It's a question that seems needlessly cruel: Which of the city's two Eataly locations is better?

After all, could you choose a favorite parent? A favorite child?

But it was a New York City foodie question that needed an answer, so amNY.com launched an intensive investigation to crown either Eataly Flatiron (the original) or Eataly Downtown (the upstart) the best location of the always crowded, always delicious, always wine-soaked Italian market and food hall chain.

With a question so serious, there was a need to set ground rules. Both locations were visited at the same time of day: 11 a.m., before the biggest rush of tourists began to navigate the narrow aisles of panettones and olive oil. We sampled quick sandwiches and gelato at each location for this showdown -- though we've also eaten at the sit-down restaurants at each Eataly at other times. (And we may have been moved to recreate the homemade spinach and ricotta ravioli with lemon, butter and pistachios at home on multiple occasions, including Thanksgiving. Luckily, it's served at both locations.)

Here's a look at how the two match up in a slew of categories, followed by our final ruling.

The wine bars

Let's start where a typical trip to Eataly
Let's start where a typical trip to Eataly starts: with a glass of wine. At Flatiron, on the left, a massive wine bar greets you after you make your way through a maze of produce, or an alley of desserts, coffee and sandwiches, depending on which entrance you use. At Downtown, a wine bar -- which also serves coffee -- greets you immediately inside the location's only entrance (which is located atop an annoying number of escalators). It's smaller, but it harbors a surprise: It's not the only wine bar there. Now, for a closer look. (Credit: Jillian Jorgensen)

Eataly Flatiron's wine bar

La Piazza, Flatiron's circular wine bar, has everything:
La Piazza, Flatiron's circular wine bar, has everything: a mozzarella bar, a spot to order crudo, a counter where you can order perfectly sliced cured meats and a little wine-tasting corner. In the middle are tons of skinny bar tables where you can pull up a stool or stand while you enjoy some wine and cheese -- a perfect place to wait for your name to be called for one of Eataly's restaurants, since, let's be honest, there's pretty much always a wait. But that wait is so much better when you have fresh mozzarella and a glass (or a bottle) of wine. (Credit: Jillian Jorgensen)

Eataly Downtown's wine bars

The circular and central layout of Flatiron's La

The circular and central layout of Flatiron's La Piazza makes an entrance, but the La Piazza at Downtown sneaks up on you. It's actually the second wine bar you'll encounter -- the first is Il Vino, which greets you at the door and offers up a handful of bar tables for sipping wine and grabbing the staggering array of quick eats that make up the front section of this Eataly location (more on that later). If it were the only answer to Flatiron, it'd pale in comparison, but it's just the beginning. Make your way to the section of Downtown that's home to its restaurants, and you'll find its very own version of La Piazza. There's cheese and meat (without the little nooks dedicated to them), as well as a sprawling, airy seating area decorated with greenery and brightly lit by massive windows. Bonus: there's an Aperol spritz cart.

Advantage: Eataly Downtown (Credit: Jillian Jorgensen)

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Produce sections

Look, produce shopping probably isn't the main draw

Look, produce shopping probably isn't the main draw of either Eataly for most people -- but the fruit and veggies are fresh, tasty and reasonably priced. Still, this is one category that's fairly easy to judge: The selection and setup of the produce is better at the original Flatiron location, pictured left, where the bins seem to be overflowing with everything from seasonal squash to Italian favorites like figs. Eataly Downtown's section, right, is a little more cramped, and just seems to be less of a grocery shopping destination.

Advantage: Flatiron

(Credit: Jillian Jorgensen)

Quick eats

Sometimes you just don't have time to sit
Sometimes you just don't have time to sit down for a meal. Luckily, both Eataly locations offer handheld sustenance for diners on the go (or who are just impatient). Right off the bat, Downtown visitors will notice there's much more space reserved for Italian street foods like focaccia and piadina than at Flatiron. Here's a closer look at the offerings at each location. (Credit: Jillian Jorgensen)

