Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ask the Internet: Food Shopping in NYC?

Today's question comes from reader Nicki O., who is moving to Manhattan in about two weeks. It's a tad Big Apple-centric, but there's a Green Kitchen coming later for all you non-New Yorkers out there.

Q: I'm about to leave my warm, wonderful little corner of San Diego, CA for my favorite city in the world: New York, NY! As a single female amateur cook/foodie, where does one go grocery shopping on the cheap and healthy in Manhattan? Do people buy items from various stores? Farmer's markets?

Source: everywhere
I am no stranger to Asian grocery stores, I love Trader Joe's and I tend to buy store-brand items (Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, big chain grocers like Ralph's in CA). I eat meat but also eat like a vegetarian 50% of the time to save costs. I bring my lunch to work every day and hope to continue that trend when I move instead of running the nearest delicious food cart...though that amount of food lasts me at least two meals. Any suggestions?

A: Great question, Nicki! These answers pertain to Manhattan only (but I could write a whole dissertation about Brooklyn). Hope they help:
  • There's a Trader Joe's and Whole Foods within a few blocks of each other in Union Square, right by the Farmer's Market. Both are insanely busy, but are pretty well stocked. Going at weird hours might help with the crowds problem.
  • For rock-bottom produce and seafood in Manhattan, Chinatown can't be beat. Actually, any ethic market will be a good deal, comparatively.
  • There's a market called Fairway which is pretty amazing. Prices are reasonable, selection is out of this world. Essex Market (sadly, now without Jeffrey the butcher) is a must-see. Chelsea Market is more of a specialty foods place, but definitely fun to walk through, especially if you're craving brownies.
  • Beyond that, the chains are: Foodtown, Gristedes, Key Food, Food Emporium, Associated, Dean & Deluca and D'Agostino. The quality varies wildly depending on the neighborhood, except for D&D, which is always pricey. (Incidentally, I've never found a cheap D'Ag, either).
  • There are independently-run supermarkets, grocery stores, markets, bodegas, and delis all over the place. If you find a good one, stick with it.
  • There's a short stretch on 9th Avenue between 38th and 42nd streets with cheap produce, fish, dried goods, and meats. Solid quality, with some great prices.
 And with that, NYC readers, I turn it over to you. Help a sister out!

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to Cheaphealthygood@gmail.com. Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.

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BCN said...

You forgot Fairway! They aren't always the best deal, but their produce is routinely the cheapest, and they have an organic/bulk/specialty section upstairs in the 74th street store. Also, Zabar's is worth a look, if only for their mammoth selection of smoked salmon/lox.

Brett said...

You could also join a CSA (community supported agriculture), where you pay at the start of the season to receive weekly or bi-weekly deliveries of veggies (or other food). This usually saves some money compared to buying at a farmers market every week. You can find lots of info at http://www.justfood.org/csaloc/manhattan.

Kristen » gezellig-girl.com said...

You definitely forgot Zabar's, which is a weird mix or crazy cheap and crazy expensive. Also, ANY of the other Trader Joe's besides Union Square are so much less crowded and more pleasant to be in. (The 72nd St one has the added bonus of being near a Gray's Papaya.) The same can be said for Whole Foods, really, although they're all usually at least a little packed.

Shopping in Manhattan is also just a lot of trial and error — eventually you get to know certain items are cheap in one place but not in another, or that the store with cheap staples has crappy produce, et cetera.

Oh, and don't forget FreshDirect. They're not always the cheapest, but they usually offer a sweet "welcome to the neighborhood" deal where you get $25 off your first order or two.

Jaime said...

I'm a big fan of Whole Foods. The store-brand products are great, and for health food/vegetarian stuff, they can't be beat. Even things like cottage cheese are cheapest there.

The farmers market situation in NYC is great, too. Some run year-round (including the glorious behemoth market in Union Square), and seasonal produce is usually cheaper and better than you'll find at a supermarket. There are pricey organic farmers there, but cheaper options, too.

And welcome!

Nordica said...

Gristedes and D'Agostino are way overpriced. If you live near a Western Beef, they have really great prices on a good selection of grocery/produce/meat. They have cheap rotisserie chickens, and if you go after about 6pm, they're reduced to $2.99.

frabjous said...

So much of shopping in Manhattan is about where in the city you are, where you work, what train station you are near. Get used to shopping more frequently for fewer items - but it also means that you can easily slip into a specialty store for a particularly nice ingredient!

