Making pre-show plans is complicated. You have to figure out a dinner that won’t take so long you’re late to your show, you have to find a place with a menu that will make everyone in your group happy, and you have to make sure there are enough drink options to save you from needing too many $16 Sam Adams at the venue. And you’re probably looking for someplace relatively cool. Or at least deserving of that sequin jacket you only break out for shows at Music Hall and Bowery Ballroom.
With all that in mind, we’ve put together a guide to the best places to eat before or after a show at 15 of NYC’s most popular music venues, from the Beacon Theater to Brooklyn Steel.
Like Trader Joe’s or most David Lynch movies, Fish Market has somewhat of a cult following. It’s right across from Pier 17 on South Street, and it’s a fun place to go with a few friends before or after your show. The front looks like a divey sports bar and the back has a bunch of tables with people eating full dinners in lobster bibs. The food here is Chinese/Malaysian - which includes some good ginger chicken wings, and some incredibly crispy fried rice. It’s entirely possible you’ll see a group of people taking whiskey shots with the bartender while singing along to Queen or Selena Gomez - depending on their jukebox choice.
If you’re running low on time and just want some oysters and drinks before your show, go to Watermark. It’s at the end of Pier 15 and has both indoor and outdoor seating. There’s a Happy Hour that runs from 4-6pm during weekdays and involves $5 fries and $8 wine (among other discounted things).
If you’re seeing a show at Pier 17, that means it’s warm enough to eat outside. Indsutry Kitchen is the closest option with a full dinner menu and outdoor seating with great views of the bridges, river, and Brooklyn. It’s an ideal place to order a margherita pizza and say things like, “Wow, the buildings in Downtown Brooklyn are so tall.”
Forest Hills Stadium
Nick’s Pizza is somewhere you should eat at least once, and if you’re seeing a show at Forest Hills Stadium, you don’t really have an excuse to not come here. It’s pretty much an ideal neighborhood pizza parlor with vinyl booths, black-and-white photos on the walls, and some very good pizza with crispy crust and fresh mozzarella. We’re also big fans of the calzone, and we suggest you get one to accompany your pizza.
If you need a spot to hang out with a group before a show at Forest Hills Stadium, walk over to Queens Bully. It’s a huge barbecue place on Queens Boulevard with some big tables and a long bar, and there’s occasionally live music here (so you can catch multiple shows in one night). The barbecue is solid, especially the brisket and the smoked chicken, and you can always just hang out and drink if you plan on eating several hot dogs at your show.
When you want to celebrate the fact that you’re about to see a show by drinking several margaritas in a place that looks like a spring break destination, go to 5 Burro Cafe. This place is a fun neighborhood Mexican restaurant decorated with pinatas, string lights, and old license plates, and (in addition to the margaritas) the food here is pretty good as well. Get a plate of tacos or a quesadilla to accompany your alcoholic beverage.
Madison Square Garden
Farida makes excellent Uzbek food in a tiny, thoughtfully decorated room on 9th Avenue. The best food here involves grilled meat and samsa dumplings filled with more meat (the pumpkin ones are good too). The meal won’t be light, but it will be delicious and impress anyone you’re going to a show with - even your Dad who quite frankly doesn’t expect to be impressed by anyone except for Billy Joel at MSG.
About ten minutes from MSG, you’ll find Ovest - a neighborhood pizza spot on 27th Street wih a big bar area and a foosball table outside (something we’d like to see more of in this city). Come here for very good Neapolitan pizzas, all of which are under $20 - and skip the desperation slice on the LIRR floor of Penn Station.
If you’re coming from the East Side, stop by Kazu Nori for a few quick handrolls from the Sugarfish people. For somewhere you can be in and out of within 25 minutes, the Japanese food is great. The menu has a few combination sets of handrolls of three, four, and six, and each roll is handed to you one at a time. We especially like the crab and toro ones, and the fact that there’s only bar seating so it’s easy to come here by yourself as long as it’s on the earlier side -t he lines can get long.
Sofreh is a Persian restaurant a few blocks south of the Barclays Center that’s perfect for when you need something on the nicer side that isn’t unnecessarily fancy. It’s an attractive space with a black-and-white color scheme and sleek wooden furniture, and it’s exactly the kind of place where you’d eat with a set of parents who consider themselves cool. The food is reliably delicious - especially the big tender lamb shank and the various dips that come with housemade bread. Just be sure to book a table in advance (this place gets busy).
There’s probably a place by your house where you can get a casual plate of pasta on a Wednesday night and maybe bring date. If you want to go the equivalent of this place before or after a show at the Barclays Center, go to Convivium Osteria. It’s a charming spot with hardwood floors, chandeliers, and knick-knacks on the walls. You could probably even propose to someone here, if you were feeling so inclined. Or you could just eat a good plate of tagliatelle al ragu.
