The West Village is quaint, Meatpacking is rowdy, and Hell’s Kitchen has a crazy name that we’ve heard so often it sounds normal. But more than any of those places, Chelsea feels like a real neighborhood. It’s downtown, but it doesn’t get too many tourists, and you really don’t see a lot of chain stores there. What you do see are a bunch of good neighborhood restaurants. And also places that sell adult videos. But this guide is about restaurants. Here’s where to eat.
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.
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.
The portions here are small, but it’s also tapas. So what do you expect? El Quinto Pino is a nice, cozy little Spanish place in Chelsea where you can have a few drinks and share a bunch of small plates 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.
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.
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 somewhat 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.)
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.
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.
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.
From the outside, Legend looks like the only Chinese place in that small town you ran away from. And the inside looks like the first restaurant you tried to impress a date with. But if you can get over the fact that the interior won’t Instagram well, you’ll find some very good Sichuan food. It’s also pretty inexpensive and good for groups.
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.
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.
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 get some royalties.
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 does 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.
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.
Are you in the mood for a messy pork sandwich? What sort of mood is that? Good? Bad? It doesn’t matter. Get a sandwich at Rocket Pig. They make some of the best in the city. There’s only one option, however, and it comes with smoked pork, onion jam, and mustard aioli. Take it to-go (there isn’t much space), and find a dark alley where you can eat it. Or go to one of the nearby parks.
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. Please do. We’d like to watch. 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.
If you want to have pizza for dinner and still feel like the sort of person who sends out really nice wedding invitations, go to Co. At night, the space is dimly lit and more adult-feeling than your average pizza place. They make some very solid pies, with toppings that range from veal meatballs to roasted cauliflower. This is a good semi-casual brunch/dinner option in the area, just be aware that they get busy.
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 2017, its owners can technically be prosecuted Salem-style. There’s also beer and wine. The next time you’re wandering around Chelsea in the AM, get breakfast here.