New York City is home to countless restaurants, including many iconic and popular spots. Finding the best restaurants with kids in NYC can be a challenge – it’s hard to know what is a tourist trap and what is a legitimate must-visit. On a recent family vacation to New York City, I asked for suggestions for Times Square restaurants, and overwhelmingly, two spots were recommended – Junior’s Cheesecake and Ellen’s Stardust Diner.
Since we were there for several days, I was able to visit both of them. In subsequent NYC trips, we have returned to both restaurants multiple times. My kids especially loved Ellen’s Stardust Diner and they even asked to return more times during our trip.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing and/or clicking on some of the links in this post may result in a commission paid to us at no additional cost to you. All opinions are my own.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner
As I led my kids to the long line snaking around the exterior of Ellen’s Stardust Diner, they wondered why we couldn’t just head to the nearby Olive Garden. They really weren’t interested in waiting in line, because they didn’t know what was waiting for them on the inside. The wait is definitely worth it though, because Ellen’s Stardust Diner is such a unique experience.
Although the standard diner fare food isn’t really anything special, the atmosphere and entertainment absolutely are. It’s a must-do in Times Square, whether or not you are traveling with kids.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner doesn’t take reservations (except for large parties of 25 or more), so you’ll need to get in line and wait for a table. We arrived well before noon on a weekday during our visit, and still waited in a long line. I recommend going for lunch on days when the Broadway musicals do not have matinee performances.
Lunch lines are typically longer before matinees (which is when we had unfortunately gone). Luckily for us, the weather wasn’t bad, and the long line we waited in moved quickly, and we were seated after maybe 15 or 20 minutes. In subsequent visits, we arrived at an off-peak time on a non-matinee day and walked right in.
At Ellen’s Stardust Diner, servers double as the entertainment, but these are no amateurs. The performers are aspiring Broadway performers, as well as veteran Broadway performers between shows. In regular intervals, servers are called to perform popular numbers.
Music varies from Broadway tunes to popular music, and the servers walk around the diner as they perform. My kids always love all of the entertainment but especially enjoy seeing our server perform.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner has a 50s themed diner decor, with two levels. The waiters perform on both levels, and since the top level looks down into the center of the main level, you don’t miss much by sitting upstairs. Tables are rather close together, which is standard for New York City restaurants.
Food at Ellen’s Stardust Diner is pretty typical diner food, but a bit more expensive. You’ll find burgers, blue plate specials (including meatloaf and chicken pot pie), and sandwiches on the Ellen’s Stardust Diner menu. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and are open every day from 7am to midnight.
During our visit, I had a burger, and while it was definitely good, I wouldn’t go there specifically for the food. The draw to this restaurant truly is the singing. During the performances, they do pass around a bucket for additional tips, which are split between the performers to use for additional acting, dance, and voice classes.
My kids, especially my musical-theater loving daughter, couldn’t get enough of the entertainment at Ellen’s Stardust Diner. They didn’t want to leave, even when we’d finished eating, and they asked to return several times during our trip. We’ll definitely make sure that it’s a stop on any of our New York City vacations.
To minimize your wait time, it’s a good idea to arrive at an “off” time. Right at peak breakfast, lunch, or dinner times is likely to be more busy. You’ll also want to avoid matinee days if you are planning on having lunch at Ellen’s Stardust Diner.
During our trip, despite my kids begging to return to Ellen’s, we tried a different restaurant – Junior’s Cheesecake. There are several NYC locations of Junior’s Cheesecake – the original in Brooklyn, one in Grand Central Station, and the location we visited in Times Square. It’s tucked into a hidden alleyway – I had to ask for directions as we walked because I initially missed it.
Arrive early, because like other popular restaurants in Times Square, it does get crowded. Since Junior’s also serves breakfast, you do need to time things correctly if you want lunch. We arrived just as they were switching their menu from breakfast to lunch, and had to wait a few minutes to be seated for lunch.
Junior’s does use a waitlist system through Yelp. You can add your name to the waitlist before you arrive. We did this for a weekend visit around Christmas, and found it to be really efficient.
Junior’s offers a full bar, children’s menu, diner menu, and fabulous dessert menu, including that world-famous cheesecake. My kids and I loved the food, and the cheesecake is definitely a must-have. My son ordered a chocolate cake, and it was HUGE.
Definitely bring your appetite, or consider sharing your dessert. Even for breakfast, the entrees were big! Junior’s also has a to-go kiosk, as well as a bakery.
If you are looking for places to stay in Times Square, check out these hotels that get great TripAdvisor reviews:
While you are in Times Square, consider seeing a Broadway show with your kids.