Finding a family-friendly Times Square restaurant that doesn't belong in a mall might be more difficult than navigating the costumed-character-crammed sidewalks of the area with a stroller. The presence of Applebee's, Chevys, Olive Garden, and TGI Friday's might leave you feeling as if you're in the 'burbs, not the crossroads of the world.
But just as there are things to do with kids in Times Square beyond the tourist attractions, there are also a variety of off-the-beaten-track, family-friendly eateries that serve tasty cuisine reflecting our melting pot of a city.
Next time you're in the Theater District, whether seeing a Broadway show, entertaining guests, or just passing through, skip the chains and try one of these 12 kid-friendly Times Square restaurants.
Lasagna at Carmine's, just like grandma used to make.
200 West 44th Street
This family-style restaurant serves delicious Italian fare in an atmosphere akin to a Sunday-afternoon meal around grandma's table. How much more family-friendly can you get? Menus include enough familiar items to serve the most finicky eaters, and breaking bread together just may get Junior to try something new.
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Ramen soup from Kuro Obi is offered at food hall City Kitchen, a new addition to the Times Square restaurant lineup.
700 Eighth Avenue, at 44th Street
This food hall is one of our favorite one-stop shops in the city. The lineup of food selections is varied, from lobster rolls, to burgers and fries, tacos and, of course, Dough doughnuts for your sweet tooth. If you're tight on time or can't decide on one type of fare, the selections here will please everyone in your party.
Dafni Greek Taverna
325 West 42nd Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues
A good restaurant right on 42nd Street? It's true. Granted, Greek cuisine may be a little exotic for some young palates, but adventurous tweens will be rewarded with mouth-watering staples such as saganaki (addictive baked cheese), spanakopita (spinach pie), kalamarakia (fried calamari), and a variety of cold spreads. I never order main dishes here; instead I get a bunch of appetizers to share. The place gets super-crowded pre-theater and the restaurant really packs 'em in. But reservations are accepted and it's often empty during off-peak hours. It's not suitable for preschoolers, but my grade-schooler has done just fine at Dafni.
Kids will devour the traditional Mexican food at El Azteca.
783 Ninth Avenue, at 52nd Street
This is my daughter's favorite neighborhood restaurant, hands down. She begs to come here for yellow rice and beans (which she says are better than her abuela's...don't tell!), cheesy quesadillas, horchata (a kind of spiced milk), and fried bananas topped with honey and whipped cream. This is traditional Mexican food made by natives—no fancy fusion variations—so fill up on burritos, tacos, chimichangas, and other staples. The owner, Maria, is almost always on site. There's a bar in front that is rarely rowdy, and the back dining room is decorated with Frida Kahlo portraits and sombreros.
151 West 46th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues
This lively Cuban spot is always crowded, but I've never had trouble making a reservation—even the same day. The Cuban Appetizer Sampler is a must-order at every meal. There's no kids menu, but simple dishes such as chicken and rice, rice and beans, and empanadas will please the little ones while you dig into a mouthwatering, generous portion of paella, Cuban sandwiches, or mofongo.
There's something fresh for everyone at The Little Beet.
The Little Beet
135 West 50th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues
If you've got to go gluten-free, try this fast-casual spot near Rockefeller Center. The focus here is on fresh, seasonable, and sustainable ingredients, so expect some change in the menu from one visit to the next. No matter the dish, though, quality is at the forefront. Adults might choose from one of the chef-made bowls, such as the harvest kale bowl with chicken and sweet potato, or make their own bowl by combining their protein of choice with seasonal vegetables on a base of grains or greens. Tots may go for the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich or a mangoberry parfait.
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Simple but tasty burgers, fries, and shakes are on the menu at Schnipper's.
Schnipper's Quality Kitchen
620 Eighth Avenue, at 41st Street
For the quickest, most kid-friendly meal in the area, this cafeteria-style restaurant gets my vote. We raved about another of the mini-chain's locations in our post about places to eat near Madison Square Park besides Shake Shack. It's a similar situation in Times Square since another one of Danny Meyer's popular burger joints is just a few blocks away. But at Schnipper's, the wait is much shorter and the menu is much larger, including tacos, Sloppy Joes, mac and cheese, fried fish, and an array of salads, in addition to burgers, fries, and shakes. Just order at the register, find a spot at the communal tables, and your food is brought to you within minutes.
Virgil's Real Barbecue
152 West 44th Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue
I am not a barbecue fan and yet I love the grub at Virgil's. You'll find all the standards: ribs, pulled pork, fried shrimp or chicken, plus sides such as mac and cheese, baked beans, buttermilk biscuits, and mashed potatoes and gravy. The combo platters are pricey but your best bet if you're sharing. Yes, it's loud, fattening, and messy. And yes, it's overrun with tourists. But it's still worth it, and kids get crayons and coloring pages.
614 Ninth Avenue, between 43rd and 44th Streets
After decades of looking as if it was caught in an '80s time warp, this stalwart underwent a major makeover in 2014. Despite the face lift, it's more or less the same old-fashioned no-frills eatery. The menu includes all-day breakfast, Greek favorites such as souvlaki and moussaka, pasta and meat entrees, and the ubiquitous burgers, sandwiches, salads, and shakes. There's still no children's menu, but the portions are big enough to share. Plus there's rarely a wait, and the no-nonsense staff gets you in and out in a hurry. Its lack of pretense seems to have celebrity appeal: Reportedly, it's where Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld began brainstorming that "show about nothing," and lots of theater folks frequent the spot. I've seen Bobby Cannavale and Zach Braff here in the past.
And for dessert...
672 Ninth Avenue, between 46th and 47th Streets
There's a lot more than bread here. The cafe menu includes scones, muffins, biscuits, doughnuts, cupcakes, cookies, and even pizza and quiche. There's just one table, so takeout is really your only option, but Hell's Kitchen Park is one avenue away.
1515 Broadway, at West 45th Street
While there is a sit-down restaurant at this outpost of the famed Brooklyn eatery, it's perpetually overcrowded and reservations aren't accepted for small parties. So save the calories for the crown jewel offering and head to the bakery outlet next door to pick up a slice of the restaurant's signature cheesecake, muffins, black-and-white cookies, rugelach, or cake slices. There are a few outdoor seats, too, if you can snag one.
Delight in 45 varieties of cookies at Schmackary's. Photo by doncarlosalberto via Instagram.
362 West 45th Street, at Ninth Avenue
This dessert spot serves milk and cookies...and not much else. But oh, the cookies! The 75-plus varieties range from the mundane (chocolate chip, oatmeal, etc.) to the exotic such as maple bacon, peanut butter banana crunch, candied yam, and pumpkin spice. There are brownies and ice cream sandwiches, too.
This article was first published in December 2012 but is regularly updated.
Top image: The Little Beet. Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy of the restaurants.