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best places to shop for food - columbus circle and beyond

Hope this isn't considered off-topic:

I'll be spending 6 months in NY later this year, and will be living close to Columbus Circle. Where are the best places to do food shopping? I know there is a Whole Foods in Columbus Circle - here in London Whole Foods is very expensive - is it the same in NYC? And is it worth it?

Other than that, where are the best places to shop for food and other groceries? My shopping habits are generally
- 1 big shop each month for heavy items/household/staples/canned goods, ideally delivered, and possibly bought online
- Weekly shop for fruit/veg/meat/fish - quality is important to me, and I don't mind paying a premium (within reason) for local/organic/great quality fresh food.
- Ocassional visits to specialist shops/markets for special treats - so for this, I don't mind travelling to other parts of the city and open to any suggestions.

Suggestions for any of these categories very much appreciated!

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  1. I find that Whole Foods to be OK but to tell you the truth I think all grocery stores in Manhattan are probably going to feel overpriced. So often Whole Foods feels OK in terms of the quality, relative to the competition which has high prices as well and middling quality. The Columbus Circle one, though, I often find is very crowded and the lines to check out are long.

    If you're staying around Columbus Circle, Fairway & Citarella aren't that far a walk, though. Zabar's is a short train ride away as well.

    For heavy items/household/dry and canned goods, look into FreshDirect, online ordering and delivery. Rice, pasta, beans, canned soups, canned vegetables/fruit, paper towels, toilet paper, bottled drinks, that sort of thing, right?

    For your produce, check out the various farmers markets around town in addition to Whole Foods and Fairway. Union Square's Greenmarket (Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat, 8-6) is the biggest and most well known but you'll have two smaller ones near you as well.

    Here's MMRuth's great list of places to shop downtown -- butchers, fishmongers, etc:

    1 Reply
    1. re: kathryn

      Thanks Kathryn - useful to know. Really pleased there will be farmers markets around, which are my favorite way to shop and cook! Fresh Direct looks like a great resource for the heavy stuff - that's exactly the kind of product I meant.

    2. I find WF to be very expensive and I'm not a fan of the one at Columbus Circle (loads of tourists and lots of workers at lunch time overwhelm the place - my opinion only, of course).

      <<1 big shop each month for heavy items/household/staples/canned goods, ideally delivered, and possibly bought online >>
      --I buy household goods (cleaning supplies, etc) at Duane Reade. Not sure if that's what you mean. There's a Food Emporium at about 68th & Bway though I've not been in there in ages. If you want online, you can check out Fresh Direct. I tried them and thought their service was fine but not good for fresh fruits, cheeses, and the like (others disagree). But they may be good for you for these "heavy" etc. items.

      << Weekly shop for fruit/veg/meat/fish - quality is important to me, and I don't mind paying a premium (within reason) for local/organic/great quality fresh food >>
      --For fruit/veg/meat/fish check out Fairway on 74th & Bway; for meat/fish, check out Citarella on 75th & Bway.
      --There are a number of greenmarkets on the UWS that are pretty good, depending on what time of year you are talking about. They are obviously going strong right now. I like Tucker Square on Saturdays (66th & Bway) though it's small. I adore 97th St. on Fridays (at Columbus). There's also one on 57th & Columbus (maybe Wed?) and 77th & Columbus on Sundays. The *destination* market is, of course, Union Square on Mon/Wed/Fri/Sat.

      << Ocassional visits to specialist shops/markets for special treats - so for this, I don't mind travelling to other parts of the city and open to any suggestions >>
      --Kalustyan's for spices, Indian items, other specialty items (28th & Lex)
      --Zabar's for smoked fish, appetizing (80th & Bway)
      -- H&H for bagels (those others disagree) (80th & Bway)

      You can also search because people have posted lots of things about UWS places to shop. I'm sure other more knowledgeable CHers will post the best places to shop in Chinatown too. In addition to the upstairs at Zabar's for kitchen supplies (and they apparently do knife sharpening now), I like Bowery Kitchen inside the Chelsea Market (which has lots of other food related shops as well).

      Enjoy your 6th months.

      7 Replies
      1. re: LNG212

        That Food Emporium is one of the ones that has been redone, and is very nice inside. Expensive though.

        1. re: MMRuth

          expensive, huh? For some reason I always think that those more "traditional" (suburban) style supermarkets would have canned/boxed/bagged items cheaper and a larger selection. I don't shop at those kinds of stores so I really don't know why I think this!

          1. re: LNG212

            I know - I used to think that too - years ago - about FE, but every time I go in, I rue the prices of most of my purchases. And the produce is terrible.

