Miles of Aisles: The Chelsea Supermarket Guide

Trader Joe’s has a huge selection of frozen food — and long lines. The best times to shop are weekdays before 11 a.m. or after 8:30 p.m. | Photo by Josh Rogers

BY JOSH ROGERS | There may be more fun, noble, or perhaps even poetic reasons to celebrate life in Chelsea, but the thing I keep coming back to is the fact that food shopping has gotten so good. I know of what I write. I can’t tell you why I do it so much, but whatever the reason, I typically visit neighborhood supermarkets a few times a week. So herein lies a Chelsea supermarket guide, gleaned from thousands of hours of shopping experience:

TRADER JOE’S (Sixth Ave. btw. W. 21st & 22nd Sts.) | If I had to make only one supermarket trip a week (do people really do that?), it would be here. Overall, Trader Joe’s prices are the best. I cook regularly, but for those who don’t, the place almost seems like a Chinese takeout menu with its huge selection of frozen foods. There’s also lots of prepared foods for lunches, massive varieties of crackers, and other snack foods. I tend to shop solo these days, but TJ’s is the most child-friendly store in the nabe — they always have sample tastings, and there’s more space for strollers. The produce is a weak point, although they have peppers for 99 cents and bags of apples at good prices. They also pride themselves at keeping their bananas at 19 cents each. It’s not the place to go for that once-in-a-while recipe, as their spice and meat selections are skimpy. And at least in Chelsea, they don’t carry many cooking ingredients, things like Worcestershire sauce. The lines are the other big drawback, so unless you have lots of emails to check, it’s best to go on weekdays before 11 a.m. or after 8:30 p.m.    

WHOLE FOODS (Seventh Ave. and W. 24th St.) | Even before Amazon bought the chain last year, the “Whole Paycheck” nickname was never completely justified. Its internal 365 brand was always competitive, and they usually had good specials. The Amazon effect is noticeable on a few items, such as salmon at $10 a pound. Their produce, meats, and seafood have a well-earned reputation for high quality at high prices. You can find good specials on produce, and their potatoes are reasonably priced.

IDEAL (Ninth Ave. near W. 28th St.) | It’s definitely worth picking up their flyer every week, because they usually have good specials, particularly on meats, which are decent quality. They’ve had at least three different names since they opened about a decade ago. It would’ve been nice if they were there when I lived across the street, but I still go there regularly, and I’m sure it is a lifeline for northwest Chelsea folks. The store is well-stocked and spacious.

FAIRWAY (Sixth Ave. btw. W. 25th & 26th Sts.) | In Chelsea’s pre-TJ days, I’d regularly drive up to the Harlem Fairway to shop. It was a quick trip on weekends, and I often hoped they’d move into the neighborhood. My wish came true five years ago, but I don’t often shop there. The Harlem store had good quality and prices, and lots of space. Fairway’s quality is still pretty good, but its prices are not the deal they used to be. The Chelsea store is much smaller than Harlem, limiting the selection. They sometimes have good specials, and much to their credit, they are the most neighborhood-friendly store. They have helped with the Penn South annual barbecue and are “Community Partners” with PS11, donating a percentage of parents’ shopping bills to the PTA.  

GRISTEDES (W. 26th St. near Eighth Ave.; Eighth Ave. btw. W. 21st & 22nd Sts.; Ninth Ave. near W. 24th St.) | With three neighborhood locations, convenience is the best thing about Gristedes. The lines are seldom bad, and if you need something quick, the odds are it’s the fastest option (the 26th St. & Eighth Ave. ones are a bit nicer looking). The chain has never been known for high-quality fresh foods, and there’s a reason for that.

Chelsea supermarkets do leave somewhat of a produce gap, which is why our family often buys from one of the avenues’ “Fruit Guys,” who often have good quality at great prices. We like the ones on Eighth, but Ninth and Sixth are equally good.

Josh Rogers is a freelance writer and editor living in Chelsea.

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