Essex Market has been a central part of the Lower East Side since the early 19th century when the city was covered in mud and manure. And it’s been a central part of my life ever since I moved to the neighborhood. This is where I do the bulk of my grocery shopping, and pick up meats and cheeses for an antipasto spread that my Italian relatives would approve of, while simultaneously supporting a local stalwart in a rapidly-changing neighborhood. The market itself has changed over the years, having moved locations in 2019 to a large complex on the corner of Essex and Delancey where they share a building with a movie theater, luxury condos, and even more vendors downstairs at the joining complex The Market Line.
Besides just shopping, I’m also always grabbing snacks from one of the many vendors. Whether it’s Oreo pancakes, fried rice balls served in egg cartons, or one of the best breakfast sandwiches in the city, Essex Market is home to some of the best food you can find on the Lower East Side. That’s why I’m delighted to share my favorite spots on where you should eat, drink, and shop in Essex Market and the adjoining Market Line.
Some of my favorite spots are temporarily closed because of the pandemic, and I’ll be checking back when they reopen. Included are: Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, Tortilleria Nixtamal, Veselka, and others.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
Perhaps no place is as synonymous with Essex Market as Shopsin’s, the enigmatic breakfast and brunch spot. Opened by Kenny Shopsin back in the 80s, the restaurant was a destination to try brunch dishes like mac and cheese pancakes and more sandwiches than you can imagine. In addition to that, people came to interact and experience Kenny and his family’s vocal personalities (if you’re interested in learning more, watch Kenny’s documentary I Like Killing Flies). Although Kenny recently passed away, the restaurant still lives on with its large menu, tremendous breakfast food, and a no-substitutions policy. Make sure you get the Ebelskivers, Danish stuffed pancakes that come with jam - one time I ordered them and got an audible “nice” from the waiter.
This Thai vendor specializes in Hainan chicken rice, and their version involves super gingery rice, tender boiled chicken, and a couple of different sauces to pour on top. But the thing I always find myself ordering is their fried chicken bánh mì. Huge thigh chunks come on a crusty roll topped with a handful of crunchy cucumbers, carrots, and fresh herbs. If I’m not feeling like a sandwich (which is something I don’t say often), they also serve the crispy chicken over fried rice for under $10.
Dominican Cravings makes one of the best breakfast sandwiches in the city: the “Tres Golpes” patacon. Between two crispy patacones you’ll find a combo of fried salami, fried cheese, a runny sunny side up egg, and a slathering of mayo-y pink sauce that cuts through all the salty and rich elements. This sandwich has not only increased my morning consumption of tostones, but has also confirmed that any breakfast sandwich can be improved if you add fried salami. Grab a couple of empanadas if you’re looking for something besides breakfast food.
Sugar Sweet Sunshine should be your go-to dessert spot in the market. This bakery has a large selection of cupcakes, including a delightful Oreo version with an actual cookie on the bottom, and does a bunch of different pudding varieties. On a recent trip, I tried their banana cream pudding, which made me wish more bakeries offered silky, layered puddings.
Every time I look at the pastry case here, I can’t help but grab a quick treat to snack on as I’m shopping - whether that’s a pear tartlet or the excellent, sticky kouign amann. They also sell full and half loaves of all different kinds of bread, and will slice it for you so you don’t have to hack away at it when you get home.
Kotti Berliner Döner Kebab is one of the newest vendors to the market, serving slow-roasted meat cooking on a rotisserie. The Turkish-style sandwiches that are served on light, fluffy pide bread full of air pockets deserve your full attention - they come with juicy chicken, crispy pickled vegetables, a lemony yogurt sauce, and a spicy harissa-based sauce as well. The sandwich has so many different textures, is super filling, and costs under $15. This is one of the best things you can eat in the whole building.
Essex Market is full of tremendous sandwiches (see Eat Gai, Dominican Cravings, and Kotti Berliner Döner Kebab), but if you’re looking for a fried chicken or an excellent smash burger, check out Heroes & Villains. Both the “Sando Calrissian” (fried chicken with miso-aioli, cabbage, and pickles) and “The Kahuna” (crispy ground beef, pickles, cheese sauce, spicy ketchup, all served on a hot dog bun) are sandwiches that you can get for under $10. Plus, “The Kahuna” is kind of like eating a burger as a hot dog, or the opposite of the Rocket Power classic, “The Hotdurger.”
When I’m looking for breakfast tacos or burritos on the LES, I come to Puebla Mexican Food. While they also serve great tortas, Puebla is one of the few places that offer breakfast tacos in the neighborhood. There are so many options to choose from, and the eggs are always fluffy and come intermingled with cheese. I always go for the combo of the slightly spicy chorizo and eggs, whether that’s in a burrito or on some corn tortillas with some black beans.
