The Lower East Side is a work in progress, as you can clearly see. The neighborhood nourished generations of immigrants over the years. The Marx Brothers, the Gershwins and Jimmy Durante were born and raised here alongside the pushcarts selling just about everything that dominated the streets. The LES sort of went into a tailspin in the 1970s, but it was rediscovered by artists and musicians in the 1980s and became a “cool” destination in the early 2000s when its first boutique hotel was built in 2005, and new buildings like the 2007 Blue Condominium, below, went up. The tenements these new building are replacing are, sorry to say, not exactly landmark-able buildings. (the Tenement Museum does the important job of showcasing and preserving that way of life).
The LES is full of art galleries, bars and restaurants with interesting mix of food, clothing and lifestyle boutiques. A few years ago, even Soho House even opened a branch (called Ludlow House). Local residents, however, bemoan the architectural changes in their neighborhood, and the loss of local businesses. The new Essex Market does a lot to fill the void.
New York City established the Essex Street Market whereby four buildings were opened by Mayor Fiorell0 La Guardia in 1940 to get the pushcarts off the streets, giving residents a central place to shop. The four buildings dwindled to one building, but that building contained some interesting purveyors of food that reflected the immigrant community as well as the new foodies and hipsters.
The NYC Economic Development Corporation worked with developers of a new group of buildings south of Delancey Street to open a new and definitely improved and re-branded Essex Market in the Essex Crossing rental building in May of 2019. Most of the Market’s tenants moved in, and they are all happy to have the new space. The tenants are a diverse family of community-oriented vendors. The Market supports small local businesses and is a cross cultural brew of food and beverage. There were a few food stalls in the old market, but the number has greatly increased in the new building. The grocery retailers in The Essex Market were open during the citywide lock down, and the food stalls are now open for take-way and now delivery. Hopefully, the indoor seating can be reopened soon. The Market is currently offering online cooking programs with the Fresh Bites program.
Essex Market is a one-of-a-kind New York experience, and a food lovers paradise.
The Essex Farm Fruits & Vegetables stand has always been one of my go-to places. The have a huge selection of farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, including organic and non-GMO products. If figs are in season, I can normally get them here; pomegranates, too. And they almost always have passion fruit and frisee, and all sorts of other items at extremely reasonable prices.
The space is quite big as Essex Farms sells pretty much anything you would cook with that is not meat or fish. The shoppers and staff are always masked and customers are polite and self distance without any attitude, just like the rest of the market. Shopping alongside polite customers is definitely a plus.
There are aisles and cases full of foods of different cuisines — Mexican, Indian, Italian, Chinese and more.
Stock up on snacks and treats, beverages and staples, with or without your (service) dog.
Around the corner is the New Star Fish Market. They have a huge selection of fish, shellfish, mollusks, and pretty much anything from the sea. The country of origin of everything is well marked. The prices are excellent, and the fish is extremely fresh. Buy a whole fish, and it will be filleted for you.
The Essex Market design is modern, with the south end opening up into a soaring space. When the market fully opens, chairs and tables will again line the balcony. Luna Brothers Fruit Plaza carries a wide range of tropical fruits, and another interesting selection of groceries.
The Davidovich Bakery specializes in bagels and deli pastries. Everything is made locally, because a bagel doesn’t really taste like a bagel unless it is made in NYC. It’s the water, of course.
Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery is home to loads of cakes and cupcakes. Custom creations and designed to order wedding cakes are also a specialty. Pick from a menu of cake and frosting flavors. They do wonderful puddings too, with over 10 different taste sensations. Pies and vegan cakes are also available.
Shepard Valley Creamery is farm to table. The family owns a 120-acre farm in Morris County, N.J. They make over 30 kinds of sheep, goat and cow cheeses as well as butters and yogurts.
Valley Sheppard also offers a nice selection of crackers and toasts for cheese, and compatible spreads.
Essex Olive & Spice offers a wealth of items to perk up your cooking. Not only do they have a wide selection of olive and other oils, but they also sell preserved lemons, and a good selection of pickles and olives.