Quick eats at Flatiron

If you want a sandwich at Flatiron, you
If you want a sandwich at Flatiron, you have to navigate down a narrow hallway that also houses a selection of desserts and two coffee shops. There really isn't anywhere to eat it, unless you can snag one of the tables that are intended for people hitting up the cafe at the end of the corridor. All that said, you can get a delicious sandwich here: like the Pugliese (bottom right), with grilled marinated eggplant, ricotta and tomatoes poached in extra virgin olive oil, basil and mint on ciabatta. It's served cold, but there's a selection of hot panini if that's more your style. (Credit: Jillian Jorgensen)

Quick eats Downtown

The Downtown location is basically separated into two

The Downtown location is basically separated into two sections: the back, which houses the restaurants, and the front, which offers quicker bites. That doesn't quite do justice to the front section, though -- there are counters serving bread, focaccia, panini (including smaller bites reminiscent of the cicchetti found in Venice wine bars) and a juice bar, all clustered around the front wine bar and its tables. Walk past the counters where you can buy meat or cheese to take home, and you'll find more options -- including a little hut that serves piadina, or Italian flatbread sandwiches, a salad bar and more seating. If you're looking to eat with friends with picky palates, this is an ideal way to do it -- everyone can grab what they like and meet at the wine bar, and it's way less chaotic than the scene in Flatiron. The only quibble is with the piadina -- at bottom right, a version with prosciutto and creamy stracchino cheese -- which was tasty but served at a temperature that seemed to indicate the sandwich wanted to be hot (one slice of the flatbread was warm) but was actually still cold.

Advantage: Downtown

(Credit: Jillian Jorgensen)

Cheese

If you're at an Italian marketplace and you
If you're at an Italian marketplace and you don't love cheese, you're probably in the wrong place. Luckily, both Eataly locations, Flatiron at left and Downtown on the right, have a sprawling selection (including plenty of Pecorino Romano, perhaps the best kind of cheese to use grated atop your pasta or just about anything else). (Credit: Jillian Jorgensen)

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Cheese at Flatiron

Take it all in: the cheese piled high,
Take it all in: the cheese piled high, tucked away on the side of La Piazza; the massive wheels of greasy cheese that line the aisles beckoning you to touch, even though you know you shouldn't. (Credit: Jillian Jorgensen)

Downtown Cheese

Downtown's cheese counter seems to be practically overflowing,

Downtown's cheese counter seems to be practically overflowing, offering up varieties from Italy and beyond. But what really sets it apart is the Mozzarella Lab, where you can watch cheese makers move through the steps of making mozzarella or its creamier (and more expensive) big brother, burrata.

Advantage: Downtown (Credit: Jillian Jorgensen)

Fresh pasta

Fresh pasta takes so little time to cook

Fresh pasta takes so little time to cook that there's really no excuse not to buy it and bring it home for its date with destiny in the form of a giant pot of boiling, salted water. Both locations sell many varieties, but Flatiron, at left, has a bigger selection -- including lots of seasonal offerings such as pasta filled with autumn squash.

Advantage: Flatiron

(Credit: Jillian Jorgensen)

Coffee bars

There's little that's more Italian than sipping an
There's little that's more Italian than sipping an espresso and nibbling a pastry at a coffee counter -- and it's the Flatiron location that best delivers this experience. You can do it at Caffè Vergnano, top left, where you'll marvel at the metallic espresso maker that is sure to catch your eye. But that's not your only coffee option: the Lavazza cafe offers up seating, pastries and yet another stand-up counter, where crowds line up just as they might in Milan. There's yet another spot for espresso in the Nutella Bar. Downtown's Lavazza location is perfectly lovely -- and its wine bar also pulls espresso in the morning -- but the coffee experience clearly pales in comparison to the original.

Advantage: Flatiron

(Credit: Jillian Jorgensen)

Pizza

At Flatiron, the pizza restaurant is tucked away

At Flatiron, the pizza restaurant is tucked away behind shelves of groceries. But at Downtown, pictured right, it thoroughly announces itself with giant golden pizza ovens and a counter where you can watch the pies be fished out of them. Rossopomodoro's name is emblazoned above the bar, and it's clear that pizza has carved out a place for itself separate from pasta. If you want the table experience of Flatiron, you can still have it -- there's also restaurant seating for pizza and pasta just as there is at Flatiron, except Downtown comes with bigger windows and better views.

