Chelsea stretches from the Meatpacking District to Herald Square, and it’s objectively better than either of those neighborhoods. In part, this is because it doesn’t have as many tourist or bachelorette parties - but we also like the restaurants over here. Chelsea has great tacos, Italian food, sushi, and (for some reason) a high concentration of very good tapas spots. Use this guide to find all those things and more.
Get tacos here already. If you like tacos, and you haven’t had these tacos, you should eat these tacos. Tacos. Eat theirs. This is a stand in Chelsea Market that tends to be busy, because a lot of people have heard that they might be the best tacos in the city. Maybe they heard it from us.
This is the Mexican seafood spot from the people who brought you Los Tacos No. 1, and they might have the best fish taco in the city. If you need a good, quick, super affordable meal, come here. It’s also extremely casual, which means that your pants need not have seams.
Life is a popularity contest, and this place wins. It’s a neighborhood staple that’s good for a lot of situations. Dinner with parents, lunch with your boss, brunch with friends - you can do all of that here. Service is also pretty friendly, the space is nice (but casual), and there’s even a patio for those two weeks in May and September when being outside isn’t the worst.
Motel Morris is a great-looking space with dark blue walls, fancy light fixtures, and velvet banquettes along the wall. It also has a 1960s-motel theme that you might not notice until walk into the pastel-pink bathrooms with vintage phones on the walls. The food is a mix of healthy and less-healthy stuff, which means that you can have a burger and steak tartare or something like a whole trout over a pile of broccoli rabe.
Chelsea Market is a better lunch option than most food halls, and Miznon is one of the best (and newest) spots inside of it. It’s a small chain that originated in Tel Aviv and now has locations in cities like Paris and Vienna, and they specialize in very good pitas filled with steak, lamb, and ratatouille. You can also get other things like a whole roasted head of cauliflower, which comes out slightly charred and covered in olive oil. This spot is counter-service, but there are a few tables and bar seats where you can hang out and eat.
This is your high-end sushi option in Chelsea, and if you have the money it’s worth it. (It isn’t Masa-expensive, but it’s more than you want to spend on a weeknight.) That said, this place might be controversial because many of the pieces come with little additions like broiled tomato or tofu cream. We’re very into it, but purists might not be.
Sushi Seki will ruin your life if you go there too often. You’ll be living out of a cardboard box, shaving in Seki’s bathroom while your friends leave voicemails begging you to stop spending all your money on quality raw fish. And that’s why Momoya should be your neighborhood go-to. Considering both price and quality, it’s the best sushi option in Chelsea.
El Quinto Pino is a nice, cozy little Spanish place in Chelsea where you can have a few drinks and share a bunch of tapas with friends. Their best-known dish is an uni panini, and if you just salivated, go ahead and get it.
This is another tapas place from the same people who own El Quinto Pino. The difference is, this one’s Basque, and that means there’s a lot of seafood. But there’s also a lot of meat, and there’s even a section of the menu devoted to vegetables. So pretty much everyone can eat here. Bring a date. It’s that kind of place.
People like to eat affordable seafood in bright spaces with high ceilings and vaguely beachy color schemes. We know this, because Seamore’s keeps opening new locations. The one in Chelsea is pretty much the same as the original in Nolita. They have fish tacos, a few different sandwiches, and they do the same fish-plus-two-sides combination (which is especially good for anyone trying to be a little healthy). Come for lunch. Or meet a friend here for a weeknight dinner.
Ants make ant hills, and Australians open coffee shops. That’s just the way the world works. Citizens of Chelsea is yet another Australian-owned coffee shop, and like every other one before it, it’s really nice inside. They also have avocado toast. Come here, get a salad, and hang out with your laptop for an hour or two. Your server will be suspiciously friendly.
If you’re in Chelsea and looking for a place to get brunch with a few people you haven’t seen in a while, try Empire Diner. Or stop by for dinner with your parents when they tell you last minute that they’re coming into town and want to eat some food in your presence. This place isn’t actually a diner - it’s just a good-looking restaurant inside a fancy remodeled dining car where you can sit in a booth and eat a burger or some roasted chicken.
Westville is, and will probably always be, a situational MVP. Come for a healthy lunch if you work in the area, brunch with a friend, a solo weeknight hotdog. We could keep going. But we won’t, because you’ve definitely already been to one of their locations.
We swear this isn’t a tapas guide, there just happens to be a lot of it in Chelsea. Tia Pol, like Txikito and El Quinto Pino, does Spanish small plates. But this place is smaller and a little more quaint than the others. People seem to be into that, because it gets pretty busy. Call to make a reservation or prepare for a wait.
