Where To Eat Before A Show At The ApolloThe best restaurants within walking distance of Harlem’s most famous theater.
The Apollo Theater has been around since 1914, and while you might know this place because of Amateur Night at the Apollo on Wednesdays, they host plenty of other events. If you got tickets to something here, don't get stuck halfway through your show with your stomach grumbling. From classic soul food restaurants and a Middle Eastern spot to a romantic Italian-Spanish bistro and a huge tavern, all of these places are within a short walk of the theater.
We bet you can’t find someone who has something bad to say about Melba’s, and that’s because this place has some of the best soul food in the city. It’s pretty easy to get a table here, and it's just as easy to make a few new friends, so don’t be shy. The chicken and waffles are mandatory, the short ribs are also great, and the collard greens are some of the best we’ve ever had. It’s a little bit of a walk to The Apollo, but you’re going to want that walk.
If you’re looking for something a little upscale prior to your show, head to this American restaurant for some meaty pork belly and confit duck that you’ll want to pick up like a turkey leg at Medieval Times. The bar has lots of stools, and they have Happy Hour every day, but there’s also a more intimate, dimly-lit area downstairs. It’s a good idea to let your server know if you need to make a show, but you can cut it close because you’re only five minutes away from the theater.
Harlem has quite a few French restaurants, but our favorite of the bunch is Maison Harlem, which is only a few blocks from The Apollo. It’s an all-day spot where everyone seems to know each other’s names. Lots of people come here for casual dinner dates, but it's best to arrive before 7pm. The menu has bistro classics like french onion soup and duck confit, and their quiche Lorraine will turn you into a quiche person if you’re not one already.
Sylvia’s is a Harlem institution. For soul food, you can’t find a more famous place uptown—and for good reason. They’ve been open since 1962, and there happens to be a street named after Sylvia. So if you haven’t already eaten here, stop by. (A meal before something at The Apollo is as good a reason as any.) Get some catfish, ribs, or fried chicken with a side of mac and cheese. The space is huge, so this spot is one of the better options on this list for big groups.
You’re not always going to have time for a full sit-down meal before a show. If you need to grab something quick just to get something in your belly, go to Harlem Shake. Get one of the best burgers in the whole city, and you might as well add a red velvet shake while you're at it. This place opened in 2013, but it was designed to look like a diner from the 1950s. That might sound cheesy, but it really isn’t. Or maybe it is, and we just don’t care.
Head to Vinatería if you’re looking for a romantic spot. The dark, candlelit corner space is dotted with tightly-packed small oval tables that are filled with couples who are here to eat reliably solid Italian and Spanish food. Conveniently, they have Happy Hour every day until 7pm, so you can just come for small plates and drinks. Always order the bacalao croquettes, then go for the grilled lamb chops with romesco and the black spaghetti with scallops, mussels, and panko. Be sure to ask for their house focaccia, which you’ll want to dip in the pasta sauce.
Silvana is a cafe, Middle Eastern restaurant, and gift shop all rolled into one. People sit at the communal tables with their laptops and lattes for hours, taking periodic breaks to shop for candles and totes. Our favorite things to eat are the falafel with tahini and the mini salad, which comes with your choice of six different items. There’s also a huge space for live music downstairs that makes you feel like you’re at the coolest basement party ever, so come back after your show if you want to keep the night going.
Thanks to their perfectly-charred tandoori platters that sizzle loud enough to hear through walls, Indian Summer has been Harlem’s go-to Indian spot for a while now. The space has red walls, hardwood floors, and a good amount of seating at black wooden tables. The one dish you shouldn’t leave without trying is the battakh khumb wala, a duck breast in a spicy almond-saffron sauce. When you’re done eating, you can walk to the theater in less than 10 minutes.
Abyssnia is a great neighborhood spot to bring a friend or a date if you don’t mind sharing some spicy beef stew off of the same plate. The food here is Ethiopian, and all of the vegetable dishes are vegan. Get the meat or vegetable combo—between the different stews, injera bread, and vegetable sides, you’ll get a ton of food for around $20 per person. This restaurant is on 135th, so it’s a good option if you’re coming from the north for your show.
The Southern food—like fried chicken and cornbread—at Red Rooster is good. But that’s not why you come here. You come to Red Rooster because few other NYC restaurants feel as alive as this one. The bar area is always mobbed, the DJ spins funk and soul tunes, and people generally appear to be having a blast here. If you’re already feeling tired, come here first and you’ll be hyped up for your show by the time you leave.
Corner Social is a place where you can order some kale salad and roasted salmon with a friend, and it’s also where you can show up on a Friday night and listen to a DJ play to a crowd as big as you'll find at any club in the Meatpacking District. The space has brick walls, wooden ceiling beams, plenty of tables, and a fireplace in one corner, and there’s plenty of patio seating for nice days. This is a great spot if you want to do some serious pre-gaming.
If you're organizing an outing at the Apollo that feels more like a class field trip than a date night, tell everyone to meet at Harlem Tavern beforehand. This place has a big indoor space with a bunch of TVs and an even larger outdoor area with more TVs and long tables. (The latter is completely enclosed and heated in the winter.) Their sizable menu is full of sandwiches and bar bites—skip the average burger and get the bone-in fried chicken with thick, fluffy waffles or the gumbo that’s loaded with different kinds of seafood.