As long-time employees of Daryanani Law Group, we have both visited the nearby Chelsea Market (on 9th Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets) many, many times. It's quite a busy spot, however, and tourists swarm with good reason—Chelsea Market boasts over thirty-five vendors; the High Line is right outside; and there are sample sales going on all the time (something that’s proven to be an unfortunate blow to our savings account).
While we are very excited to hear about new lunch options in our neighborhood (hello, Gansevoort Market!), we set out one week to review some of the lunch spots of Chelsea Market (including vegetarian options). Our comments are geared toward the busy (and budgeting) work person—you’ll find no discussion of ambiance or mood here, but rather about what tastes good, what’s cheap, and when best to beat the crowds (even though really, you can’t).
DAY 1 – Bowery Eats
MATT: As a macrophobe (I looked this word up—apparently it means someone afraid of long waits, or, in my case, long lines), I've never gone to the storied Bowery Eats, although I had heard from Bri of its legendary Avocado Supreme. So I was thrilled when Bri offered to order and pick up my sandwich to kick off our Chelsea Market tour week. As the vegetarian among the two of us, I had the Avocado Supreme on sliced whole wheat. It comes with Brie and cucumbers as well, which were delicious. It had a bit too much salad dressing for my taste, but overall, an enjoyable sandwich. Not a great value, however, at $9, since I’m still hungry.
BRI: Although I usually get the Avocado Supreme as well, today I went with the California Wrap, which ordinarily comes with turkey, ham, watercress, avocado, tomato, and house vinaigrette. I don’t eat pigs, so I subbed Gruyere cheese for the ham (cheese belongs on everything), and I also swapped out the house dressing for some Dijon mustard. And good God, was the mustard spicy—cleared out my sinuses real quick. (They’ve also got a decent honey mustard if you like mustard but don’t want to cry while you’re eating your sandwich.) I’ve been going to Bowery Eats at least once a week for the past four years, and they’ve never messed up my order but alas, today—judgment day—they failed to remove the ham from my sandwich. Minus points there, but again, one mistake out of (52 x 4 =) 208 times isn’t a terrible record.
DAY 2 – Los Tacos No. 1
MATT: I have eyed this place on several occasions since they opened last year, but have generally demurred since there is always a line. The menu is simple but appealing, promising an authentic Mexican taco experience. The bare-bones menu includes the standard carne asada, chicken and pork tacos, and, most importantly for me, nopal. As a nopal fan, I was not turned off by this single vegetarian option, and was also pleasantly surprised that the line was not too long today.
BRI: As an initial matter, I’d just like to explain my bias for this particular establishment—I go here at least three times a week. And, despite my frequent visits, the only item I can attest to is the carne asada. I have never gotten, nor will I ever order, anything besides the carne asada. I would take a bullet in the thigh for this carne asada. And let me be clear: there are few things I claim to know a lot about, but as I was born and raised in a beach town just north of San Diego, one thing I know well is Mexican food. I’ve lived in New York since 2006, and this place serves, hands down, the best taco I’ve had east of the California coast line.
MATT: I ordered a nopal taco and the nopal plate, which promises beans, cheese, and nopal. (I would have liked rice, too, but was planning to be happy with the beans.) After paying based on the menu, I moved over to the cooks, and quickly realized that my options were even more limited than I thought. For me the choice of tortilla was not much of a choice—between the flour and corn, only the corn tortilla was vegetarian; the flour was made with lard. Then I find out the beans are made with pork—no veggie options there. Major points subtraction!
So I ended up with a corn tortilla taco with nopal, guacamole (which, veg alert—contains dairy), and some salsa and cheese. Sort of underwhelming. The nopal were really fine—not the best but totally passable. The tortilla was excellent. But the rest of the ingredients, and really, the whole package, were disappointing. My plate was just nopal, cheese and salsa, and after eating the taco, I couldn’t even finish the plate. I think this place could benefit from a more transparent menu, more veggie options, and, well, rice. Yes, rice.
