For more than a decade, I worked across the street from Rockefeller Center and found the food choices downright depressing at first glance. Whether you're there over the holidays to see the tree, or enjoying one of the other fun experiences in the action-packed complex, you'll need to eat eventually, and there are some good options if you know where to look.
Here are my top picks for kid-friendly places to eat near Rockefeller Center.
Ellen's Stardust Diner
1650 Broadway at 51st Street
Ellen's Stardust might be my top recommendation for its combination of decent food and fun "theme" atmosphere without a ridiculous price tag. The food is typical diner fare, and although the prices are about twice what you'll pay at your local diner, the retro theme takes Ellen's to the next level. The outside of the diner looks like an old railroad car even though it's built into the side of an office building and the retro diner theme continues inside. Linger for a while and the waiters will break out into song, singing old '50s rock tunes, standing on empty tables and putting on a fun show, making this Midtown spot a memorable stop for families.
20 East 49th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues
For a classic diner experience without the bells and whistles, my midtown pick is Burger Heaven. There's no separate children's menu but it offers plenty of kid-friendly options at reasonable prices. There are multiple locations; you'll find the one closest to Rockefeller Center at 49th Street just east of Fifth Avenue.
251 West 51st Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
If you're in the mood for some classic pub food and a brew, head to this Midtown spot. The kids aren't left out either: McHale's offers a varied children's menu with classics like chicken fingers and grilled cheese or options that challenge their palettes such as shepherd's pie and fish & chips.
210 West 55th Street at Broadway
This local chain has several city locations. Fans flock to the spot for delectable pizzas and Italian specialties. Mouth-watering desserts finish the meal with a flourish. Serefina is open at 7am every day for breakfast and weekend brunches include a choice of bloody mary, mimosa or bellini.
135 West 50th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenue
877 Eighth Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Streets
What's more kid-friendly than an oozing, melting, grilled-cheese sandwich? This mini-chain has a pair of Midtown outposts and the fast-casual atmosphere makes for a quick bite to prevent a hangry meltdown—the kids will like it too! Side dishes include a variety of tater tots and you can wash it all down with a milkshake. The best part, though, the price point matches the casual food. A rarity in Midtown Manhattan!
American Girl Place
609 Fifth Avenue at 49th Street
If you want to go over the top for the girls, take them to the cafe at American Girl Place, which serves brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner with prices ranging from $20-$26 per person. As shticky things go, this one is actually well done. The food is good, service is attentive and the kids love it. Remember to bring along their dolls, who get special seating at your table. As an extra treat, some nice take-home goodies are also included. Meals are offered at specific seating times and reservations are recommended.
Rock Center Cafe
20 West 50th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues
If you're looking for something a little bit more "grown-up" but still family-friendly, you could try Rock Center Cafe, a stylish but casual restaurant serving contemporary American cuisine. Its children's menu includes favorites like chicken tenders and pasta. The best part of Rock Center Cafe is the view—it borders the ice skating rink, which will help keep little folks entertained while you eat.
Rockefeller Center Concourse
30 Rockefeller Plaza between Fifth and Sixth Avenues
For the same view on the cheap, head down to Rockefeller Center's concourse level where you'll find many casual, inexpensive options such as Hale and Hearty, Pret, 'wichcraft and more. Pick up your to-go items and sit at the tables near the glass looking out at the skating rink. Kids get a kick out of seeing the vast underground world of Rockefeller Center too.
And for dessert...
Momofuku Milk Bar
15 West 56th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues
The sister store to the famed Momofuku Restaurants shares fun confections with passersby. From cookies to truffles to soft serve and shakes, there are plenty of quick, portable bites to grab and go.
Jacques Torres Chocolate
30 Rockefeller Plaza
This sweet spot is hidden in Rockefeller Center's concourse, but you shouldn't have trouble find it if you just follow your nose, which will undoubtedly lead you to this chocolate-lovers paradise. It's one of our favorite hot chocolate spots but it also serves ice cream, plenty of melt-in-your-mouth truffles, and more.
Sprinkles Cupcake ATM
780 Lexington Avenue between 60th and 61st
This spot is admittedly a bit of a walk—but, hey, you could always hop on the F train—but it's worth it for a one-time adventure. The Cupcake ATM is just as it sounds: Swipe your card, choose your flavor and marvel as it's delivered by an automatic machine.
Find more family-friendly restaurant options in our Kid-Friendly Restaurant Guide.
This post was originally published in November 2009.