It’s hard to find a great meal in Midtown Manhattan. If you don’t know that, congratulations - you’re either a pigeon or you’ve never had to find a meal in Midtown Manhattan.
Unfortunately for the people who appreciate sailor costumes and a good Cole Porter number, this is exactly where the theater district is. The thing is, you can find good food here - it’s just harder to locate. It might not be as good as the stuff downtown, but that’s just something you have to come to terms with. Here are twenty places to get an actually-good meal before you see Wicked for the tenth time.
You’re probably gonna see someone famous at Bar Centrale. In other words, you probably won’t get a seat at Bar Centrale. But that’s why the internet was invented: make a reservation online. Book a week in advance, and you’re good to go. Walk up the steps of the non-descript townhouse and enjoy a cocktail and some small plates in the dark, discrete space before or after a show. And don’t stare at celebrities. Take a picture. That’s why phones were invented.
Let’s say you didn’t make a reservation at Bar Centrale (or you don’t want to deal with the fuss). That’s when you head to Joe Allen. The same owner also owns Bar Centrale, and we’ll give you one guess what his name is. It’s more laid-back here, however, and it’s easier to get a table. You’ll probably still see a famous Broadway person (you just might have to be a theater nerd to recognize them). They serve American-brasserie-type food here, and the burger is always a safe bet.
If the theater district were a high school, Nizza would be the prom queen. But let’s be clear: the theater district would not be a very cool high school. We’re talking maybe seventy-five students, and no one’s heard of The Clash. Still, Nizza’s got a lot going for it: good atmosphere, above-average Italian food, and even some outdoor seating. If you’re looking for a downtown restaurant in midtown, this is the place for you.
Trattoria Trecolori isn’t the right setting to whip a ring out of your pocket and offer the rest of your life to someone, but they do serve good pasta. And that’s really all you need from a restaurant. The interior is more-or-less tourist-trap generic, but the food is solid and dinner is affordable. If you’re with a friend or long-term significant other, this a great spot for some pre-theater Italian.
ViceVersa is on the pricier side, but they do have a good happy hour. It also isn’t over-the-top and cheesy in the way that restaurants in Midtown tend to be. Come here for some upscale Italian or a quiet daytime martini at the bar. Grab some pasta in the backyard, and you might even consider coming here when you’re not seeing a show. Seeing as how it’s in Midtown, you probably won’t do this. But it was a nice thing to say.
This whole guide’s about silver linings, so consider it a blessing that the food at this modern wine bar doesn’t quite live up to the wine. Everyone knows that if you drink enough on the first date, you step through a magical time warp and skip to the third. All in the same night. So get a reasonably priced glass of wine (or six) after a show, and try to find out what your date’s aura looks like. Hint: it’s fuzzy and nice.
It’s almost like Danji’s owner lost a bet and had to open up in Midtown. If they were in the village (either village), you’d probably have eaten there. As it stands, Danji is an excellent choice for dinner before a show. Imagine Momofuku, but a shade less hipster. That’s Danji. Get the bulgogi sliders, the bibimbap, and maybe the chicken wings (if you like good food). The menu is modern Korean, and the interior feels kind of like a Williamsburg coffee shop, but you can probably get over that.
You’re gonna see a show with an old person one day. Maybe it’ll be when you’re an old person yourself. If that’s the case, Esca will probably still be there. This is a Mario Batali joint, and his places could stay afloat off the money from his daytime talk show appearances alone. But they probably won’t have to because his food’s consistently bangin’. At Esca, they specialize in seafood. So get some crudo, get some cuttlefish, and finish strong with some pasta or whole baked fish (or both). Fill up, see a show, and, if you stay awake, you know the show was good.
You probably don’t want to come here before a show (if you actually want to catch that show). Sure, the waits are long, but Ippudo is open late, and the food is worth it. If you need ramen before midnight on a Friday (as most of us do), hit them up. Your theater partner will be impressed with your neighborhood know-how, and you’ll want them to stop talking to you so you can eat more ramen.
Technically this is in Hell’s Kitchen, but it’s still walking distance to most theaters. The Marshal is small and narrow, and doesn’t really fit in with the other places on the street (in a good way). Come here for rustic American cooking (meatloaf, bacon-wrapped corn) with rustic American decor (exposed brick, framed newspaper clippings). If you only eat at restaurants where everything is cooked in a wood-burning oven and most things are locally sourced, this is the place for you.
There are four Gari’s in the city, we’ve reviewed three of them, and they’re all excellent. The one on the UES is our favorite, but this one on Restaurant Row is a close second. You’re going to want to get the omakase (and some tempura as well), so bring a rich friend and have them foot the bill. The fish here is high-quality and the pieces of sushi are enhanced with things such as quail eggs, broiled tomato, and jalapeno. Make this your pre-theater stop when you want to spend a little money (or you know someone who does).
The Aria in Hell’s Kitchen might not be as romantic as the one downtown, but the ceilings are higher, and the odds of your getting pregnant after dining here are significantly lower. Aria serves a bunch of pastas (and they’re all $12), but you should stick to the smaller plates (that tend to be better). By all means, get the meatballs. And try the warm goat cheese as well. If your server tries to induce FOMO by reciting the daily specials, just know that the daily specials pretty much never change.
If you’re seeing a show by yourself, come here and eat some ramen at the bar. Or if with someone who doesn’t eat pork, bring them here for the chicken-based broth. Get your ramen spicy and skip the pork buns. Also, remember to bring cash (they’re cash only). This is definitely a more casual pre-theater move, and you’ll want to give yourself some time to deal with a potential wait. And, if you want really good ramen after a show, Totto is open until midnight.
Come here before your show and you run the risk of falling asleep before Simba even realizes he’s a king and doesn’t have to slum it with warthogs anymore. Quality Meats is a little bit New York and a little bit Vegas, and you should plan your meal accordingly. Get a big crab cake and an even bigger steak (and put some creamed vegetables in your mouth as well). Expect bachelor party vibes, and maybe bring your dad.
You know the deal. Red sauce, old school, Italian restaurant in Midtown. Is Da Tommaso Carmine’s? No it’s not. But it’s also not Carmine’s. Which means less crowds, less tourists, and just as much penne vodka. This is a safe move.
Think Quality Meats and add pasta to the mix. There’s also a giant, gimmicky $60 chicken parm that you should skip unless you’re two fourteen-year old boys. Do get the pasta, however, and order some seafood appetizers. The steaks are on point (as expected from the owners of Quality Meats), so you should have some red meat as well. Come here for updated red-sauce Italian in an atmosphere that your dad or the guy who talks the most smack in your fantasy football league would appreciate.
Here’s a sleeper pre-theater spot in Midtown for you, and we’re pretty sure the name is Italian for “the drunk panther.” Ok, it definitely isn’t, but let’s perpetuate that rumor. In the winter, check out any of the pasta dishes (like homemade spaghetti with white veal ragu) split a bottle of red, and feel like you’re having dinner in someone’s very cozy, very expensive home. In the summer, keep it on the list for when the garden out back opens up and the rosé starts flowing. Grandma will be extra excited for Kinky Boots by the time the bill comes.