This Peruvian spot has rotisserie chickens spinning at all times, and that’s exactly what you should order. Get a half chicken combo over fries, greens and avocado, or buy one whole and take it home to make your weeknight meals a bit easier.
Sure you could snack on a sugary sweet pastry and walk around the market, but why not get a bunch of fried rice balls filled with mozzarella and peas, pasta and cheese, or even Nutella? That’s exactly what you can do at Arancini Bros, who sell and package their rice balls in egg cartons. Structurally-innovative packaging aside, a half dozen cost $12 and make a great appetizer as you walk around the market looking for what else to eat.
Que Chevere, a small Puerto Rican spot located downstairs at The Market Line, sells empanadas, mofongo, and their hearty, under-$4 alcapurria. This loaded, very filling, fried ball of yucca and ground beef is crunchy, but tender inside and tastes even better when doused in their spicy green sauce. Order two and you’ve got yourself dinner.
I know that if you’re at Essex Market, you’re mere blocks away from pastrami institution Katz’s Deli, but the pastrami sandwich and the other smoked meats and sausages from Schaller & Weber downstairs at The Market Line have almost equally as much history. The shop opened in German Yorkville back in 1937 and got a stand downstairs at The Market Line when the new complex opened in late 2019. Besides the excellent pastrami sandwich, they also specialize in hot dogs, knackwurst, and any other type of sausage you can think of. When the weather’s nice, they set up a cute sausage cart on Delancey where you can sit outside, enjoy some beef wieners, and watch the cars drive up the Williamsburg Bridge.
The folks at Wildair run both a wine shop and wine bar downstairs in The Market Line. While the wine bar is temporarily closed right now, the wine shop has become one of my go-tos on where to pick up bottles of orange stuff from Austria or just a solid, under $20 chilled red. The shop will also ship bottles to a select number of states (find the full list on their website) so if you’re visiting and see something you like, you won’t have to check a bunch of bottles of Bordeaux.
This beer bar is a spot I find myself meeting up with friends often. There are fifty beers on tap, with an impressive mix of stuff from New York-based breweries, Europe, and places like Vermont, Iowa, and Virginia. You can also bring any food from any of the vendors at The Market Line or Essex Market and snack while you drink a delicious IPA or sour.
Grocery & Speciality Shops
Essex Farm Fruits & Vegetables
There are three places to get groceries in the market, but Essex Farm Fruits & Vegetables is where I shop. The fresh vegetables aren’t too pricey, plus they carry Califia Barista Blend oat and almond milk.
Luis Meat Market
I’ve gotten to know head butcher Luis Rodriguez (who runs the shop with his wife Ramona) over the years, and his selection of meats are always affordable and high-quality. You can find pork shoulder for under $5 a pound, goat and oxtail for under $10 a pound, and chicken legs for under $6 a pound. He and his team always offer to slice up a shoulder into a blade steak or separate chicken legs into thighs, too. Luis is always at his stall slicing big hunks of beef into steaks, and whenever I pick up anything he gives me a fist pump and asks me what I’m grilling next.
Even though Essex Pearl’s full-service restaurant is closed right now and they’re only operating as a fish market, one of the main reasons they’re on this list is because of their truly exceptional tinned fish plate I tried in early 2020. It comes with your choice of tinned octopus, sardines, mussels, or more along with grilled bread, pickles, and a bunch of fresh herbs like dill and parsley. Even though I’ve tried to recreate this spread at home, my tinned fish game doesn’t even come close.
Southeast Asia Food Group
This Asian food market has the largest selection of Pocky I’ve ever seen in a retail setting. That alone is enough to visit this stall downstairs in The Market Line, but they also sell tons of different chile oil, rice noodles, and other condiments that have become staples in my home cooking.
While the Luis Meat Market is where I shop whenever I want chicken thighs, pork shoulder, or some chops, Ends Meat downstairs at The Market Line serves some excellent sausages - the best being their Thai lemongrass coriander ones. They’re thin, spicy, full of herbs, and taste great cooked in the oven or on the grill.
As an Italian-American, it is essential to locate the nearest shop where I can get cured meats and salumi, pints of fresh ricotta, and a wide selection of imported pasta and other goods. Formaggio Essex is that place for me. Besides all of that, they have a full shelf dedicated to Rancho Gordo beans (which I am also obsessed with).
Essex Olive & Spice
This is where I buy my za’atar, sumac, and other spices by the pound. It’s a luxury to be able to buy fresh stuff in smaller quantities instead of the larger jars and containers only available in grocery stores (I simply don’t need a 9-ounce bottle of allspice berries).