The Dilemma: You've spent the day admiring the bright lights, soaring billboards, and glittery marquees of Times Square. After spending most of your budget on a Broadway show, you emerge from the dark theater only to be surrounded by a throng of hungry tourists. There is nothing but lackluster restaurants and overpriced bars in sight. Where do you go to get away from the herd and enjoy a soothing drink or delicious meal without breaking the bank?
The Solution: Wander west to nearby Hell’s Kitchen, where you’ll find a lively young neighborhood with unpretentious nightlife and hundreds of affordable, quality restaurants. Here’s our shortlist of the Hell’s Kitchen hotspots where you’ll get the best bang for your buck.
This chic restaurant, helmed by celebrity chef Todd English, fuses pan-Asian cuisine with American BBQ for surprisingly affordable prices. Dimly lit rooms and exposed wood create an upscale industrial feel, and you’ll feel like a trendy New Yorker without having to spend like one. Ember Room is also a great spot for large parties – just be sure to reserve a table in advance. Go for the more adventurous dishes, like the chocolate pork ribs ($11), or the spicy rotisserie chicken, slow-cooked in a tamarind, chili, and jalapeño rub ($15). 647 9th Ave, 212-245-8880, www.emberroom.com
The owners of Aria, a popular West Village wine bar, recently opened a pint-sized offshoot in Hell’s Kitchen. Bricola is intimate, thanks to its romantic dim lighting and physical size – seating consists of about a dozen barstools. But, if you manage to snag a seat, you’ll have your pick from an extensive and well-curated wine list. With good Italian labels running around $8 or $9 a glass (cheap by New York standards), Bricola is both a classy and affordable locale for a pre-dinner or post-theater drink. 370 West 51st (between 8th & 9th Ave.), 640-330-5515
Located inside the futuristic YOTEL Hotel, DohYo is built to resemble a sumo-wrestling ring. The restaurant’s menu boasts creative tapas dishes that fuse Latin and Asian cuisines, like an eel sushi roll with jalapeño ($10) and Chinese eggplant with red chili pepper ($6). After the kitchen closes, the tables sink into the floor and DJs roll in turntables as DohYo transitions into a nightclub for late night dancing. 570 10th Ave. at YOTEL, 646-449-7790, www.richardsandoval.com/dohyo
The Pony Bar
This two-year-old bar has quickly become a local favorite. And with a rotation of 20 American craft beers on draft, each at $5 a pint, what’s not to like? Settle into a bench at a communal table and get to know your neighbors while you rate the beers on scorecards (those who eventually evaluate 100 beers earn the title of “Pony All-American”). The menu features classic pub fare with entrees topping out at $9, including a selection of hefty burgers and sandwiches. Even if you don’t live in the area, you’ll feel right at home in Pony Bar – and worlds away from Times Square. 637 10th Ave., 212-586-5707, www.theponybar.com
If you’ve already spent too much money on theater tickets, Nizza is an ideal pre-theater spot for a quality meal that doesn’t deepen the dent in your wallet. You can’t go wrong with one of the wood-fired pizzas, like the classic margherita ($12.75) or the piccante, topped with spicy sausage and roasted hot peppers ($14.25). Nizza even serves gluten-free pizzas. In the summer months, the restaurant spills out onto bustling 9th Avenue for al fresco dining and people-watching. 630 9th Ave. (between 44th & 45th St.). 212-956-1800, www.nizzanyc.com