Steal the Show
The Lambs Club (Photo: Courtesy of The Lambs Club)

10 Best Pre-Theater Dinners in NYC

From bowls of mussels scented with lemongrass to braised pork belly to a foie-gras burger (thank you, chef Daniel Boulud), here's our roundup of the best pre-theater meals

There’s no more time-honored tradition than dinner and a show. But it can be difficult to track down a great pre-theater meal around Times Square and the Theater District. After all, this wedge of New York is home to the highest concentration of tourist-trap restaurants and behemoth fast food chains in the city. And, even some of the traditional local restaurants have lost their luster over time. But the Theater District is a sizeable neighborhood and if you look beyond the flashing lights, sidewalk throngs and overpriced menus, you’ll find a variety of top-notch restaurants, from contemporary to classic. We scouted out the finest restaurants of the theater district so you don’t have to waste one minute on a mediocre meal. Here’s our roundup of the best – bon appétit.

 

Toloache (Photo: Welly Lai)

Toloache (Photo: Welly Lai)

Toloache
Julian Medina is well known in New York as a master of Mexican fare, with restaurants all over Manhattan, including this flagship in Times Square. Make an early reservation and settle in for inventive guacamoles (including one with mango and pomegranate, and another with chipotle); and tacos, from the American-familiar (carne asada with avocado, Baja-style tilapia) to the much less so (huitlachoche mushrooms, Oaxacan dried grasshoppers). Top off the meal with a tangy margarita, just in time to hit your Broadway show. 251 W. 50th St., 212-581-1818, toloachenyc.com

 

Don Antonio (Photo: Don Antonio)

Don Antonio (Photo: Don Antonio)

Don Antonio
Want classic Neapolitan pizza? Don Antonio is about as good as it gets, and not just for the theater district — but for New York as a whole. The restaurant was opened in 2012 by two Neapolitan legends, Roberto Caporuscio, who also runs the downtown Kesté, and Antonio Starita, the third-generation owner of Pizzeria Starita a Materdei in Naples, which dates back to 1901. At Don Antonio, the menu ranges from classics like the margherita to slightly oddball (but no less delicious) pies including the racchetta, shaped like a tennis racket, with the head topped in cheeses and vegetables and the handle a crisp-chewy crust. On the weekends, they’re open from 11:30am straight through dinner; on weekdays, they take an hour break between 3:30 and 4:30pm. No reservations, so show up with a little time to spare. 309 W. 50th St., 646-719-1043, donantoniopizza.com

 

Danji (Photo: 2BePhoto.com/Danji)

Danji (Photo: 2BePhoto.com/Danji)

Danji
Modern Korean fare is taking off these days, and Hooni Kim, who runs Hanjan on West 26th and Danji up on West 52nd, is a master of the genre. He divides Danji’s food offerings into “Traditional” and “Modern,” although both sides of the menu show the chef’s innovation. Don’t miss the bossam, braised pork belly in a dehydrated cabbage wrap, or the “KFC” Korean fire chicken wings. And who could resist a kimchi-bacon paella? If your party includes six or more, make a reservation; if not, show up early (Danji opens its doors at 5:15pm) and snag one of the first tables. 346 W. 52nd St., 212-586-2880, danjinyc.com

 

Barbetta's main dining room (Photo: Barbetta)

Barbetta’s main dining room (Photo: Barbetta)

Barbetta
Talk about history: This New York institution is more than a century old — in fact, it’s one of the oldest restaurants in the city that’s still run by its founding family, the Maioglios. Step into the dining room, and this history is evident throughout, from the antique candle-holders to the ornate chandelier from a palazzo in Torino. But it’s the back garden that brings joy to urbanites: Surrounded by lush greenery, it has a gurgling fountain, wrought-iron tables and elegant lighting. Barbetta specializes in the cuisine of Piemonte, and the pre-theater dinner gets you parmigiano biscotti, a starter, a main (such as roast rabbit or swordfish with lentisl), salad, dessert and coffee for $58, or opt to order a la carte for a simpler Italian meal. Buon appetito! 321 W. 46th St, 212-246-9171, barbettarestaurant.com

 

