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The $4 fried whiting sandwich from Kim’s Aunt Kitchen is a culinary dream come true, and you can’t get a better one, even up in Harlem.
Three weeks ago, in something of a bad mood, we reviled The 10 Worst Things to Eat Around Times Square, and they were really, really bad — including a mayo-gobbed salad of fake crab meat, a sodden and stale knish from a street cart, and a glued-together foursome of “barbecue” sliders reeking of liquid smoke. No one would eat any of these things except out of sheer desperation, which is what tourists are faced with as they’re herded around the city’s worst tourist trap by their handlers.
This sainted Cuban lunch counter — a literal stone’s throw from Times Square — easily makes our top 10 list.
Now, to make amends to those same abused tourists, and to let New Yorkers know that they don’t necessarily have to give Times Square a wide berth if they’re hungry, we present the 10 Best Things to Eat Around Times Square. So, tie on your bib, jump on the subway, and prepare to be dazzled with our gastronomic suggestions.
As always, if you disagree, or have your own suggestions of spectacular things we’ve missed, please jot them down in the Comments.
The sirloin special at Tad’s Steaks is nearly enough food for two.
10. 10 oz. sirloin steak at Tad’s Steaks You always thought Tad’s was awful, right? Well, though the meat is not the kind of marbled, grass-fed steak you dream about, and though you’ll have to glue your dentures solidly in to eat it, the sirloin is a thing of beauty: flopping over the edge of the plate, cooked over flame as you watch, drooling, to a nice smoky char, ringed with little delicious bits of fat and gristle, swimming in meat juices and accompanied by a baked potato, Texas toast, and a salad. 701 Seventh Avenue, 212-382-1164
9. Ma Po bean curd at Szechuan Gourmet This second branch of a beloved 39th Street Chinese restaurant is only steps from the northern end of Times Square, just off Broadway. Named after a pock-marked Chengdu street vendor, Ma Po bean curd features silken wiggly cubes in a thick sauce incorporating fermented beans, tiny bits of ground pork, and Sichuan peppercorns, and if you ask nicely, they’ll make it mega-spicy. 244 West 56th Street, 212-265-2226
8. Chicken teriyaki at Teriyaki Boy Served with a nicely dressed salad and white rice, and offered at the mind-bogglingly low price of $3.99, the chicken teriyaki is generous and toothsome, and the spare dining room upstairs seems far from the hurly-burly of the Square, but most patrons carry out. We assure you, it tastes much better than the picture looks! 732 Seventh Avenue, 212-265-8181
The $3.99 chicken teriyaki special at Teriyaki Boy must be accounted one of the best deals around Times Square.
A borek with a side of babaganoush makes a perfect meal at Gazala Place.
7. Borek at Gazala Place These amazing pastries — with a well-browned, flaky outside topped with black sesame seeds — make great hand-held meals. Boreks with a variety of vegetarian and meat-bearing fillings fly periodically from the ovens of the city’s only Israeli Druze restaurant, and there are many other healthy Middle Eastern meals available in the relaxing dining room, two blocks west of Times Square, but well worth the hike. 709 Ninth Avenue, 212-245-0709
6. Cheese blintzes at Café Edison Representing a sort of Eastern European French crepe, the cheese blintzes are superb: crisp and chewy and surmounted by a dollop of sour cream, the way they’ve been eaten in the Garment Center for nearly a century. Find them at Café Edison, a slightly seedy hotel dining room that will transport you to an earlier era, and a favorite of hip New Yorkers who find themselves unavoidably near Times Square at meal time. 228 West 47th Street, 212-840-5000
5. Cock-a-leekie at St. Andrews Sure there are great burgers, pot pies, and meal-sized salads at St. Andrews, one of only two Scottish restaurants in the city that we know of, but why not go with one of the weirder Highlands dishes like haggis (a sheep’s stomach stuffed with oats and organs) or the less-challenging cock-a-leekie, a mellow soup featuring leeks and spring chicken. 140 West 46th Street, 212-840-8413
You don’t have to be gay to enjoy the taste of cock-a-leekie soup at St. Andrews.
Pungent with cracked black peppercorns and bathed in a vinegary barbecue sauce, the Owensboro lamb sandwich at Virgil’s reminds us of Johnny Depp — but only because Owensboro, Kentucky, was where he grew up.
4. Owensboro lamb sandwich at Virgil’s Real Barbeuce Certainly, Virgil’s is not one of the city’s best barbecues — it wouldn’t even figure in the top 10 — but there are some fine products on the menu, imbued with flavor deriving from actual smoke. The best is the lamb sandwich, a generous wad of thickly sliced meat on rye with a pair of sides and sliced pickles. Oddly enough, it’s also reasonably authentic, making it one of the only places in town to barbecue meat in the northern Kentucky style. 152 West 44th Street, 212-921-9494
3. Fried whiting sandwich at Kim’s Aunt Kitchen In the area sandwiched between Times Square and Rockefeller Center, New York has been enjoying a renaissance of lunch wagon food recently, and no cart exemplifies this more than Kim’s Aunt Kitchen. Just one block east of the square, it offers a selection of fish sandwiches, over-rice dishes, and even a bulgogi special, which clues you in to the nationality of Kim. The whiting sandwich is our hands-down favorite. Corner of 46th Street and Sixth Avenue, lunch only
2. Octopus salad at Margon Served with a humongous plate of rice (white or yellow) and beans (red or black), the octopus salad at this long-running and authentic Cuban lunch counter arrives well-slicked with oil, dotted with green olives, and zapped with onion and cilantro, and the swatches of octopod are tender as all get-out. If you can find a spot to sit (sometimes you have to wait five or 10 minutes), dining in the narrow and tumultuous space is half the fun. 136 West 46th Street, 212-354-5013
Mmmmm — Margon’s octopus salad, served with rice and beans.
And here’s our number one choice of a meal around Times Square, the miraculous katsudon at Sapporo.
1. Katsudon at Sapporo This aging noodle shop has long been a haven for homesick Japanese travelers, and the ramen, gyoza, and curries are superb, but our greatest affection is for the luncheon delight katsudon, consisting of a perfectly fried pork cutlet mired in egg and onion, squirted with a vaguely sweet sauce and served over a big bowl of rice. A cup of miso soup comes alongside, making this one of the best under-$10 meals in town. 152 West 49th Street, 212-869-8972