New York's Great Food Neighborhoods: Hell's Kitchen
A Diversity of Ingredients, Top Quality Merchants, and Great Values
Despite best efforts to rename the neighborhood "Clinton," Hell's Kitchen remains the preferred and hard-earned tag for the area of Manhattan that stretches along Midtown's west side. The name comes from the period that began after the Civil War and continued into the 1970's when New York City's west side, from 14th to 59th Streets, simmered with corruption and was ruled by street gangs like the Westies. While the neighborhood has a rich history of violence, bootlegging and organized crime, today Hell's Kitchen is no longer the wild west. Instead it has become a highly diverse community that is well-served by a collection of top quality food merchants, some of which have survived decades of change.
Hell's Kitchen is now considered the area between West 34th and 57th Streets, and from 8th Avenue to the Hudson River. It was a relief and a triumph when the Bloomberg Administration got stopped in 2005 from building a football stadium and 24 million square feet of dense development in Hell's Kitchen's Hudson Yards, the last remaining huge development parcel in Manhattan. Still, recent construction has added to the neighborhood's diversity, bringing high rise condominiums to gritty blocks better known for tenements, smaller apartment houses, brownstones and scatterings of public housing. Today the area is multi-ethnic (especially Hispanic, Greek, Italian, and Irish-Americans), a home for artists, aspiring actors and Broadway performers, and is economically diverse as New Yorkers embrace Hell's Kitchen's convenience and authenticity.
Food Shopping in Hell
The folks in Hell's Kitchen clearly love to cook because the food markets are superb, eclectic and well-priced. Most of the shops are located behind Port Authority at West 43nd Street and 9th Avenue, an area that's easy to reach either by bus or subway.
On a short stretch of Ninth Avenue between West 38th and West 48th Streets (with a couple of side street detours), are some of New York's best quality and best value food markets. If you're shopping for seafood, meats and bakery items, you can't do better anywhere else in the city. Located among the specialty markets are bodegas and fruit and vegetable stands that sell quality fruits and vegetables at very good prices. The produce isn't exotic -- it's whatever is coming in through Hunt's Point Market -- but the quality is good and the values are excellent. And with a detour ten blocks north to West 57th Street and 9th Avenue, there's also a twice-weekly Greenmarket.
Here are our favorite markets in Hell's Kitchen:
- Amy's Bread, 672 9th Avenue, between West 46th/47th Streets
- Cupcake Café/Casa Cupcake, 545 9th Avenue, between West 40th/41st Streets
- Little Pie Company, 424 West 43rd Street, between 10th/11th Avenues
- Pozzo Pastry, 690 9th Avenue, between West 47th/48th Streets
- Poseidon Bakery, 629 9th Avenue, between West 44th/45th Streets
- Sullivan Street Bakery, 533 West 47th Street, between 10th/11th Avenues
Meat and Poultry
- Big Apple Meat Market, 575 9th Avenue, at West 41st Street
- Esposito's Meat Market, 500 9th Avenue, at West 38th Street
- Sea Breeze Fish Market, 541 9th Avenue, at West 40th Street
- West 57th Street and Ninth Avenue, Thursdays and Saturdays -- Year-Round
- Amish Market, 731 9th Avenue, between West 49th/50th Streets
- Empire Coffee & Tea Co., 568 9th Avenue, between West 41st/42nd Streets
- Ninth Avenue International Market, 543 9th Avenue, between West 40th/41st Streets
What to Buy
Hell's Kitchen is distinguished by having one of the city's best butchers, one of its best seafood markets, its only West African market, and some of New York's top bakeries. Here's what I buy when shopping in the neighborhood:
- Superb pork and other meats cut by expert butchers and trimmed by hand to your specifications at Esposito's Meat Market. You can't find better pork ribs anywhere else in the city and the prices are excellent.
- A just-out-of-the-oven crusty loaf of Pugliese bread and slices of pizza patate, a heavenly potato, onion and rosemary pizza, from Sullivan Street Bakery.
- Baklava and other honey-sweetened Greek pastries at Poseidon Bakery.
- Need chicken for a crowd or managing on a strict food budget? Big Apple Meat Market has Costco-sized packages of good quality poultry, meats and grocery items and the prices are -- well, the word is cheap.
- A huge selection of wild fish and shellfish, top quality tuna, fresh and wild Florida shrimp, and other fabulous seafood from Sea Breeze Seafood, a fish monger that's been in business for three generations. Despite its top quality, the prices are as excellent as can be found in Manhattan. Half the price of Citarella; cheaper than Fairway.
- Organic breads and baked goods from the still extraordinary original location of Amy's Bread.
- Buttercream flowered birthday cakes and cupcakes from Casa Cupcake.
- Greek olives, cheese and spices from Ninth Avenue International.
- Fresh roasted coffee beans and filter papers from Empire Coffee & Tea.
- A better-than-most-Moms' apple pie (call ahead for the holidays) from the Little Pie Company.
- Imported dried pasta, olive oil and other necessities from the Amish Market.
- Cannolis filled with sweet ricotta from Pozzo Pastry.
So if you're looking for excellent value, a melting pot of ingredients, and some of the city's best sources for meat and fish, head to Hell's Kitchen. It's another of the city's great food neighborhoods and another reason to love New York.