Should you find yourself at the Crossroads of the World and hungry, don't be alarmed if you find yourself feeling somewhat like a pilgrim in an unholy land. The best restaurants in Times Square are, generally speaking, not in Times Square at all, but very far away from it. (Okay, this is New York – we're talking at least half a block!)
Know that you're not alone. While Times Square may be tourist central, hundreds of thousands of real, live New Yorkers work (and sometimes even live!) in the towers rising above one of the world's most recognizable manmade canyons. Hey – we've got to eat, too.
So, take it from a veteran – here are a dozen very good, rather affordable, sometimes even authentically-New York restaurants within a block or so of the Naked Cowboy and his ever-growing army of not-creepy-at-all pals.
1. Sake Bar Hagi (152 W. 49th St.)
A "secret" basement izakaya that's way more authentically Japanese than it needs to be in this location, ensures lengthy waits at peak hours. Luckily, they're open until 3:00am for your cheap meat skewer and beer needs. Bonus: Passable ramen for less than $10.
2. The Little Beet (135 W 50th St.)
Sip cold-pressed juices or build your own healthy meals from an assortment of grilled meats and inventive vegetable sides for as little as $10 at this life saver of a spot, handy to the Sheraton and other giant hotels. Don't miss the gluten-free chocolate chip cookies.
3. Margon (136 W 46th St.)
Step into this mostly-locals-only Caribbean luncheonette for a taste of Times Square, circa 1980; stick around for the roast chicken, beans and rice. Superfans of the TV show "30 Rock" will recognize Margon as home of the storefront church that NBC page Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer) once attended.
4. Num Pang (148 W 48th St.)
To ensure maximum happiness while waiting in the TKTS line, send one of your party around the corner to the Times Square location of this popular sandwich chainlet, known for getting risk-averse cubicle jockeys addicted to adventurous things like five-spice glazed pork belly with chili mayo, pickled carrots, cilantro and cucumber on a roll. None of their modern bánh mì are boring, nearly all are under $10. They've got rice bowls and salads, too.
5. Fika (114 W 41st St.)
A charming, Scandinavian café that started life in a smart little space near Central Park is now just steps off the southern end of Times Square. Civilized mornings begin here - not at Dunkin Donuts.
6. Kuri-Obi Ramen Dojo (700 8th Ave.)
The latest outing from Ippudo, one of New York's most revered Japanese joints, this quick-service (with take-out!) spot with a short but potent menu is found inside the promising new City Market food hall project, located at the Row Hotel.
7. Minar (138 W 46th St.)
Don't come in here expecting a five-star Indian meal – do expect simple, affordable Northern and Southern staples. You order off a line, nobody is very patient or friendly, you fight your way to a table, you eat and get out – for about $10 a head. If you're looking for an authentic New York dining experience, well, here you go.
8. X'ian Famous (24 W 45th St.)
Once you taste the hand-pulled lamb noodles this place is famous for, you'll be glad you walked a block and a half. Still very nearly as good as they were in the beginning, back when you had to ride the 7 train all the way to Flushing, Queens, this is one of Midtown's better cheap meals.
9. Simon Sips (1185 Avenue of the Americas)
Breakfast like a New Yorker – leaning on a counter or walking down the street – with Stumptown Coffee, Russ & Daughters bagels and lox and other good things you won't find at Starbucks. The mid-block, well-hidden location of this bite-sized spot means no crowds.
10. Nuchas (Broadway & 43rd St.)
For all the sitting around that now happens in the largely-pedestrianized Times Square, it's surprising there isn't a full-blown food truck/kiosk village in the middle of it all. The question still remains: Why Argentine-style empanadas and not, oh, a million other things, but hey – they're here, they're tasty (if tiny) and at $3 for 8, you really can't fail.
11. Paris Baguette (567 7th Ave.)
A sparkling, three-story branch of one of Korea's favorite French bakery cafés has landed right at the square's southern gateway. Good for a quick eat-in or take-out breakfast, lunch or dinner – or simply a cappuccino break, all day, every day. Fun fact: There's a location in Paris now, near the Louvre. Wrap your head around that little tidbit.
12. Shake Shack (691 8th Ave.)
The answer is Shake Shack. What was the question? Probably something about burgers. Or delicious cheese fries. Or was it frozen custard, better than you'll find in many a Midwest town? Anyone in the mood for any of the above would be insane to not walk one block west and get in line. Best order: Shack Stack or Smoke Shack, cheese fries, custard flavor of the day, a beer. You're welcome.