Bati is a great Ethiopian spot in Fort Greene just a few blocks from the Barclays Center. We especially like the combination platters here, because that way you can try a bunch of things all at once. But if you want to keep it simple, go for the berbere stewed split lentils (messir wett), the collard greens, and the spicy beef stew (minchet abish wett). And if you want something raw, we highly suggest the beef tartare. This place can get a little crowded on weekend nights, but if there’s a wait, you can always grab a drink at Habana Outpost.
Sea Wolf is a casual spot in Bushwick that feels kind of like a neighborhood community center. It’s a big loft-like space just off the Jefferson L stop, and they put a bunch of tables outside when the weather is nice. Come here if you’re with a big group that likes fish tacos, crab cakes, and burgers. Nobody will spend an insane amount, unless they order the whole grilled or steamed lobster.
A few blocks down from General Deb’s, you’ll find Amaranto. It’s a neighborhood spot where you can reliably get a table, and you should take full advantage of this because they make some of the best Mexican food in NYC. Some of our favorite things are the crab tostadas and shrimp ceviche, as well as a thick pork steak and mushrooms. If you make it during Happy Hour, margaritas are only $8.
The Ten Bells
Ten Bells is a wine bar with good small plates near Bowery Ballroom that’s a great meeting spot before your show if you’re waiting for your friends to trickle in from their various commutes. Their Happy Hour will also make you less likely to empty your wallet on overpriced beer at the show: they have $15 wine carafes and $1 oysters deals every day until 7pm.
Cocoron is our favorite place to eat soba noodles in the city, and it’s exactly one block from Bowery Ballroom in Nolita. Get some dip soba noodles (we like the spicy mera mera and the chicken meatball), and bring cash because they don’t take cards. Even if you want to tell everyone you know about Cocoron - don’t. It’s the sort or spot you’ll want to reserve for solo dinners and very elite-level friendships.
Just like Bowery Ballroom, Lovely Day is great if you like semi-obscure things and/or feel comfortable spending money in $25 increments. The kind-of-hidden spot in Nolita serves solid Thai food that is super reasonably priced. Just know that they only take cash or American Express and the space is on the smaller side, if you’re coming here with a group before the Titus Andronicus concert.
Pig And Khao is an ideal spot for a fun dinner before the show at Mercury Lounge (or after if you can get here before they close around midnight). The music in this restaurant is always incredibly loud and upbeat - to the point where you might start to feel like you’re in a hidden-camera-type music video while you’re there. It’s best done with a group, since all of the Filipino/Thai dishes are served family-style. In particular, the pork sisig and whole fried fish are both delicious and salty, and exactly the kind of thing you want to eat if you’re drinking.
Work ran late because your boss insisted that everyone present their Myers-Briggs personalities to the team at 6:05pm and you have 20 minutes before Julia Louis Dreyfus’ son goes on at the Mercury Lounge. Souvlaki GR is your move here. It’s quick, close to the venue, and has solid and inexpensive Greek food. Plus, they’re open late if you’d rather eat after the show.
If you need a reliable, crowd-pleasing restaurant that still feels like you’re making a real night out of it, we’d recommend Freemans. They serve upscale American food in a space at the end of a little alley that feels like you’re in a cabin in the Catskills, and most people should be able to find many things on the menu they’ll want (starting with the artichoke dip). If there are just a couple of you and you’re running short on time, they also serve the full menu at the bar.
Yama Japanese Restaurant
About a block from the venue is Yama, a casual neighborhood sushi spot in the basement of a generic-looking Gramercy brick building. They have reasonable prices, beer and wine, and almost-scarily giant pieces of nigiri (we’re telling you now so that you’re not alarmed). The whole place feels a little 90s, but then again, you’re about to see Dave Matthews at Irving Plaza.
If you’re looking for pizza near Irving Plaza and want to actually sit down, try Ribalta. This place is pretty big, sometimes puts french fries on pizzas, and usually has a soccer game projected onto the wall. Also - they can do all of their pies with homemade gluten-free crust, if that’s important to you or whoever you’re eating with.
Laut serves a mix of Thai, Malaysian, and Singaporean food, all in a typically-crowded space by Union Square. It’s one of the few solid “casual-friend-meetup” spots of the area, since the food is good and nothing costs over $25. The laid-back atmosphere and reasonably-priced dishes - like curry laksa and roti - work perfectly for dinner before a reunion show at Irving Plaza.
The Beacon Theatre
Playa Betty’s bright, open space has plenty of room for a big crew before your show at The Beacon Theatre. It’s about one step away from having decorative sand on the floor in here, but we kind of love that about Playa Betty’s. The Mexican food is definitely not the best around, but the portions are big and everything comes out fast. And since the margaritas are strong, and they have cheap buckets of beer, we’re guessing nobody will have a problem with the food.
