Everyone has to eat so some of my fellow bloggers here at blogging.la took a look at some of Los Angeles current (and past) grocery stores. Will Campbell remembers Pioneer while Cybele takes us to the Farmerís Market and Little Tokyo. Lisa shops online, Colleen gives us the meat smack-down and I stop by India Sweets and Spice. Jozjozjoz covers the Mayfair market and Tammara was able to put such a positive spin on Whole Foods, Iím actually willing to shop there (I admit, I went there last night).
Mitsuwa Marketplace by Cybele
In Little Tokyo there are a couple of grocers. The largest is Mitsuwa Marketplace, at 333 S. Alameda, on the corner of 3rd. There’s a large parking structure that validates for free parking, just show your receipt when leaving.
Inside the market, which is attached to a little mall, you’ll find a modern grocery store that stocks mostly Japanese fare, but many American products (especially produce), so you can actually do all your shopping there. The produce section is well stocked with regular fruits and vegetables but also a large selection of Japanese melons, varieties of vegetables and mushrooms that I’ve not seen elsewhere. There’s also a large selection of fresh fish and seafood, a bakery and premade foods (sushi). If you’re looking for something to prepare all of this, they even have a small appliance aisle where they stock rice cookers and other cooking supplies.
My favorite part of the store is the snacks and candy aisle. They have a large selection of most of the varieties of Pocky, most of the major treats from Morinaga and Meiji. Look for chocolates (Dars Bitter is excellent), caramels (I like Morinaga’s) and hard candies (Meiji makes a cool tin flask filled with fruity hard candies). Of course there’s lots of other stuff that anime fans will recognize and enjoy. Prices are great for imported goods.
India Sweets & Spice by heathervescent
If you’re looking for the best cup of chai in Los Angeles outside of my kitchen stop by this combination grocery store/Indian fast food on Venice Blvd in Culver City (just across the street from the Museum of Jurassic Technology) or on Los Feliz Blvd in Los Feliz.
In addition to chai, you can get plates of basic vegetarian fair and watch Bollywood music videos on the huge television in the dining room.
Be sure to wander through the grocery section. They’ve got a great selection of chutney’s, spices, incenses, snack foods and candy covered fennel seeds (my favorites).
On August 20th – that’s this Saturday – they’re offering free food at the Los Feliz location. I’m not sure what the party is all about, but if you like good vegetarian Indian food complete with Bollywood video entertainment be sure to stop by.
Jon’s Marketplace by Cybele
A SoCal chain grocer. Selection is not quite a large as a big Von’s or Ralphs, but they do have good, inexpensive produce and I’ve gotten my Halloween pumpkins there the past few years. They cater to ethnic populations, with the one on Santa Monica splitting its attentions on Armenians/Russians (hard to tell, as many of the products come from
Russia) and Mexicans.
I found some really good Russian candies there that I’ve never seen anywhere else in LA and they have a huge selection of spirits, including Pisco. ()
The meat smack down according to Colleen
When I went on a carb-restricted diet to control my Crohn’s disease, most of my food sources (beans, tofu, grains) were suddenly unavailable to me and seeking out meat became a huge part of my shopping life. Here’s where I go for my protein on the cheap:
- Either Ralphs or the Vons/Pavilions family of stores seems to always have bulk-pak specials: 18-ct eggs, chicken breasts, ground beef. Vons/Pavilions also has the best beef of any of the regular-price-point grocery stores.
- I wouldn’t trust Trader Joe’s for sushi even if does say “sushi-grade” on the package, but they have great deals on a lot of the frozen fish. I try to load up on the wild-caught salmon when it’s in season; it’s way, way cheaper than Whole Paycheck’s.
- Whole Foods does have a few good secret meat deals. They’re not always out front, but the Rocky chicken livers are almost always in stock in the back. If you’re gonna do organ meats, it’s a good idea to go organic, and they’re really reasonable. Best deal in town is the Rocky chicken backs there; they sell out fast to all the freaks like me who make their own chicken stock.
Finally, if you want to try your hand at authentic Italian gravy (I was sworn to secrecy, but there’s a fair approximation of my former in-laws’ family recipe here) you’ve got to get down with the pork. All ground pork is pre-packed offsite per California law and comes in hermetically sealed 1 lb portion containers at most stores, but tracking down the pork neckbones with which to season the gravy can be a bitch. The one Hollywood-close regular-grocery store I’ve found that reliably stocks them is Ralphs on Pico east of La Brea; if they’re out that day, they usually have pork ribs, which will do in a pinch.
Mayfair Market/Gelson’s, 5877 Franklin Ave in Hollywood according to Jozjozjoz
I was first introduced to the Mayfair Market over 10 years ago by my friends who lived in the Hollywood Hills. We’d always stop by Mayfair to pick up drinks, snacks, etc since they were open late. And if we were there at some strange hour, there would be a good chance that we would run into some famous/semi-famous Hollywood denizens perusing the produce aisle, too.
Today, the Mayfair Market is part of the Gelson’s chain and though prices can be Gelson’s-steep, I still enjoy going there for really good service (everyone who works there is able to answer your grocery questions), and I especially enjoy their fresh sushi (made daily), free gift wrapping service (they have gift baskets, too), carry-out service, and probably the best bakery you’ll find in a grocery store: the Viktor BenÍs Bakery.