Seconding FreshDirect as a lifesaver - get their weekly email, as some of the sales are totally worth it. Definitely also try the west 20s on 6th Ave, where there is also a much less hectic Whole Foods/TJs combo within a few blocks of each other.

Andrew said...

I'd second a FreshDirect order, especially when you immediately move in. Living in NYC, you're carrying all your groceries, so getting all the condiments, sauces, ingredients delivered to you is worth the hassle of lugging it back with you.

Otherwise, if you live on the Upper West Side...Fairway is awesome.

The Food Hunter said...

this is very informative.

change your life said...

Well, Some run year-round (including the glorious behemoth market in Union Square), and seasonal produce is usually cheaper and better than you'll find at a supermarket.

marnellicious said...

As folks have already mentioned, FreshDirect is a good way to go anywhere in Manhattan (even way way way uptown).

West Side Market isn't bad if you're nearby - not the cheapest but usually good produce and cheese.

Check the circulars for Met, Key Foods, Associated.

Rachel R said...

As many already said, you really learn from trial an error. Even the cheaper markets will randomly over charge on certain items and vise versa. I frequent the markets closer to my apartment, but also venture out during lunch or on my way home from work to take adavantage of deals at other stores.

I live near a Morton Williams and I usually view their circular online and then buy sale items, their prices are usually pretty reasonable. C Town and Met are also inexpensive market chains. I've found Gristedes to be overpiced, but sometimes they'll have items they're trying to unload for cheap. Target in Harlem also has reasonable food prices, but if you go on the weekends be preapred for a crowd.

As the weather gets warmer there will be more and more produce vendors on the street. You can bargain with them and if you hit them up at the end of the day, they'll usually unload a lot of extras on you for free.

Trader Joe's always has amazing prices, but the Union Square location can get crazy. I've found some of the other locations are better.

If you're brave the Jack's dollar store by Penn Station also has some really great random deals.

Laura said...

I'll second Western Beef - there is one near Lincoln Center that is right next to my apartment and I LOVE IT! It's almost as cheap as shopping upstate where I grew up.

I'll also note that you should try to learn the prices for key things and learn what goes on sale. For example, ice cream in NYC is insanely overpriced (Edy's is $6.99 for a half gallon!), but when it goes on sale, it's only $2.99. I just wait until it's on sale and refuse to buy otherwise, since it's not something I go through that often anyway.

If you tell us which part of NYC you'll be living in, I'm sure we could all provide more tailored advice. Every neighborhood has its own little finds.

Anna N said...

Yes, the Trader Joe's near Union Square is nuts. The one at 6th Ave and 22nd St is better.

For spices and ethnic food of all kinds but especially Indian, Kalustyan's is famous and fun to check out, but Spice Corner (corner of Lexington & 29th) and Foods of India (corner of Lex & 28th, right next to Kalustyan's) have some of the same stuff for better prices. Penzey's in Grand Central Terminal has really quality spices for about the same as regular grocery store spices.

tritia said...

If you want to hoof it, there's a Mitsuwa, a big Japanese Market, across the river in Edgewater, NJ. There's even a special bus that will take you from Manhattan to there.

EmpiricalBaker said...

I would love to see the Brooklyn Dissertation! :)

The whole foods in Tribeca is really nice, if slightly layed out weird. I also found less of a sticker shock there, because I was used to "whole foods prices" (It has been about two years, but the whole foods prices did not seem to change dramatically from Austin to here.)

And, its Brooklyn, but I found a supermarket in the next neighborhood (Foodtown) offers online ordering and delivery. Cheaper than fresh direct, if slightly different products.

amy said...

This is what my friend who moved to Queens from SF thought about food shopping in NY. If you're willing to work for it it's not bad, but in general, it's pretty bad:


Nicki said...

I know this post was from way back in March, but I'm the person who asked the question! I've been in NYC for a month and a half, and I'm still trying to get adjusted to grocery shopping in the city. (In my first sublet, which was only a month, I didn't cook at ALL because there were no kitchen supplies!)

It's been triall and error so far! I go to Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, neither of which are nearby my current place in Hell's Kitchen. Unfortunately, FoodEmporium is the closest and VERY overpriced, as are all the bodegas. I've found a produce "market" called Stiles which is cheap and close. Union Square Greenmarket was okay but did seem a tad pricey due to local/organic but some produce (asparagus!) was decently priced. Next on the list in FreshDirect! :)

And Amy, thanks for your friend's post! What a hilarious (and true) read!