The stretch of First Avenue from the L station at 14th Street down to Saint Marks is chock full of great stops for food junkies. While most of the great stops are casual restaurants that excel at what they are doing, there is a bona fide great restaurant in the mix and a smattering of excellent food stores.

Quick casual bites:

Caracas Arepa Bar – a wonderful little room with a wide variety of Venezuelan arepas and empanadas ($3.15-$5.50), as well as entrees including Pabellón Criollo – the national dish. Gets packed on the weekends, but we like it for off hours since they serve all day.

Zaragoza Grocery – a few doors south of 14th street on Avenue A, this tiny storefront bodega has killer tacos ($2), with the selection rotating daily. We have also come across other yummy Mexican specialties like tamales, posole and flautas as well. A couple of years ago they put a few tables in, so grab beer and a seat and enjoy a quick bite.

Taralluci e Vino's – this bustling place serves superb coffee and delicious light bites such as quiche, salads and paninis. As the name suggests they also serve cookies and wine - we can’t speak to the wine, but we probably should have had cookies instead of the tarts we did not love. Hopefully you will chuckle and admire, like we did, that they have signs admonishing customers not to linger if other are waiting to sit.

Places with more substance and service:

Momofuku Noodle Bar – the controlled chaos, a large crew works in the tight confines of the open kitchen, of this pork lovers noodle bar is almost as alluring as the food. Care seem to go into everything the kitchen turns out, we especially loved the Pan-Fried Pork Dumplings ($6) with their tender dough, the Ramen dishes ($9-$14) in a rich stock along with a poached egg, and the wonderful shellfish dishes.

Luzzo’s – Across the various food forums in town, Una Pizza Napoletana appropriately garners heaps of praise for the pies. The price, spartan service and certain annoyance factors detract in the eyes of others. For our money Gothamist prefers going up around the corner to patronize Luzzo’s and their pizzaiola Michele. The pizza ($14-$22) he is turning out of one of New York’s last remaining coal ovens is just fantastic – perfectly cooked with excellent toppings. Maybe we wish the crust had a bit more flavor, but it does not stop us from ordering the pizza every time - we keep promising ourselves we will branch out.

And the gem:

Hearth – we always loved chef Marco Canora’s food at Craft and assume his presence at Gramercy Tavern also contributed to our enjoyment of that restaurant back when Gothamist first moved to NYC. The seasonally driven dishes here are prepared with superb ingredients and lots of care. We always order any dish that has mushrooms and sometimes learn a thing or two along the way if we get sat in the coveted catbird seats right at the kitchen. The prices may appear high for the neighborhood, but the quality of the food quickly erases any qualms that may exist.

Food Stores:

Kurowycky Meat Market – this Ukrainian butcher shop is a throwback to a rapidly disappearing era, when food shoppers visited a variety of specialty stores to pick up their various foodstuffs for a week of cooking. The house-made sausages, best bacon in NYC sliced to your desired thickness, and well-managed meat counter is what brings people here from all parts of the 5 boroughs. Look for us to do a piece on the bacon next week for Subway Fare – At Home.

Russo’s – even though it will never replace our first love, DiPalo’s, this nook of a store is a very reliable place to pick up fresh mozzarella, Italian dry goods and a huge variety of fresh pastas.

Commodities Natural Market – this neighborhood standby for folks who strive to put healthy and artisanal foodstuffs into their body as opposed to supermarket staples is thriving even with Whole Foods rapidly expanding their NYC presence. Actually at times it feels like a mini-Whole Foods outpost with many of the same lines carried. Small touches, like posting the weekly bread delivery schedule by bakery, a wide variety of fresh vegetable and fruits, and self-service nuts & grains, are what sets it apart and keeps the base loyal.