American cuisine encompasses traditional steakhouse fare with its rich sauces and hearty portions, nouveau creations with an emphasis on unexpected pairings and fresh-from-the-farm ingredients, and regional specialties such as fried chicken and waffles. In Chelsea you will find restaurants that cater to aficionados of all of the above.
119 Seventh Avenue (between 17th and 18th Streets)
If the word “cafeteria” conjures up images of school lunches and mystery meat, Cafeteria the restaurant will be a welcome surprise. Open round-the-clock, this eatery puts a New American spin on comfort-food classics: lemon ricotta pancakes, avocado toast Benedict, mac-and-cheese with truffle oil, tomato basil soup served with a mini fontina grilled cheese, fried chicken with a cheddar Tabasco waffle and chili butter. And unlike your school cafeteria, here you can indulge in cocktails, wine, and beer.
156 10th Avenue (at 20th Street)
Brunch with a BLT Mary at Cookshop. Image: Bex Walton/Flickr
In the 1800s, cookshops served simple home-cooked meals to people who lived in tenement flats without proper kitchens. At Cookshop, the options are certainly more sophisticated than those dished up in the original cookshops, but they are by no means pretentious. The emphasis is on quality seasonal ingredients. Spit-roasted chicken from upstate’s Cascun Farm might be served with heirloom carrots, roasted Brussels sprouts, and a salsa verde; delicata squash might be stuffed with and accompanied by kale, spinach, pomegranates, and roasted maitake mushrooms. Weekend brunch comes highly recommended: Start with a Parmesan-thyme scone and a chia-seed pudding, follow that up with a fried-egg sandwich featuring house-made Italian sausage and aged cheddar served on a brioche bun with jalapeño-cabbage slaw, wash it down with a BLT Mary made with house-infused bacon vodka, and you might not have to eat for the rest of the day.
210 10th Avenue (at 22nd Street)
You have no doubt seen this iconic Art Moderne diner, built in 1946 by the Fodero Dining Car Company, in New York-based TV shows and films including “Law and Order” and “Manhattan.” But the menu of Empire Diner bears as much resemblance to that of a typical diner as the menu of Cafeteria does to a typical cafeteria. After several changes in ownership and even closures, the restaurant reopened in 2014 with a distinct New American flavor. Deviled eggs are accompanied by shallot crackling; pigs in a blanket are made with confit pork, honey mustard, and pickled cabbage. You can still order a burger or a pastrami sandwich, but you can also opt for the sourdough-pretzel fried chicken with house-made pickles or ricotta gnudi with truffle butter and broccolini pesto. One diner tradition is still intact here: desserts worth saving room for, such as vanilla-bean cheesecake with Meyer lemon marmalade, and apple pie served with cinnamon ice cream and salted caramel.
44 Ninth Avenue (at 14th Street)
A paean to Southern cuisine, Fatbird offers upscale interpretations of all the classics: biscuits served with honey butter, spicy sautéed shrimp and cheddar grits accompanied by bourbon-glazed mushrooms and applewood bacon, fried chicken with a mac-and-cheese waffle, and crab hush puppies with Creole tartar sauce and a jalapeño jam. The restaurant is proud enough of its biscuits to have created several desserts around them, including an incredible Foster biscuit with vanilla bourbon caramel sauce. Of course, as befits a Southern-style restaurant, there are plenty of other dessert options as well, such as lemon meringue pie. Cocktails—many of which are bourbon based, naturally—are served in mason jars, as is the de rigueur sweet tea.
233 Eighth Avenue (at 22nd Street)
Foragers began as a market specializing in locally sourced, exceptional-quality food. So it is no surprise that its restaurant hews to a farm-to-table sensibility, with a menu that changes according to seasonal availability. Regardless of the season, though, you are sure to find hearty, palate-pleasing dishes. Recent options included a vegetarian medley of toasted red quinoa, wild mushrooms, roasted squash and Brussels sprouts, green and yellow beans, and more farm-fresh goodness; Long Island duck breast with five-spice honey glaze, wild rice, roasted pears, acorn squash, and pomegranate sauce; and vegetable and chicken dumpling soup. End your meal with a selection of cheeses or a plate of cookies… or both.
132 Seventh Avenue (at 18th Street)
Motel Morris. Image: Elvert Barnes/Flickr
It would be easy to make a meal of just starters and side dishes at Motel Morris: crispy fried oysters with horseradish bacon butter, roasted butternut and arugula salad with curried chickpeas and candied pecans, pimento cheese deviled eggs, wild mushroom and fontina gratin. But you do not want to miss out on the entrees, including the daily specials (lobster pot pie, home-made chili mac-and-cheese). In addition to a wine menu, Motel Morris offers a selection of local beers, cider, and even prosecco and rosé on tap, along with intriguing house cocktails such as Can’t Help Fallin’, which teams Cardamaro and prosecco with allspice and maple.
56 Ninth Avenue (between 14th and 15th Streets)
This restaurant earned the “old” in its name; it has been delighting carnivores since 1868, making it one of the oldest restaurants not just in New York but in the country as well. While the giant cow looming over its exterior might call to mind a kitschy theme restaurant, the interior is decorated in timeless steakhouse style, from the wood-paneled walls and bar to the button-tufted leather banquettes. The menu reflects the classic, all-American steakhouse sensibility. Filet mignon, porterhouse, dry-aged rib steak, prime rib, and rack of lamb are complemented by lobster bisque, oysters Rockefeller, a raw bar, and traditional salads. Japanese Wagyu steak, Kobe burgers, and pan-seared New Zealand salmon served with bok choy are among the more-contemporary options.
126 West 18th Street (between Sixth and Seventh Avenues)
A medley of flavors and textures at Rouge Tomate Chelsea. Image: Jan Mark Holzer/Flickr
Sustainability and wellness are key components of Rouge Tomate Chelsea’s mission—but so is exceptional quality, as proven by the restaurant’s Michelin star. Seasonality influences the menu offerings, but recent options included pickled mackerel, apple celeriac soup, and roasted cauliflowers to start, with entrees such as seared scallops with a white-bean puree and free-range Green Circle chicken with roasted squash, barley, and maple miso. Indecisive diners can opt for a tasting menu with an optional beverage pairing.
156 Ninth Avenue (between 19th and 20th Streets)
No need to fly down to South Carolina for a taste of the Lowcountry; simply head to the Tipsy Parson for its build-a-biscuit brunch. Choose a type of biscuit, add a protein (spicy fried chicken, perhaps, or scrambled eggs), then top with a condiment or two. Other brunch options include the tried-and-true (chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits) and updated interpretations (poached eggs with pesto and seasonal vegetables, red-corn hush puppies). The lunch and dinner menus follow the same culinary aesthetic: barbecued ribs and cornbread, Duroc pork chop with apple-and-celery-root slaw and bourbon-maple jus, fried pickles, maple-glazed Brussels sprouts.
246 West 18th Street (between Seventh and Eighth Avenues)
Almond-crusted trout at Westville Chelsea. Image: Alex/Flickr
Westville is perhaps best known for its salads and vegetarian sides, but it is definitely possible to leave the restaurant satisfied without nibbling on a single morsel of produce. Then again, why would you want to, given that sides include snow peas with sesame and ginger, cauliflower with tahini, and plantains with Cotija cheese? Entrees are informal, running the gamut from burgers and hot dogs to New York strip steak and almond-crusted trout. All desserts are made in its bakery, just in case you needed an excuse to order the whoopee pie of the day.