New Yorkers may scoff at the idea of heading to Midtown Manhattan for a great dining experience. With the relatively recent openings of the Times Square Edition and Aliz hotels, however, this neighborhood is gaining some seriously sophisticated — and delicious — offerings.
On the busiest days, the count of pedestrians moving in slow motion around Times Square can register as high as 450,000. Per day. On average the count is 380,000.
It’s the neighborhood New Yorkers love to hate. It’s also the neighborhood everyone finds themselves hungry in at some point, for Broadway theaters, for clubs, to meet visitors who don’t know where else to go. The Times Square dining situation is notoriously bleak; among other things, it’s the setting for the city’s biggest McDonald’s. It was also home to Guy Fieri’s Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar, source of one of the world’s best worst restaurant reviews, from the New York Times’ Pete Wells.
Take it as a positive sign that Guy’s American Kitchen closed almost two years ago. The Midtown Manhattan neighborhood, loosely defined here as between 40th and 53rd Streets, and 6th and 9th Avenues, is increasingly populated with superior food and drink spots, like 701West at the Times Square Edition and a string of outposts from popular local spots like Los Tacos No. 1 and cocktail bar Dear Irving.
And while Times Square sees 50 million visitors a year, the most of anywhere in the U.S. — and only 10 million less than the total number of annual visitors to the Big Apple, according to the most recent available data from NYC & Company — it has likewise managed to hold on to a handful of honored locales that would have disappeared in more quickly gentrifying neighborhoods.
Here, top chefs and mixologists list the spots they frequent, and the dishes and drinks they order, when, for whatever reason, they find themselves in the bright, neon-lit Crossroads of the World.
Who Says: John deBary, former Momofuku bar director, founder of Proteau aperitif, and drinks writer
On the top two floors of the Aliz Hotel is this offshoot of Union Square/Gramercy’s celebrated bar, with panoramic views of the city. “The place does such a good job of creating elegant, delicious, and accessible cocktails. I’m a fan of the Balto Old-Fashioned made from New York state whiskey and apple liqueur, with spiced maple syrup and bitters,” says deBary. 310 W. 40th St.
Who Says: Todd Mitgang, executive chef/partner at Crave Fishbar in New York
Unconventional sushi offerings are the hallmark at this high-end chainlet, which recently opened a spacious, bilevel location in Times Square. “It’s one of my go-to Japanese spots. Some of my favorites there are seared salmon with broiled tomato and the tuna with tofu purée,” says Mitgang. “I never leave without having the spicy scallop hand roll, which actually inspired a dish at Crave Fishbar.” 365 W. 46th St.
Who Says: Chintan Pandya, chef/partner at Aerobanquets RMX at the James Beard House and executive chef of Adda Indian Canteen in Queens, N.Y.
The northern Chinese fast-casual mini chain, which specializes in unconventional dishes like bing (aka flatbread) wraps with fillings like sweet bei beef, has an outpost near Bryant Park. “I love them because of their bold and authentic flavors,” says Pandya. “I like the noodle bowls, particularly the tomato pork and spicy sesame mushroom. It’s a great setting to hang out in.” 135 W. 41st St.
Who Says: Michael Lomonaco, chef/partner at Porter House Bar and Grill in New York
“My favorite eats in Times Square bring me back to the time when I was first discovering food,” says Lomonaco. “Le Rivage on 46th is the progeny of the old Le Café Du Soir from the Upper East Side. Today, it takes me back with escargot de Bourgogne, frog legs in garlic butter, duck à l’orange, and chocolate mousse — all prepared with love, history, and with soul in each bite.” 340 W. 46th St.
Who Says: Meaghan Dorman, bar director/partner at Dear Irving in New York
In the new Edition Hotel, this glitzy restaurant from chef John Fraser has a green velvet upholstered bar favored by Dorman. “I’m in love with the unique serving trays and vessels at 701West,” she raves. “They really amp up the sophistication. I love their house Manhattan, and they have some great Champagnes that are rare to see by the glass.” 701 7th Ave., Times Square Edition
Who Says: Jae Lee, chef/owner of Nowon in New York
The city’s best street tacos come from Los Tacos No. 1, which drew long lines at Chelsea Market for its inexpensive and authentic carne asada, and now counts four locations in the city, including one on 43rd Street. It’s an amazing spot, says Lee: “Everything on their menu is fire. It’s stand up only, so eat your tacos there and be on your way. And remember, corn tortillas are the way to go.” 229 W. 43rd St.
