Here’s the dilemma: you’re lucky enough to have scored tickets to the theater, but don’t relish waiting until after the final act to fill your belly. Not to worry — we’ve got you covered! From one of the city’s hottest food courts (yes, really) to meat and potatoes, to high-end Scandinavian, our picks will have you fed and out the door by curtain time. By Jessica Allen/Adrienne Smith
One of the best-loved, and most-established, restaurants of the city’s Nordic food scene, Aquavit is a Michelin-starred, extremely elegant restaurant just a few blocks north of the Theater District. The menu builds on traditional Swedish ingredients like berries, mushrooms, game meats and seafood, and practices traditional techniques like preserving and pickling. Executive Chef Emma Bengtsson grew up in Sweden, so she really knows the outs and ins of creating truly authentic cuisine.
The best part about pre-theater menus? You don’t have to explain to the waitstaff why you might be eating earlier (or faster) than normal. The menu at db Bistro Moderne — the more casual, contemporary French bistro by Chef Daniel Bouloud — is available from 5 to 6:30 pm, and features three courses for $50, including vegetable terrine, with shaved fennel salad, leeks, zucchini, and yellow squash; cavatelli, with fava beans, kale, a veal shank ragout, and mascarpone cheese; and salmon rillettes with pickled shallots, crème fraiche, and frisee salad.
The Druze are an Arabic-speaking group who generally hail from Israel. And Gazala Place, in Hell’s Kitchen, is one of only two Druze restaurants in the city. Headed by owner and chef Gazala Halabi, both specialize in bourekas. These round savory pastries come stuffed with meat, cheese, veggies, and other assorted goodies. You can also get hummus topped with lamb, tahini, lebanee (handmade goat cheese), falafel, tabouli salad, chicken kebab and date cookies.
Perfect for a big group, Gotham West Market is where to go when someone wants charcuterie and cocktails, while someone else is craving made-to-order sushi, and still another demands a burrito, followed by a tamale. And everyone wants to finish with a cup from Blue Bottle Coffee and maybe a scoop or two from Ample Hills. This market is sure to please you and everyone else: some excellent restaurants and vendors make their home here, just a few minutes west of the Theater District. Think food court, but way way way nicer—and much cooler.
From 5 to 6 pm, the modern American restaurant helmed by Geoffrey Zakarian and harking back to “classic club rooms of midcentury America” offers a three-course, pre-theater menu for $54. Choices include artichoke soup with charred leek, peekytoe crab, and truffle melba toast; striped bass with crispy skin, russet potato gnocchi, rutabaga, choucroute and a pomegranate-pancetta emulsion; a 12-ounce New York strip steak ($10 supplement); and a chocolate steam cake with smoked vanilla ice cream, graham crackers, and a cinnamon marshmallow.
Totto Ramen serves some of the city’s best ramen. It’s modeled on traditional lunch counters in Japan, so you can watch the chefs furiously chopping, stirring, seasoning, and stirring the delicious ramen (some even use blow torches!). Lines can be long, and reservations aren’t accepted. We recommend getting there super-early, putting your name on the clipboard attached to the door, and then wandering around the neighborhood for a while, building up both appetite and anticipation. We particularly like the Totto miso ramen, with ground pork, a hardboiled egg, and char siu pork atop paitan soup).
871 Seventh Ave
New York, NY 10019
This lively Greek restaurant offers both a pre- and post-theater menu. The prix fixe includes an appetizer, entrée and dessert. Start your meal with Molyvos’ creamy dip of fava beans spiked with scallions, capers and lemon olive oil. For dessert, try the baked apple stuffed with walnuts, vanilla halva and a spiced mavrodaphne wine sauce.
251 W 50th St
New York, NY 10019
While Toloache doesn’t offer a pre-theater menu, its location smack in the heart of the theater district makes pre-show dining a breeze. Small dishes and appetizers are the way to go at Toloache. Any of the three guacamole offerings are a must-try – get the trio if your group is hungry. Pomegranate and mango studded, traditional and chipotle guacamole round out the order. Reservations are recommended.
309 W 50th St
New York, NY 10019
This Neopolitan pizza restaurant offers up some of New York City’s best pies. Show up a bit earlier than necessary – Don Antonio’s doesn’t take reservations. Of Don Antonio’s 60+ pizza offerings, the pizze fritte is a star player. Pizza dough is lightly fried before its traditional stint in the wood-fired oven.
346 W 52nd St
New York, NY 10019
This small restaurant offers up modern Korean flavors in a hugely flavorful way. The small dishes are made for sharing, with the menu divided into small, medium and large options. Make sure to order the bulgogi beef sliders with spicy pickled cucumber and scallion salsa ($13) and the bossam, braised pork belly with dehydrated kimchi and cabbage wraps ($20). Don’t worry about your schedule during dinner – waiters ask if you’re heading to a show, and make sure to time your dinner accordingly.
402 W 43rd St
New York, NY 10036
Esca, Italian for “bait,” serves up stellar seafood dishes in a quiet, sophisticated atmosphere. The crudo offerings – raw fish dishes similar to sashimi or ceviche – are the best way to start your meal. Golden spotted bass is sprinkled with Spanish seaweed salt ($18) in one crude dish; ocean trout benefits from pickled ramps ($19) in another. Spring for the spicy spaghetti neri ($26) next. Squid ink spaghetti is tossed with sepia, green chilis and scallions.
Want more recommendations? Check out our older piece on New York’s Best Pre-Theater Restaurants.
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