The other day I was checking out a restaurant in the theater district for a friend and the very first line of the first Yelp review made me almost spit out the Shawarma I was eating. “Theater District is well known for its dining”. What? Where? Boise? If you say it out loud to someone in the subway you will get crazy stink eye stares from the locals. The pre-theater bunch on 46th street and around has plenty of decent options like Carmen’s, Becco, Basso56 and its not necessarily a bad idea to dress up and go to one of those. Most likely the average place is an upgrade over Boise. But considering the level of cooking you find everywhere else in NYC, the truth is that Theater District dining is close to the bottom of the pack.
But the point of this post is not to slam Theater District dining, though I do get some pleasure from it it seems. The point is to make it easier for the Hell’s Kitchen’s guide followers to pick a solid, affordable but somewhat unconventional place to eat before or after your show. The HK guide is one big mishmash of mostly cheap ethnic eats, not really suitable for pre-theater unless thats what you are after. So to make it easier for the readers I’ve flushed out five places out of the guide where you can have an exceptional meal. All these places are not in the district but close enough (5-10 minute extra walk on average depending on the size of your heels). Or you can just take a 5 minute taxi ride that will add $5 to your $500 evening. I think you can afford it
Taboon (Middle Eastern)
In that spot (10th/53rd) you gotta be good to succeed. Nothing but data centers, a liquor store, a deli and appartment buildings surround you. Taboon utilizes its good looking “Taboon” oven to create the type of Mediterranean/Middle Eastern dishes that will make your kids put down their phones and tell you about their day. Yes, that powerful. One of the top chefs in Israel help create the menu for Taboon initially. Try any of their bread specialties, the chicken with the Israeli couscous (big and bubbly just like I like em), and the sick Silan, one of my favorites desserts in the city.
An instant winner with the Michelin man, this Hooni Kim’s Korean inspired tapas joint dishes out greatness in consistent fashion. When you sit next to your new friend at the Broadway show who will boast about her Filet Mignon at Joe Allen, astonish her with the Tofu with Ginger Scallion Soy Vinaigrette, and the fiery Korean Chicken Wings, Bulgogi Beef Sliders and the Pork BibimBop you just attacked at Danji. And after you explain to her what a Bibimbop is, perhaps its also a good time to tell her that there’s also a Joe Allen in Miami Beach where she lives and/or she can get a decent filet mignon in Boise
You have a plethora of Italian joints in the area. Plenty of mediocre ones with Becco and Carmens one of the better and most popular, especially with families seeking family style dining. But I have a different spin on “family style”. Instead of sharing one huge chicken parm and penne alla vodka (Carmens) or order the all you can eat pastas of the day (Becco) why not share four or five different pastas that are much closer to the true south Italy cooking, vs the the south Italy cooking Americans often confuse with. Pastas like the stupendous but simple Trenette with garlic, almonds, tomato and basil, or the rich gnocchi with finger licking beef and pork ragu, or the pasta of the day like the Cavatelli. This is true Italian, by Italians, with Italian accents (for those with a Fish Called Wanda syndrome)
The Marshal (American)
Sysco, Cargill, Fats R Us, are some examples of names you will see if all the area restaurants would require to print their distributors on the back of their menus. But at the Marshal you will see the 14 local farms they deal with to produce just about every ingredient on the menu. This is our answer to Slow Food in Italy. If something is no longer on the menu it means its not currently grown. A brilliant sides lineup, along with the best bread and butter in the area, followed by roasted chicken, meatloaf, best mussels this side of Newfoundland, and an amazing ice cream sundae to boot. American food, in America, cooked by Americans (with a little bit of help by Central Americans!)
You may not be able to hear each other, but you will have more fun than 96.5% of all the restaurants in the district. Between all the shouting of the staff every time someone comes in (“welcome”), leaves (“Thank You”) or goes to the bathroom (“aim well”), and the slurping of the best noodle soup you will ever have, you wont have time to talk to your spouse anyway. Dont be surprised if you are the only none Asian couple in the room (unless you are not a non Asian couple of course). The best pork buns in the city (I tried a bunch) and you will be hard pressed to find better Ramen than the splendid Akamaru Modern