BRI: As Matt noted, the lines here are always pretty long, but this is the one place I don’t mind waiting in line for. It’s always a good idea to go with a buddy—today Matt held my place in line while I quickly snuck away to browse at the Chelsea Wine Vault. The staff here is really knowledgeable and friendly, and I love their quick chiller—if you buy a bottle of white wine at room temperature, they’ll have it cooled and ready to drink in ten minutes. They’ve got a great selection of wines on the cheaper side that still taste great, and the staff is friendly and always able to make good recommendations.
But back to the taco stand. Once we made it to the front, I ordered two carne asada tacos, and a carne asada quesadilla. Tacos run for $3-4, and quesadillas are a $1 more. The quesadillas tend to be a bit bigger in size than the tacos, so I find that two tacos and a quesadilla is the perfect serving size between three and four tacos. I also order corn tortillas--though I used to order flour (which are fantastic, and a bit thinner than the corn). The corn option is my way of justifying the meal as being a bit “healthier.” Not the soundest of logic, but as Protima likes to say, “Whatever blows your hair back.” It's difficult for me to eat this meal slowly and savor the flavors; I put it down in under two minutes. But let me say, this would be the last meal I ate before I die. The meat is seasoned perfectly, and the guacamole, salsa, onions, and cilantro they put on top are all perfect. They offer an assortment of sidebar toppings—radishes, pico de gallo, peppers, a range of salsas—but I don’t mess with any of it. The tacos are perfect as they come.
DAY 3 – Lucy’s Whey and Tuck Shop
MATT: For today’s lunch, we decided to sample a bit from two Chelsea Market stalwarts: Lucy’s Whey, the cheese shop, and Tuck Shop, specializing in Australian pot pies. Lucy’s Whey features a large number of cheeses including a wide variety of American cheeses. They also make grilled cheese every day, usually offering three to four options. I chose the Prairie Breeze Cheddar, from Iowa, and fig jam. I usually choose one with pickles or butter, but decided to venture out into the sweet and savory combo promised by the fig jam. I was not disappointed. The sandwich was grilled long enough to give it a crispiness, and the cheese was perfectly melted, but not too hot to the tongue. The fig jam provided a sweetness that was just enough to offset the mild savory taste of the cheese.
BRI: I opted for the Gruyere and cornichon grilled cheese, hoping the cornichon would add just a kick of salt. I actually ended up liking Matt’s sandwich a bit better (I stole a bite, thanks Matt), but I think that’s because the sharp quality of the cheddar tends to add a bit more flavor when you’re eating the cheese on a substantial chunk of bread. These sandwiches are a bit on the pricier side, at almost $10 bucks a pop; however, I’m not one to complain about a cheese and carb pairing. They grill these babies quite marvelously, with (what I assume is) low heat for about four minutes. The result is perfect, melded, warm-but-not-scalding hearty savory goodness.
MATT: Tuck Shop, part of the growing Australian food and coffee craze in New York, boasts a variety of pies, including the two veggie options of veggie lentil (which also has mushrooms and carrots) and veggie chili (which I’ve never tried). They also serve a generous helping of vegetables, including Brussel sprouts and kale salad. Bri and I chose to split a kale salad, which is a surprising delight. It comes with some kind of mild (perhaps tahini) dressing, along with sunflower seeds and golden raisins. The kale salad and grilled cheese were a perfect match of guilty and healthy pleasures. And it was—arguably—vegetarian to boot!
BRI: The kale salad was fantastic. And as Matt mentioned, it really was the perfect pairing with grilled cheese. They pack a LOT of leaf into their salad serving, which is great, and the kale doesn’t wilt or get soggy like other greens might. I’m a minimalist when it comes to salads, and I found that the raisins and sunflower seeds added just the perfect amount of crunch and sweetness to the meal. This was my first time visiting the Tuck Shop (because tacos), but I absolutely plan to come back at least once a week to fulfill my obligatory vegetable quota.
And while there was no meat involved in our meal today, there is one place in particular that you’ve got to check out if you’re on the other side of the spectrum, and feeling particularly carnivorous: Dickson’s Farm Stand. I myself have never been, but I know Joseph and Manuel visits here quite often. Dickson’s is known for their locally-sourced meat that comes from humanely-raised animals. They’ve got a daily lunch menu that varies, and offer a selection of sandwiches, sides, and hot dogs, along with high quality meat you can purchase by weight. Their rotisserie chicken is especially good.
