The market dates back to the 1940s, when Mayor LaGuardia launched it to provide the Lower East Side with a grassroots market space.
Rainbo is the oldest current vendor in the market; it's called the place home for 38 years. Fishmonger-in-chief Ira's family used to sell fish to Dorie's in-laws decades ago when they lived in the East Village.
Yes, this is where you want to buy your fish.
If the salmon steaks are looking too rich, there's always fish heads with their gorgeous cheek meat—under $2 a pound!
Tra La La Juice Bar
It's something of a leap from fish to fresh juice, but Rainbo took it when they decided to optimize space at their stall eleven years ago.
Sweets at Rainbo
When a space near the fish stall opened up, Rainbo took it without knowing exactly what they'd do with it. It now serves muffins and other treats that they bake on-site, and offers seating to take your pastry, or perhaps one of the fish sandwiches they make.
Seating for Rainbo customers.
Ira and Dorie became fast friends, and watch each other's stalls when they go on snack breaks.
The Drink Spread
You'll find all sorts of crazy drinks around the market: all the Pellegrino, kombucha, and classic sodas you could ask for.
Glass bottle Coke is, relatively speaking, pretty common. But glass bottled Pepsi too? Less so.
Some vendors offer seating of their own, but some public tables also line the north end of the market.
Best Farm Fruits and Vegetables
Produce and dry goods in abundance at this grocery tucked in the heart of the market.
Dried fruit, nuts, old school gummy candies—these are the kind of snacks that never get old.
Some very respectable-looking pomegranates for under a dollar a pop.
ALL the Sugar
Would you like plain? Brown? Light or Dark? Powdered or Superfine? Raw? Organic? Unrefined? Really Unrefined?
The market is part grocery, part Disney World, all labyrinth.
"I just love these fish," Dorie admits. Us too.
"And these are my favorite. They're just so meaty! And they're smoked, but only lightly."
Who needs supermarkets?
"This place reminds me of the covered markets you see all over Paris. The vendors really care about what they're selling, and they just know it."
"This really does have everything you could ask for in one market. I love it because it has all these things you'd have to hunt down elsewhere," like peeled roasted chestnuts, ready to eat or cook with out of the bag.
And right next to the chestnuts: white and blue corn tortillas, of course.
Other rare finds: Peruvian aji amarillo and rocoto peppers. They're great stewed with beans or blended into sauces for roast chicken.
The market's peak hours are around opening time, noon, and after five.
There's an impressive cheese display at Formaggio.
Olive Oil and More
And a just-as-impressive pantry selection. "I come here for a lot of pantry goods," Dorie says. She's a particular fan of the J. Leblanc walnut oil.
Formaggio also makes on-the-fly sandwiches with ingredients on hand. Tell them what you'd like and they can probably make it happen.
ALL the Spices
Near Formaggio you'll find another stall lined wall to wall to wall with spices. Happy times for this spice hound.
"This is one of my favorites in the market," Dorie tell us. Brooklyn Taco does a lot of business out of this tiny stall. "We're all learning to live small here."
Braised brisket and spicy kale. If these tacos are on the pricier side, they're also loaded more generously than your typical taco truck's, with bright fillings and tortillas that can stand up to the heft without turning soggy or chalky.
"A good short order cook is like a magician," Dorie says. "I think of that when I eat here."
Heritage Meats sells some of the finest fresh, aged, and cured meat around, and their only retail location is in the market. Here's the Agrumi sausage: pleasantly oily with soft chunks of fat, it balances meaty richness with fermented tang and delicate citrus spices.
American ham, Italian style, awesome no matter the language.
Pork Chops for the People
The meat at Heritage Meats can get pricey, but they make a point of "five dollar pork chops—always." Essex Street Market may cater to serious eaters willing to part with some coin, but it hasn't forgotten the lower incomes of its neighborhood roots.
Meat-master Emily guides us through some mid-tour shopping. "I love how much they know the meat here," Dorie says. "You just know that they really care about it."
"You need to try this tongue pastrami," Emily tells us—and she'd know, as she's been curing it. "Don't be afraid of tongue!"
Silva's been at the market longer than Heritage meats. Another butcher used to run the stall, and when Heritage took over, he stayed on. This is a guy you want aging your steak.
Pet the Meat
Dorie couldn't wait to feel what dry aging did first-hand.
Ni Japanese Deli
Ni Japanese Deli sells an array of Japanese pantry goods, made-to-order lunches, and hard-to-find items like premium matcha.
Soy sauce, shichimi togarashi, Kewpie mayo, pickled plums, and everything else you didn't know you needed.
Ni's bento box-style lunches run the gamut from miso black cod to veggie lasagna.
Rona Economoum's tiny stall doubles as her kitchen space—it baffles me how such a small operation can make treats as good as her spanakopita.
The spanakopita pan is well-scored at this point. Seriously, get this stuff now—it may very well be the best spinach pie in the city, with a flaky crust rivaled by no one. "It's my obsession to make it crispy," she tells us.
Next time you complain about your tiny kitchen, remember that you don't have to run a whole mini-bakery out of it.
Chasing After the Kids
An adorable child runs down the hall, and Rona asks our leave to chase after her. She's the daughter of Ni's proprietor. Rona explains: "They were my first customers here when I started, and now they have their own stall."
Luis Meat Market
The meat at Luis Meat Market may not have the pedigree of Heritage Meats', but it comes at a cheaper average price. And check out that oxtail!
Saxelby sells some of the best cheese in New York, period, and at prices that can be gentler than you'd expect.
One of the more popular items, the cheese curds are a little different than the typical Wisconsin style. They're more buttery and velvety in texture than chewy, with a stronger cheesy funk.
Snackers would do well by a tiny grilled cheese.
Massive Grilled Cheese
Or you could go big. You really should.
Saxelby's brand new Red Hook cheese facility was effectively wiped out by Sandy. They were able to save their Essex Street inventory thanks to the donation of space from Heritage Meats, and their current stock is spread out across three markets. "People have been so great to us," manager Sarah Maine points out.
Robyn pauses to have a cheese moment.
What do we talk about when we talk about Shopsin's? Love, mostly. And flagrant obscenities. And greasy delicious plates of joy.
Roni Sue sells their awesome chocolate treats at the market. The stall is also their kitchen space, so you're likely to see the chocolate fountain going in the background.
Roni Sue began in the market, and owes itself to it. "I probably wouldn't be in business if it weren't for this place," Rhonda tells us. And the community has been good to her. After Sandy, Saxelby Cheese rescued her stock of chocolate and trucked it over to the Heritage Meats' Brooklyn facility. Respect.
It's not a proper market without some good bread, and Pain D'Avignon doesn't disappoint.
Porto Rico Coffee
One employee's a big fan of the Indian Monsoon Malabar beans.
Beurre & Sel
Let's not forget about Beurre & Sel, Dorie's own stall at the market, which she runs with her son Josh. Have you had her cookies yet? No? Then stop reading this and go buy some. Now.
Batista has all the large tubers you could ask for.
This is positioned near the cash register. You know, as an impulse buy.
There's almost no signage for the market, and one vendor told us that people who've lived in the neighborhood for ten years or longer still come through just now, discovering it for the first time. But take a look: the Delancey Street subway is right there, so what are you waiting for? There's still time for pre-Thanksgiving shopping.