Digging for nuggets of goodness at the Taste of Times Square

Every neighborhood in NYC seems to have a “Taste of” festival these days.  My favorite by far is the one in Chinatown which manages the perfect combination of price and variety.  Every dish is $1 or $2, allowing you to eat whatever you want without remorse.  It may not be a good indication of how good or bad a place is, but for $2, it’s not much of an investment.  If what you buy sucks, you don’t feel too bad- it only cost a couple of bucks.

It’s not a big surprise that the Chinatown one is cheap.  Chinatown is a cheap neighborhood.  In fact, I wonder if all the “Taste of” festivals fall into their neighborhoods respective stereotypes.  Do they make you feel un-cool at the “Taste of the Lower East Side?”  Maybe they only serve the beautiful people at the “Taste of the Meatpacking District” festival.  “Taste of Times Square” certainly lives up to its stereotype.  Super packed, full of tourists, really annoying and pretty overpriced.  Oh, and the food consisted of 5 places serving Ribs, and 284 places serving their version of pasta with red sauce.  Good times!

However, yesterdays Taste of Times Square was entertaining- and there were a few things worth mentioning.  Not much that would qualify as a Midtown Lunch, but entertaining nonetheless.  You had to buy tickets beforehand (a huge inconvenience), so I allotted myself 10 tickets ($10).  With most items costing between 3 and 5 tickets, you had to be pretty good about budgeting.

Coolest Part of the Festival: Utsav, the Indian place on 46 btw. 6+7th was actually cooking Naan right on the street in a giant clay pot. 

Pretty awesome.  Yesterday, a commenter mentioned you can get lunch there to-go for $8.  I think I might have to try that one of these days…

Biggest Rip-Off: Papa John’s Pizza.  One Slice – $3.  Are you kidding me?  You people must be high. 

The “Hey Look at Us!  We’re really a classy joint, despite our waitresses being in Bikinis” dish:  Pepper Seared Beef Carpaccio on Himalayan Rock Salt w/ Arugula Salad.  Didn’t I see David Burke use that rock salt on the Iron Chef?  Definitely my favorite use of Himalayan Rock Salt at any of the booths.  Although- I’m no expert, but doesn’t the food actually have to be touching the salt for it to impart any flavor?


Best Job of Admitting Your Food is Overpriced Halfway Through the Festival:  I guess Spotlight Live wasn’t selling many Tuna Tacos w/ Asian Slaw at $5 a pop.  A little impromptu price lowering may have helped.  The guy in the booth assured me that they “tasted better than they look”.  Way to sell the food buddy…

Dish That Almost Had Me Eating Food From a Restaurant I Would Never Eat At:  The Hush Puppies from Bubba Gump.  Those things looked pretty damn good… and at $2, they were a relative bargain.  Luckily I exercised self restraint, and my streak is still intact of never eating at any chain restaurants taken from over-rated 90s movies!


The most inexplicable line award:  The giant line at the Applebee’s booth.  Are you kidding me? 

Penne with red sauce #34 out of 485.  Rigatoni & Ziti were also an acceptable substitute.  Nothing says Restaurant Row like boring Italian food.

Biggest disappointment of the Day:  Speaking of boring Italian food, what was up with the Becco Booth.  Pasta with Red Sauce served by a guy wearing a “How Do You Like Your Sausage T-Shirt”.  I expected a little more from Lidia Bastianich.

Now… onto the food I ate- all of which happened to be good!  Pics and more, after the jump.

There were a lot of Ribs to Choose from:


House of Blues


I ended up going to Virgil’s, which is the only BBQ place in Midtown that I’ve actually heard people say decent things about. 