The bulk spices are fresh, and the display (now safely behind a clear barrier) is a colorful reminder of how much fun cooking can be.
Formaggio Essex carries artisanal and hand made cheeses from around the world. They also carry a wide range of jams, honeys, mustards, vinegars, olive oils and cured meats from small producers.
Essex Street Shambles is a boutique butcher, offering locally produced meat and poultry. They are part of the whole animal movement, and offer different cuts to minimize waste.
All the cheeses here are vegan. Yep, they are make of seeds, nuts, oils and other non-dairy products. Riverdel also has a nice selection of breads and spreads and other specialty foods to go with the cheese.
Viva Fruits & Vegetables has been in business for over 14 years and specializes in products from Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Are you looking for sugar cane, yuca or coconuts?
Nordic Preserves sells many varieties of smoked and dried fish from Sweden, along with pickled herring and their potato salad. Cakes and candies and all sorts of Swedish pantry line the walls.
You will find an amazing selection of semi-sweet and savory pastries, artisanal breads, quiches, scones, cakes and afternoon toasty snacks that vary by the day at Cafe D’Avignon. I love the brioche loaf. It makes the best French toast and makes foie gras taste even better.
Luis Meat Market is another vendor who moved from the old market, into this much larger space. Luis is a real neighborhood butcher. There is a huge selection of meat, poultry and cold cuts. And they are happy to give you custom cuts.
Porto Rico Importing has been in the same family since 1907. They roast their own coffees, and in this location they sell you beans or ground coffees and have a coffee bar. They carry coffees from around the world and offer many different blends and roasts. Rare beans and flavored coffee are specialties.
Top Hops Beer Shop is a tasting bar that carries beers from around the world. Are you a beer lover? If so you will be impressed by the selection in this collection.
If you like real Moroccan food, then you need to visit Zerza. Take-way tajines, bourekas, salads and more.
The Market is full of food from around the world. Samesa features Peruvian food in their colorful space.
From breakfast onwards, Puebla offers tacos, burritos, moles and Mexican agua fescas that are created in the style of Puebla, a city just south of Mexico City. Mexican cuisine is extremely varied, and at this stand you might find a taste of Mexico you have never had before.
Peasant Stock makes all their healthy soups on site. They also offer tasty breads, muffins and cookies.
Have you ever been to a Japanese deli? Ni is a family owned business offering bentos, salads and bowls, many of them vegan and vegetarian (using seasonal ingredients).
Arancini are a tasty Sicilian treat, which means literally ‘little oranges.’ Arancini Bros. has an ever changing menu of these deep fried stuffed risotto balls.
Dominican Cravings offers homemade Caribbean food personalized for The Market.
Mille Nonna serves fresh, sustainable food, with many vegan and vegetarian options. Italian food reinvented for today.
Eat Gai specializes in chicken (fried and otherwise) from local raised chickens, served with Thai rice.
Craving a sandwich? Heros & Villians makes everything to order with ingredient-driven ingredients.
Everything in LES Girls is made by girls, but not necessarily for girls. It is all fair trade, with lots of interesting gifts for you or your friends. When you shop here you are supporting programs and mentoring from the Lower East Side Girls Club.
Tucked at the back of the Market is Czar’s Grooming, a well priced place to get a trim.
There is even an art gallery, Cuchifritos. It is temporarily closed, but even peaking in gives you a sense of the community.
There are several vendors in Essex Market that are still closed. Also the lower level, The Market Line, is pretty much closed. The space is filled with purveyors and grocers, as well as many dining spots. Sushi grade fish, more butchers, an Asian market and more. They have just opened an outdoor dining patio where Essex Pearl, Veselka, Schaller and Weber, the Slice Joint and others are serving on Norfolk and Delancey. It is nice to see a project that the City really got right. Supporting small business is more important today than it ever has been. The Essex Market makes it easy.
Essex Market, 88 Essex Street at Delancey
The Market Line, 81 Norfolk Street
Barbara Hodes is the owner of NYC Private Shopping Tour, offering customized tours in New York and Brooklyn