Food Travel

Best Cheap Eats for Foodies: Midtown + Times Square, NYC

UPDATED: 10/6/2017

For foodies who travel to NYC and find themselves hungry in Midtown Manhattan do not despair! Avoid the tourist traps and terrible food and head to one of these fantastic cheap eats from Times Square restaurants and food kiosks worthy of your decerning palate.

As a native New Yorker I used to avoid Times Square like the plague, but over the last year, I’ve ended up spending a LOT of time in Midtown Manhattan when I travel back East for work. I’m often running to and from meetings or hurrying to a Broadway show which means I’m often short on time and/or eating solo.

Here’s my short-list of quality food places near Times Square that are great for an inexpensive (but delicious) breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Scroll to the bottom of this post to check out a map of all these awesome spots (and a few other favorites).

The Grain Bar @ Great Northern Food Hall

Recommended for: Breakfast

If you’re looking for a hearty but healthy breakfast, head over to the fantastic Great Northern Food Hall in Grand Central Terminal located in Vanderbilt Hall. This is no ordinary food hall: It was created by Claus Meyer, the famed Danish chef who is a leader of the New Nordic Cuisine movement and co-founder of the world-famous Noma restaurant.

There are many options for the first meal of the day, but one of my favorites is getting some Danish “grød” from the Grain Bar.  The Barley and Strawberry Porridge with rhubarb compote and vanilla sugar is savory (the porridge) but also sweet (the fruit and sugar) and incredibly filling. It’s also relatively inexpensive at $7.

Barley Porridge from Grain Bar

Later on in the day, you can get Danish hot dogs and amazing smorrebrod (open-faced sandwiches) — so many things to try. Seating is open, so it’s great for solo travelers and groups alike.


Recommended for: Breakfast or Lunch

One of my co-workers tipped me off to this adorable Midtown outpost of this quickly-expanding cafe empire. Gotan is an absolute breath of fresh air for Midtown, with its downtown-esque vibe featuring a bright air space decorated with natural wood tables, chalkboard menus, and greenery in the dining area.

Everything I’ve ever had here for lunch has been really great, but on this trip, I decided to check out their breakfast. I really love this place for an early morning breakfast before heading into the office. They have a bunch of bar stool seating right in the front of the space, and if you’re lucky, you can grab a seat right by the window and watch NYC wake up while you have a leisurely breakie.

Really love their “Health Bowls”, especially the Acai Bowl with yogurt, granola, berries, poppy seeds, and oats ($8). So beautiful AND delicious.

Acai Health Bowl from Gotan

They’re decidedly a breakfast/lunch spot –  the latest they stay open is 5 pm on weekdays.  If you’re trying to hit them for lunch go on the early side — they get super-busy around lunch time so there might be a wait for both a table and for takeout if you go during prime time lunch hour.

City Kitchen Food Hall

Recommended for: Pre-theater dinner

City Kitchen is a food hall sent from heaven! It features a varied collection of excellent food from hip and drool-worthy food purveyors from all over Manhattan and Brooklyn, found under one roof. Located on 8th Avenue at 44th Street as an extension of the Row Hotel, it’s super close to a ton of Broadway theaters (Hamilton is only one block away!) so it is incredibly convenient for grabbing a gourmet quick bite right before the curtain goes up.

There are many great kiosks at City Kitchen, from burgers from the East Village joint Whitman’s, or Mediterranean fare from BOX, a fast-casual offering from the people behind one of NYC’s top  Lebanese restaurants, Ilili but my top three favorites are…

Luke’s Lobster

Luke’s Lobster makes some of the most delectable lobster rolls in town. They do them traditional/Connecticut-style (melted lemon butter) NOT New England/Maine-style (sauce is mayonnaise-based) which I generally prefer because you can taste the lobster better and because BUTTER. The split bun is griddled so it’s toasty and warm.  A lobster roll will run you $16, which is not exactly cheap but is definitely less than a sit-down restaurant. I get the $19 combo and pair mine with some original Cape Cod Chips and a

I get the $19 combo and pair mine with some original Cape Cod Chips and a Maine Root Spicy Ginger Brew (it’s a non-alcoholic ginger beer). They have a Midtown East location on 43rd Street and 3rd Avenue that is also excellent (and I think they give you a little more lobster at that location for some reason).

Luke's Lobster at City Kitchen


No crazy waits to get your hands on some Ippudo ramen because  Kuro-Obi is their quick-service ramen concept. The menu is limited to three different types of ramen. I like the Shiro-Obi (“White Belt” in Japanese) which featured a chicken broth, chashu, and mushrooms ($10). It comes in a little takeout container so the portions are a bit smaller than a regular bowl of ramen. Solid, tasty ramen for those on the go.

Kuro Obi at City Kitchen


No matter what time of day you are there you MUST stop and get a Dough doughnut. They are one of the best donut places in all of NYC (and my personal favorite). These HUGE, amazing donuts will only cost you $3. Usually, it takes me two eating sessions to finish one of these puppies. I’m a yeast donut gal, and my absolute favorite is their Dulce de Leche with Toasted Almonds. They are all great so you really can’t go wrong.

