Monday, February 14, 2011

Where to Find Pre-Theatre Dinner Without Breaking the Bank.

If you're looking to eat out close to the theater district, but can't afford to splurge on Restaurant Row, here are a few suggestions you can try:

Empanada Mama, a 24-hour "Latin patty place," was recommended to me by a friend and tried tonight by yours truly. I was surprised to find that, although there were nearly 30 varieties of empanadas available (not even including the dessert empanadas...), the menu consisted of much more than these delectable fried pastries. For our main meals, dining companion ordered "chuleta empanizada," or fried pork chops, which she thoroughly enjoyed, and I ordered "pollo guisado," a seasoned chicken and potato stew that warmed my soul with its heartiness and is certainly worthy of the title of Comfort Food. In addition, we ordered both appetizer and dessert empanadas. If you like spicy foods, I recommend the spicy chicken empanada. We also ordered a "cuban" empanada, which consisted of pork and melted mozzarella cheese. It was good, but didn't make my mouth water the way the spicy chicken did. For dessert, we had an apple & cinnamon empanada, and a belgian milk chocolate empanada, each topped with ice cream and whipped cream. Total cost for 3 courses and non-alcoholic beverages (soda for my friend, tasty cappuccino for me): ~ $25 each, with tip. (One note: each individual empanada is priced separately and comes with only one empanada per order, so if you want to try a lot, consider making a meal out of just the empanadas!). Empanada Mama is located at 763 9th Ave, between 51st and 52nd Street.

In the mood for hamburgers? Some might suggest Five Napkin Burger (a suggestion I whole-heartedly agree with and recommend, especially if you try the cleverly named "five napkin burger"), at the corner of 9th Ave and 45th St, but if you are looking to cut costs, consider trying Island Burgers and Shakes, at 766 9th Ave, between 51st and 52nd Street. I must admit that I have not tried Island Burgers myself, but it comes highly recommended by a friend who lives in the area. Prices are slightly more reasonable than Five Napkin and, after fifteen years of selling burgers and shakes without fries (blasphemy!), Island Burgers finally got a deep fryer. So, even if you've been there before, it might be time to try it again (I know this because when I walked by today I picked up a menu and it said "Now Serving Fries," and gave the story about how they never served fries before because there was no deep fryer...).

For some "real" thai food, head to Pam Real Thai, on W. 49th Street, just west of 9th Avenue. PRT offers everything you expect from a classic thai restaurant, at affordable prices-- pad thai, curry, etc., and also has unique daily specials that are worth stopping by to check out.

Craving Italian? A little further south on 9th Ave, between 37th and 38th Street, is a cute neighborhood trattoria called Mario's. Serving pizza, pasta and all of the traditional chicken, veal and seafood Italian entrees you could want, but sans some of the traditional prices (chicken parmesan for only $14, served with pasta!), this place may be worth the walk.

Ready for something completely different? Meskerem is an authentic Ethiopian restaurant located at 468 W. 47th Street, between 9th and 10th Ave. Don't bother asking for a fork here-- if you don't like to use your hands as utensils, then this is not the place for you. However, if you want to try a new experience, Meskerem is a dining gem. Order everything to share and don't be surprised if it looks small when it comes out, it's just a trick of the eye-- you will not leave this place hungry. Also, don't be afraid to ask your waitress how to eat the food... it's what I had to do!

Finally, if all you want is a no frills meal, try Westway Diner, on 9th Ave and 43rd Street. It's a diner, and it's good. What more do you need to know?

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