            1. re: MMRuth

              Very useful to know - obviously I don't have a clue what things are supposed to cost, so it's useful to get this kind of feedback to avoid getting ripped off!

        2. re: LNG212

          Thanks! I'm really excited, can't wait to get there.

          Useful to know you can get cleaning supplies etc at Duane Reade - here in the UK I would normally buy that kind of stuff at the supermarket.

          Will be Winter (Oct - March) so guess markets won't be at their best, but it's still my favorite way to shop; particularly as I'm sure the seasons (and the types of produce available!) are a little different from what I'm used to, so what's on the market will be the best barometer for what's actually in season!

          1. re: uniqueusername

            There's a PDF here that lists what markets are year-round and which are not:

            It's in the right hand column under Find Our Markets.

            Lucy's Greenmarket report is a good resource to figure out what farmers are actually bringing into NYC. It's about the wares at Union Square but is generally applicable in terms of seasonality.

            You can find general charts at grownyc.org as well but just because it's, say "tomato season" July to Oct, maybe the tomatoes are early or late this year, etc.


            1. re: uniqueusername

              Some supermarkets have cheaper household goods than Duane Reade, so check and compare the prices. My local supermarket has almost everything cheaper than Duane Reade. I use Whole Foods for sale (sometimes they have GREAT deals) and their house brand items, most of which are pretty good. And $1 Cliff bars!

          2. There's a small farmer's market across the street from Lincoln Center on Thursdays and Saturdays.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Miss Needle

              Yes, that's the one at Tucker Sq. that I mention above. I agree it's quite nice, though small. It also has a vendor selling smoked duck breast that DH is in love with (the duck, not the vendor himself).

              1. re: Miss Needle

                And a good fishmonger that is usually there as well.

              2. They don't call it "Whole Paycheck" for nothing!
                I prefer the Fairway up Broadway and 75th St. Great selection, great produce, cheeses and meats. I find it less expensive than Whole Foods but definitely not as chic.

                7 Replies
                1. re: Motosport

                  <<< Fairway is ... less expensive than Whole Foods but definitely not as chic >>>

                  HA! I agree completely. Back in the day, Fairway had sawdust floors. I think the WF people would cringe. :)

                  I also think Fairway has a better selection of products and interesting "gourmet" items that you find even though you're not looking for it.

                  1. re: LNG212

                    Absolutely, And, frankly, I don't think WF is particularly "chic."

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      There is a certain "atmosphere" there. I always expect the cheese counter "associates" to speak with British or French accents.

                    2. re: LNG212

                      Fairway is sounding like a great first port of call then! Thanks :D

                      Chicness totally not a prerequisite!

                      1. re: uniqueusername

                        Definitely try it out, esp. to supplement your farmers market purchases during the winter months (when things are a little slim). Also note that Fairway upstairs has organics and bulk items (nuts, cereals, grains, legumes, that sort of thing).

                        1. re: LNG212

                          excellent - can you take your own containers?

                          1. re: uniqueusername

                            hmmm, I don't actually know. I always just re-use the plastic bags. I guess they wouldn't care about the containers if it's a standard container that they use -- because they have to be able to deduct the tare weight from the total weight in order to charge you properly by law so their scales would need to have the right info.

                            In that same vein, they are always fine with me using my own bags and bagging for me with them. They do not give a discount though, like WF does (10 cents).

                  2. Right next door to Fairway is Citarella- far and away the best seafood store in the city. Best quality and although some things are slightly more expensive, it's more than worth it. They also have excellent prepared foods- especialy their soups. (Although I buy fish often from greenmarket vendors, be aware they only sell local seafood. So, if for example, you want shrimp, they won't have it.)
                    Also Zabars is on Broadway and 82 St- anothe good place for specialty food items.
                    Both Zabars and Fairway have excellent cheese departments. As well, the 2nd floor of Fairway is devoted to organic and "health food," excellent selection, great prices (Fairway, in general is noted for their low prices.)

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Ann900

                      Just note that Zabar's is on 80th & Bway. And Zabar's upstairs has a pretty great kitchen ware department.

                    2. There is a whole foods right in Columbus circle(CC) and its the best one I have found in NYC. All of the other ones tend to not be a full scale stores, they lack in certain areas. The CC store is the only one that has everything, the 14th street store is second. Note ive only been to WF in ny metro area, so the suburban stores very well may be much larger. The WF in white plains is smaller than most in nyc.

                      Whole foods is quite expensive, and the quality is not even much beyond what you will find at any other reputable market.

