It’s still the best deal in the Theater District and that’s why it’s nearly impossible to snag a pre-show reservation after almost 20 years. But, if you’re looking for a steal, not to mention some really hearty pasta specials, try to book into Becco. Owned by Lidia Bastianach and her son, Joe, Becco is a treasured Broadway establishment that predates most of the Bastianach fame and fortune. Long before Lidia’s television shows and endorsement deals, long before Mario Batali made the duo his partners, there was 46th Street’s Becco.
For $17.95 at lunch and $22.95 at dinner, diners can sample three daily homemade pastas served by a troupe of roving waiters. Not only that, but this pasta special is of the all-you-can-eat variety (calling all marathoners…), trumping the city’s normally unbeatable deals found during Restaurant Week. Occupying a two-story brownstone on Restaurant Row’s 46th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues, seating is tight in the multi-roomed space, and the noise level is usually at a premium. Waiters, carrying oversized saucepans full of the piping hot pastas, contribute to the hectic atmosphere of the place, but it’s that controlled chaos, reminiscent of old-school Italian dinners at my grandmother’s house on Sundays, that makes Becco so successful.
Being a classic Italian restaurant situated in the heart of the tourist-driven Theater District, there’s a list of usual suspects on the menu—fried calamari, mozzarella in carrozza, osso buco, veal parmigiana—as well as a other preparations of thick steaks and chops, and lighter fish entrees. If you’re hankering for protein, go for it; but my advice is to stick with the unlimited portions of carbs.
First, choose a wine from the extensive $25 list. As suspected, bottles from the crowd-pleasing Bastianach grapes are offered on the white side, and if white is where you’re headed, try the Friuli region’s Adriatico Friulano. Reds? Opt for the medium-bodied Sicilian Nero d’Avola or the heavier Montepulciano. Next, decide whether you want a creamy Caesar salad full of big, crunchy croutons or a plate of mixed antipasto loaded with grilled vegetables. Then, wait. Your appetizer plates will be cleared and, shortly thereafter, the pasta parade will begin.
Over the course of years pre-theater dining at Becco, I’ve had oxtail ravioliin red wine reduction, mushroom ravioli in truffle cream sauce, and butternut squash ravioli in brown butter sauce, and all were worthy of a second serving. I’ve tasted sauces ranging from Bolognese to carbonara, arrabiata to amatriciana, and pesto to pomodoro. There have been plates of heavy gnocchi, as well gnocchi’s lighter cousin gnudi, and macaronis from orecchiette to fettucine, penne to spaghetti, and my absolute favorite, fusilli. My most recent visit featured twisted gemelli pasta with broccoli in a light garlic and oil sauce, with a hint of red pepper flakes. Full disclosure: I went back for thirds.
The next time you make a date with Broadway, be sure to schedule your pre-event feast at Becco. And if you’re feeling mildly guilty when you go into a tableside food coma, just set your alarm for a loop around Central Park the next morning. Your body will thank you two-fold.