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May 6, 2010 11:42 AM

Zabar's vs. Fairway

These 2 great stores really compete with each other in many areas. But in others, one of them wins hands down. I also like the idea that Zabar's refuses to expand, only one exclusive store, a real tourist attraction complete with tourist buses!

How do the two stores stack up? Here's my take, let us know yours:

Smoked Fish: Zabar's wins big, smooth, experienced fish cutters, most of them there 25 years +, high quality merchandise.

Cheese: Edge to Fairway, a little bigger selection, great "point and taste" counter, Zabar's has good deals on prepacks though.

Olives: ZABAR'S!!! Fairway insists on soaking the olives in oil, you can sometimes see them pouring oil into the olives, makes them really gooky and heavy tasting. Zabar's leaves them in the natural brine and has a great selection.

Coffee: A draw.

Bakery: Fairway. Good quality stuff, even the bagels are made on premises and are pretty decent. The only good bakery stuff at Zabars is the prepackaged Eli's products.

Prepared foods: Pretty close, above average prepared food counters, good help, both have pretty big prices on the stuff. Extensive variety.

Now, if someone can tell me how to get out of Zabar's without spending $150, please do!

2245 Broadway, New York, NY 10024

Fairway Market
2127 Broadway, New York, NY 10023

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  1. Fairway, esp. the one in Harlem. You can buy everything thing there and have parking.

    1. I'm not sure that it's really fair to compare the two- they are very different.Fairway is more of a grocery store that carries a large selection of products- from produce to cleaning supplies, meat and fish to prepared food. Yes, it has a lot of specialty items and the organic section upstairs, but you can also run in there for a box of microwave popcorn and a quart of milk. In other words, you can do most of your grocery shopping at Fairway- which is not so at Zabar's.
      Zabar's, on the othr hand, prides itself as a specialty store. The extensive appetizer and smoked fish selection and prepared food is the heart of their business. Yes, you can easily spend a lot of money, but it's not a store for all your weekly grocery shopping.
      When I want certainJewish specialties, smoked fish or housewares I go to zabar's, otherwise I stick to Fairway.

      1. First of all, the two stores should not be compared because they each excel in different areas and are, in fact, two distinct types of stores.

        Perhaps the most glaring error in the post above is that Eli's baked goods are the only good baked goods at Zabars. What about Sulllivan Street pan Pugliese?

        Olives can be packed in oil or packed in brine or packed in water. Or dry cured.

        5 Replies
        1. re: erica

          or donut plant donuts at zabars, or the filone from Sullivan Street Bakery, or the Tom Cat Rolls

          1. re: erica

            Fairway also carries Eli's baked goods.

            1. re: erica

              Zabar's own rugelach, bought at the counter, are among the best in the city. Their prepared salads are also generally better than Fairway's, IMO. For some cheeses, Zabar's is preferable to Fairway (their reggiano, for example, is consistently better than Fairway's - but I usually get mine at Casa Della Mozzarella in the BX, which is better than either :)). I have no problem with Fairway's olives (but then again, my favorites are the black oil-cured). I don't prefer the coffee at either one; we get ours at Oren's.

              That said, I happily do all our basic weekly shopping at Harlem Fairway and go to Zabar's now and then for a few speciality items (like those rugelach or their lox) or for cookware.

              1. re: Striver

                To add to the cheese comment: Zabar's has recently had some very good prices on some cheeses. The one I remember is St. Andre for $4.98/pound!

                1. re: rteplow

                  I often buy cheese at Zabar's, much of it is certainly a bargain, but you have to be careful with the softer cheeses especially. They can be way past their prime, way overripe.

            2. Fairway wins on prepared food.
              Zabar's wins (by a landslide) on cookware items.
              Fairway wins for other non food items (vitamins, soap, cleaning products)

              I don't really take it as comparing when we are identifying which categories each should shopped at for.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Stuffed Monkey

                Does Fairway sell cookware items? I agree that Zabar's has a great department, and I've always found the employees in it helpful.

                1. re: MMRuth

                  There's a very small cookware/utensil section by the organic checkout counter. In general Zabar's is the better option for cookware, packaged cheese and coffee. I go to Fairway for pretty much everything else.

                2. re: Stuffed Monkey

                  "Fairway wins on prepared food"
                  I disagree. The quality of the prepared food is much better at Zabar's.
                  I suppose it is cheaper at Fairway.

                3. Olives are cured in brine, that's what makes them edible. There is one specific type, "oil cured" that has oil in them. But standard Greek black for example, sold at both stores, is cured in brine. Fairway submerges these and most of the other olive types in oil. They are messy, greasy, and have a texture created by all the oil that is distasteful, IMHO. Olives= big winner, ZABARS.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: menton1

                    Even as a regular Harlem Fairway fan, I have to agree about the lack of quality, brined olives. OTOH, Fairway cannot be beat for quality/price in house-brand olive oils, in so many varieties. Or in general groceries. Since I'm not a strong smoked fish fan/appetizing fan, I can easily not miss Zabar's and get virtually everything I need at Fairway. Except, of course, a few staples like cases of seltzer, paper products, and large bags of niuts and dried fruits at East Harlem's Costco.

                    1. re: bob96

                      Spot on. Fairway is my go-to for shopping of everything I need for weekly cooking/meals. For an overall shopping experience, IMHO, Fairway is the best in the city for the price. (Though I do miss Central Market in Houston...one of the few things where I think it has NYC beat!) Zabars is a fun spot to go into to browse or to get special occasion things, but for me is not a regular shopping trip.

                      Central Market
                      30 Rockefeller Plz, New York, NY 10112