08/15/2009 11:37 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Local Food in NYC

Not long ago, when I was in Rockford, Illinois, eating with students and professors at a college as part of a program about artificial food ingredients, our talk turned to local food (a future farmer sat next to me) and national chain restaurants (the nearby highway is lined with dozens). The professor across from me blew my mind with her naïve question: Do you have trouble getting good and local food in New York City?

Assuming she had never traveled there nor read about it, I could only stammer out a reply about how wonderful our various farmer's markets are, how specialty food stores are my jewelry stores, how the competition makes even small restaurants do better there than anywhere else (think pizza).

I stopped before I insulted her, but I kept thinking about the issue. In fact, when I travel the country, I find that only a few urban places offer anything like the good food in New York. It is not for nothing that Zagat started here.

Now we have groups like Green Edge Collaborative, ( which hosts events at restaurants or walks with urban wild food foragers; the Brookyn Food Conference (, which recently brought dozens of presenters in touch with thousands of interested people; and even our very own guide to restaurants featuring healthy and local food, Clean Plates NYC (

This latter, a nicely designed paperback with a serious online component, was put together by a nutritionist and a food critic to review seventy-five health-conscious restaurants (and list two hundred more) so you can more easily hunt down a gourmet vegetarian meal or find guilt-free chocolate cake. Most places noted feature not only local food but organic, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, and generally eco-friendly food. "Clean Plates NYC" focuses on nutrition and healthy choices, though.

The first third of the book is all about designing your own diet, so it is helpful on all counts. If you want to heal yourself or just maintain your health by consuming filtered water and making sane ingredient choices, without sacrificing taste and variety, here's your guide. It covers the fanciest four-stars as well as convenient fast food chains (yes, there are some who keep healthy eating in mind!) Of course, there are far more restaurants that could be included here, so I imagine revised editions are in the cards, if not online.

Back to my questioner in Rockford: Just on the block where I work, in the West Village, lie three of the top restaurants in the city, all of which feature local, whole foods (Mas, Blue Ribbon, and Market Table). Just outside my door. But I have to say, I do have trouble with those places--lunch is not cheap! So maybe she had something there.