It’s hard to find a great meal in Midtown. If you don’t know that already, congratulations - you’re either a pigeon or you’ve never had to find a meal in Midtown.
Unfortunately for the people who appreciate sailor costumes and a good Cole Porter number, this is exactly where the Theater District is. The thing is, you can find good food here - it’s just harder to locate. It might not be as good as the stuff downtown, but that’s just something you have to come to terms with. Here are 26 places to get an actually-good meal before you see Wicked for the 10th time.
You’re probably gonna see someone famous at Bar Centrale. In other words, you probably won’t get a seat at Bar Centrale. But that’s why the internet was invented: make a reservation online. Book a week in advance, and you’re good to go. Walk up the steps of the non-descript townhouse and enjoy a cocktail and some small plates in the dark, discreet space before or after a show. And don’t stare at celebrities. Take a picture. That’s why phones were invented.
Pomona is across the street from the Plaza Hotel and underneath the Paris Theater, and while there is a $19 shrimp cocktail and a royal caviar eclair on the menu, this place feels cooler than some of the other, stuffier spots nearby. There’s a casual bar area, seating mostly made up of orange leather booths, and music like Christine and the Queens on the speakers. Just keep in mind that the food is on the heavy side - they serve goose fat tater tots and a duck confit burger with duck skin mayo and duck jus. Come here when you want an upscale but fun dinner, and are OK with $40 entrees.
You aren’t sure when you’ll be able to get out of work, so rather than risking angry texts from your friends about the host only seating complete parties, have everyone meet at Aldo Sohm Wine Bar. It’s from the people who run Le Bernardin, but it’s much more casual, with couch seating that looks like it belongs in a nice hotel lobby, plus some tables and a bar. People can order small plates, like foie gras lollipops or duck confit lettuce wraps, at their own pace, and try options from the extensive and surprisingly affordable wine list.
Natsumi is as casual as sushi on West 50th Street can be - which is to say, slightly fancier than what you’ll find in most neighborhoods. But regular rolls here are almost all under $10. The fish is high-quality, and they also have a bunch of different sushi sets. It sort of feels like a hotel lounge from the early 2000s where people talk business and tourists speak French, but it’s pleasant enough if you want to get some reasonably affordable sushi before or after a show (especially during their early and late-night Happy Hour).
You like the idea of going to a rooftop bar, but you’re not quite looking for fishbowls full of neon blue cocktails or “snack” menus with $32 steak tartare. Check out The Polynesian, a big tiki-themed spot from the people behind Carbone and The Grill. It has a lot of tables inside, and a wraparound outdoor patio overlooking Midtown. The cocktails, which are served in mugs shaped like skulls and treasure chests, may seem gimmicky, but they’re actually excellent, as is the upscale bar food - get the shrimp dumplings over sambal sauce and the mini bacon BBQ burgers.
It’s possible you rushed to the show straight from a meeting and forgot that your body needs calories to function. As soon as you leave the theater, go to Los Tacos on 43rd Street. This place makes some of our favorite food in the neighborhood, but it’s extremely casual and there are technically not even any chairs. Order some excellent tacos and lean against a counter while you recap your thoughts on the inconsistent lighting design in whatever show you just paid hundreds of dollars to see.
Dinner and an activity before your show doesn’t have to consist of a street hot dog and a walk through the Swatch store in Times Square. At Gyu-Kaku, you can grill your own Japanese BBQ and try a ton of different things for around $25-30 per person. We’d recommend making a reservation, because it gets packed with groups and families - especially during the daily Happy Hour, when all the food is discounted and there’s a giant two-person set meal option for $55. Also - your clothes might smell like meat after you leave, so emotionally prepare for that or plan to eat after your show.
Briciola calls itself a wine bar, but it’s really more of a full-on restaurant. There are a bunch of small plates and about 15 different pastas, all of which cost $14 or less. And the food is pretty solid. It might not blow your mind, but it’s good for the price - especially the lasagna. The only real catch is that this place is tiny, they don’t take reservations, and all of the seating is communal. On the plus side, it’s open until midnight, so you can stop by post-show if you spent all of Act II dreaming about carbs.
It’s almost like Danji’s owner lost a bet and had to open up in Midtown. If they were in the village (either village), you’d probably have eaten there. As it stands, Danji is an excellent choice for dinner before a show. Get the bulgogi sliders and maybe the garlic honey chicken wings (if you like good food). The menu is Korean, and the interior feels kind of like a Williamsburg coffee shop.
You have about 90 minutes until curtains. Rather than sitting down somewhere and asking for all three courses to be brought out at the same time, try Casellula. This airy wine bar serves a bunch of shareable small plates and a few larger options, like the “pig’s ass sandwich” with two types of pork and melted cheese. It’s also open until 1am every day, so keep it in mind for after the show, when you should sit at the bar and ask your server to bring you flights of cheeses (they have over 30 different types) and wines to go with them.
You don’t see your second cousins from New Hampshire very often, which explains why they thought you’d prefer Kinky Boots to To Kill A Mockingbird. It’s also the reason you don’t know what kind of food or scene they’d like for a pre-show meal. Taboon is a safe choice. They’ll feel comfortable whether they’re wearing the same outfit they wore to your wedding or their UNH sweatshirts, and the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern menu has really good options whether they want vegetables, seafood, or meat. It’s a couple blocks west of most theaters, so leave yourself some extra time if you plan to walk.
