As significant as farmers markets are in reintroducing seasonality to our diet, it is the neighborhood market that regularly holds us over when times call for lingonberry syrup or injera bread. It may be too early to declare Los Angeles -- or anywhere for that matter -- post-racial, but in a city with deep cultural pockets, there is no denying how much we influence each others' tastes. We like our tacos packed with bulgogi, burgers built on the theory of umami, and Peruvian-style sashimi known as tiradito.
Turn the page for seven of our favorite grocery purveyors, listed in alphabetical order, chosen for expanding what it means to be local and global at the same time.
From one market in Van Nuys, Vallarta Supermarket has grown into a chain dotted across the Southland from Burbank to Baldwin Park. The deli at the East L.A. location carries Mexican comfort food like pozole, goat birria and chicharron available in individual orders, family-size portions and party trays. Four-tier shelves of colorful pastries, cookies and breads line the wall nearest the deli. It is not unreasonable to expect lines at the carniceria on the opposite side of the supermarket. 3425 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 980-4400.
Papa Cristo of the eponymous taverna is omnipresent at the Greek food emporium. If he's not welcoming you at the restaurant to the right of the entrance, he's smiling up at you on the takeout catering menu available at the deli counter. While his father established C&K Importing Company in 1948, Papa Cristo was the one who added the taverna and in ensuing years expanded the dining space. According to daughter Annie, Papa Cristo's reach has even extended to stores like Whole Foods, which carries pastries such as spanakopites and baklava made on-site. That the baklava also come in raspberry and chocolate just seems to reinforce their welcome. 2771 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 737-2970.
This labyrinthian market in Gardena is part theme park, complete with admission fee ($10 buys an annual membership; $1 for a day pass), and part vicarious tourism, by way of Japanese staples, snacks and bentos. The seafood section features fresh selections and hard-to-find cuts like octopus tentacles. There is even a food court, travel agency and second-floor furniture wing. If membership throws you off, Marukai also comes in commitment-lite versions: Little Tokyo and Marukai Pacific in Gardena are open to the public. You just won't get any discounts. 1740 W. Artesia Blvd., Gardena; (310) 660-6300.
Located toward the end of a bustling strip on Pico Boulevard, Glatt Mart stocks kosher foodstuffs ranging from meat to packaged sushi. Space is at a premium in the neighborhood and it's no different inside with the mart's neatly packed aisles. One of the best features is the reasonable produce prices, allowing for inexpensive home-cooked meals. The produce corner features an organic section and there are cratefuls of fruit, like Persian grapes, otherwise difficult to find in national chain supermarkets. 8708 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 289-6888.
No Korean meal seems whole without banchan, and Galleria Market makes sure your banchan spread is complete, with a buffet line of braised, pickled and seasoned delicacies sold by the pound: burdock, lotus root and ark shell, to name a few. The prepared-foods section also includes a fried chicken stall. The market is full-service beyond food, by default due to its location on the ground flour of a shopping center. Cake House is within a few feet, as are a pharmacy, a video store and a flower shop. 440 S. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 427-6266.
Along with Petrillo's, Claro's Italian Market remains a vestige of the neighborhood's Italian American history. Lack of fresh fruit and produce aside, its selection in Italian mainstays is impressive. It carries a variety of pasta shapes -- such as tubetti, gramigna and penne candela -- that make Barilla look boring. For the noncook, there's a deli with hot food and cold cuts, along with marinara sauce, cheeses and ready-to-eat flatbread near the counter up front. Claro's in San Gabriel is just one among six locations that include Upland and Tustin. 1003 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; (626) 288-2026.
99 Ranch Market was revelatory for West San Gabriel Valley's Chinese community when it opened in 1991. Previous versions of the Chinese supermarket were a stop on a laundry list of errands. Taiwanese snacks and beverages like Apple Sidra became as accessible as Sprite. 99 Ranch Market grew into a cultural destination for tourists and locals alike -- even with Focus Plaza in the constant throes of an identity crisis. Rumors of alleged ties to the family of former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian seemed to have little effect on business, especially not in the face of surrounding growth. When it comes to reputation, the supermarket knows nothing of 99 problems. In Southern California alone, there are 15 locations. 140 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; (626) 307-8899.
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