Positively Whole Foods by Tammara
When you mention Whole Foods you get a lot of different reactions. Some love it for it’s healthy approach, others like to label it “whole paycheck” because it’s certainly not a bargain. I love it because for me is kind of like a fairy tale supermarket….I walk in and the fruit is beautiful and bountiful, not to even mention mostly organic, the fish and meat department is organic and wild, (and for some reason the butchers are always sweet and cute) and don’t even get me started on the deli section. I love stopping by after a hard day working and getting all the fixings for a great dinner, knowing it will be the best possible ingredients in the food. Some of my big favorites at their deli: The sonoma chicken salad, which is chock full of grapes, pecans and big chunks of chicken. They have lots of veggie entries if you swing that way. There’s a Mediterranean salad that rocks too. Little black olives, feta cheese, tiny pasta that looks like big rice, a tart vinegary dressing…yum! I also like that they give me samples of everything to try before I buy. It really makes a difference to me and sometimes encourages me to try stuff I wouldn’t otherwise.
The cheese section does that too and I love expanding my universe in the cheesey realm!
I’ve also tried a lot of their house brands in generic stuff, almond butter, yogurt…and they have always proved to be good and slightly cheaper than some of the other name brands.
My favorite honey in the world is stocked at Whole Foods too, it’s called, “Really Raw Honey” and it tastes so good I sometimes eat it by the spoonful. There’s a layer of pollen and honeycomb stuff on the top, which is heaven to break through.
I also love that I can get body products there that are organic. Yeah, it IS top dollar, but I figure I have to carry around this temple called a body for a long time, so might as well make it as healthy as possible….and if that means spending money on putting healthy things in it…I’ll deal with it.
Candy and Snacks
If you’re looking for candy and snacks Cybele comments:
- Cost Plus – they have a huge selection of international candies (some Asian but mostly European) as well as some nostalgia candy bars you don’t see very often anymore – you can buy many by the prepackaged pound or in single-serve packages. Decent prices and sometimes some real deals on sale (especially after major candy holidays).
- Target – if you’re going to the movies and are one of those people who sneaks in their own candy, this might be the place to stop by. They carry a large selection of “movie box” candies like junior mints, dots, jujyfruits, milk duds, etc for about $1 each. Great place to pick up larger packages of things like Altoids if you’re not going by Trader Joe’s. They also have a great selection of Pepperidge Farm stuff at lower prices than the grocery store usually does. (Goldfish crackers now have no trans fat!)
- 99 Cent Only Stores – They have a whole aisle dedicated to candy. I can’t recommend everything they carry, but for hard candies and other things that don’t spoil quickly they’re a great source. Beware of candies manufactured in Mexico as some contain high levels of lead. Best finds there? Peppermint Chiclets (6 boxes for 99 cents), Candy Jewelry, Charm’s Blow Pops and the hard-to-find Cup-o-Gold.
- Big Lots – don’t buy candy here. Don’t buy any foodstuffs here unless you can verify that they’re not expired or damaged. Undented canned goods and stuff in jars is about all that I can verify at this place. Seriously. You’ll thank me.
- Farmers Market (3rd & Fairfax) – though it’s become quite a zoo since The Grove opened, but the actual farmers market remains the same. Great place to spend a weekend afternoon, browse and experiment. For sweets, I can recommend MaGee’s House of Nuts and the Ultimate Nut & Candy Company (they sell those huge pixy stix!) as well as the uber expensive Monsieur Marcel for imported candies.
A True Pioneer
Remembered by Will Campbell
Let us now remember the dead. August 1 marked the first anniversary of the closing of Echo Park’s beloved Pioneer Market, a neighborhood institution for more than 60 years. In its place on Sunset Boulevard now is a shiny new Walgreen’s on the right and an as-yet-unoccupied retail space on the left, but in its heyday the family-owned Pioneer Market was an anchor of old-fashioned values and service to the community.
Not that I’m some diehard Pioneer patron. Nah, I preferred to grab my groceries at the Vons on Virgil closer to me or the Trader Joes on Hyperion. But the long grocery strike of a couple years ago changed all that. Unwilling to cross those picket lines and unable to tolerate the overcrowding within TJs, Pioneer Market became my oasis. Not only could I find everything I needed and stuff I didn’t, but odds are in the check-out line behind me would be some harmless half-baked derelict or tattooed homie stocking up on some 40-ouncers for the rest of the night, trying to pick up on the cashier.
But in no time after the strike was settled did rumors of Pioneer’s closure start circulating ó not because of rent prices I found out, but instead due to workers’ compensation costs. When the rumors proved true, there was a community outcry but to little effect, and the end result is still mournedÖ a sad way to go for an institution that had survived price wars, earthquakes, riots and gentrification.
In the L.A. Weekly last year a few days after the Pioneer passed away, writer Tulsa Kinney penned an obit for the landmark explaining why local residents patronized the place for generations:
“All the clerks were bilingual; products catered to Mexican cuisine, with spicy marinated steak ranchera, the best tortilla chips around and packaged spices to tip you off that youíre not in Kansas anymore; and on the whole, practically everything was cheaper, particularly in the produce section. Also, the shelves were stocked with more unusual items, like Italian plateware made in China and plaster Bart Simpson piggybanks and large cream-rinse bottles for horses.”