The Meatpacking District became a dining destination back in 1985, with the opening of hyperhot French-American eatery Florent on Gansevoort Street. Until then, coffee shops and diners catering to meatpackers and factory workers were the rule. Since then, of course, an array of fashionable and delectable restaurants have opened, making the small neighborhood one of the densest in terms of places for special-occasion and date-night dinners. Peruse the far-from-inclusive list below and you will see what we mean.
One Little West 12th Street (between Hudson Street and Ninth Avenue)
Bagatelle has a slightly decadent reputation. That is largely because late at night—and into Friday and Saturday morning—the ambience changes from that of sophisticated French Mediterranean restaurant to one more akin to buzzing Parisian nightclub. Then again, there is something a tad decadent about the menu too. Take the Grand Plateau Seafood Tower: 16 oysters, a whole lobster, a dozen mussels, a dozen shrimp, a half-pound king crab, tuna tartare, and salmon. Or the Pizza à la Truffe Noire, made with crème fraîche, smoked mozzarella, and black truffle oil. Or the grass-fed veal chop with a Parmesan crust, served with wild mushrooms and bacon macaroni-and-cheese. Or the caviar service, or the premium cognacs and whiskeys, or the cocktails bearing names such as Silver Bikini.
21 Ninth Avenue (between Little West 12th and West 13th Streets)
A seafood restaurant might seem like an anomaly in a neighborhood called the Meatpacking District. In fact, Catch’s menu does have a smattering of meat dishes—dry-aged Tomahawk steak, whole New Zealand rack of lamb—as well as vegan offerings such as a “crab cake” made from hearts of palm. But fish and shellfish are definitely the star attractions—well, that and in warm weather, the rooftop dining area, though the indoor seating makes up in conviviality what it lacks in skyline views. Starter options include a raw bar, sushi rolls, and a house ceviche with Alaskan king crab, Maine lobster, shrimp, and scallops cured with mango and blood-orange ponzu. Among other temptations are the cross-cultural Mahi-Mahi Wonton Tacos, grilled Spanish octopus, and scallop gnocchi. And we have not even gotten to the entrees: crispy whole snapper, grilled wild-caught Carolina swordfish, Cantonese lobsters… If you are wooing a pescatarian, this is the place to go.
420 West 13th Street (between Ninth Avenue and Washington Street)
Provence provides the inspiration for Fig & Olive’s menu and decor. Terracotta pots of herbs adorn the walls, and the interior is awash with sunny oranges and buttery yellows. The menu changes seasonally, though some items, such as the goat-cheese crostini with caramelized onions, the grass-fed filet mignon, and the truffle risotto with organic wild mushroom arancini and macerated truffle dressing, transcend the seasons. You will want to begin with an appetizer—or two. In addition to eight crostini options, the current menu includes octopus carpaccio with piquillo pepper puree, scallops served with caviar and a sunchoke puree, and prosciutto, mushroom, and artichoke croquettes. The paella with squid-ink rice, scallops, shrimp, clams, and chorizo, complemented by an artichoke-and-fennel salad with a saffron aioli, will transport your taste buds to the French Mediterranean. Just as you do not want to skip the starters, nor will you want to forgo dessert. Fair warning, though: It will not be easy choosing among the olive-oil cake, the apple tart with a cider glaze, and the Dessert “Crostini” (berries, prosecco syrup, and whipped mascarpone).
85 10th Avenue (at West 15th Street)
A foie gras slider at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Image: Craige Moore/Flickr
The prestigious Gault Millau named Joël Robuchon “chef of the century” in 1989, more than a decade before the century even ended—surely a sign of how confident it was that he would not be overshadowed. His 12 restaurants have a record 32 Michelin stars among them. Far from feeling stuffy and formal, his Meatpacking District eatery has an almost casual vibe, with an open kitchen, brick walls, and a towering ceiling. You have a choice of menus, some of which change seasonally. The spring “discovery menu” began with foie gras royale and ended with Le Chocolat Sensation; in between were seven other dishes including sea bass in a fennel broth with sea urchins and grilled Wagyu. This was not to be confused with the four-course spring menu, from which you could choose the likes of roasted baby artichoke with a chickpea emulsion, spiced Long Island duck with turnips and rhubarb confit, and caramelized free-range quail. Also available: a six-course fixed-price vegetarian menu and an à la carte menu that included a beef and foie gras burger and spaghetti with Maine lobster. If all that is a bit too overwhelming, head to Le Grille area at the front of the restaurant, where you can choose from a more modest three-course prix fixe menu.
56 Ninth Avenue (between West 14th and West 15th Streets)
This old-school steakhouse dates back to the mid-19th century, when the abattoirs and meatpacking businesses were just beginning to take up residence. In some ways the restaurant appears remarkably unchanged, given how the neighborhood has changed. The oversize cow hanging above the front door, for instance, now looks out of place among the sleek, shiny facades of the newer restaurants. And the dinner menu is still heavy on steaks and chops, with your choice of the classic béarnaise, au poivre, and horseradish sauces, along with a raw bar and other standbys such as lobster tail and iceberg-lettuce salad. But in other ways the Old Homestead has kept up with the times, with offerings such as a Kobe burger with chipotle ketchup, tuna sashimi, and truffle lobster mac-and-cheese. In fact, in at least one way the eatery was way ahead of the curve: It prides itself on having been the first American restaurant to serve Japanese Wagyu steak, the ne plus ultra of beef.
