Mon-Sat, 8:30am-6pm; Sun, closed
E, M at Lexington Ave.-53rd St.; 6 at 51st St.
American Express, Diners Club, Discover, MasterCard, Visa
It may look like an unassuming neighborhood deli from the outside—but one whiff of the rich, tangy aroma that greets you as soon as you walk in the door of this shop lets you know different. Ideal is, in fact, a mecca for serious cheese lovers—and has been for over half a century. Manager James Coogan presides here over shelves and display cases filled with redolent wheels, blocks, and chunks of cheese from all over the world; all you need to do is ask, and he'll let you taste a slice of sharp-flavored, five-year-aged Dutch Gouda, wine-infused Ubriacco Prosecco ("big fat drunk" in Italian), or creamy, mellow Robiola Bosina, made from a blend of sheep's and cow's milk. The creme de la creme is the Rogue River Blue from Oregon, which is wrapped in sycamore leaves and soaked in pear brandy for seven months before shipping; it's surprising sweetness makes it well worth the cholesterol-raising price. If you're one-stop shopping for a party or picnic, Ideal also carries an array of specialty olives, cured meats, biscuits, and bauguette loaves from Balthazar.