Restaurants for Theatergoers
Reviewed by John Kenrick
Please note that price estimates do not include drinks. And in a city where restaurants can come and go with lightning speed, its always a good idea to call ahead and make sure your eatery is still in business and ready to welcome you. The links at right will take you to detailed reviews below.
- Dallas BBQ
- Don Giovanni
- Edison Cafe
- Hourglass Tavern
- Joe Allen
- Johns Pizza - Midtown
- Pergola Des Artistes
- Sardi's (cocktails only)
- Tout Va Bien
355 W. 46th St. (between 8th and 9th Aves.)
Reservations a must!
The $22.95 pasta special is a spectacular bargain especially if you (or your guests) have a hearty appetite. After a generous bread basket, large Caesar salad or soup, you get all you can eat of that days three pastas. And yes, they really keep the good stuff coming till you beg for mercy! A recent visit brought mushroom ravioli, linguine in cream sauce, and bow ties in a meaty Bolognese sauce my Italian mother and I loved all three. Elegant yet relaxed and friendly, this is easily the best Italian eatery in the theatre district. The place is run by Lidia Bastianich'sfamily (owners of the wondrous Felidias), so it is no surprise that everything is first-rate. Reserve as far in advance as possible the pre-theater seatings, matinee as well as evening, are almost always packed.
241 W. 42nd St. (between 7th & 8th Aves.)
Looking for an outrageous, tummy-stuffing bargain in the theater district? If you can sit down to dinner before 5:30 (on weeknights), this place offers an early bird dinner for two at just $9.99. That's right a full dinner for two! Each person gets a cup of chicken vegetable soup, half a spit-roasted chicken, corn bread and either potatoes or rice. (The same special is available on weekends from 11 AM to 4 PM.) The portions are generous and delicious. The chicken itself is served straightforward and simple, with house barbeque sauce available to add as you see fit. If you prefer eating closer to curtain time, a half chicken dinner is just $5.99, and many regular entrees are in the $10 range -- a great chicken & BBQ ribs combo is a mere $11.99. Whenever I've eaten here, the service is swift, and everything fresh. A "Texas-sized" soda (served in a massive goblet) goes for $2.00, with beers at $5.00 and massive frozen cocktails just $7.00. This cavernous space seats hundreds and can get a bit noisy, but in a festive way. Lots of fun for large groups, families or casual dates.
Note: Dallas BBQ has branches scattered all over Manhattan -- slightly different ambiance at each, but all share the same bargain priced menu.
358 W. 44th St. (between 8th & 9th Aves.)
If you are looking for an affordable, unpretentious Italian nosh before the theater, Don Giovanni is a budget-friendly choice. Excellent brick oven pizzas are made to order here, but this is nothing like the usual pizzeria. There is a full menu of reasonably priced pastas and Italian classics. Antique mirrors and oversized photos of opera stars add a colorful touch to the otherwise simple decor, service tends to be pleasant and swift, and there is sidewalk seating in the warmer seasons. My favorites here include the fried calamari appetizer, each of the pastas that I have tried, and all of the pizzas. It is easy to keep the bill below $25 per person, even if you opt for a simple hero or pasta entree. They also have a branch in Chelsea at 10th Ave. and 23rd, but this one is a real find for hungry theater lovers.
Edison Cafe (in the Hotel Edison)
228 W. 47th St. (between Broadway and 8th Ave.)
Known among aficionados as "The Polish Tea Room," this is the last of the old-style hotel coffee shops that once sustained the theatre district. Casual and affordable, it is a favorite with Broadway actors and other backstagers looking for a quick pre-show bite. If you're in a soup and sandwich mood, you can stuff yourself for under $15. The varying list of hearty home-style soups are a sure bet, and you can't beat their hand-cut chicken salad sandwich. Dinner specials (complete meals in the $11-15 range) are very generously portioned. Touches of period d'cor stand in quirky contrast to the Formica furnishings, which I think just adds to the fun. Great for an informal meal, and kids are welcome.