Technically this is in Hell’s Kitchen, but it’s still walking distance from most theaters. Come here for rustic American cooking (meatloaf, roasted rainbow carrots) with rustic American decor (exposed brick, framed newspaper clippings). If you only eat at restaurants where everything is cooked in a wood-burning oven and most things are locally sourced, this is the place for you.
Low-key options like this are rare in the Theater District, so use Dianne & Elisabeth wisely and often. This place feels like more of a laidback neighborhood spot than the venue for a drama school reunion - so you’re bound to see some people on dates or coworkers complaining about their boss (while simultaneously drinking wine and sharing some cheese and charcuterie). It has the same owners as The Marshal, right next door, but it feels a little trendier.
Sake Bar Hagi doesn’t really look like much from the outside, but walk inside and you’ll find a long room with hanging light bulbs, records on the walls, and a bunch of small tables. It’s a great place for a casual meal with a couple of friends before a show, and the menu is surprisingly huge - you can get everything from sashimi and yakitori to french fries and ramen. Plus (as the name suggests), there’s a wide variety of sake to choose from.
Come here before your show and you run the risk of falling asleep before Simba even realizes he’s a king and doesn’t have to slum it with warthogs anymore. Quality Meats is a little bit New York and a little bit Vegas, and you should plan your meal accordingly. Get a big crab cake and an even bigger steak (with some creamed vegetables on the side, for health).
44&X was built for pre-theater dinners, and not just because they have a full list of cocktails with Broadway-pun names. It’s especially perfect for people who are easily annoyed by crowds, loud noises, and people wearing dirty costumes who steal money from children (a.k.a. Times Square). There’s a giant dining room and a long bar, and it stays pretty quiet since it’s on 10th Avenue. Come with family or friends who are interested in eating some steak or a nicely-cooked piece of salmon.
If the Theater District were a high school, Nizza would be the prom queen. But let’s be clear: the Theater District would not be a very cool high school. We’re talking maybe 75 students, and no one’s heard of The Clash. Still, Nizza’s got a lot going for it: good atmosphere, above-average Italian food, and even some outdoor seating. If you’re looking for a downtown restaurant in Midtown, this is the place for you.
You probably don’t want to come here before a show (if you actually want to catch that show). Sure, the waits are long, but Ippudo is open late, and the food is worth it. If you need ramen before midnight on a Friday (as most of us do), hit them up. Your theater partner will be impressed with your neighborhood know-how, and you’ll want them to stop talking to you so you can eat more ramen.
This whole guide’s about silver linings, so consider it a blessing that the food at this modern wine bar doesn’t quite live up to the wine. Everyone knows that if you drink enough on the first date, you step through a magical time warp, past all the awkward small talk about college hobbies and how old you were when you got your first hamster. So get a reasonably priced glass of wine or two after a show, and try to find out what your date’s aura looks like. Hint: it’s fuzzy and nice.
There are four Garis in the city, we’ve reviewed three of them, and they’re all excellent. The one on the UES is our favorite, but this is a close second. You’re going to want to get the omakase (and some tempura as well), so bring a rich friend and have them foot the bill. The fish here is high-quality, and the pieces of sushi are enhanced with things like quail eggs, broiled tomato, and jalapeno. Make this your pre-theater stop when you want to spend a little money (or you know someone who does).
The original Aria Wine Bar is in the West Village, and this Hell’s Kitchen location is essentially a clone. The ceilings are a little higher, and the space is less cramped - but they serve the same menu, and, just like the other location, there are little wooden tables and exposed brick walls covered in wine bottles. Plus, the pastas here are only $14. Just be sure to make a reservation if you’re stopping by before a show, because there tends to be a wait, and you don’t want to miss the first half of Pretty Woman: The Musical.
If someone played a large-scale game of NYC Operation, Haru would go right in the Times Square heart spot. There are a few locations of this sushi mini-chain around the city, and the food here is reliably good (but it probably won’t be the highlight of your evening). All in all, Haru is one of your better options for a group dinner this close to the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
If you’re seeing a show by yourself, come here and eat some ramen at the bar. Get your ramen spicy and skip the pork buns. Also, remember to bring cash (they’re cash only). This is definitely a more casual pre-theater move, and you’ll want to give yourself some time to deal with a potential wait. It’s also open until 11pm, in case you want to come back later for a snack.
ViceVersa is on the pricier side, but they do have a good Happy Hour. It also isn’t over-the-top and cheesy in the way so many restaurants in Midtown tend to be. Come here for some upscale Italian or a quiet daytime martini at the bar. Grab some pasta in the backyard, and you might even consider making a repeat visit when you’re not already in the area to see a show. Seeing as it’s in Midtown, you probably won’t do this. But it was a nice thing to say.
You know the deal. Red sauce, old school, Italian restaurant in Midtown. Is Da Tommaso Carmine’s? No, it’s not. But it’s also not Carmine’s. Which means fewer crowds, fewer tourists, and just as much penne vodka. This is a safe move.
Here’s a sleeper pre-theater spot in Midtown for you, and we’re pretty sure the name is Italian for “the drunk panther.” OK, it definitely isn’t, but let’s perpetuate that rumor. In the winter, check out any of the pasta dishes (like homemade spaghetti with salted fish roe), split a bottle of wine, and feel like you’re having dinner in someone’s very cozy, very expensive home. In the summer, keep it on the list for when the garden out back opens up and the rosé starts flowing.