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Chelsea Restaurant Switch-Ups Point Toward the Future of Neighborhood Dining

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Vegan Paradise, Mexicue, Fatbird, and more

The interior of Vita — Vegan Paradise in Chelsea

In the West Village, when restaurants go out of business, the storefronts often remain empty for years. But in adjacent Chelsea, an empty storefront is often filled with another restaurant within weeks or months — perhaps because rents are more competitive or the restaurant scene encourages experimentation.

On a recent afternoon I passed three restaurants in prime areas that were transitioning from one identity to another, and the new places seemed emblematic of where the restaurant industry might be headed in town as a whole.

From meaty French fare to “vegan paradise” — For three years Montmartre flourished at 158 Eighth Ave., an updated French bistro via Gabe Stulman and chef Michael Toscano that tinkered with its menu, though still serving classic pate de Campagne, escargot, and steak frites. Its replacement Vita — which means “life,” but can also refer to a resume — describes itself as a “vegan paradise,” and proclaims “happiness is health.” The menu now includes beet gnocchi and cauliflower coconut soup. Principle: Restaurants specializing in salads and other vegetarian and vegan fare are becoming increasingly common in many neighborhoods as diners become more health conscious.

From German beer bistro to Mexican fast-casual chain — Further uptown at 160 Eighth Ave., this corner storefront has been a revolving door for restaurants, including Viceroy (a French bistro), Pounds & Ounces (a boozy brunch spot), and, most recently, Studio Kraut, a name that many probably misread on the sign as “Stupid Kraut.” The menu was a lengthy morass of beer-battered pickles, pretzel sliders, lingonberry-cheesecake waffles, and braised pork shanks. It has yielded to another Mexicue, a local fast-casual chain specializing in tacos filled with barbecued meat. Principle: European fare is gradually giving way to that of other continents, as fast-casual chains dominate the dining landscape.

From fake diner with relatively expensive food to celebrity-chef fried chicken — Despite changes in the restaurant industry emphasizing healthiness, certain transgressive dishes continue to flourish, foremost among them fried chicken, which took off in a big way a decade ago in Williamsburg, and hasn’t stopped flying since. While The Diner at 44 Ninth Ave. resembled a diner, serving mediocre cooking-school fare at elevated prices to MePa tourists, the new place, predictably, will be selling those same customers fried chicken. In charge of the kitchen at Fatbird will be Iron Chef Cat Cora, who’ll also be slinging catfish tacos and shrimp and grits. Principle: Some foods never go out of style, especially if you have someone who’s been on TV to deliver.

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