DAY 4 – Sarabeth’s Bakery
BRI: Today the office ordered pizza. Matt and I jumped on board with the pizza order, and so instead of grabbing lunch fare at the market, I walked over for dessert instead. And if there’s one thing the Chelsea Market has a lot of, it’s bakeries, chocolates, and sweets—you can’t really go wrong. Today I opted for Sarabeth’s Bakery. This place is a gem. They’ve got fantastic breakfast sandwiches, and they’re never too crowded in the morning, which is great. They’ve got good options for lunch as well; however, as we had already eaten a good amount of Gotham Pizza (that’s a review for another day—great New York-style pizza), I honed in on Sarabeth’s chocolate pudding. It is to die for! And the best part really has to be the presentation: it’s served in a little mason jar, with whipped cream and chocolate shavings on top. It’s the perfect chocolate treat when you’ve already had a substantial amount to eat for lunch. The serving size is generous, and if you can’t eat the whole thing, screw the lid back on, pop it in the fridge, and save it for later. Totally worth the $4 it costs. ProTip: after you’ve had a big lunch and Sarabeth’s chocolate pudding for dessert, head over to Ninth Street Espresso for some coffee—it’s to die for. Their cold brew is particularly good.
DAY 5 – Burger Hiatus
BRI: We didn’t quite make it in to Chelsea Market today. At around noon, Protima and Manny started talking about burgers…about half an hour later, we ordered from Bill’s Bar & Burger right across the street. Somewhat shockingly, the Chelsea Market does not actually have a bona fide burger joint—from what I hear, Friedman’s Lunch (which specializes in comfort food) does make a pretty decent ground beef brisket burger, but they’re not a specialized burger spot. If I were in charge of running things at the market, there would be cheeseburgers somewhere. And veggie burgers for Matt. In lieu of burgers, Posman Books is a great place at Chelsea Market to browse and pick up some good reading material.
DAY 6 – Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina
BRI: Today we were unsure of where to go—seafood seemed like a good option at first (Matt will eat fish, so perhaps he’s more aptly called a pescatarian), but the lines at the famed Lobster Place were a bit too long for my liking. I’m always shocked by how many people walk around the Chelsea Market carrying plates of whole lobster. I haven’t tried any of their fish or shell fish, but I have had the clam chowder. It is, unquestionably, the best I’ve ever had.
Instead, we opted for pasta at Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina. While Rana is an actual sit-down restaurant, they do have a to-go menu that offers a create-your-own pasta bowl experience. You pick a pasta, ranging in price from $9-12 (they’ve got a pretty extensive, homemade selection), sauce ($2), and any additional add-ins you might want—fresh vegetables, mushrooms, etc. (an additional cost of about $2 per add-in). I was pleasantly surprised by the short wait here—you can easily miss this place, as it’s tucked into a corner on the far east side of the market; however, for someone who is trying to avoid a crowd, that’s good news. I ordered the gnocchetti with Bolognese sauce and mushrooms as an add-in. The portions here are not for the faint of heart; there was enough of my serving to eat a full lunch and also save some for later. The pasta really was terrific, and their Bolognese is some of the best I’ve had in a while. I found that the mushroom add-in was a bit too much for me, however; it became a predominately mushroom dish, which isn’t really what I was looking for. If they had cut the mushroom quantity in half, I think this would have been quite a perfect lunch (albeit heavy, filling, and a bit costly at $14 total for my meal). There will be no dessert for me today.
MATT: This was a great way to end our Chelsea Market adventure. I’ve been frequenting this place since they opened last year, once a week opting for the spinach ricotta girasoli on their limited lunch menu. That was what I expected to get this week, when we were surprised to learn that they have substantially expanded their lunch menu to include the wide range of pastas on their menu, as well as four different sauce options (cheese, pomodoro, Bolognese, and pesto), and extra toppings (veggies, cheese, meats, mushrooms). I chose a four cheese ravioli with pomodoro sauce and mixed veggies. They added a generous topping of Parmesan. You can really taste the fresh in the pasta and the mixed veggies were diced and almost crunchy in the pomodoro sauce. This was very fulfilling and satisfying and the expansion of the lunch menu will certainly bring me back to this place in the future. Now though it's time for a nap (well, I wish)!