Despite its name, from which it tries ever-unsucessfully to run, Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen is actually not that hellish a place. It's just downscale, despised, and unpopular -- one of the city's most off-brand neighborhoods to dine or live in. And yet....it has a lot of good, cheap restaurants. More than most people know.
"Old school French" usually translates to "classy - stuffy" but there was a time when New York had a lot of working class Frenchmen around, particularly sailors. This squalid but loveable French greasy spoon eventually morphed into a full-blown restaurant but it still maintains some of its original grit and je ne sais quoi.
It's expensive, fogey-ish, and as formal as an audience with the pope. But it's also a vanishing breed of old, elegant, and refined Italian restaurants from before the age of babbo.
Put it this way: if you are into swing dancing, and you want to go out to dinner and have a great time, and you don't go here, something is wrong with you.
A theater district standby for a million years, Chez Josphine is actually owned by Josephine Baker's son, and has a certain edgy authenticity even to this day. The bistro menu is by the book, but executed with style.
Theater District restaurant serves ‘60s-style French food.. Nobody looks to Restaurant Row for culinary innovation, and Le Rivage may have the distinction of being the most outdated place even in that gastronomic backwater. In fact, the place is a time machine--a glance backward at what French restaurants were like in the ‘60s and ‘70s, before the first whiff of nouvelle cuisine made its way to New York. The food, like the decor, is heavy--but also delicious. All the old warhorses are here--frog legs, escargot, coq au vin--back like hall of famers at an old timer's game, and still packing a wallop. Just don't come counting calories: There's enough cream and butter in each dish to supply a dairy.
There are basically three great seafood restaurants in New York: Marea, Le Bernardin, and Esca, and the latter is by far the most comfortable and casual of the three -- not to mention the cheapest. Chef David Pasternack's relationship with local fishermen is legendary, and he has mastered the art of getting out of the way. There is no simpler, or better, seafood anywhere.
Marseille is the kind of unpretentious French restaurant that Manhattan used to have a lot more of. The food is rustic and rich and not overly expensive; the service unfussy; and the prices just right for pre- or post-theater eats.
Small, clean, and cool, this west side dessert bar delivers novelty and urbanity in the form of Japanese style sweets and cocktails.
Rustic Italian food from the Italian riviera, Nizza is best known for its pizza, but really, the large specialty menu is even better, especially the pastas.
A surprisingly sophisticated -- and actuall good -- Italian on Restaurant Row, this is everything Becco should be but isn't. A great pre-theater choice, but it isn't super cheap. No all-you-can-eat pastas here.
Ramen nerds are hardcore indeed, and this is the place for them. There is no decor, no space, and no air-conditioning. The menu pretty much consists of ramen, and it's great.
If, like me, you like good times, raucous Balkan oom-pah music, and bland but fulfilling peasant dishes, head to Balkanika. Plan on getting drunk too.
Hell's Kitchen Pizza is named not just for its neighborhood, but also for the infernal heat that comes via its spicy signature pie. This pizza is hardcore, uncompromising, and takes no shit from tourists -- just like the neighborhood it sits in.
Small, chic, and catering to a somewhat jaded clientele, this Korean tapas restaurant provides small, intense bites of delicious, if somewhat undistinguished, Asian food in a cool setting.