I am so obsessed with their donuts I’ve bought them right before heading out to a Broadway show, shoved them into my purse (which then makes my purse smell like delicious donuts), and finished them off during intermission or directly after the show for a post-theater treat. I’ve also shown up at 6:30 am right when they open in order to buy a donut before headed out to the airport.

Just a word to the wise: There is NO ONE at City Kitchen at 6:30 am –  even the staff. I had to wait about 10 minutes before the person manning the Dough kiosk showed up from doing something downstairs. Plan accordingly.

Dough Donuts at City Kitchen

Once you’ve gotten your food, you’ll need to find a place to eat. Tables are first-come-first-serve, so sometimes you need to hover over people and pounce in order to get a seat. The counter seating along the windows is really nice — in particular, I like the stretch that faces 8th Avenue because you get to see all the hubbub of New York City. Sometimes you can get lucky by going directly outside of the City Kitchen area towards the entrance of the hotel where there are a few large communal tables and step seating.

Totto Ramen, Hell’s Kitchen

Recommended for: Great ramen without the crazy lines

If you’re looking for ramen, there are several to chose from in Midtown. (Including Kuro-Obi, mentioned earlier in this post, which I still think is good if you need ramen ASAP and can’t sit down at a restaurant.) However, during my most recent trip to NYC, I renewed my love for one particular spot that doesn’t get any of the buzz of Ippudo midtown or the original Totto Ramen at 366 West 52nd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues.  Now when people ask me what spot to hit for ramen while near Times Square, I’m most definitely going to route them to the Totto Ramen location in Hell’s Kitchen (464 West 52nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues).

Sure it’s a bit off the beaten path for midtown, but it’s worth the effort. Whereas Ippudo Westside always has some obscene wait time (when I walked by on a Monday evening just before the 5pm there were at least 20 people waiting for it to open), and original Totto often has a wait for any group two or more, you can just stroll into Totto Ramen Hell’s Kitchen with relative ease. If you get there right after opening, as I did, you will basically have the restaurant to yourself.

Back when I lived in New York I often considered this branch not equal to the original Totto, but after some recent visits to both 52nd Street locations, I’m now crowning Totto Hell’s Kitchen as the superior of the two. My last visit to the original Totto was a bit underwhelming – sad, because Totto used to be my absolute favorite in the city.  I was particularly disappointed with the cut and quality of the pork (gray and chewy is not what I desired).

Chicken paitan from Totto Ramen

However, Totto Hell’s Kitchen does a delicious Chicken Paitan Ramen for a total steal at $11. You also get a choice of chicken instead of pork as your meat topping at no extra cost, which is a 100% bonus for me. The chicken was white meat, tender, not chewy – the type you’d fine in a yummy chicken noodle soup. Definitely still recommend getting the extra order of Garlic Paste for $1 – it really makes the difference.

 Shake Shack

Recommended for: Late night dinner

The Theater District outpost of Shake Shack on 8th Avenue is great for a scrumptious late night dinner. (They are open 11am – 12am 7 days a week.)

I’m not going to even waste words on explaining to you how yummy Shake Shack is — that’s obvious! But what I will comment on is the experience. Even though the line looks pretty intimidating, especially when it snakes outside the door and down the street, it moves fairly quickly.

Definitely, try to snag a table by the window, or if you’re flying solo like I was — go to the northeast corner of the restaurant where you’ll see a high bar designed for standing-only eating. Grab the spot closest to where the two floor-to-ceiling windows meet. It is SO fun to stand there and watch people go by.

Shake Shack Burger and Fries

Late at night, you get to gaze at the neon lights of Time Square as thousands of people walked down the busy New York City streets. An amazing place to just soak it all in while you’re eating THE BEST BURGER IN THE WORLD. Also, you gotta get the crinkly fries ($2.99) to go with your Shack Burger ($5.50) because to this DAY, they are still my favorite fries ever since I tasted them so many years ago.

I Scream by Ice and Vice

Recommended for: Afternoon snack or late-night dessert

Hot in the city and looking to cool down with some ice cream in the heart of Times Square?  You must check out the I Scream kiosk by Ice and Vice on Broadway between 43/44th Street (in front of Sephora).  Ice and Vice are known for its amazing ice cream flavors and this midtown outpost does not disappoint.

Situated in one of the large pedestrian walk-way areas, the colorful yellow kiosk is a charming little destination. The super-awesome thing is that five percent of all sales gets donated equally between four great charities and institutions: ACLU, Harlem Grown, NRDC, and Planned Parenthood.

A selection of the ice cream available in named/inspired by these causes, such as the Freeze Global Warming flavor (Concord grape, lavender). Get it on a hot-pink Konery coconut almond macaroon cone for extra flavor.

They are open daily 11am-10pm.

iScream Ice Cream by Ice and Vice

Map of the Best Cheap Eats Near Times Square

Wondering where all these places are? Check out this handy-dandy map below that plots out all of the mentioned Times Square/Midtown Manhattan spots from this post plus a couple of other additional favorites:

If you’re interested in more of my tips for NYC – check out my list of affordable places to eat in the LES and Chinatown.

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