In a time before Pastis transformed the Gansevoort Market forever, Gothamist lived in shared commercial space on Little West 12th Street with some artistically inclined folks. The food routine was straightforward; La Taza de Oro and Hector’s (44 Little West 12th Street, 212-206-7592) for day to day prepared food, Chelsea Market and Western Beef to buy raw foodstuffs, and Rio Mar served endless tapas with your Sangria.
As time marches on some things change, and others do not.
For starters Rio Mar (7 Ninth Ave) is long gone, and the space inexplicably has remained vacant while an explosion of food and beverage spots have filled in every block between La Taza de Oro on Eighth Avenue and 14th Street and Hector’s on Washington and Little West 12th Street. The boom has ushered in some good spots to eat at, places that any neighborhood would love to have.
Pop Burger (58-60 Ninth Avenue, 212-414-8686) serves exemplary burgers and fries in your choice of environs - upscale fast food joint or dark lounge with sleek, low-slung furniture. As well as a quick hit and run up front has served us over time, we suggest relaxing in the back with a plate of three char-grilled, beefy mini Burgers ($12) and crispy outside, pillowy inside Fries. Anyone patronize their sister spot Pop Pizza?
Speaking of pizza, while we cannot say much good about Lil’ Frankie’s these days, the original chef has been consulting over the past year on a comfortable sliver of an Italian spot, Gioia (47 Eighth Ave, 212-255-3900) that seems worthy of some menu testing. A recent visit turned up a nice Margarita pizza ($11.95) with the Chef’s trademark tender dough, and some very friendly staff.
Although some say that La Taza de Oro (98 Eighth Avenue, 212-243-9946) has slipped over time, we would maintain that it is still worth a visit as a good example of a classic rice and beans luncheonette. If all else fails, their rice and excellent selection of beans still wins over nearly everyone.
Back over in the Meatpacking proper, while most of the places at the upper end of the price spectrum are annoying (Spice Market) or risky bets (Chingalle, Fressen), Pastis (9 Ninth Avenue, 212-929-4844) is reliable for solid food and the bar at 5 Ninth (5 Ninth Avenue, 212-929-9460) is a nice place to drop in for a pleasantly pork-centric bite.
While not too useful now, Gothamist recommends al fresco drinks and food at Paradou (8 Little West 12th Street, 212-463-8345) when the Summer rolls around
One longtime community fixture that is about to get swept away under the guise of progress, is Western Beef (403 West 14th Street, 212-989-6572.) While the lease is soon up, and no new location announced yet, today you can still count on it as a great place to save money on groceries in NYC. Their pricing of specials, on an admittedly narrower set of goods, nearly rivals Stew Leonard’s; for example a whole Sirloin is on sale for $2.99 a pound this week. If it’s early the guys who staff the walk-in meat room will custom cut or grind your goods for free, just as they do for the blue hairs from the housing developments up the road on 9th Avenue.
The Chelsea Market (75 Ninth Avenue) right up the road, while a risky gamble both for the developers and the original tenants due in part to the scope of the project and location, has come into its own as a food destination in the last few years. Low turnover of the food-based retail tenants of all sizes is a testament to the excellent retail businesses on the markets’ ground floor.
With the Chelsea Market retailers ranging from the abundantly stocked Manhattan Fruit Exchange to The Lobster Place to the well-regarded Italian goods merchant Buon Italia, one wonders how the new Balducci’s (81 Eighth Avenue, 212-741-3700) will fare in the neighborhood. Early promise, exemplified by semi-accurate postings online about Peter Luger’s Ground Beef in the meat department, and Katz’s Pastrami in the deli helped to stroke interest. A hands-on Gothamist investigation reveals that while they do have some very special and exclusive items like Il Mulino Tomato Sauce, Zoe Ventresca Tuna and that Katz Pastrami in stock, the Luger’s Meat is just Ground Meat with their steak sauce mixed in. With their prices just below, or comparable to, Whole Foods, a wide selection of excellent, Italian focused prepared foods under the direction of Katy Sparks, and a healthy selection of dry goods and specialty items like four types of bone-in country ham, Balducci’s should make a good run at success.