With so many great local and family-owned restaurants in Times Square and the Theater District, NYCOTC remains amazed by visitors who opt for national chains more at home in a suburban shopping mall in Anywhere, USA.
Enjoy genuine NYC tastes at these standout homegrown choices, where you will eat better and usually for less money, than at a national chain.
Avoid the tourist traps and get native NYC vibe and flavor, along with top value for your restaurant dollar, at these top local choices recommended by native New Yorker and NYC on the Cheap Founder/Editor Evelyn Kanter.
This list was published originally in 2018 and is updated regularly, including in Fall 2021, reflecting the re-opening of Broadway shows and restaurants serving theater-goers and everybody else, too.
Note that current NYC regulations require proof of Covid vaccination and masks for indoor dining, but not for outdoor dining.
John’s is always my top recommendation to out-of-town visitors who want to eat in Times Square or the Theater District it overlaps.
Get thin crust pizzas cooked in coal-fired brick ovens, with a traditional, eight-slice pie serving up to four people costing $16.50.
One warning: Only pies are sold. Do not embarrass yourself by asking for slices.
My go-to menu item is always the calamari – the appetizer portion is enough for a meal, and bigger eaters can add a salad. My son is a fan of the hearty and traditional spaghetti with meat sauce. There’s also plenty more pasta dishes on the menu, plus salads.
John’s is also unique because it is in a decommissioned church, so you are eating surrounded by stained glass windows an impressive architecture.
There also is a John’s outpost in Jersey City.
NYC on the Cheap insider tip:
- If all you want is a slice and a soda, these 99 cent pizza slice joints in midtown are fast and filling, and nearly all are open late.
Nearly all the recommendations on this page are included in my most recent NYC guidebook,
100 Things to Do in New York City Before You Die
available in bookstores and online.
Shake Shack made its name with upscale burgers, hot dogs, fries and shakes courtesy of NYC restaurateur icon Danny Meyer, one of the smartest businessmen and nicest guys in the food business, two reasons his restaurants are so successful. Excellent food and service are other reasons.
The lines are long and it’s hard to find seats unless you stop in well before or well after normal lunch and dinner hours, especially before the theater curtain.
NYC on the Cheap insider tip:
- Order a concrete – a dense frozen custard ice cream in a cup with a straw — to sustain you during a show.
Yes, Shake Shack is now an international chain, but it is NYC’s own international chain. Shake Shack started here in an outpost in Madison Square Park, in Flatiron, that’s still there.
SEE ALSO Where to eat in Flatiron
- Shake Shack, 691 8th Avenue, (646) 435-0135
Junior’s Times Square is open again.
If you need a cheesecake fix, also open are the Junior’s flagship location in Downtown Brooklyn is open.
Be sure to visit either location on your birthday – and get a FREE slice.
Junior’s has been serving the best cheesecake on the planet since 1950 at its original outpost in downtown Brooklyn.
True to its Brooklyn roots, restaurant decor features images of the beloved Brooklyn Dodgers and Ebbets Field, where they played before breaking the hearts of all New Yorkers and moving to Los Angeles.
There’s lots more on the menu here than cheesecake, including burgers, salads and Jewish deli classics.
With the demise of the famous Carnegie Deli and the Stage Deli, Junior’s is the best place in midtown for a traditional overstuffed pastrami or corned beef on rye.
Junior’s is also open early for breakfast and late for after-theater.
- Juniors, 1515 Broadway at 45th St. (212) 302-2000
Sardi’s has been a Theater District landmark for a couple of generations, more celebrated for its walls papered with hundreds of framed caricatures of famous Broadway shows and show people and other celebrities than for its food.
The menu tends to be over-priced and under-flavored, served by uniformed waiters, some of whom have worked here for decades.
Sardi’s reopened in December 2021 after nearly two years of being shuttered, and used the time it was closed for painting and other needed renovations.
- Read the loving NYTimes article about the re-opening
NYC on the Cheap insider tip:
- Even if Sardi’s is not your choice for lunch or dinner, stop by for a drink at the bar. You’ll still get to enjoy the museum-like artwork by legendary illustrator Al Hirschfield.
- Sardi’s, 234 W. 44th St., (212) 222-8440
Bryant Park/Times Square location has re-opened, for indoor dining only.
The Flatiron location has both indoor and outdoor dining.
Burger and Lobster is the name, and also the only things on the menu, along with fries, beer and wine, at this second NYC location for the popular London-based group of restaurants.
The same menu and prices as the location in NYC Flatiron, plus some additional items aimed at the theater crowd, including a Po Boy ($20) with cornmeal crusted lobster, and Burger Bites ($10) and Lobster Bites ($10), both served in a fried pastry shell. Or, choose the overstuffed Lobster Roll, at $29.
Open daily, noon to 10pm.
- Burger and Lobster, 132 West 43rd Street, 917-565-9044
SEE Also the NYCOTC list of
Margon has been serving up Latin food for more than 30 years, prepared and served by members of the Margon family in the kitchen and behind the counter of this luncheonette.
You’ll be eating alongside construction workers, office workers and even those costumed characters who pose for money in Times Square.
The lunch special will set you back a whopping $10.90 for a whopping platter of a meat choice, rice, beans and sweet plantains, and a Latin-style soda like Materva Yerba Mate or Colombiana.
- Margon, 136 West 46th Street (on Restaurant Row)
Sadly, this popular spot has closed permanently – not because of Covid, but because its lease ran out and owners Beth Sheinis & Josh Toth could not renegotiate affordable terms with the landlord of the historic 1984 townhouse at 301 West 46th Street, known as Restaurant Row.