26 Little West 12th Street (between Ninth Avenue and Washington Street)
STK Downtown is the modern, glossy counterpart to Old Homestead. It too is primarily a steakhouse, offering dry-aged Delmonico, sirloin, Tomahawk, and the like with a choice of eight sauces (including chimichurri and two proprietary blends) and toppings such as Alaskan king crab, Maine lobster, and truffle butter. But the ambience is more nightclub than men’s club, there’s rooftop seating, and the menu also includes the likes of grilled-watermelon salad, foraged seasonal mushrooms, and roasted Amish chicken served with corn puree, rainbow carrots, and Swiss chard. Among the house cocktails are Not Your Daddy’s Manhattan (Bulleit bourbon, zinfandel port, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and bitters), Cucumber Stiletto, and Green Intensity. Or you could start your meal with a Strawberry Cobbler cocktail and end it with STK’s take on strawberries and cream—white chocolate crémeux paired with strawberry sorbet.
820 Washington Street (between Gansevoort and Little West 12th Streets)
When your schedule does not allow for jetting off to the Italian seaside, dinner at Santini is a worthy substitute. In clement weather you can sit outdoors, but thanks to the numerous plants and potted trees that grace the glass-enclosed dining room, even while you are inside you will feel as if you are dining alfresco. The gluten-free menu is an homage to Italian Mediterranean cuisine. Start with Italian chickpea pancakes accompanied by either spicy tuna tartare or avocado with tomato and almond pesto; artichokes served with grapes, cardoon, and hazelnut; or house anchovies. For mains your choices include spicy lobster arrabbiata, spaghetti with blue crabs, grilled branzino embellished with grapefruit giardinia, and eggplant parmigiani. Cocktails are similarly sun-kissed: The Amalfi Gold, for instance, mixes bourbon with orange, ginger, and peach, while the View from Positano infuses gin with black pepper and strawberry.
848 Washington Street (at West 13th Street)
The Standard Grill. Image: Mike Capson/Flickr
Located in the hip Standard, High Line hotel, this eatery encompasses a bar, a bistro, and a more-formal dining room, where the cuisine is a New American take on the classic steakhouse. You can indulge in dry-aged rib-eye, spice-rubbed pork chops, and New York strip or choose lighter entrees such as roasted eggplant with spicy carrots, hand-rolled garganelli with a short-rib ragù, and Atlantic salmon with cucumber yogurt and red quinoa. If you want to start with something other than traditional raw bar, consider the Burgundy snails served with Parker House rolls, a baby-artichoke salad, or corn soup with smoked paprika oil and crème fraîche. End things on a sweet note with a sophisticated take on the favorite of every former English schoolchild, banoffee pie, or a sour-cream cheesecake topped with spicy pineapple marmalade.
92 Ninth Avenue (at West 16th Street)
Tao Downtown Street Entry. Image: Warren Jagger – TAOdowntown.com
This 400-seat restaurant below the Maritime Hotel is designed to impress. A 40-foot staircase leads down to the dining area, where an oversize Quan Yin rests atop a koi pond, overseeing the proceedings. In addition to the main dining room, there are more-intimate upper-level sections, a sushi bar, and a lounge replete with a giant lounging Buddha. The pan-Asian menu is suitably large. In addition to traditional dim sum such as pork pot stickers and bao buns, you can choose from appetizers including shishito peppers, tuna poke, and soy chicken. Yakitori, or grilled skewers, include asparagus, shiitake mushroom, and Wagyu beef. A half-dozen tempura options are available, as are pad thai, vegetable udon, and barbecue duck fried rice. And there is more: Malaysian coconut shrimp; miso-roasted black cod; lobster with mushrooms, cauliflower, and sweet-and-sour sauce; Wagyu rib-eye teppanyaki; Peking duck; sushi with an omakase, or “chef’s choice,” option. The extensive sake menu is organized by category: earth, tranquil, spirit, and specialty; there is an equally impressive menu of red, white, and sparkling wines as well. And if you have ever hankered for lemongrass crème brulée, you will find it here.
421 West 13th Street (between Ninth Avenue and Washington Street)
Northern Italian cuisine might not be as fashionable as its Mediterranean counterpart, but Valbella is proof that it should be. This restaurant will delight anyone who ever drooled over a Marcella Hazan cookbook. The appetizers truly are appetizing: polenta soufflé with Gorgonzola cheese served with Italian sausage, porcini, and tomato ragù; grilled calamari and zucchini; sea scallops and shrimps with asparagus in a black truffle lobster bisque. Equally enticing are the pastas, which include ricotta-cheese gnocchi in a filet-mignon ragù, cavatelli with broccoli rabe, and shrimp-topped ravioli stuffed with lobster and crab. The mains include the tried-and-true such as Black Angus steak, baby rack of lamb, and chicken diavolo, which show that classic dishes are classics for a reason.