You’re not usually late to things. But between the N train doors getting stuck on someone’s life-size stuffed teddy bear at Union Square and getting stopped to sign an autograph after being mistaken for a Fiddler On The Roof ensemble cast member, you’re officially panicked about not having enough time to eat dinner before your show in the Theater District. Some theaters won’t let you in if you’re late, and others will shame you by escorting you to your seat with a blinding flashlight. So if you’re running behind but still want to get dinner, try one of these places. They’re organized by a rough estimate of how much time you have to spare before your show. Whatever you do, avoid the masses waiting outside of Hamilton.
Akdeniz is the solution to your neverending family group text arguing about places that won’t be too loud or expensive before you all see Oklahoma performed in the round (dad’s favorite). The Turkish food at this restaurant is simple and delicious, and everyone can get their own portion of grilled lamb or a nicely prepared piece of salmon with some salad. You won’t have to wait for your table, and the space feels warm and removed from Midtown despite being in the thick of it.
If you’re going to a show with a few friends and would like to sit down for a civilized meal nearby without stressing about timing, go to Taladwat. This is one of our favorite Thai restaurants above 34th Street, and they serve a “pick and mix” option that includes samplings of two entrees and rice for $18. Get a pitcher of beer, share all of your pick and mix dishes, and you’ll be fully primed and ready to see an understudy live the night of her dreams.
Natsumi is a consistently good option for sushi if you just want some miso soup and a few rolls. We pretty much always get the same thing when we’re here: their special where you can pick three maki rolls for $22. You should be aware that the space looks a little like the set of a play in its own regard. A play that takes place in a clubby lounge in 2002, just after the dot com boom. If you need further proof, keep an eye out for someone wearing a blazer and eating tuna tartare out of a martini glass.
The $50 omakase at Sushi By Bou was created with time efficiency (and showgoer’s anxiety) in mind. Dinner at this sushi bar lasts precisely half an hour, which means you can feel confident you’ll know exactly when you’ll be done, down to the minute. You’ll also know exactly what pieces are on the menu - all 12 are listed online, and include fatty tuna, scallop, and a surf and turf with uni and wagyu. To get a reservation, text 917-268-7268 (or go to their website here), and then make sure you actually show up on time for dinner.
This is by no means our preferred Shake Shack in the city (mostly because it’s on 8th Avenue and 44th Street, across the street from a store that sells neon luggage and Billy Joel backpacks). But it’s still a Shake Shake nonetheless, and it’ll be there for you when you need it the most. And even when the line is longer than whatever Ken Burns is currently working on, eating a burger and some fries here is still a relatively quick process.
From what we can tell, the staff at Katsuhama operates as if they assume everyone is on the brink of a full-blown temper tantrum about making it to their show or train on time. What this means is that your order at this katsu spot gets taken almost immediately and the food - like curries, donburi rice bowl sets, and excellent pork katsu - comes out fast. We recommend the set meal with pork tenderloin cutlet with fried shrimp, it comes with either rice and soup or rice, soup, and potato salad.
Yakitori Totto is a bit nicer than some of the other options on this guide, so if you need to impress someone in approximately a sitcom’s length of time, do it at this second-floor Japanese spot. The yakitori skewers cost around $3-6 each (with some more expensive exceptions). And since they’re all flash grilled, everything comes out quickly. Although yakitori is definitely their thing, there are plenty of non-yakitori dishes like rice bowls, soups, and salads. And, in the event that there’s a wait, you could always come back after the show - this restaurant stays open until midnight during the week and 1am on the weekends.
15 minutes or less
The tacos here are better than nearly any others in Manhattan. If that seems like a big statement, we’d recommend trying the carne asada or the marinated pork tacos. The corn tortillas are fresh and hot, and the meat is perfectly spicy and juicy. When you order at the counter say you want your tacos “con todo,” then wait for your number and eat your food standing against a high top. Los Tacos is open until 10pm (but there’s no alcohol on the menu), so you could always eat a $5 bag of peanut M&Ms during intermission as an appetizer and come here afterwards.
It’s important to acknowledge that, for better or for worse, you’re doing a very New York thing by going to Times Square and seeing people pretend to be other people, while sometimes singing and dancing at the same time. To fully lean into the aesthetic of your night, grab a slice on a paper plate. And, for the love of all things pizza, please do it at Joe’s (and not the five-dollar garbage-triangles from the thousands of other spots in the area). Joe’s is thin-crust royalty, and it’s right next to the 42nd Street N,R,Q,W station exit.
One more very quick counter-service idea when you’re strapped for time. La Esquina is especially convenient if your show is a little further up in the 50s (like at New York City Center, Gershwin Theater, Neil Simon Theater, etc.). Come by yourself or with a friend and see how quickly you can eat two carnitas tacos and an order of rice and black beans. They don’t have any alcohol here, so you should just splurge on the broadway tumbler of red wine at the show.