So goodbye to affordable $25 pre-theater prix fixe menus, and inventive after-theater cocktails.
- Hourglass Tavern, 373 W. 46th Street, (212) 265-2060
The Japanese restaurant Kodama, serving sushi, tempura and sashimi platters is across the street from the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Modest prices and fast service will have you overlooking the threadbare decor.
A good deal is the dinner Broadway Box, which for $16 includes tempura shrimp, chicken teriyaki, a shrimp shumai, a California roll, soup and salad.
- , 301 W. 45th St., (212) 582-8065
The dining room may be the size of a typical suburban closet, but Island Burgers and Shakes offers more than 40 options of burgers or grilled chicken sandwiches, from blackened to ones smothered in Boursin cheese, ranging from $9.95 to $14.75.
Milk shakes, salads and baked potatoes round out the menu.
- Island Burgers and Shakes, 766 Ninth Ave., (212) 307-7934
5 Napkin Burger
The bistro mini-chain 5 Napkin Burger packs them in.
The $15.95 house burger is a hefty 10 ounces of fresh ground chuck topped with Gruyere cheese, caramelized onions and a rosemary aioli.
Other burgers include Italian turkey, lamb kofta burger, a veggie burger and even a burger salad. There’s also a late night menu of $1 sliders.
- 5 Napkin Burger, 630 9th Ave., (212) 757-2277
Take a trip to Paris in Manhattan at this lush restaurant along Theater Row, filled with memorabilia of the legendary performer Josephine Baker, including posters and other artwork, and operated by Jean-Claude Baker, who describes her as his “second mother”.
The menu is French and Continental, including Trout Amandine, Steak Tartare and pasta favorites. Entrees are $30-$44 for a Filet Mignon or Rack of Lamb. Save room for dessert, which includes Creme Brulee and Lemon Tart.
Open daily to 10pm, with live piano music most evenings.
- Chez Joephine, 414 West 42nd St., (212) 594-1925
Midtown Manhattan may not seem like a great spot for ribs, but Virgil’s offers huge portions of messy, excellent barbeque — Memphis pork ribs, Georgia chicken fried steak, Kansas City fried chicken and Texas beef brisket, each around $22.
Go early as the place fills up.
Note – Virgils is owned and operated by the same corporate group which owns and operates Carmine’s, which also began in NYC. Both now have multiple locations, including in Las Vegas.
- Virgil’s BBQ, 152 W. 44th St., (212) 921-949
The Times Square location has re-opened. The original Upper West side location is open. Both have sidewalk seating in addition to indoor dining.
WARNING – Carmine’s family-style dining attracts large groups, which are often loud, rowdy and oblivious of the rights of passersby.
Perhaps you read about the recent assault of a Carmine’s employee by would-be diners reacting to the NYC requirement to provide proof of vaccination to eat inside.
That said – Carmine’s started on the Upper West Side, serving huge family-style platters of Italian favorites. Since each dish is big enough to feed two, and priced accordingly, it’s easy to over-order.
There also are Vegan and Gluten-free options on the menu.
NYC on the Cheap insider tip:
- My favorite is the rigatoni and broccoli – carbs and veggies all in one.
The Times Square outpost is for tourists, like the Carmine’s in Las Vegas. Reseervations are recommended.
- Carmines, 200 W 44th St., (212) 221-3800
Joe Allen’s is currently closed, and expected to re-open when Broadway shows re-open.
Joe Allen’s has been feeding both theatergoers and the performers who pay to see them since 1965, has a menu that ranges from a spicy Thai stew ($19) to a pan roasted monkfish ($28) and is such a Times Square mainstay that its website lists each show’s running time.
A post-theater drink is part of the Broadway experience, and you might be rubbing elbows with one of the Broadway or Hollywood stars who hang out here.
There’s also a late night bistro with live entertainment.
- Joe Allen’s, 326 W. 46th St., (212) 581-6464
Bond 45 moved from its location in the historic Bond Clothing Store at 154 W. 45th to another cavernous space around the corner, with the same mix of chops, pizzas and pastas and some new items, such as lobster burger.
Some say it is overpriced — entrees start at $32 and go up to $58 for a steak — but it remains such a go-to for well-heeled theater diners that it made a cameo appearance in the TV series “Smash.”
There’s also dining and dancing to a live swing band on Monday and Tuesday nights. It’s $25 – cash, at the door -plus a $25 food and drink minimum. The band is Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, who also have played at nearby Swing 46.
- Bond 45, 221 W. 46th St., (212) 869-4545
The cafe bistro Angus McIndoe offers menu choices that range an affordable dish of mussels with white wine for $22 to a pricey porterhouse for two at $79.
It’s also a destination for a late night cocktail. The top floor may even have a Broadway star or two joining you.
- , 258 W 44th St, (212) 221-9222
This popular mini-chain specializes in flame-broiled chicken. It’s fast and cheap – 1/4 chicken and a hot vegetable side is around $10.
Decor is one step up from a fast food joint, and the rest of the menu is not fancy either, with burrito bowls and burgers.
It’s location at the corner of Ninth Ave. and 42nd St. makes it a five minute walk to theaters.
Do you have a favorite non-chain restaurant in Times Square? Let us know.
Add a comment here, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll check it out.
This article was posted originally in 2018 and is updated regularly, including for 2021
NYC on the Cheap publisher/editor Evelyn Kanter is a native New Yorker who has written for the NY Times, NY Daily News, NY Post and New York Magazine, and is a former on-air reporter for WCBS Newsradio 88 and WABC-TV Eyewitness News.
Evelyn Kanter also is the author of several NYC and Hudson Valley guidebooks, including my latest, 100 Things to Do in NYC Before You Die.