You already spent a fair amount of money on the concert tickets and a car to the UWS, so you probably don’t want to spend a ton on dinner too. But still, you want something good. Sushi Yasaka serves high-quality, affordable sushi in a casual atmosphere that works for a date or small group. Plus, there’s a low likelihood you’ll eat enough sushi to get sleepy, so you won’t need to drink a bunch of Red Bull-vodkas at the venue. Unless you just like Red Bull vodkas. We support you.
Tessa is a long, dark space that looks kind of like a wine cellar with brick walls and leather banquettes, and it’s perfect for anyone who needs something “nice but not too fancy.” So it’s nice to come here when you want a full but simple meal after the show. The food here is Mediterranean - which is pretty much just code for the fact that you can eat pasta, kale salad, and branzino. And the pasta is pretty good, especially the one with rabbit ragu.
Taboon is one of our favorite restaurants in Hell’s Kitchen and it’ll be a good choice if you’re prepared to spend some money on your meal. They serve Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food, and have both a full bar and a pre- and post-theater special during the week where you get three courses for $46 between 5-6pm and 9:45-11pm. You don’t have to tell them that you’re, in fact, not seeing Wicked.
If you’re in the mood for Middle Eastern and Mediterranean but don’t feel like spending as much money as you would at Taboon, Kashkaval is another good option in the area. It’s only a few blocks from Terminal 5, and much of their menu involves cheese (fondue, grilled Haloumi, feta and gruyere flatbreads - you get the point). Most of the crowd eating here will be neighborhood people on dates.
If barely being able to hear each other is your ideal level of date-night intimacy, then getting hot pretzels and beers at the Brooklyn Steel is your move. But if you want to have a conversation beyond screaming, “the basist is so great!” during the concert, then go to Pheasant. The small space has some shareable Mediterranean food, and the atmosphere is relaxed. They don’t take reservations, so keep that in mind if you’re in a time crunch before the show.
Little Dokebi is about a 10-minute walk from Brooklyn Steel, and is great for a fun group dinner. The space is small, but the Korean-ish menu at this cash-only spot is long. Share a bunch of Korean tacos and fried chicken, or grill some BBQ on the table in front of you.
Music Hall of Williamsburg
If each person in your group started to suggest where you’d all be eating before the show, things could devolve quickly into messages like “Eggs aren’t meat!” and “You knew she was gluten-intolerant.” Avoid all of that and bring your group to Cafe Mogador, the Moroccan place with something for everyone. Your friend who wants “a good vibe” will appreciate that Mogador has somewhat of a party atmosphere, and your friend who suggested that you all cook at her townhouse in Clinton Hill will love the back dining room that looks like a greenhouse.
Hotel Delmano should be your go-to date spot before a show at Music Hall. It feels like an old-timey members-only drinking club (in a cool, not annoying way), and both the drinks and food (small plates and raw bar) are very good. Just know it’s seating-only (no standing at the bar), and that it tends to get packed later in the night - so you might have to wait to get in if you don’t show up on the early side.
The Farm on Adderley
The Farm on Adderley is about a 15-minute walk from King’s Theater, but it’s worth the commute for the seasonal American food and backyard. Start with the kale salad or share the cheese plate, and then get the burger, which comes with some fantastic fries. After a few very good cocktails here, you should anticipate an internal struggle to decide if you want to walk or take a car to the show.
Purple Yam is a great little spot that serves traditional Filipino dishes, along with Korean and Chinese-inspired ones, like scallion and shrimp pancakes and pork spare rib adobo. The booths inside (and the backyard) are good for groups, so bring some friends who will be excited to try hard-to-find-around-NYC dishes like eggplant with burnt coconut cream.
Parkside is a good date option before a show at King’s Theatre. The dimly-lit space has plenty of bar seating, along with cocktails and affordable wines, and wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizzas. They’re also open until 2am, so keep it in mind for a post-show spot to edit those videos for social media (does anyone actually want to see these?), or to talk about how much you were vibing with the drummer - despite being a hundred yards away.
Prospect Park Bandshell
Drink enough margaritas, and when you see the opening band, you’ll be shocked they aren’t famous yet. If you want to share some solid Mexican food and drink a lot of margaritas (they have eight types), check out Fonda. Get some spicy guacamole and the enchiladas covered in black mole, and sit in the backyard if it’s nice out. Your only regret will be the nine minutes you waste listening to the opener again tomorrow morning.
Maybe you were running late to the show, didn’t have time to eat, and now your body has been subsisting on nothing but beer and adrenaline for several hours. Once the show is over, go get a burger at J.G. Melon. This place feels about as quintessentially New York as the taxi-cab shade of yellow or the movie You’ve Got Mail. And it stays open until 4am on the weekends and 3am during the week.
Up Thai is a quality neighborhood Thai spot with a lantern-filled space that’s always fun to be in. It sort of looks like an event space for an arts school prom, with exposed beams, faux greenery, and more multi-colored lanterns than people. And the food, like larb gai and duck tamarind, is good and relatively inexpensive.