Do you like fish? Do you like the buttery perfection of seared sea bass and the flaky goodness of broiled salmon? Me too.
Fish is my favorite protein because of the way it tastes and the way it makes me feel and it seems like the experts agree. These creatures from the sea are filled with omega-3 fatty acids that most doctors agree are good for our hearts. You can diet and detox all you want but in my view there’s no better source of happiness or protein than a beautifully grilled piece of fish dipped in ponzu sauce.
In this bustling city there are thousands of grocery stores but somehow it feels as if none of them actually carry what we need in the moment. This problem is amplified when hunting for fresh fish. Well, I hope I’m about to change that.
But first, a little bit about fish:
If you’ve read my blog or know me personally you know that I’m obsessed with Japan. In 2011 I spent all my savings and took two weeks off work to traverse the nation I had been fascinated with for so long. Months of meticulous research lead me to hidden corners of the insanity that is Tokyo.
Japan is a nation completely obsessed with fish and according to this Guardian article, one in ten fish is eaten in Japan. Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo is a small city that processes more fish than you can possibly wrap your head around in just a few hours every morning. This excellent video captures the magic of a multi-million-yen blue-fin tuna being auctioned off. Japan eats 80% of the global blue-fin tuna catch and experts say they need to curb their habits or we will run out of fish. There’s growing concern about high levels of mercury (bad for humans) in fatty fish and contaminants are increasing in ocean-caught fish (human’s fault for polluting ocean). Overfishing and illegal catches have lead us to the point where many popular fish like tuna and salmon are not sustainable. Of course there’s farm-raised fish which, while sustainable, are susceptible to industrial pollutants and just don’t taste as good as the wild stuff.
I’m certainly not an expert on environmental standards and I’ll pretty much eat anything. Personally, I’m way past being concerned about my mercury intake because I’ve been eating sushi at least once a week since I was 6 years old.
For a more scholarly view of the problem, I suggest you visit the FOA website and read their report on global fish supplies and consumption. Bottom line: the world is eating more fish than the oceans can supply and we can likely blame China’s population boom or Japan’s insatiable desire for tuna. If you’re interested in this stuff at all, the full report is definitely worth a read. Perhaps you’re interested in the fluctuating price of octopus in Japan?
I feel obligated to acknowledge the environmental concerns before telling you where to go to eat more fish all the time. There you have it, those are the concerns. So, as someone great once said, “everything in moderation.”
Uninhibited by these concerns, I eat a ton of fish. Salmon and tuna (fresh and canned) at least once a week. I find the velvety taste of salmon completely irresistible. It tastes good and it makes me feel good. I wish all food did that. Here’s a fun fact: did you know that Chilean Sea Bass is a misnomer? It’s a completely made up name but a lovely enterprising fisherman in South America who thought the real name, “patagonian toothfish,” wouldn’t really appeal to US consumers. He was right. Chilean Sea Bass is a delicacy found on restaurant menus at prices to rival filet mignon.
Let’s assume you’re an enterprising individual, ready to consume delicious fresh fish about once a week. Here is a list of fish markets in and around New York City. Please note that I have visited MOST but not all of these markets so I welcome feedback in the comments!
Update: I now have a Brooklyn only fish list. Check that out here.
The 25 Best Places to Buy Fish in New York City
Starting with the BEST…
Chelsea Market, 75 9th Ave, Manhattan
It’s clean, bright, beautiful and somewhat affordable. Chelsea Market has become one of the busiest tourist destinations in all of NYC. And the whole steamed lobster with butter at The Lobster Place accounts for a significant portion of its appeal. If you can deal with the crowds on the weekends, grab at seat at the sushi counter, smack dab in the middle of the store. Shop at around 5 pm on weeknights for the best attention from the fishmongers. Whole Branzino go for about $6.00 per pound and popular cuts like salmon, cod and tuna are priced fairly. I love their smoked fish counter in the back where a sizable chunk of smoked bluefish can be had for about $5.oo.
595 River Road, Edgewater, New Jersey
Just across the river in New Jersey, this is without a doubt my favorite market. Mitsuwa is a giant Japanese market with everything from fresh wasabi to rice cookers to live fish. Their sushi-grade fish is absolutely delicious and the prices are fair. You can take a $3 bus to Mitsuwa from Penn Station. Make a day trip out of it and visit the expansive food court and have some black sesame ice cream while shopping for your Japanese dinner.
