Chelsea Market has an unfair reputation these days: Located in the swanky Meatpacking District (you know, near all those clubs you tried to get into in college) in Manhattan, the indoor food hall and shopping mall is maligned as a place only tourists go to eat. And yes, there are plenty of tourists milling around the brick-walled market. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t food at Chelsea Market that is well worth waiting in line for.
When I stopped by Chelsea Market recently, I discovered playful, well thought out, inventive takes on tacos, noodles, and Korean dishes, among other cuisines. Most of the dishes I tasted were fun to eat and downright delicious – almost nothing in the market felt particularly watered down, or as though it catered to people with bland tastes. Instead, I found a wide variety of meals, from the upscale and sophisticated to elevated takes on street food.
Chelsea Market isn’t huge. There are 40 places to eat and drink in the market, and while that sounds like a lot, you can stop for a small bite, snack, or a drink at most of those places and still have room for more by the time you move on. That means you could theoretically take a day trip to Chelsea Market for the food alone. Just be sure to come hungry and bring an extra tote bag so you can bring dinner and a few snacks home with you.
To start, walk to the end of Chelsea Market (if you’re entering at 75 Ninth Avenue, between 15th and 16th street), and pick up a coffee at Sarabeth’s to fuel up. Then, work your way toward the front, starting at Takumi Taco. On your way out, don’t forget to stop at Pearl River Market, an Asian-inspired shop, where you can find an eclectic mix of art supplies, clothes, and other gifts – I picked up a pack of anime cat stickers for myself and a Totoro plush for my daughter.
Where to eat in Chelsea Market
1. Takumi Taco
This fusion storefront blends Japanese flavors with tacos to great success. At Takumi Taco, Diners walk up to a small counter to order, and can either snack on their meal to-go or sit at the adjoining bar. Most of the tacos are housed in a crispy gyoza shell – a brilliant way to meld Japanese and Mexican snack food.
What to try: The spicy tuna taco is particularly popular, but I thought the Japanese curry beef taco was a perfect bite.
The Mŏkbar in Chelsea Market is one of three locations of the Korean restaurant from chef Esther Choi. Here you’ll find what is best described as a joyful take on Korean classic anju – shareable dishes usually enjoyed with beer: There’s a “K-pop” chicken and waffle dish, which is served inside a blue corn waffle cone; the “bibimboppers,” rice balls filled with mozzarella and vegetables; and the “K-town fries,” which are topped with gochujang and kimchi. All the food is to-go, which makes this a great place to stop on your way out the door because you’ll want to take the whole menu home with you.
What to try: The Korean fried chicken, and the hocake stuffed with pork belly – it’s simple but divine.
3. Los Tacos No. 1
Once you’ve sampled the fusion tacos at Takumi, hop over to Los Tacos No. 1, where you will find much more traditional tacos. The menu at this taco joint is sparse – you’ll find only quesadillas, mulas (cheese and toppings sandwiched between two tortillas), and tostadas in just four varities: nopal (cactus), carne asada, pollo asado, and adobada (marinated pork). This is no frills, and no eating at the bar, type of joint – just grab your tacos at the counter and keep it moving. Los Tacos No. 1 adheres to the tacos-as-street-food style of dining, which means you can take your tacos on a plate and eat while you peruse the rest of the market.
What to try: One of each type of taco.
4. Cull and Pistol
This sit down lunch spot is a divergence from the mostly eat on the go options in Chelsea Market, but once your feet get tired from traversing the hallways of the market, Cull and Pistol is where you should settle down. The small, but classy, space offers a menu full of seafood classics from a whole baked lobster to clam chowder, but where you’ll really want to focus your attention is the fresh oyster bar.
Next door is Cull and Pistol’s sister restaurant, The Lobster Place, where you can find more casual, hearty seafood, like a salmon burger, and a shrimp and fish fry. The lobster roll is especially popular. After eating, you can shop for fresh seafood to take home, like crab legs and swordfish steaks.
What to try: A dozen fresh oysters and a glass of crisp Prosecco.
5. Very Fresh Noodles
One of the most popular storefronts in Chelsea Market, Very Fresh Noodles has garnered a following for a reason. In fact, people even plan trips to the market just to eat here. The hype is deserved: The hand-pulled noodles here are the ideal texture – not soggy, but firm and elastic. The spices will burn your tongue in the best way; there is both fire and depth of flavor to be enjoyed here.
What to try: The La Mei Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup is popular, which features slow-braised beef shank in a beef and tomato broth, but I recommend the Very Spicy Pork Dan Dan Mian.
This plant-based and vegan bar highlights Mexican cuisine with dishes like pozole and tamales. Ingredients like cashew crema, chickpea “chorizo,” and oyster mushrooms replace meat and dairy. However, the real highlight at Pia is the selection of natural orange and pink wines which the bar charmingly refers to as “Crushable. Chuggable. Juicy AF.” Pia might sneakily become one of your favorite places to drink in Manhattan.
What to try: Mushroom tinga tostada (tinga verde smallhold oyster mushrooms and cashew crema), tamales de mole poblano (mole poblano and vertage cashew “mozzarella”), burrito ahogado (house chickpea chorizo and cashew crema).
7. Seed + Mill
The specialty at Seed + Mill is halva, a flakey, crispy cake made with tahini. The tahini soft serve is such a delectable mixture of nutty and savory, with just a hint of sweetness that is far from cloying. It’s one the best desserts in the market, by far. Bonus: It’s completely vegan.
What to try: Tahini soft serve, of course, and pick up a slice of spiced cardamom halva to take home.