NYC: The best cheap eats near Times Square

December 4, 2017 - Comment

The One Bag Traveler recommends Gear, Destinations and Adventures. Let’s be honest: Times Square has never been a great place to eat, especially on a budget. Real New Yorkers try to avoid the area altogether. And for some curious reason, tourists visiting one of the world’s great culinary destinations seem content packing into the same

The One Bag Traveler recommends Gear, Destinations and Adventures.

Let’s be honest: Times Square has never been a great place to eat, especially on a budget. Real New Yorkers try to avoid the area altogether.

And for some curious reason, tourists visiting one of the world’s great culinary destinations seem content packing into the same old mediocre chain restaurants they find back home. Applebee’s and Olive Garden in Times Square have become a punchline to New Yorkers.

But thankfully, things are changing. Some interesting and affordable tastes are slowly pushing their way into the Theater District, the region focused around Times Square and bounded east to west by Sixth and Eighth avenues (roughly) and north to south by 57th to 40th streets.

More tips for visiting NYC on the cheap:
How to save on hotels in New York City
The ultimate cheapo guide for visiting New York
Cheap hotels in Times Square and the Theater District


How to eat in Times Square on a budget

So if you’ve already scored affordable tickets to a Broadway show, where can you eat for cheap? It all depends on what you’re looking for. Here are a few suggestions for cheap eats in Times Square.

Shake Shack

Mmmmm… burgers, fries, and more burgers at Shake Shack. Photo: Lucas

Burgers: Shake Shack

Renowned restaurateur, Danny Meyer, transformed a hot dog cart into the first Shake Shack a few blocks downtown at Madison Square Park and never looked back. Though it evolved into a chain with some 150 locations around the world (and counting), this is one of the pioneering locations. And it’s as good as ever.

For the record, I’m particularly fond of Shake Shack. It’s not unusual to find me huddled over a ShackBurger, fries and house-made lemonade for breakfast at that original location, which opens earlier than the Theater District Shack. Though their crispy chicken sandwiches and hot dogs receive acclaim, Shake Shack is all about burgers and their signature beef blend. The crinkle-cut fries may sound pedestrian, but they’re prepared perfectly. The lemonade is fresh and tart.

Shake Shack has a fair number of seats, but the lines get really long, winding through a short maze indoors before spilling onto Eighth Avenue. Things move fairly quickly, but that only means you’ll playing musical chairs to grab a table unless you arrive soon after opening or during a rare lull during the day.

And here’s a quick tip: Shake Shack concretes — frozen custard mixed with cookies or candy — are great, too. And if all you want are frozen custard, beverages, beer or wine, you can jump into the shorter “C–Line” for quicker service.

Shake Shack
691 Eighth Ave. (at 44th St.)
shakeshack.com

Xian Famous

Spice up your cheap dinner with hand-ripped noodles from Xi’an Famous. Photo: bionicgrrrl

Chinese: Xi’an Famous Foods

You can find a great burger in most cities, but not fresh, handmade noodles. And that’s what draws New Yorkers to Xi’an Famous Foods. From its initial, hole-in-the-wall location in the basement of a Queens shopping mall, Xi’an’s fiery noodles leaped across the river to Manhattan’s Chinatown and then engulfed the entire island.

Head to one of the two nearby locations for “hand-ripped” noodles served in dishes and soups with combinations of vegetables and meats. There’s also a selection of dumplings and what Xi’an calls “burgers” — shredded meat on a bun.

What you want is the Spicy Cumin Lamb Noodles — or, if you’ve got to eat and walk, the Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger. (Xi’an warns that noodles are made to be eaten quickly, right out of the kitchen.) But if lamb isn’t on your agenda, the Liang Pi Cold Skin Noodles, Stewed Pork Burger, and Spicy and Tingly Beef Noodles round out their top five sellers.

Now for some tips: Since the family-owned and operated restaurants are surrounded by towering office buildings, it gets slammed during the lunch and dinner rushes. If you can visit between 2 and 6 pm or on weekends. Also, spicy means spicy. Xi’an Famous Foods draws its name and family recipes from a city in northwestern China known for dishes kindled with cumin, chili, and peppercorns, and this is the real deal. But everything is made to order; so, if you want a milder version, just ask.

Xi’an Famous Foods
24 West 45th St. (between 5th and 6th Ave.)
37 West 54th St. (between 5th and 6th Ave.)
xianfoods.com

Gray's Papaya

Gray’s Papaya on 8th Avenue is always ready to serve you a hot dog. Photo: Ralph

Hot Dogs: Gray’s Papaya

New Yorkers are busy. And, so it appears, always running late. Which makes hot dogs the perfect, cheapo food: a portable meal you can eat on the run, and one you can find everywhere.

Let’s start by debunking one myth: Food carts are not the dicey proposition many visitors believe. In fact, they’re a staple for many locals and some even serve gourmet specialties. So, you’re rarely more than a block away from a credible New York dog.

But there are a few legendary versions, and one of them is Gray’s Papaya. What sets it apart? It’s always open. It’s…

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