still a pass for me. The restaurant I was most excited to try, Samesa, has been closed for weeks. Black Seed Bagels and Alidoro shut down in the middle of our quest, before we had a chance to get orders in. The longest lines were at Sweetgreen (sigh) and boulder-sized cookie chain Chip City (what?). We had to huddle on basement-level stairsteps to eat since there’s no common seating indoors, and it was broiling outside. After I stood at the front window of Alidoro reading through their menu for a sandwich selection — then yanked on the door to find it was already locked for the day — I pivoted to nearby Blue Bottle for refuge. The $5.50 cold brew was not a bad consolation prize.