Dining With the Stars

Four Theater District restaurants have served show-stopping meals for decades

Soho has the adventurous, Tribeca has the trendy and Upper East Side has the fanciful, but when it comes to longstanding tradition, the Theater District rules the Manhattan dining kingdom. With clienteles as famous as their dishes, these four restaurants are as much experiences themselves as the shows that neighbor them on Broadway.

Now well into its second century of business, Barbetta is the oldest Italian restaurant not only in the Theater District but also in Manhattan as a whole. Still owned by the original family, it showcases the cuisine of Piemonte with risottos, agnolottis and polentas garnished with all types of meat, poultry, fish and game. Also showcased is the interior design of an Italian villa with windows draped and chairs upholstered in luxurious fabrics, outdoor dining in the beautifully foliaged back garden and a chandelier in the main dining room once owned by the royal Savoy family. The extensive wine list offers beverages equally storied, as well. (46th St. nr. 9th Ave.)

Frankie & Johnnie’s Steakhouse first began as a speakeasy in 1926 and earned its name by confirming the password “Frankie” by whispering “Johnnie” back through the peephole. John Barrymore later came home to the townhouse above the restaurant, but now, most famous people come to sit at the tables rather than above them. USDA prime dry-aged meat comes in four cuts including a porterhouse for two, and side vegetables contain all the usual suspects (side potatoes, however, come prepared eight different ways). Other expected dishes such as salmon, sole and lamb chops are prepared too expertly to be written off as basics, and seafood cocktails to start are inordinately fresh. Nonetheless, the meat is the main attraction here, which some diners enjoy enough to order cuts to their homes, which the restaurant kindly ships via next-day air to qualm their cravings. (45th St. at 8th Ave.)

Only three chefs have ever had the honor of running the kitchen of Patsy’s, one of the city’s most famed Neapolitan Italian restaurants, in its 80 years of existence. Consistency here is unbeatable, as demonstrated by the fact that Frank Sinatra’s family still dines here – it was one of his favorite restaurants. Right around the corner from Carnegie Hall, its sizable neon sign beckons hungry theatergoers in to relax at a white tablecloth and be taken care of for an hour…or three – no rushes here. The menu is extensive and inclusive of every classic: Lobster Fra Diavolo, seafood-stuffed calamari, veal chops Siciliano, spaghetti and meatballs. Need a recommendation? Just ask Oprah Winfrey or Ben Stiller, who have been familiar with the menu for years. (236 56th St. nr. Broadway)

Synonymous with the city, Sardi’s in Times Square is the ultimate spot for the Broadway scene. Tony Awards shmoozes and show opening parties occur here, as do some of the best pre- and post-theater meals in the area. Cuisine spins typical American dishes into spectacular creations; fruitwood smoked salmon or parma prusciutto with melon are kind introductions to the restaurant’s classics: cannelloni au gratin and steak tartare being two. There’s also center cut pork chops, chicken in a curry sauce with jasmine rice and a 10-ounce sirloin. Walls are covered with caricatures of show-biz bigwigs, who still regularly return to the institution’s red banquettes and old wooden chairs to share some crab cakes or baked Alaska for two. (44th St. nr. 7th Ave.)