                      Fairway delivers I think, but those stores tend to be packed.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Recursion

                        If someone is set on WF, the 97th Street store is better than the Columbus Circle one. It's also a much more pleasant shopping experience.

                        Yes, Fairway delivers. (Don't all NYC stores?) I don't think it's any more crowded than the Columbus Circle WF, frankly. And like anything else, it's best to know when to go -- I personally like to go around 7:30 am on weekdays for a stress free shopping experience.

                        1. re: LNG212

                          I also like Whole Foods at 97th & Columbus much better than the one in Columbus Circle.

                        2. re: Recursion

                          I really like the Bowery Whole Foods -- what do you think is missing there?

                          1. re: kathryn

                            The organic section in Columbus WF is better than the Bowery one. But the Bowery one is larger and has a larger overall selection.

                        3. My son just moved in to the Fordham graduate school dorm, which is on 60th between Columbus and Amsterdam. I noticed a supermarket, don't remember the name, but it is a mini-chain in Manhattan only, on 9th around 58th Street. Anyone have feedback on that? Also, I would say the CVS that's on 9th right by there is probably better for cleaning supplies and household items than Duane Reade.

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: robinsilver

                            Is that a Morton Williams? The one in the new(ish) building by St. Paul's? I haven't been in there so can't say. But I do think most generic supermarkets (Gristede's, D'Ag's, Associated, etc.) in Manhattan suck.

                            I think the CVS vs. Duane Reade thing is a personal preference issue. I'm personally not a fan of the CVS that is a block from me. I do like the "old" Duane Reade that is a block from me but I am not too keen on the "new" style Duane Reade (hello Walgreen's) that is 2 blocks from me.

                            1. re: LNG212

                              Gristedes, Morton Williams, Associated, etc. all do in a pinch to grab, say, a can of beans and some paper towels, but I don't think much of the produce, meat, etc. there. They're typically dirty, cramped, and have poor quality goods.

                              Duane Reade stores typically have terrible layouts, terrible customer service (glassy eyed employees who don't know where anything is and move at a snail's pace), 1 open register for the 12 people in line, and are not well maintained, save for the one by Union Square in the old Virgin Megastore space.

                              And the pre-made food scares me. Sushi for lunch? From Duane Reade? No thanks.

                              1. re: kathryn

                                I agree completely about the Duane Reade food. Never! But I guess when you've been shopping at DR your whole life the layout issue doesn't bother you. :) And personally I find (in my neighborhood) that the Rite Aid employees are the worst. Followed by CVS. So it's a matter of personal opinion and the specific location.

                                As for the generic supermarkets, I'm totally in agreement with you on that one.

                                1. re: LNG212

                                  The Walgreens on Astor Place and the one on 23rd and Park are actually the two drugstores I go to now.

                                  I do like the Duane Reade by Union Square. They are almost supermarket like in their selection of produce, snacks, dry goods, and regular drug store items. And I was shocked that they had a bunch of employees stationed at the register who actually wanted to work.

                                  1. re: LNG212

                                    LNG - are you talking about the Rite Aid on 110th and Broadway? If so, I agree 120 percent - perhaps some of the laziest employees I've ever seen in retail.

                                    There was/is a Morton Williams by my school, and I've found almost everything to be overpriced. Much worse than WF, actually.

                                    1. re: uwsister

                                      HA! No, I was actually thinking of both the one on 97th & Columbus and the one on 96th & Bway (more so the former). They are unbelievable there. Every once in a while I will stop in for something to give them another chance. I really should just give up. I guess I'm too optimistic that things would change.

                                      I don't think I've ever shopped in a Morton Williams. I will be curious about the new "mega" Associated going into the new building on (about) 98th & Amsterdam.

                                      1. re: LNG212

                                        I mostly shop at Duane Reade now, though some things are cheaper at Rite Aid. Just can't deal with the employees. You ARE very optimistic! ;)

                                        I saw the sign for the new Associated. I'm not terribly excited about it - unless someone who's been to another "Mega" Associated can tell me good things about it? I would have KILLED for that spot to be Trader Joe's instead.

                                2. re: LNG212

                                  Yes, it is the Morton Williams. We didn't go inside, but the signs on the windows advertised some good deals. Of course mind you this is for my 22 year old son, so he isn't looking for a wide range of products. Also, there was someone with a fruit and veggie cart nearby that would have the bananas and tomatoes that me might buy.

                                  1. re: robinsilver

                                    There used to be a good fruit/veg cart on the SE corner of Columbus and 60th. I liked his stuff. But it has been since last summer that I was there so I don't know how it is more recently.