Though many of the restaurants and cafés surrounding Lincoln Center might seem too upscale for family dining or a quick, inexpensive snack, there are plenty of affordable, kid-friendly eats hidden in plain sight. As a plus, most of these places cater to the pre-theater crowd, know local productions and schedules, and are more than happy to make sure you're in and out with time to spare before the curtain rises. Whether you're in the neighborhood for a concert, the ballet, or just to check out the famous fountain, here are our favorite spots to grab a bite without breaking the bank—or your patience.
Shun Lee West and Shun Lee Café
43 West 65th Street between Broadway and Central Park West
For some class-act Chinese food in a retro setting, the decades-old Shun Lee is one of the city’s standbys. There are two dining options to choose from. Well-behaved kids can enjoy fine dining—and ogle the wraparound glowing dragon on the wall—at the main restaurant, Shun Lee West, where dishes include the intriguing Ants Climb on Tree and Lily in the Wood. For a more casual setting, head to the café for dim sum. Kids love selecting dumplings and other treats from the carts that circle the tables.
61 Columbus Avenue at 62nd Street
We’re not talking standard taco stand fare at this Lincoln Center favorite. The cuisine is upscale Mexican, but there are plenty of yummy choices for all ages, including a Young Amigos menu (with activity sheet), and the restaurant is happy to tone down the spices. Kids will delight in watching the fast-fingered waiters manhandling avocados as they whip up the restaurant's famous tableside guacamole.
1900 Broadway between 63rd and 64th Streets
For lovers of all things pasta and pizza, Café Fiorello, right across from Lincoln Center, is a perfect choice. Another plus: since this is a busy restaurant, noisy kids are no problem. The prices can be a bit steep, but the prix-fixe menus offer a good bang for your buck.
Ed’s Chowder House
Empire Hotel, 44 West 63rd Street between Broadway and Columbus
Ed's Chowder House specializes in East Coast seafood, but offers something for everyone—and if not, they’ll find a way to make a dish you and your kids will enjoy. The menu includes a traditional American breakfast and seafood-centric lunch and dinner (burgers and mac and cheese are also available), and the Chowder Bar is open for all-day "sea shack"–inspired bites. Desserts like banana cream pie and chocolate cake are surefire kid-pleasers—but don't be surprised if you find your child slurping oysters while your back is turned.
212 West 57th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue
Conveniently located between Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, this fun, pseudo-classic diner has a Brooklyn sense of humor. The gigantic "15-Bite Hot Dogs" are sure to impress kids (how many bites can they eat it in?), and with other comfort-food choices like sandwiches, pasta, and fajitas, your family will be as happy as the diner's famous "pigs in a blanket."
44 West 63rd Street between Broadway and Columbus
This outpost of the historic NYC pub can be loud and crowded, but its traditional surf-and-turf menu—and breezy corner location directly across from Lincoln Center—can't be beat. The mini cheeseburgers and shoestring fries are great for smaller appetites, while older kids will dig into the famous bacon cheeseburger and cast-iron mac and cheese.
Le Pain Quotidien
60 West 65th Street between Broadway and Central Park West
Tucked just off Broadway's restaurant row, this cozy, casual café features huge wooden family-style tables and organic, Belgian-inspired eats. The affordable bites range from delectable baked goods to soups, quiches, and open-faced "tartine" sandwiches served on boards. Also a great spot for a pre-Nutcracker hot chocolate served in a bowl, naturellement.
61 West 62nd Street, in the atrium between Broadway and Columbus
If you're running late for a show and need to feed the kids before meltdowns ensue, duck into the David Rubenstein Atrium, station your children beneath the giant vertical garden and pop over to this corner counter, which offers soups, salads, and sandwiches to go, including kid-pleasers like pb&j and hummus. Tuck a 'Wichcraft sandwich cookie or two into your bag for an intermission treat.
La Traviata Pizza
101 West 68th Street between Broadway and Columbus
A hole-in-the-wall is often where you'll find the best NYC slices, and La Traviata is no exception. An off-the-beaten-track Lincoln Center mainstay, it offers the usual pizzeria fare—slices, garlic knots, calzones—for the right price in a no-frills setting. Note: table seating is limited, but you can teach the kids how to eat pizza in a folded paper plate while walking down the street, like a real New Yorker.
1890 Broadway between 62nd and 63rd Streets
As its name implies, this bakery churns out delectable breads and pastries from early morning into the evening. This is a great spot to come for a late-afternoon tea-and-a-treat; the chocolate babka and rugelach are local favorites, but if you're in the mood for something savory, the tuna sandwich and cheese straws are justly famous.
2012 Broadway between 68th and 69th Streets
If eating organic is your thing, this cute, affordable restaurant is for you. You’ll find an extensive menu of Mediterranean dishes, including delicious falafel and hummus, and kids will love the Powerfood Plates, which allow you to create your own meal from a base, protein, and toppings. This stylish sliver of a restaurant is perfect choice for a pre-show bite.
200 Columbus Avenue at 69th Street
It may be a bit of a tourist trap, but what kid will pass up the chance to lick the pastel frosting off of one of these deservedly famous confections? For a more grown-up bite, indulge in the equally celebrated banana pudding.
167 West 74th Street at Amsterdam Avenue
This subterranean bakery's signature gigantic, brownie-like chocolate-chip walnut cookies may be the most decadent in the city (note: there is no nut-free version).
Visit our NYC Kid-Friendly Restaurant Guide for more dining options throughout the city.
By Meryl D. Pearlstein, author Fodor’s Family: New York City with Kids, Travel and Food Notes (contributor)
Originally published on December 16, 2009