Union Square, Manhattan (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday)
This amazing outdoor market has everything from watermelon radishes to live lobsters. Check here for a list of which purveyors attend the market on specific days. I’ve had great fish from Pura Vida Fisheries as well as PE & DD seafood. Prices are NOT cheap but the fish is fresh and delicious. I’m told that Blue Moon Fish is also excellent for Oysters!
157 Hester St, Chinatown, Manhattan
I don’t blame you if you have an aversion to buying fish from Chinatown. Last year a flesh-eating bacteria caused quite a stir but don’t worry, the fish was still safe to eat! Hong Kong is one of my favorites because it’s actually easy to shop there. The fish mongers speak English and the animals are clearly labeled and priced. If you want cheap, this is the place to go. I’m generally not so wary of buying meat and fish in Chinatown because I eat so much exotic food that I assume it’s coming from questionable sources. So I’m not afraid of fish from Chinatown and you shouldn’t be either. This story from The Low Down NY is helpful: Buying Fish in Chinatown.
5. Whole Foods
Various locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn
There’s a lot of back and forth about the quality of fish at Whole Foods.Though the quality is definitely hit or miss, if you’re searching for a particular type of fish for a particular recipe, Whole Foods is likely to have it. I’ve had some of the best Salmon filets on sale at Whole Foods and some barely edible wild Alaska salmon at more than $25 per pound. I’d like an expert to weigh in but I’m confident in purchasing salmon, shrimp and tuna from this organic behemoth. The fish mongers range from incredibly helpful and knowledgeable to rude and useless but I’m a big fan of the guys in the basement of the Union Square store. I buy salmon often enough here to say that it’s consistently very good. Yes, the cheap farmed stuff. I use it in my favorite dish of all time: broiled salmon.
Various locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn
This gourmet paradise is a cook’s dream. The fish is fresh and plentiful. I find the prices to be either affordable or oddly high so look for what’s on sale and talk to the fishmongers, they are generally friendly.
200 Fifth Ave., Flatiron, Manhattan
You’re going to pay for the privilege of shopping in one of Manhattan’s prettiest and busiest food markets. Though some of the fish fillets are oddly cheap. I recall a delicious monk fish filet for less than $12.00 a pound. You can’t help but be inspired by the floor to ceiling stacks of oils, vinegars and produce that make Eataly a truly remarkable place. Pick up some clams from the seafood counter and then some fresh squid ink pasta, fresh parsley and lemons and you’re in business for a stunning Linguini Alle Vongole (don’t forget the white wine!).
Various Locations in Manhattan
Oh Citarella you minx. With your soft lighting and artful cheese displays. Your produce makes me weep and so do your prices. One of the most beautiful pieces of swordfish I’ve ever seen (it was delicious too) came from Citarella. An extensive array of very fresh fish can be found for exorbitant prices.
114 Nassau Avenue, Greenpoint, Brooklyn
This newcomer to the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Greenpoint is a possible game-changer. There are very few places to get good fish in the area (read: non) and though the prices are steep (very steep!) the quality is amazing. I’ve never been disappointed and would like to rave about the sea bass. You can also stay and dine in for delicious oysters and an original concoction of seaweed noodles.
10. Wild Edibles
43rd St., Grand Central Market, Manhattan
Convenient if you’re passing through midtown and the fish is certainly fresh. Wild Edibles is not cheap but I find they have more interesting filets and great shellfish. Located in Grand Central Market in the middle of the train station.
11. Han Au Reum (H Mart)
38 W 32nd St., Midtown, Manhattan
After Mistuwa, this is my favorite market in the city. It’s in the middle of Manhattan’s Koreatown and packs a whole lot of Korean food into a small space. Small as in don’t bring your backpack or your coat in here because you won’t fit down the aisle. There’s a small refrigerator with fish in the back and some of it appears to be frozen but I’ve had excellent results with the tuna. Also a great place for non-beluga caviar if you’re hankering for fish roe. I’ve counted 5 different types of fresh caviar in one trip, all under $10.00 per ounce. UPDATE: In 2015 H Mart moved across the street to a bigger space. Buying fish here is now more pleasant than ever.