Who Says: Victoria Blamey, executive chef at Gotham Bar & Grill in New York
“Sake Bar Hagi is a secluded, special, and very comfortable Midtown spot. The sake selection is unmatched with a lot of unique brands that are hard to find,” says Blamey. “It’s a great respite in the busy-ness of Times Square.” To drink, she favors the junmai ginjo sake “Toyo Bijin” from Yamaguchi, which is dry so it pairs well with all the grilled-meat yakitori on the menu. 358 W. 46th St.
Who Says: Roxanne Spruance, judge on History Channel’s The Butcher
The 25-year-old, bilevel barbecue spot has a long menu of crowd-pleasing standards. Spruance favors the dry-rubbed, crusty beef brisket, Memphis-style pork ribs, and especially the chicken wings that are “smoked to perfection.” Their house-made bleu cheese dip is excellent as well, she says. 152 W. 44th St.
Who Says: Julian Medina, chef/owner of Latineria, La Chula, and Toloache in New York
Junior’s has been a Downtown Brooklyn diner landmark since 1950. The Times Square location has only been around since 2006, but boasts a similar vintage decor and deli menu. Medina always orders the turkey Reuben. “It’s one of my favorite things to eat,” he says. “I love how the creamy slaw melts into the grilled Swiss cheese on rye, and with the juicy turkey it makes for a perfect sandwich.” 1515 Broadway, at West 45th Street
Who Says: Maiko Kyogoku, owner of Bessou in New York
Although a bit of a hike from the heart of Times Square, Kyogoku loves this hole-in-the-wall Thai place in Hell’s Kitchen for its fantastic basics, like the green papaya salad. “I always get their pad kee mao (drunken flat rice noodles). Pro tip: It’s BYOB.” 792 9th Ave.
Why Says: Bill Yosses, chef/owner of Palais by Perfect Pie in New York
Classic French cafes have all but disappeared from New York streets, but the charming Un Deux Trois has stayed intact, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner since 1977. “It’s next to the Belasco Theatre where we served a four-course dinner on stage for the Broadway show Network with Bryan Cranston,” says Yosses. “Every Sunday, we would take the team there for pre-show brunch. The chicken club sandwich is delicious and — even more important — quickly served.” 123 W. 44th St.
Who Says: Judy Joo, chef and author of Korean Soul Food
“For a proper cocktail in a sophisticated setting, I go to Geoffrey Zakarian’s upstairs Bar at the Lambs Club. My order? A martini or their famous Gold Rush,” says Joo. “This is the perfect place to relax on a cold winter’s evening before or after a show. I will always nibble on the curried bar nuts, little meatballs, and gruyère gougères.” 132 W. 44th St.
Who Says: Harold Villarosa, executive chef of the Stand in New York
The powerful combination of Cuban cocktails and food animates this huge space that’s convenient to most of Times Square. “It’s the homey cooking,” says Villarosa of the appeal. He orders chilled shrimp ceviche with tostones followed by pork chops topped with mango salsa over a bed of mashed yuca. “The pineapple glaze on the pork chops makes the pork extremely juicy, and adds an explosion of flavor from sweet to slightly tart.” 151 W. 46th St.
Who Says: Nick Accardi, chef/owner of Tavola in New York
Dim Sum Palace operates a number of locations around the city, and the nominal specialty, dim sum, dominates the ordering. But there’s also a solid menu of Chinese menu classics — congee, black bean-sauced seafood, kung pao chicken, etc. Accardi’s go-to is the lobster with ginger and scallion, plus snow pea shoots. “It doesn’t feel like it’s a complete meal without them,” he says. 334 W. 46th St.
Who Says: Andy Kitko, executive chef of Oceans in New York
At Carmine’s, every white cloth-covered table in the place is stacked with platters of Italian American classics; what’s notable is that the food is actually good. “I love the eggplant parm,” says Kitko. “It’s massive and layered with very thin slices of eggplant — many, many layers, like a Lady M crepe cake! — all topped with gooey mozzarella. Sometimes I order it on Seamless so I can have it delivered to my house. Just that, nothing else.” 200 W. 44th St.
Who Says: Dale Talde, chef/partner at Goosefeather in Tarrytown, N.Y.
There’s no ornate bar or fixtures at Jimmy’s, no $20 cocktails. The owner, Jimmy Glenn, was a prizefighter and trainer, and the walls of his unassuming, darkly lit bar are plastered with boxing pictures. “It has that perfect dive bar character and personality that many Times Square places desperately lack. It’s truly a New York joint for New Yorkers,” says Talde. 140 W. 44th St.
Photo credit: Shown here is the 701West bar, with interiors by Ian Schrager Company, at the Times Square Edition hotel in New York City. Nikolas Koenig