The Essex Street Market is proof that it’s never too late for a glow-up. After 79 years on the corner of Essex and Delancey Streets, the historic Lower East Side market has made a big, if short, move: right across the street inside the megaretail/residential development known as Essex Crossing.
The announcement of its move may have made regulars weary and worried, but they can breathe a sigh of relief. Aside from the new residence inside a shiny new building (wider aisles, dramatically sloped ceilings, and plenty of seating on the second floor) and a minor name change (to simply the Essex Market), the elements that made the market successful in its first iteration remain. Prices have stayed affordable at the three fruit and vegetable stands; the Uzbeki barber with a cult following still trims hair at his shop; the interdisciplinary Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space continues to showcase mixed-media works from underrepresented artists; and merchants, as always, offer generous samples with wide smiles. Along with the oldies are some new goodies: a sizable demo kitchen, a 720-square-foot mural from illustrator Aaron Meshan, and two upcoming full-service restaurants (one from the folks behind a WSWD fave, Adda).
Aromas of spices, coffee beans, cheeses, and meats will make it impossible to not stop by every merchant. For the sake of your wallet and stomach, though, we recommend prioritizing these seven bites. Some plates are familiar, while others are brand-new, but they’re all damn delectable.
Squid-Ink Ice Cream at Lower East Side Ice Cream Factory
The wildly popular Chinatown ice cream purveyor isn’t afraid to be daring. (Have you tried a scoop of its durian?) For the Essex Market iteration, it has sought out the tastes of its new nabe for its most adventurous spoonful. While intimidating in concept and appearance, the squid-ink scoop is remarkably light, with hints of lemon verbena instead of the brine you’d expect. Still weary? Try a complimentary sample before you commit.
The Black Sabich at Heros and Villains
Drawing inspiration from beloved ingredients and hefty bodega sandwiches, partners Matthew Chappina and Jason Cruz have made a vegetarian sandwich worth writing home about. In between a harissa labneh-slathered Caputo’s hero are deep-fried Scotch egg slices (wrapped in smoked eggplant purée instead of the usual sausage crumble), pickled cabbage, and refreshing Israeli salad. If you need any more evidence of how epic this sammie is, it’s also accompanied by a post-lunch Wet-Nap for easy cleanup.
Chubby 1 at Shopsin’s
While the namesake’s patriarch passed away last year, his children Melinda, Tamara, and Zack have ensured that nothing has changed at this infamous greasy spoon. (Even the no–cell phone rule; maybe put it on silent during your meal.) It’s also still notoriously difficult to read through the lengthy menu before ordering, but we recommend the ultimate hangover cure: a BEC sandwiched in between two gigantic mac and cheese pancakes.
Hai Yai Wings at Eat Gai
The team behind Sunnyside’s Zen Yai Noodles is well renowned for their striking Thai street food that has gourmands traveling from far and wide. (And after a winter fire, they’re more than willing to head to wherever they are.) Here, they marry cumin, coriander, and turmeric for his take on Southern fried chicken: A 24-hour marinade allows the spices to seep deep into the free-range wings, and a trio of pickles and a sweet chili sauce balance out the chicken’s rich crispiness.
RIND’s Cambleu at Riverdel
Who needs the curds and whey when there’s vegan cheese that tastes just as good as the real thing? Riverdel owner Michaela Grob wants to change the cheese-scape with her dairy-free offerings. What better way to do that than with two versions of vegan brand RIND’s Camembert and blue cheese, blooming with rich flavors from plant bases like nettles and mustard greens.
Mangu at Dominican Cravings
The man behind this Hispaniola vendor—Emmanuel Diaz—already knows how to win over crowds, previously working at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Cocina. Now he aims to do the same with his Caribbean-centric staples, particularly of the breakfast variety. This beloved morning dish is heavy by design—mashed plantains, fried slivers of salami, queso de freir, eggs both crispy and fluffy, and pickled red onions—but it will keep you going all the way to dinner.
Pomegranate Truffles at Roni-Sue’s Chocolates
Chocolatier Rhonda Kave’s treats have made downtown a sweet place for nearly three decades, thanks to her cocktail-inspired bonbons and bacon-laden products. Our personal preference, though, leads us toward the fruitier pomegranate truffle. For starters, the shell is instantly eye-catching. (Spoiler: It looks like a miniature version of the divine fruit.) The mouthful tastes just as stunning, bursting with the pomegranate’s tangy sharpness alongside the white chocolate shell.