800 Food Center Dr., Unit 65B, Bronx
This is not your average fish market. This is the massive seafood gateway for most of the east coast, which moved from its historic location in Downtown Manhattan in 2005. It’s the second largest fish market in the world, only Tsukiji market in Tokyo is bigger. This is an industrial warehouse full of the freshest fish and is NOT geared towards retail customers. The market is open from 1am to 7am (yes, the time when you are usually in bed) with a peak in sales at around 4am. You’ll need a car to get to the out-of-the way warehouse in Hunt’s Point and Yelp reviews note that parking is $7.00. This is a wholesale market with hundreds of people trying to move thousands of pounds of fish so the vendors aren’t likely to treat you kindly if you ask for a single pound of salmon. If you need fish in bulk for a dinner party, it’s likely worth the trip. Sooooo who has a car and wants to take me?
98 Bushwick Ave., Williamsburg, Brooklyn
I f****** love this place. It’s cheap, it’s dirty and it’s five minutes from my apartment. The prices are CHEAP and for $1.00 they’ll fry or steam your fish for you on the spot. There’s also an extensive menu of fish and chips. It doesn’t look like the freshest fish but I’ve never had an issue with the quality. I buy shrimp for shrimp scampi here all the time.
276 Grand St., Lower East Side, Manhattan
One of the cleaner fish markets on the edge of Chinatown, Aquabest is excellent for all your seafood needs. Giant snow crabs can be yours for dinner tonight.
15. Mermaid’s Garden
644 Vanderbilt Ave, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
After the Lobster Place, this is possibly the most home-cook friendly spot. There are cases of delicious pre-made items like crab cakes and steamed claws as well as fresh fish with inspiring recipes. A fairly extensive offering of seasonings and spices is appreciated! Side salads are available to round out your meal. There’s also the option to buy shares of fresh fish deliveries each week at other locations in Brooklyn, check out their community supported fish program here.
16. Sunrise Mart
4 Stuyvesant St., 2nd Floor, East Village, Manhattan
This 2nd floor Japanese grocery has tons of stuff crammed into a tiny space. The fish, sold in small pre-packaged plastic containers has always looked fresh to me. It’s one of the only places I’d feel confident buying octopus. Plus, you can pick up daikon and ponzu for cheap for a complete meal.
17. Fish Tales
191A Court St, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn
This Cobble Hill spot is a neighborhood favorite. Fish is fresh and the prices don’t seems as outrageous as you’d expect them to be. Fish is definitely fresh and staff very knowledgeable.
1138 1st Ave, Upper East Side, Manhattan
This hidden gem is excellent for sushi. There are some larger cuts available like salmon filets and trout, but for a fresh sashimi dinner, Roy’s can’t be beat! There’s also a small selection of spices and sauces.
1580 York Ave, Upper East Side, Manhattan
Another neighborhood favorite, the owner is often in the shop and clearly proud of her scaly wares.
1513 Fulton St., Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn
This Bed Stuy staple is vast and affordable. Many varieties available each week. The staff is helpful but it’s best to know what you want before coming in.
359 Court St., Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
A small family-owned store. Great for to-go sushi and small filets.
2704 Avenue U, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn
Old school fish guys selling fresh fish. Pretty far out there but I appreciate them adverting the fact that they can grind your fish for you (for making fish loaves or gefilte fish).
541 9th Ave, Midtown West, Manhattan
At the far western edge of Manhattan, Sea Breeze has tons of fresh fish at great prices…if you can make the trek.
635 Metropolitan Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
This is a nice neighborhood spot but the fish doesn’t always look appealing. Prices are fair and I especially like that they have a little basket of onions, lemons and herbs to save you an extra trip to the grocery store if you’re just out for fish.
218 Canal St, Chinatown, Manhattan
One of the better places in Chinatown employing the “throw all the fish in ice buckets on the sidewalk” method. Lot’s of cheap whole fish and Maine lobster.
Cooking fish all the time? Consider one of the many weekly fish delivery services or CFS (Community Supported Fisheries) which allow you to purchase a share of a fisherman’s catch if you pay up front. It’s a great way to get the best local fresh fish if you don’t mind getting creative with flounder, monkfish and bluefish. Try Big City Fish Share or Village Fishmonger. Mermaid’s Garden (mentioned above) has a CFS with pick-up locations throughout Brooklyn.
Now that you know WHERE to buy your fish…what should you DO with it?
If you’ve got a flaky white fish like cod…make healthy fish and chips.
If you’ve got an inexpensive white fish like Tilapia…make a fish taco salad.
If you’ve got salmon…try a healthy Japanese power breakfast…
If you can get your hands on a whole yellowtail collar, you are in for a treat.