The Essex Market lived on the corner of Essex and Delancey Street for 79 years. In May 2019, the market relocated across the street to Essex Crossing, a complex complete with residences, retail shops, a movie theater and the newly opened Market Line, which is a basement full of dining vendors.
What began as an outdoor hub for pushcart peddlers has transformed into a vast network of vendors in an indoor marketplace. Initially populated predominantly by immigrants, Essex Market is a space enriched by a diverse community, existing as more than just a place of commerce.
With 35 vendors selling everything from fish to coffee beans to sandwiches, there is no shortage of options. Below are seven vendors serving unique dishes that are hard to come by anywhere else.
Shopsin’s General Store
This diner, a staple at Essex Market since 2006, is known for its extensive menu — at one point reaching 900 items — and eccentric founder Kenny Shopsin, who passed away in 2018. Shopsin created unique rules for the restaurant, including prohibiting individual customers from ordering the same item more than once and later banning cell phone use. Breaking a rule could result in Kenny asking you to leave the diner. Shopsin’s General Store is now run by Shopsin’s children.
Though no longer 900 items long, the menu remains expansive, with many outlandish options to choose from, including Slutty Stuffed Pancakes ($17), filled with s’mores or mac’n cheddar, and Blisters On My Sisters ($15), broiled cheddar over eggs on vegetables, rice and corn tortillas. The space is small, seating only 12 diners at a time, but come with a big appetite and you’re guaranteed to be satisfied.
Lower East Side Ice Cream Factory
If the run-of-the-mill vanilla or chocolate scoop is becoming tiresome, L.E.S. Ice Cream Factory’s menu just might be what you’re looking for. At this spin-off of the historic Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, you can find flavors from black sesame to baklava to squid ink. Grab a scoop ($5.75) or a pint ($9.75), or opt for a drink of either a milkshake ($7.50), soda float ($6.95) or egg cream ($3.50).
Riverdel might seem like the average cheese shop to an unobservant passerby, but one thing stands out: all the cheeses are vegan. Made using nuts — mainly cashews — Riverdel features plant-based versions of all your favorite classics: brie and aged gouda, in addition to more unusual flavors such as rum, blueberry and champagne truffle. Curious cheese connoisseurs can try 3 cheeses in a Cheese Flight ($8). Riverdel also sells sandwiches and pastries, all prepared with both vegan cheeses and meats.
Served in little egg cartons, these golden, deep-fried risotto balls, or arancini, are worth the journey to the Lower East Side. The arancini are freshly fried, so you are guaranteed a warm and comforting pocket each time. Arancini Bros. offers seven different flavors. The Classic Ragu is filled with saffron risotto, tomato meat sauce, peas and mozzarella. The vegan Sausage & Peppers arancini is stuffed with Beyond Sausage crumble, peppers and onions. There’s even a dessert flavor, Our Famous Nutella, which comes with chocolate hazelnut filling and coated in cinnamon and sugar. Everyone is sure to find their arancini match. It’ll be hard to try just one, so pick three for $7 or six for $12.
Eat’s Khao Man Gai
Chicken fat rice, or Khao Man Gai as it is known in Thailand, originated in China’s Hainan province and was brought to Thailand by immigrants. Traditionally, the dish is composed of poached chicken, rice cooked in chicken broth and garlic served with dipping sauces. Eat’s Khao Man Gai serves this classic ($9.50) and a version with half of a chicken ($16), along with a variation known as Hat Yai, which features southern Thai fried chicken. The fried chicken wings options range from $5 to $9, and it also offers fried pineapple chicken ($11.50) and fried chicken rice ($9.50). The dish is seemingly simple, but the aromatic flavors and fresh farm-raised chicken leave no question as to why it became a fixture of East Asian cuisine.
Ni Japanese Delicacies
Tucked away in the corner of the market, those looking for something light and healthy but still flavorful will find it at Ni Japanese Delicacies. The menu aligns with a macrobiotic and allergy-free diet, complete with many vegan options. This philosophy culminates in an ever-changing menu that rotates ingredients based on their seasonality. The menu consists of a variety of bento boxes ($14-$18), noodles ($11-$25), salads ($10-$18), donburi rice bowls ($12-$17) and sushi ($6-$8.25). If you’re short on time, there is also a grab-and-go section with small packaged dishes such as onigiri, inari and snacks that could only otherwise be found in a Japanese supermarket. It’s hard to find Ni Japanese Delicacies in the crowded market, but it’s even harder to walk away empty-handed.
If you’ve fallen sick recently, Peasant Stock is the vendor for you. The menu changes daily, but soup options have included chicken noodle, split pea & ham, cream of broccoli and spicy chickpea tomato ($5.75-$7). The storefront’s display case shows off an array of baked goods, notably the fresh-baked cornbread ($3), which is the perfect accompaniment to a bowl of piping hot broth.
These seven vendors are only a handful of the quirky shops that inhabit the market. If you make your way down to Essex Market, try a little bit of everything. Your tastebuds will thank you.
A version of this article appears in the Monday, Dec. 2, 2019 print edition. Email Divya Nelakonda at [email protected]