The throngs pass by, seemingly oblivious of the great eats within.
Throughout much of the 20th century, it was the Nabisco factory, turning out crackers and cookies in a convoluted series of Victorian-era brick buildings. Then, in 1997, it was repurposed as a complex aiming to meet the needs of serious cooks and foodies for raw materials and equipment. But gradually, as Chelsea Market has become one of the city’s prime tourist traps, the original intentions have slowly evaporated, such that now it’s mainly a shopping-mall food court. Well, so what? There a plenty of good things to chew on, and here is Fork in the Road’s ranked list.
10. Mac and Cheese at Ronnybrook Milk Bar — Served with a couple of slices of marble rye, the mac and cheese from Ronnybrook Dairy is just as elemental as you’d hope: elbows and three cheeses, making a casserole neither too runny nor too firm, with some scallions and bread crumbs sinking into the mellow yellow surface. Vegetarian, 212-741-6455, $7
9. Taco Salad at One Lucky Duck — Even if you don’t go in for the vegan, raw, and organic aesthetic that this stall just off the new 15th Street entrance fervently advocates, the taco salad is a thing of beauty, featuring ripe tomatoes, crisp romaine, pico de gallo, guacamole, flavored crunchy sprinkles, and a cashew “sour cream” that doesn’t turn your stomach. Vegan, 212-255-4300, $16
8. Hamburger at Friedman’s Lunch — Made from ground Creekstone Farms brisket and then flame-grilled for extra flavor, the patty sits up high on its brioche bun, flaunting lettuce, purple onions, and tomatoes of pristine quality. And the herbed fries knock the platter for a home run. (Added plus: interesting beer list.) 212-929-7100, $13
Lively lunchtime discussions often originate at the clubby communal table in Friedman’s Lunch.
7. Toasted Cheese at Lucy’s Whey — Every day this branch of a Hamptons cheese shop constructs a couple of sandwiches from cheese and condiments on hand plus the occasional piece of charcuterie from Dickson Farmstand, just across the hall at the Chelsea Market. After receiving the warm embrace of the panini press, these toasty, cheesy sandwiches make splendid light lunches. The model shown here, made with clothbound cheddar and fig paste, is especially tooth-worthy. Vegetarian, 212-463-9500, $6
6. Beef Pie from Tuck Shop — The Australian-style pies are turned out in a convection oven in this incredibly small space, and they’re superb, with thick flaky crusts and savory fillings that never taste stale. While the pies may look small, their meaty richness means you won’t walk away hungry, though your chin will be shiny from grease. 212-255-2021, $5.50
5. Clam Chowder at the Lobster Place — This fancified fishmonger, consistent with the general drift of Chelsea Market, has turned fully half its floor space over to prepared foods. While that may not be good for the cook, it’s good for the nosher, who has a wide range of sushi, soups, and seafood salads to choose from. Ladled from a squat black reservoir, the New England clam chowder is a perfect evocation of the quintessential Yankee dish. And achieved without bacon, too. Pescatarian, 212-255-5672, $3.50
The popular prepared-food window at Lobster Place
4. Ham and Baguettine Sandwich from Amy’s Bread and Dickson Farmstand Meats — This requires some premeditation, but the result is well worth it. Buy several of the little loaves of bread called “baguettines” at Amy’s Bread, then acquire a small quantity of sliced ham from Dickson’s, which is so wonderfully oily and smoky, it may never make it into the baguettine. Using the plastic knife and butter packets provided at your request by Amy’s, carefully slice the bread on the side, and apply butter and a small slice of jam. Voilà! Dickson’s, 212-242-2630; Amy’s Bread, 212-462-433; about $1.25 each
3. Yum Woon Sen at Chelsea Thai — This ample storefront right on Chelsea Market’s main drag has evolved from a Southeast Asian grocery to a full-blown Siamese café, complete with seating. While much of the food is hit-or-miss, this cold salad is superb, a magnificent heap of clear mung-bean threads topped with cubes of tofu and crunchy veggies, and flavored with mint and holy basil in a pungent citrus dressing. Vegan, 212-924-2999, $4.95
2. Chicken Pot Pie at Green Table — The pie oozes with farmstead chicken and vegetables in a delightful gravy that won’t glue your teeth together, and the crust rises up before you like Buddha climbing a sere mountain landscape. Almost too much for one hungry person, the pot pie comes with a lightly dressed salad at this catering operation long since turned into an agreeable restaurant. 212-741-6623, $15
You can sit inside or out at Chelsea Thai.
1. French Tuna Sandwich at Bowery Eats — With so much good food to choose from, it was a tough call which item should be proclaimed best. This is quite simply the best tuna sandwich we’ve ever tasted. Though mayo-free, the giant quantity of canned albacore is lovingly bathed in olive oil and vinegar, further Frenchified with capers and black olives, Provençal-style, and deposited on a whole-wheat roll. And the unexpected semisecret source of the sandwich (located behind Bowery Kitchen Supplies) is an added bonus, if you enjoy feeling both knowledgeable and sneaky. Pescatarian, 212-376-4982, $7.25
The sandwich-making goings-on deep in the bowels of Bowery Kitchen Supplies
And if you want some dessert …
The pistachio gelato at L’Arte del Gelato is spectacular.