Ippudo (Photo: Ippudo)

Ippudo (Photo: Ippudo)

Ippudo
After making a name for themselves as the best downtown ramen, this high-end Japanese ramen chain moves uptown to the Theater District. Forget that microwave stuff you ate in college: Authentic ramen has springy, snappy noodles, slick rich pork broth and fall-apart tender meats. Not in the mood for something so rich? Try the Sho-Jin ramen, both vegan and gluten-free, made with a seaweed-vegetable broth, rice noodles and goji berries. They don’t take reservations, so go early — and if you do, know that happy hour extends until 7pm. 321 W. 51st St., 212-974-2500, ippudony.com

 

Larb Ubol (Photo: Mary-Louise Price Foss)

Larb Ubol (Photo: Mary-Louise Price Foss)

Larb Ubol
Head south of West 42nd Street for a restaurant that couldn’t seem farther from the chaos of Times Square. This cheery, friendly sit-down restaurant, decked out in bright colors, specializes in Thai fare from the Isan region — known as the country’s best. Don’t miss the green papaya som tum salad, the rich and spicy Pad Ped Moo Krob (crispy pork and eggplant) or the ground-meat larb salads (the restaurant’s namesake). For kids or other less-adventurous eaters, a dish of simple (but beautifully prepared) grilled chicken with flavorful sauces should do the trick. Stopping by before a matinee? Their lunch specials are an excellent deal, starting at just $8. 480 9th Ave., 212-564-1822, larbubol.com

 

Island Burgers & Shakes (Photo: Island Burgers & Shakes)

Island Burgers & Shakes (Photo: Island Burgers & Shakes)

Island Burgers & Shakes
Looking to take the whole family for a quick bite before the show? Shake Shack is one option, but there’s often a line, so look to Island Burgers and Shakes instead. Their grilled chicken “churrasco” sandwiches are legendary, their burgers excellent and both can be served in any number of styles — with cheese, as a patty melt, with marinara and mozzarella, with boursin and bacon, with ham and pineapple… You get the picture. 766 9th Ave., 212-307-7934, islandburgersandshakes.com

 

The Lambs Club (Photo: Courtesy of The Lambs Club)

The Lambs Club (Photo: Courtesy of The Lambs Club)

The Lambs Club
Helmed by restaurateur Geoffrey Zakarian, the Lambs Club in the Chatwal Hotel is named for a well-known actors’ club that used to make its home in the same building. Though the original club is long gone, the restaurant strives for a similar old-world grace. The pre-theater menu — three courses for $49 — lets you choose from many of the menu’s greatest hits, whether a Creekstone hanger steak or the loup de mer with mussels and lemongrass. After the show, both the dining room and the bar offer a low-key refuge with light menus and excellent cocktails. 132 W. 44th St., 212-997-5262, thelambsclub.com

 

DB Bistro Moderne (Photo: Daniel Krieger)

DB Bistro Moderne (Photo: Daniel Krieger)

DB Bistro Moderne
Just east of the Theater District proper, Daniel Boulud’s stylish bistro is nonetheless a quick stroll from any theater below West 50th — and it gets you away from Times Square madness. Their pre-theater meal, served Tuesday to Saturday from 5pm to 6:30pm, offers three courses for $48 (with wine pairings an additional $35), and includes such favorites as Boulud’s own charcuterie selection, gnocchi with roasted corn and poussin with baby leeks. Dinner a la carte brings even more options, and the DB Burger — with short ribs, foie gras and a black truffle-parmesan bun — is legendary. 55 W. 44th St., 212-391-2400, dbbistro.com

 

Bar Americain (Photo: Courtesy of Bar Americain)

Bar Americain (Photo: Courtesy of Bar Americain)

Bar Americain
Bobby Flay’s classic American bistro is great for a group — they take reservations, the space is wide-open and welcoming and the menu has something for everyone. Take your pick: seafood stew cioppino; mussels in a green chile broth that’s typical of Flay’s Southwestern tendencies; homestyle fried chicken; or a spice-rubbed New York strip… it’s all here. Arrive hungry. 152 W. 52nd St., 212-265-9700, baramericain.com

 

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