UPPER WEST SIDE — Upper West Siders often tout their proximity to some of the city's best grocery stores as a central perk of the neighborhood.
Zabar's bagels and lox, Fairway's international brands and Citarella's cheesecake are all within walking distance, as well as Trader Joe's expansive frozen section. Now, two Whole Foods bookend the district, too.
But there are other small food stores in the area with loyal followings, meeting special needs and priding themselves on customer service.
DNAinfo New York has found some of the neighborhood's best specialty stores, from kosher butchers to gluten-free havens.
Fischer Bros. & Leslie, 230 West 72nd St.
This kosher butcher has been in the neighborhood and in existence since 1949, boasting that its age and status as an "old fashioned full service butcher shop" sets it apart.
Audrey Menachem, 59, is a regular customer at Fischer Bros. and loves their club steaks and the friendly service she receives on her visits.
"I love the quality of their meats," she said. "I also love the fact that there's personal attention. I like that I can get these done to my liking."
The quality of the meat, she said, is better than other kosher markets, and she also recommends their whole chickens.
Paul Whitman, one of the owners who has been with the shop for 35 years, said it's the level of customization that keeps people coming back.
"Whatever someone wants, we do for you," he said. " We custom cut everything."
The shop gets fresh poultry every day and has an array of meats and prepared foods, and everything is kosher.
G-Free NYC, 77A West 85th St.
For some customers, G-Free seems like a little bit of a secret. Tucked along a side street off Columbus Avenue, the small store can get overlooked by busy shoppers.
A wooden bench outside and a bay window seat stacked with pillows are there to draw customers in to this friendly locally-owned store. Its goal is to take the worry out of shopping by only putting forward products they've tested and love, since all too often gluten-free products can end up tasting like sandpaper or cardboard.
Donna LeBlanc, 40, is a neighbor and regular customer who wants to ensure G-Free continues to thrive.
"I think it's glorious and I wish a lot more people knew about it. I've tried many of the different things here and they're all really tasty," she said, carrying a pile of food to the counter, and stopping to recommend some crackers. "They've done an amazing job."
Perri Broadband-Hogan, 22, said she found the store a year ago on a visit from Australia and kept it in mind for her next New York City visit.
"I love it — the dumplings are so good. You can't get them anywhere else," she said.
Gastronomie 491, 491 Columbus Ave.
If the sidewalk cafe culture of the Upper West Side is what brought you here, then Gastronomie 491 will only stretch that fantasy further. This all-in-one market/cafe/cheese shop/restaurant is the work of Nicole Ahronee, who grew up in Rome and Southern France and wanted to bring the essence of those places to her shop.
Gastronomie makes many claims to fame in terms of the selectivity of its products. For example, it's the only place in New York City where you can get Richart chocolates, which are flown in three times a week from Paris, one manager claimed. You can also find the Tea•Riffic ice cream in ginger macha, masala chai and London mist flavors, another exclusive, or Iranian yogurt made by a father-daughter duo.
The shop's grocery section is deliberately small, encouraging customers to come back daily for the freshest options, as the French do. Seventy-five percent of the produce is organic, said Cecily Wong, director of marketing and communications.
"[Ahrnoee] likes to have really original stuff that you can't get elsewhere," she said.
The store also tries to meet the needs of those looking to just grab dinner and be done with it, offering housemade pesto, and an array of prepared mains and side dishes.
"It's an ambitious store," Wong said.
There are different managers and distributors for the olive oils, the teas, the micro brews, and the large high-end cheese section.
A passerby can also stop in for seated dinner or enjoy the free WiFi, Wong said.
"We have a loyal base. We just want to be a neighborhood store," she said.
But how does a small store compete with local giants like Fairway?
"The level of care is higher," Wong noted.
The Kosher Marketplace, 2442 Broadway
The Kosher Marketplace, between 91st and 92nd streets, is busting with prepared food — heaps of it are at the meat counter, and packaged soups, salads, sides, quiches and pies line the shelves.
Locals love the supermarket for the peace of mind it brings to those keeping kosher and the convenience it affords those without time to cook.
"Anybody looking for kosher doesn't even have to look at the label," said Alan Kaufman, 65, who owns The Kosher Marketplace and opened it 15 years ago.
"Our goal is to have a nice neighborhood store," he added. "I'm here all the time."
With her black shopping cart piled high, Ruth Adler, 66, was all smiles as she departed the store. A package of homemade noodle kugel rested on top of her cart.
"They really know how to cook," Adler said, adding that she trusted the store's quality and adherence to kosher rules. "With my eyes closed, I could buy a lot of things here."
Adler raved about the friendly staff, whom she knows well, lauding their talent in the kitchen.
"The food is very good and it's always fresh. They stand by their food," said Sharon, a resident who asked that her last name not be used.
Kaufman said that five years ago he doubled the size of the store and has since added more prepared food.
"More families are working longer and later," he said.