Advantage: Downtown

(Credit: Jillian Jorgensen)

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Fancy restaurants

Flatiron has Manzo, the Italian steakhouse. (If you

Flatiron has Manzo, the Italian steakhouse. (If you think steak isn't Italian, you haven't been to Tuscany.) Downtown has Osteria della Pace, a restaurant devoted to cuisine from southern Italy. Both are handsome and separated from the rest of the foot traffic.

Advantage: It's a tie.

(Credit: Jillian Jorgensen)

Rooftops

In this category, there's no contest -- literally.

In this category, there's no contest -- literally. Only Flatiron offers a rooftop beer garden, and it is certainly a worthy offering. Each season, Birreria is transformed to match the weather: through March it's Baita, an Alps-themed hideaway that takes you to the top of the slopes without requiring a pair of skis.

Advantage: Flatiron (Credit: Jillian Jorgensen)

Nutella Bar vs. veggie bars

Flatiron has a Nutella Bar. Downtown has a

Flatiron has a Nutella Bar. Downtown has a juice bar and a salad bar. Enough said.

Advantage: Flatiron

(Credit: Jillian Jorgensen)

Ridiculous dessert fountains

Each Eataly has an endlessly flowing fountain of

Each Eataly has an endlessly flowing fountain of chocolate hazelnut goodness. At Flatiron, it's Nutella. Downtown, it's Venchi gianduja sauce -- an addictive dark chocolate hazelnut concoction that is even better than Nutella. But you'll have to trust us on that: every time we've visited Downtown, the Venchi fountain has been out of order.

Advantage: Flatiron (until that Venchi fountain starts working, anyway)

(Credit: Jillian Jorgensen)

Gelato bars

In Flatiron, we sampled stracciatella -- a sweet

In Flatiron, we sampled stracciatella -- a sweet milk gelato full of fine shavings of chocolate. Downtown, it was nocciola, or hazelnut. You can't go wrong.

Advantage: It's another tie.

(Credit: Jillian Jorgensen)

Ambiance

There are a few knocks on the Eataly

There are a few knocks on the Eataly experience. It's crowded, the aisles are narrow, and you're paying a good amount of money to eat in a place with little natural light and where shoppers and gawking tourists are going to be brushing past your table. It seems that the designers of Downtown tried to remedy those problems -- and they largely succeeded. Giant windows let in the light; greenery climbs up columns; an olive tree sits in the middle of the sit-down dining area. And there's quite a view -- some tables look directly onto the pools of the Sept. 11 Memorial outside, with the Hudson River bobbing along a few blocks beyond.

Advantage: Downtown

(Credit: Jillian Jorgensen)

The winner: Flatiron

In a somewhat surprising come-from-behind victory, Flatiron edges

In a somewhat surprising come-from-behind victory, Flatiron edges just above Downtown in order to reign supreme over the newcomer. In case you haven't been counting, Flatiron won six matchups, while Downtown won five -- with two categories resulting in a tie. In many ways, visiting Downtown is a more pleasant experience. There's more room and more light, and more options when it comes to the less expensive food selection. And you could consider even more categories than those we ranked, making for an endless debate: Downtown has a better selection of bread, but Flatiron has takeaway beer and wine. It has to end somewhere.

There are some little things that boost Flatiron -- the Nutella Bar and its endlessly flowing fountain, for one -- but it's really one big thing that helps it remain at the top: the rooftop beer garden. Birreria has a lot to recommend it, and while Flatiron is much more chaotic than Downtown, Birreria offers a little bit of a hideaway: It's a place to sit, order a drink and hang out. It also doesn't hurt that this time of year it's decked out for the season.

But the truth is, the best Eataly in town is subjective -- it comes down to what you're looking for. If you think you won't like either Eataly location because of the crowds, consider checking out Downtown where it's a bit more spacious and the front of the complex is a really great place to gather with friends over an array of snacks and a glass of wine.

Whichever you choose, try not to stress out over the crowds. And once Downtown gets that Venchi fountain flowing at the gelato bar, things might flip right in the other direction.

(Credit: Jillian Jorgensen)