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Lunchbox Diner




357 West St., (bet. Leroy & Clarkson streets)




Art Deco  Moderne


Stainless steel






In the restaurant business, location isn’t everything, but it’s 
certainly up there. To have any success luring the average New Yorker 
to a fringe neighborhood, your name had better be McNally or Dufresne. 
That’s not the case at the nine-month-old Lunchbox Food Co., a modishly 
rehabbed diner hunkered down between a car wash and a topless bar on 
the West Side Highway—an address more likely to attract drive-by than 
walk-in business.

All that changed, happily, with the weather. Ever since the verdant new 
section of Hudson River Park opened to a bedazzled public—and the rain 
let up—Lunchbox has found itself in the right place at exactly the 
right time. And it’s making the most of it, stationing a classy 
ice-cream cart directly across the highway to waylay unsuspecting 
cyclists and skaters with homemade flavors like an excellent, moussey 
chocolate. Behind the diner, a leafy, peaceful oasis of a backyard is 
equipped with a barbecue for weekly Sunday-night cookouts.

But Lunchbox offers enough enticements to merit year-round patronage. 
Like any self-respecting diner, this one serves breakfast, lunch, and 
dinner, but it’s a rare diner that bakes its own doughnuts and 
idiosyncratically flavored bagels (the Parmesan harmonizes surprisingly 
well with the house-cured salmon at brunch). At night, bowls of 
Lunchbox’s house-made potato chips line the candle-strewn counter. And 
the restaurant sells its own line of chocolate candies, brownies, and 
sumptuous dessert toppings from a retail counter up front.

Even more than a burgeoning bakery and confectionery—and threat to Mr. 
Softee franchisees everywhere—Lunchbox Food Co. is a serious New York 
restaurant with a contemporary, multicultural approach. Some of the 
kitchen’s concoctions can get a little fussy—especially the 
garnishes—though judging by the juicy organic-beef burger, this is one 
urbane diner that hasn’t forgotten its greasy-spoon roots.

The burger’s on the lunch menu, along with a roster of creative salads 
and sandwiches, but it’s at dinner when things get most interesting. 
The menu reflects the current fad for small plates, but it does so in 
unusual and uncategorizable ways: Not strictly tapas or antipasti, 
these tidbits derive inspiration from around the globe. Order the 
addictively airy gougères, hollow pastry shells scented with cheese, as 
soon as you sit down. If it weren’t printed on the menu, we’d never 
know the flaky pork turnovers (empanadas, really) also harbor guava and 
queso blanco, but thanks to an herby chimichurri dipping sauce, they 
aren’t missed. And while pizza crusts have been getting competitively 
thinner, the grilled version here makes up for its unfashionable 
doughiness with excellent mozzarella and seasonal toppings like 
asparagus and snap peas.

In Greenmarket time, it’s not quite corn season yet, but don’t let that 
stop you from accelerating matters with a grilled cob slathered with 
aïoli, herb butter, or salsa fresca. The tomato salad is a thing of 
beauty: Ours featured fleshy beefsteak slices bolstering a heap of 
sweet red and yellow cherries, carefully seasoned and accompanied by a 
baked ricotta bruschetta. Fresh produce finds its way into the dense 
ricotta gnocchi, too, via a light mint pesto and peas that meld nicely 
with slivers of lemon confit and almonds.

Perfectly cooked grilled salmon is accompanied by a frilly pea-shoot 
salad and a saucer of zesty romesco sauce—the light, ladylike answer to 
Lunchbox’s two-fisted burger. The Asian-inspired grilled lemongrass 
chicken is a deconstructed version of lunchtime’s coconut-chicken-salad 
sandwich, the skewers of tender meat served alongside a dish of creamy 
coconut chutney and a stack of dosalike rice-flour pancakes. Similarly 
textured corn-flour pancakes don’t quite cut it as “tacos,” though, 
despite their savory fillings.

Some might consider a cheese course at a diner pretentious. Not us. Our 
Dutch Gouda, Spanish goat, and buttery Mahon were a fitting finale for 
such sophisticated food, a strong-enough draw to bring us back to this 
western frontier long after the ice-cream carts of summer have gone.

Lunchbox Food Co., 357 West Street (646-230-9466). Sunday through 
Wednesday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., Thursday through Saturday to 1 a.m. 
Appetizers, $6 to $10; entrées, $15 to $20. All major credit cards.