It's a jungle out there. Angelenos text while driving, arguments break out in parking lots over front row spots, parking cops hover like vultures, and locavores throw elbows for choice produce. Shopping at our city's farmers markets and gourmet grocers may fill the larder, but venturing out of the house can be downright hazardous. Add the fact that Los Angeles measures more than four hundred square miles, and suddenly shopping for a handful of key ingredients can seem like a high stakes, cross-country journey.
Maybe that's why so many modern hunters and gathers shop for specialty foods online. If facing clogged streets makes your stomach lurch, here's a list of the top 10 sites for purchasing food and gourmet gifts online.
1. Zingerman's: Known to many as Ann Arbor, Michigan's culinary mecca, Zingerman's offers shoppers traditional foods and specialty items from across the world via their online/mail order catalogue. In addition to their comprehensive selection of hearth baked breads, build-it-yourself deli sandwiches, artisan cheeses, varietal coffees, estate bottled olive oils and customized culinary gifts, owner Ari Weinzweig and his staff offer insightful product descriptions that illuminate the cultural back-story of every specialty ingredient they sell.
2. Spoon Sisters: There are times when the need for a particular kitchen gadget feels like an itch that needs to be scratched. Immediately. Thankfully, the Spoon Sisters sell a wide range of food related gizmos that can fill any kitchen tchotchke requirement. Whether you're looking for a retro lunch box, temporary food tattoos, or decaf coffee test strips that ensure your java won't jack you up past your bedtime, this retailer's selections will save you from ever having to face traffic for a foodie gift or dining hall desire again.
3. Foodzie: Put two great things together (think Etsy.com meets the Santa Monica farmers market) and you get Foodzie, an online community of artisan food sellers. It's easy to browse through the individual seller's shops and use the site's search engine to discover specific products. There are plenty of tasty treats to be found. One seller's organic, spicy tomato juice was recently named one of the 50 best things to eat in the world by the UK Guardian. If buying local is important to you, have no fear. Foodzie has a large number Los Angeles-based food artisans that sell their wares direct to customers.
4. La Tienda: No matter how you say paella (Thanks for the elocution lesson, Toby Young), it's the kind of dish that can cause late night cravings. At La Tienda you can order a paella pan, a hunk of Jamon Iberico, and tins of Bonito del Norte-line caught tuna in olive oil-at any time of the day. This Spanish food retailer sells a wide range of spices, gourmet packaged foods, and specialty cooking gear that can help curb any of your Catalan cravings.
5. Culinary District: If Surfas in Culver City seems a world away, you can fill your virtual cart with items from this online cousin of the Surfas family. The internet resource sells restaurant supplies, equipment, and specialty foods with a simple click of the mouse.
6. Chefs' Warehouse: If you've ever worked in restaurants, you've seen plenty cardboard boxes with this company's logo arrive via weekly special deliveries. Luckily, you don't have to grill steaks or peel hundreds of potatoes every day to qualify for a Chefs' Warehouse membership. Anyone with a credit card can order gourmet dry goods, specialty meats and seafood, imported oils, foie gras, paté, caviar, and cheese from this online retailer.
7. Farmer's Market Online: Growers from southern California to rural Massachusetts use virtual booth space to sell goods directly to shoppers at Farmer's Market Online. Set up like a traditional farmers market, vendors offer food, crafts, gifts, and supplies direct from the farm. Search by specific items or, for the local-minded buyer, by state. Local farmers offer purple passion fruit, certified organic mushroom growing kits, and vegan jerky in the "open air market" section of the site.
8. Ditalia: Can't get a reservation at your favorite Italian restaurant? Make the dish at home with the help of this Italian-based retailer. Order a bag of semolina tortiglioni, extra virgin olive oil from Tuscany, or a decadent jar of truffle paté. Need wine with that? Search for a bottle of red or white by region, price, or varietal to create a perfect wine pairing, Italian-style.
9. Earthy Delights: This Michigan-based company sells wild-harvested seasonal produce like morels, paw paws, fiddleheads and huckleberries. Find specialty goods like black garlic, wild fennel pollen, and bonito flakes for Asian or Italian-inspired meals. Perishable items ship the day you order them, in order to ensure freshness.
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10. Jacksonville Mercantile: Housed in a mercantile that was built in 1861, this specialty food and wine shop also offers their culinary wares online. Discover specialty foods like BBQ spice kits, British lemon curd, bitter Szechuan berries, and Poppy syrup from Grasse, France. The owners, Constance and David Jesser, choose products like chocolate, honey, dried herbs and select wines from Portland, Oregon based on "taste, quality, and uniqueness."