Food that sings in Times Square
Times Square is a lot of things - horribly crowded, eye-popping, deeply exciting and a sensory-overload.
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, you can find good sushi, juicy burgers and funny cocktails.
After all, the neighbourhood just to the west is called Hell's Kitchen.
Eating near Broadway is a dining experience 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 theatre district intimately know the rhythms of shows, so the staff understands when, say, you only have 40 minutes to eat before the curtain rises.
And in this neighbourhood, 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.
Here's my pick of places to eat:
The Hourglass Tavern packs in savvy theatregoers in its cosy three-story building with a pre-theatre dinner anchored by pork chops or pasta for US$22.95 (NZ$27) and an intriguing post-meal cocktail called "curtain call chai-tini", which mixes chai tea, vodka and Irish cream.
Hourglass Tavern, 373 W. 46th Street.
Shake Shack's upscale fast food theatre district outpost offers burgers, hot dogs, fries and shakes courtesy of restaurateur Danny Meyer. The lines are long and seats never vacant, 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 opening.
Shake Shack, 691 8th Avenue.
John's Pizzeria, housed in a former cathedral, offers thin crust pizzas cooked in coal-fired brick ovens, with a traditional, eight-slicer costing US$16.50. One warning: only full pizzas are sold. Don't embarrass yourself by asking for slices.
John's Pizzeria, 260 W. 44th Street.
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 US$16 includes tempura prawns, chicken teriyaki, a prawn shumai, a California roll, soup and salad.
Kodama, 301 W. 45th St.
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 US$9.95 to US$14.75. Milkshakes, salads and baked potatoes round out the menu.
Island Burgers and Shakes, 766 Ninth Ave.
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 US$10.
Ca Va, 310 W 44th St.
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 about US$22. Go as early as you can; the place fills up.
Virgil's, 152 W. 44th St.
Joe Allen, which has been feeding theatregoers since 1965, has a menu that ranges from a spicy Thai stew (US$19) to a pan roasted monkfish (US$28) and is such a Times Square mainstay that its website lists each show's running time. A post-theatre drink is part of the Broadway experience.
Joe Allen, 326 W. 46th St.
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 panelled space. Some say it is overpriced - the meat lasagne comes with a US$27 price tag - but it remains such a go-to for well-heeled theatre diners that it made a cameo in the TV series Smash.
Bond 45, 154 W. 45th St.
A SIDE OF CELEB
The cafe bistro Angus McIndoe is in the heart of Times Square and its servers know the neighbourhood's heartbeat. Eat mussels with white wine for US$22 and a porterhouse for two for US$79, knowing 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.
Angus McIndoe, 258 W 44th St.
Bistro chain 5 Napkin Burger has an outpost near the Great White Way that packs them in. The US$15.95 house burger is 285gm of fresh ground chuck topped with Gruyere cheese, caramelised onions and a rosemary aioli. Other burgers include Italian turkey, lamb kofta burger, a veggie burger and even a burger salad.
5 Napkin Burger, 630 9th Ave.
Do of any more great food spots in Times Square, or anywhere else in New York? Leave a comment.