403A W., nr. Ninth Ave.; 212-989-6572
Personality type: Buy-in-bulk survivalist bargain hunters with adequate storage space for items like Hellmann's by the $11.99 gallon tub.
Ambience: Buckling floors, plastic car-wash-style slatted curtains, neighborhood-appropriate bloodstains in the meat department. (With plans to move to Tenth and 16th this spring, there's no reason to renovate.)
Strengths: Latin American produce like red or white yautia and Panamanian –ame; rare finds like Sylvia's canned collards and Tang; specials on items like Maruchan's instant soup, $1.69 per six-pack.
Weaknesses: Limited brand selection, less-than-appetizing displays, and longish waits even when the lines are relatively short.
Highlight: The famous 30-degree-Fahrenheit meat room, with its shrink-wrapped tripe, beef hearts, and cow's feet.
Point-of-Purchase Temptation: Yodels.
Prepare to hum: "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now."
One-Stop-Shopping Rating (out of 10): 7 for regular folks, 2 for food snobs.
301 W., at Eighth Ave.; 212-741-3700
Personality type: The exceptionally well-heeled gastronome with a subscription to The Art of Eating, plus lazy non-cooks looking to pass off culinary director Katy Sparks's lamb burgers and panko-crumbed mac and cheese as their own.
Ambience: Stately and grand, as only an 1897 New York Savings Bank building turned 21st-century food hall can be.
Strengths: A well-curated selection of artisanal goodies from Benedetto Cavalieri pastas to La Quercia pancetta Americana, with a canny emphasis on local legends like Katz's pastrami and Ben's cream cheese. Price labels list all ingredients, revealing the precise contents of a City Bakery miso morning muffin (kamut and spelt). And daily papers for sale at the coffee bar is a nice touch.
Weaknesses: Feels more like Dean & DeLuca, less like its lovably frumpy forebear.
Highlight: The most enticing cheese department on 14th Street, overseen by a team of crackerjack cheesemongers.
Point-of-Purchase oddity: The Michelin Guide NYC, with nary a Zagat Survey in sight.
Prepare to hum: "Get Into the Groove."
One-Stop-Shopping Rating: 9.
3. Garden of Eden
7 E., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-255-4200
Personality Type: Everyday epicures with high standards and a low threshold for pretension.
Ambience: Reminiscent of the original Balducci's, with wicker baskets hanging from low ceilings, and appealing departments, nicely spaced for easy access and unhindered meandering.
Strengths: Produce, especially the obscure and the exotic: fragrant guavas, wrinkly ugli fruit, and horned melons; individually wrapped squash flowers; early fiddleheads for $14 a pound. Elsewhere, the range is impressively wide-from Zomick's babka to Mariage Fr?eres tea. Management tries to cover all the bases, pricewise and tastewise, offering basic supermarket brands alongside more esoteric and expensive gourmet items. More than any other store, G of E tries to be all things to all people.
Weaknesses: We're still mourning the late, lamented brick-oven pizza station, manned by a Naples 45 alum.
Highlight: Attractive olive bar, crispy Greek roasted potatoes, and a nice assortment of imported Spanish and Italian canned tunas.
Point-of-Purchase Temptation: Michel Cluizel chocolate bar.
Prepare to hum: Dean Martin's "Volare."
One-Stop-Shopping Rating: 8.5.
4. Whole Foods
4 Union Sq. S., nr. Broadway; 212-673-5388
Personality Type: Health-conscious new parents, active seniors, and backsliding eat-local moralists who feel slightly guilty to be here instead of across the street at the Greenmarket.
Ambience: Noisy tri-level 50,000-square-foot behemoth perpetually beset by crazed, aggressive shoppers and lurkers. The Barnes & Noble of gourmet groceries.
Strengths: The breadth of produce, much of it organic. P.C. kitchen and beauty supplies. The speedy, traffic-cop-directed checkout line is a marvel of efficiency and should be studied and cloned by the DMV.
Weaknesses: Despite their variety and seeming popularity, the prepared foods are uniformly disappointing.
Highlight: An impressive beer selection, coffee beans from Peet's and Gorilla, and regional items like Glendale grape juice and Hawthorne Valley yogurt.
Point-of-Purchase Temptation: Clif Bar.
Prepare to hum: Something that sounds like John Cougar Mellencamp.
One-Stop-Shopping Rating: 6.
5. Union Square Greenmarket
Personality Type: Chefs and their groupies, seasonally minded home cooks, supporters of local agriculture, competitive foodies.
Ambience: Urban pastoral.
Strengths: The very best seasonal produce, bar none, plus fresh local fish, excellent lamb and pork
Weaknesses: Seasonality looks a little bleak January through March. Make that April.
Highlight: The eagerly awaited and celebrated arrivals of ramps, rhubarb, strawberries, tomatoes, Concord grapes, and Brussels sprouts. Yuno's picture- perfect stand. And some of the most striking tulips and gladiola in town.
Point-of-Purchase Temptation: Hot apple cider and a doughnut.
Prepare to hum: "All of Me," performed live by old-time jazz band the Blue Vipers of Brooklyn.
One-Stop-Shopping Rating: 2 in the off-season, 8 in the peak.
6. Trader Joe's
142 E., nr. Third Ave.; 212-529-4612
(based on prices at the Hewlett, N.Y., outpost)
Personality Type: Folks who like their food fun, quick, and microwavable, and delight in discovering things they never knew they needed, like calcium chocolate balls and frozen pucks of steel-cut Canadian oatmeal.
Ambience: Cedar planking, goofy hippie-health-food-store signage, trompe l'oeil lampposts. The Everyman, anti-brand Costco of specialty food shops.
Strengths: Buying direct from international manufacturers keeps prices low and inventory unpredictable. Cheap wine a boon for neighboring NYU students.
Weaknesses: Produce-the apples are shrink-wrapped, the greens are plastic-bagged, the oranges sold in four-pound sacks. The cheese department is rather sad, and heavy on Laughing Cow and its ilk. And everything is grab and go, from the frozen fish to the preseasoned "bool kogi," obviating the need for butchers, fishmongers, or actual departments as finicky New Yorkers know and love them.
Highlight: Chips and dip galore, Asian-spiced nuts (don't miss the chili-lemon pistachios), and house-brand vitamins and pet food.
Point-of-Purchase Temptation: Clif Bar.
Prepare to hum: "Give a Little Bit."
One-Stop-Shopping Rating: 5.