Also in Chelsea Market, also excellent: Dizengoff. This spot is run by the same guy who operates one of the best Israeli restaurants in the country (called Zahav in Philadelphia). Which is to say, the hummus here is incredible. You’ll order a bowl of it covered with the toppings of your choice (plus fluffy pita), and you might even be able to delude yourself into thinking it’s healthy food.
Crispo keeps a low profile. It isn’t flashy or stylish, and you’d never guess they have a garden in back. But they do, and it’s a good place to eat pasta. The food is consistently solid, and the prices are reasonable. You could do a weeknight dinner here, or you could come on a weekend if you’re trying to avoid the sort of people who eat minimal amounts of food so they can get drunk faster on a rooftop in the MPD. (Solid plan, admittedly.)
This is our favorite location of The Meatball Shop because it has a cocktail bar downstairs called “Underballs.” The later it gets, the more this place starts feeling like a meatball-themed bar, but you can easily come for a quick meatball sub or a bowl of pesto balls when you’re not in the mood for something that you made in your apartment.
aRoqa is a modern Indian restaurant where your food might come in a basket on the back of a miniature tricycle. Or it might arrive on a little pushcart, and your server might then light it on fire. That’s only if you get the “chicken chops” - and you should, because they’re actually really good. The menu here is made up of mostly small plates (like pork dumplings, goat kebabs, and stuffed flatbreads), and there are a few larger things to share with someone who will appreciate the atmosphere that feels like an upscale cocktail bar.
At Jun-Men, you can get some traditional ramen or you can eat a dish that amounts to an uni carbonara. It’s a brothless bowl of noodles with sea urchin, pancetta, parmesan, and truffle oil - and it’s for people who would put uni in their cereal if the world would let them. We’re partial to the pork-bone ramen, and we wouldn’t not eat their fried chicken or BBQ pork buns. For a quick, casual meal in Chelsea, this is an excellent option.
If you’re celebrating a special occasion in Chelsea, this is where you should do it. But first you need to come to terms with the fact that you’re going to spend money. This is Italian fine dining, and dinner starts at $149 (for five courses). This does not include wine. But go ahead and smash your piggy bank. Better yet, smash your daughter’s piggy bank, record her reaction, and hope it gets enough views on Youtube that you receive some royalties.
Ovest is a neighborhood pizza spot on 27th street right by the High Line. This is the restaurant equivalent of a person who comes off as quiet and wholesome, but turns out to be a little wild. There are candles, wood paneling, and a brick oven you can see from the dining room - but the ABBA pandora station plays loudly while groups of friends drink like they’re not planning on going to work tomorrow. This is one the best options in the neighborhood for Neapolitan pizza - just know that it’s probably not the place to bring someone for a quiet dinner where you talk about how much you like each other.
Pastai is Chelsea’s resident charming Italian place. The food tastes good, they make their own pasta, and you could easily bring a date or a small group here. They can also make any of their dishes with homemade gluten-free pasta so you won’t have to feel bad for eating the short rib lasagna in front of your high-maintenance friend. In terms of the space, there’s both bar seating and an old-school-looking dining room with black and white portraits of people you can pretend are part of your family.
Come here when you’re trying to eat healthy, but you also want your dinner to be plated like there might be foie gras in the mix. There won’t be, but there might be some sunchokes or watercress. Although admittedly, this place is better than we just made it sound. Rouge Tomate does good, healthy-ish food that’s both a little fancy and fairly pricey. If your detoxing aunt is buying dinner, bring her here.
You don’t hear about Rocking Horse Cafe too often, which is weird because if you stop in on a Friday night, every seat will be filled. This place serves affordable Mexican food (beyond your basic burritos and enchiladas), and it’s the perfect example of a neighborhood restaurant. It’s lively, it has character, and it’s been open since the 80s.
Toro is a cafeteria-sized Spanish restaurant just above the Meatpacking District where you can begin your meal with a spoonful of uni and caviar. Incidentally, your internal reaction to that statement will tell you exactly what sort of person you are. Regardless of your personality type, however, you’ll enjoy a lot of the food here. Go for the simpler tapas and feel free to leave your striped button-down untucked.
Surely there are bread nerds out there. If you’re one of them, you can go to Sullivan Street Bakery and geek out over obscure loaves and pastries. This place does a bunch of very good baked goods as well as some sandwiches, salads, and breakfast items. There’s also a nice row of tables and a few incredibly impractical bookshelves. Stop by for a coffee and a quick bite.
The Commons Chelsea is a tiny coffee shop that has a few tables and somehow doesn’t feel claustrophobic. In addition to coffee, they do salads, sandwiches, breakfast items, and, of course, avocado toast. Because if a place doesn’t have avocado toast in 2018, its owners can technically be prosecuted Salem-style. There’s also beer and wine. The next time you’re wandering around Chelsea in the morning, get breakfast here.