Times Square is a lot of things — a sensory-overload, horribly crowded, eye-popping and deeply exciting. One thing it has never seemed to be is a place to go for food.
But look harder and there's likely something here for everyone, like the offerings on Broadway itself. Aside from the gaudy chains and tourist traps, there's plenty of good sushi and juicy burgers and funny cocktails. After all, the neighborhood just to the west is called Hell's Kitchen.
Eating near Broadway is a dining experience that no city can match: On the way to a restaurant, you may be asked to dodge a Naked Cowboy or a guy in an Elmo suit, skip away from a fuming mad taxi driver, decline a half-dozen street promoters, surf the crowd and push past tourists who seem never to have seen an electronic billboard, much less a million of them.
While it may be tempting to eat elsewhere and rush to Times Square afterward, many restaurants in the theater district intimately know the rhythms of shows, so the staff understands when, say, you only have 40 minutes to eat before the curtain rises on "Kinky Boots."
And, in this neighborhood, take note of your servers and tip well. There's a good chance one of these moonlighting actors might one day be the very star you have returned to Times Square to see.
SMALL JEWEL: The Hourglass Tavern packs in savvy theatergoers in its cozy three-story building with a pre-theater prix fixe dinner anchored by pork chops or pasta for $22.95 and an intriguing post-meal cocktail called "curtain call chai-tini," which mixes chai tea, vodka and Irish cream.
SUCKING CONCRETE: Shake Shack's upscale fast food theater district outpost offers burgers, hot dogs, fries and shakes courtesy of restaurateur Danny Meyer. The lines are long and seats never free, but if you pick a concrete — dense frozen custard ice cream in a cup with a straw — an express line can get you in and out in time for the theater curtain.
PIZZA HEAVEN: John's Pizza offers thin crust pizzas cooked in coal-fired brick ovens, with a traditional, eight-slice pie costing $16.50. There's also pasta and salads, all housed in a former cathedral. One warning: Only pies are sold. Don't embarrass yourself by asking for slices.
FOR SUSHI'S SAKE: 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.
SMALL SPACE, BIG CHOICES: The dining room for Island Burgers and Shakes may be the size of a typical suburban closet, but it 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.
ELEGANT BUT COSTLY: Ca Va, chef Todd English's restaurant in the InterContinental Hotel, is the kind of sleek, romantic place to have a quick bite or sip a glass of wine in the friendly bar before a show. It sometimes has discounts for ticketholders, and they're important: A small plate of baba ganoush costs $10.
WAIT, BBQ HERE?: Midtown Manhattan doesn't seem like a great spot for ribs, but Virgil's offers messy, excellent barbeque — Memphis pork ribs, Georgia chicken fried steak, Kansas City fried chicken and Texas beef brisket, each around $22. Go as early as you can; the place fills up.
BROADWAY STAPLE: Joe Allen, which has been feeding theatergoers 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.
BIG SPACE, BIG CHOICES: The cavernous Italian steakhouse Bond 45 has chops, pizzas and pastas and a massive antipasto bar at the entrance to the dark-stained paneled space. Some may say it is overpriced — the meat lasagna comes with a $27 price tag — but it remains such a go-to for well-heeled theater diners that it made a cameo in the TV series "Smash."
A SIDE OF CELEB: The cafe bistro Angus McIndoe is in the heart of Times Square and its servers know the neighborhood's heartbeat. Eat mussels with white wine for $22 and a porterhouse for two for $79, knowing that the staff will get you out the door in time. The top floor may even have a Broadway star or two sipping cocktails after the curtain has come down.
BURGER, BURGER: The bistro chain 5 Napkin Burger has an outpost near the Great White Way that packs them in. The $15.95 house burger is 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.
If You Go...
HOURGLASS TAVERN, 373 W. 46th Street, (212) 265-2060, http://www.hourglasstavern.com
SHAKE SHACK, 691 8th Avenue, (646) 435-0135, http://www.shakeshack.com
JOHN'S PIZZERIA, 260 W. 44th Street, (212) 391-7560 http://www.johnspizzerianyc.com
KODAMA, 301 W. 45th St., (212) 582-8065, http://kodamasushi.com
ISLAND BURGERS AND SHAKES, 766 Ninth Ave., (212) 307-7934, http://www.islandburgersandshakes.com
CA VA, 310 W 44th St, (212) 803-4545, http://www.cavatoddenglish.com
VIRGIL'S, 152 W. 44th St., (212) 921-949, http://www.virgilsbbq.com/newyork
JOE ALLEN, 326 W. 46th St., (212) 581-6464, http://joeallenrestaurant.com
BOND 45, 154 W. 45th St., (212) 869-4545, http://www.bond45.com/newyork/home
ANGUS MCINDOE, 258 W 44th St, (212) 221-9222, http://www.angusmcindoe.com
5 NAPKIN BURGER, 630 9th Ave., (212) 757-2277, http://5napkinburger.com/hells-kitchen-new-york