25 of the Best Pre-Theater Bites in N.Y.C.
There’s nothing quite like the holidays in New York City. The hustle and bustle gets stepped up a notch, the waft of roasting chestnuts permeates every street corner, and the city’s landmark department stores show off their magical window best.
Taking in one of the Big Apple's iconic seasonal shows is a surefire way to get into the holiday spirit—but, what to eat beforehand? Whether you’re in the mood for a high-end, multi-course experience, or just a quick and casual bite, know your options. We’ve rounded up a range of eateries in and around some of the most popular entertainment venues so that you’re prepared and avoid the frantic last-minute searching of restaurants on your phone in the middle of a busy N.Y.C. street (um, guilty). This is, after all, New York, where there are no shortage of fantastic dining options!
Radio City Music Hall
Holidays in the Big Apple simply wouldn’t be the same without the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Just thinking about the Rockettes and their perfectly choreographed kick line will get anyone’s appetite going. Whether you’re catching the show or just strolling through Rockefeller Center to get a glimpse of the magnificent tree, options abound. Swing by The Modern overlooking the MoMA for a refined dining experience where hospitality is king; you can also head to its more casual Bar Room for a pre-show cocktail and the famed Tarte Flambée, an Alsatian flatbread pizza topped with crème fraîche, onion and bacon.
Other nearby options include: Del Frisco’s for a classic New York steakhouse that serves up a mean martini; Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain for regional American fare; Bouchon Bakery for quick and delicious cafe options, as well as indulgent French pastries and confections.
Theater District / Times Square
The area surrounding the immediate Times Square-Theater District may be more known for chain restaurants, but there are dining gems to be found. Daniel Boulud’s inimitable food and service are just a stone’s throw from Times Square at DB Bistro Moderne, where a $48 3-course pre-theater menu is offered nightly from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Other nearby options include: Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s swanky Lambs Club, which also offers a special 3-course pre-theater menu for $54; Carmine’s for a classically Italian-American, family-style red sauce joint fit for crowds; Casellula for those seeking more of a cozy wine, cheese, and charcuterie vibe before the show; Gotham West Market a bit farther west in Hell’s Kitchen, where food lovers can have their pick among a variety of artisan vendors and restaurants, all under one roof.
*Depending on the exact location of the theater, consider the options mentioned in nearby Radio City Music Hall and Lincoln Center areas.
Lincoln Center is the rich cultural home to the Met, the New York City Ballet, and the New York Philharmonic. And during the holidays, George Balanchine’s production of The Nutcracker is simply an institution not to be missed! The contemporary Italian Lincoln Ristorante, located on the Lincoln Center premises, has a special 2-course lunch plus Nutcracker orchestra seat matinee package for $209 per person during the month of December.
Other nearby options include: Chef Daniel Boulud’s Mediterranean-inspired Boulud Sud offers a 3-course pre-theater dinner menu for $60 (the slightly more casual Bar Boulud right next door also has a prix fixe dinner menu for $45); The Ribbon, the latest establishment from the Bromberg brothers who blessed N.Y.C. with the Blue Ribbon empire (and its epic fried chicken); all the incredible dining options inside The Shops at Columbus Circle.
If you find yourself at Carnegie Hall to take in a New York Pops holiday concert or quintessential orchestral performance, know you are within the geographical bounds to enjoy both Theater District and Lincoln Center–area eats. For special occasion dining, consider three Michelin-starred Jean-Georges for both its innovative French tasting and prix fixe menus, as well as its expansive floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Central Park.
Other nearby options include: Nougatine, Jean-Georges’s more casual sister restaurant in the same location for a convivial bar scene; Quality Meats (and nearby Quality Italian) for great steak and quality everything; The Plaza Food Hall for a massive European-inspired gourmet food court experience.
Madison Square Garden
The Broadway rendition of the original Will Ferrell holiday cult flick was so popular, it’s returned, but this time, to Madison Square Garden in Elf: The Musical. It’s entirely possible to avoid the Knicks- and Rangers-centered sports bar crowd in the area—if you want to, that is. If you’re in the mood for old school New York, there’s no better place than Keens Steakhouse, which dates back to 1885. The porterhouse for two is amazing; the mutton chop is legendary.
Other nearby options include: The restaurants in the Ace Hotel (The Breslin for a superlative lamb burger; The John Dory for perfectly briny oysters—both headed by Michelin-starred chef April Bloomfield); The NoMad, another Michelin-starred option close by, for its signature roast chicken for two and impressive cocktails; Hanjan for a modern take on Korean-style gastropub fare; the wildly popular sweetgreen chainlet for quick and fresh organic salads with a heavy dose of style.