It was no substitute for the Big Apple BBQ Festival, but the ribs were super tender, the rub was good enough.  For a little sweetness they had the Virgil’s sauce on the side, which tasted perfectly good if you are not some sort of BBQ snob.  All in all a good choice…

Best Deal of the Day:  The Scottish restaurant St. Andrews (44th btw. B’way & 6th) was serving a Jonah Crab Cake sandwich with Cole Slaw & Tartar Sauce.  When they ran out of slaw and bread, they dropped the price from $4 to $2.  Last time I checked, nobody was paying for the slaw and bread.  $2 crabcake?  I’m in!

Really delicious… and easily the best deal of the day.  The restaurant is a little too expensive for Midtown Lunch purposes, but maybe it’s something to keep in mind when you are looking for a splurge after work.

Finally dessert…  I went with the $2 Bread Pudding from Le Rivage, a little french restaurant on Restaurant Row (46th btw. 8+9th).  You may say the secret ingredient was Creme Englaise!  Delicious…

All in all a pretty mediocre food festival, but it did make me interested in eating at a few places in the area.  Virgil’s & Utsav are definitely now on my list, and next time all the folks at work suggest going to O’Luney’s, maybe I’ll try to get them to go to St. Andrews instead!  Oh and if I’m ever in the mood for some bread pudding after a Broadway show, I know where to go.

The one thing you can say is, it was a perfect “Taste” of Times Square.  Crowded, annoying, full of tourists and serving mostly overpriced, mediocre crap.  But a few nuggets of goodness are there if you were willing to dig…


  • Speaking of Virgil and onion rings — they have really good ones so if you go try them!

  • Virgils? I don’t think they qualify for midtown lunch – you won’t be able to get anything you’d want for $10. Their BBQ sandwiches start at $1075.

    I really like their BBQ nachos – chips with BBQ meats on them topped with melted cheese…yum. That’s only $9.50 (technically it’s an appetizer).

    I also really like the BBQ salad – some lettuce & tomato, maybe some cucumber, topped with chicken, pork, brisket. It’s the most humorous salad I’ve ever encountered.

  • That’s a sexy crab cake. And only 2 bucks?!

  • St. Andrews is very good. I have had their haggis appetizer- which basically seemed like ground beef(?) layered between mashed potatos with lots of gravy- very tasty-just not as gross as I was hoping for, and their ceaser salad with shrimp, which was also very good, with a nice amount of freshly cooked shrimp. Their bread is amazing.
    I love Utsav, but I thought their lunch buffet was $14.


    The Utsav Buffet is over $10, but apparently they have take out lunch specials for $8.  More on this soon… -zach

  • Aw, man, that crabcake alone makes the whole thing seem worth it. Next year I’m going, despite the tourists and Papa John’s crackhead special.

  • I can vouch for the Utsav “mini buffet” lunch special. Good stuff. Just walk into the bar and the bartender will serve it up for you. Its 8 bucks and change (tho it’ll total 10 bucks if you feel inclined to tip), and comes with naan and a little cup of lentil soup.

  • Virgil’s has a brisket melt sandwich that is DAMN good, but what really rocks is their lamb. Ribs etc. are not really worth it, and the brisket is too lean to be eaten any other way that with melted cheese and fried onions on top.

  • I got a brisket sandwich from Hard Rock, and pork ribs from Spanky’s–YUM! Tonic ran out of their pulled pork sandwiches and kobe beef quesadillas, but I got a tasty s’more. Best deal was Social’s sliders, 2 for $2.

    hope you picked up a bonus 3 tickets with your Times Square Alliance card, for being a resident in hell’s kitchen

  • I tried the $4 Tuna Taco’s. They were delicious and I would recommend them.

  • Can someone (anyone) tell me when the TASTE OF CHINATOWN happens! I am so up for that! Thanks! PS: thanks for the pics and commentary! I am a NYorker and never knew that every neighborhood has its own “taste”–any in Brooklyn?

  • Hey, Zach. You missed a treat at Becco by pooh-poohing what appeared to be generic pasta with red sauce. I, too, bypassed all the others, but that one looked worth the two bucks. And it was.

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