373 W. 46th St. (between 8th & 9th Aves.)
The gimmick the hourglass hanging over your table is turned over when you place your order, and you theoretically have until it runs out to finish eating. (Fear not -- Ive never seen them invoke the time limit, but the service is so fast you should have no trouble meeting the deadline.) The pre-fixe menu offers a selection of excellent American and continental dishes, including steaks and pastas. You get fresh baked bread, a stuffed pastry appetizer, soup or salad, and your main course with sides for as little as $14.75! Some entrees add a few dollars, including the daily specials, but all amount to quite a deal. Seating is first come/first serve, so its best to arrive on the early side. If the place looks full, ask anyway there is additional seating on the equally cozy second floor.
326 West 46th Street (between 8th & 9th Aves.)
Reservations for table seating a must
Joe Allen's is the quintessential theatre bistro, with its famous wall of flop show posters and cozy, brick-lined ambiance. The menu can be a bit pricey, and there is often a long wait for tables. My advice is to nestle in at the bar, where they are happy to serve anything on the menu. My favorite is the meatloaf served with creamy mashed potatoes -- and if your budget allows, the steaks are first-rate. Tourists and suburbanites rule at the pre-theatre seatings, with no celebrities in sight. However, if you come for an after-theatre nosh or cocktail, you're likely to spot cast members from most any show in town. When in Joe Allen's, do as real New Yorkers do and act like you're part of the theatrical family no autograph seeking please!
260 W. 44th St.
(between Seventh and Eighth Aves.)
Reservations suggested for large parties
This is not your typical pizza joint. This new uptown branch of a Greenwich Village institution has the same superb thin crust pizza pies (no single slices here) and quick service. The entire menu is very easy on the budget, with pizzas priced according to the toppings you choose you can stuff yourself on a salad and gourmet pie (or pasta) for under $25 a person. The building was once a Victorian church, so vintage stained glass windows lend color to the cavernous main room. Affordable, festive and bustling, this is a great choice for casual dates, families and large groups.
252 W 46th St.
(between Broadway and Eighth Ave.)
You get more than your moneys worth at this unpretentious theatre-district haven for food lovers. Family owned and operated for more than four decades, this cozy gem has been a personal favorite since my high school days. Chris and his brother Laurent (whose parents founded Pergola) will take excellent care of you, especially if you say Musicals101 sent you. No trendy attitude just classic French dishes prepared with care and served with a deft hand. Basics like onion soup and coq au vin are outstanding and consistent, and you can find some fun surprises among the specials. Their specials include a dreamy bouillabaisse and a cassoulet that would do any French grandmere proud. Pergola has delighted my mother, countless friends and colleagues, and many a date. It is one of the few places in the theatre district I frequent even when not seeing a show. Not counting drinks, a complete dinner runs about $45 per person; matinee lunch is an insane bargain at about $20. I love this place, and recommend it to anyone who loves good food. (Pergola website)
Sardi's (cocktails only!)
234 West 44th Street
(between Broadway and 8th Ave.)
Sardi's has long since degenerated into being a tourist trap with overpriced, mediocre food. Native New Yorkers avoid this place, as does most of the theatrical community. In fact, the only stars you're liable to see at Sardi's nowadays are the one's hanging on the walls, but thanks to those colorful caricatures it's still a place every theatre buff should visit at least once. So why not try it for cocktails? Here's the battle plan Out-attitude the snooty maitre d' with a wave of your hand as you airily say "We're just here for drinks," then saunter upstairs to the bar. Once there, you can relish the atmosphere and the dependable (if pricey) libations.
311 W. 51st St.
(between Eighth & Ninth Aves.)
In the mood for a little time travel? This basement bistro embodies the eateries of a gentler age. It remains a favorite with actors, theatre buffs and French expatriates, and for good reason. Aside from the atmosphere, there's a delectable coquille maison (scallops), a boeuf bourgignon that never fails and the best pommes frittes (French fries) in New York. The specials are outstanding, so it can pay to be adventurous here. Special note: the coffee is heaven, as is the lush cr'me brulee. A little more expensive than my other recommendations, but as of 2002 you can still have a superb meal for about $50 per person (not counting drinks).