In February, Squid Ink brought you the Top 10 ethnic markets in the San Fernando Valley. For this installment, we move from one valley to another, from the 818 to the 626, and thus to the San Gabriel Valley. In addition to supermarkets catering to the large local Chinese community, there are also smaller markets that offer samosas, hummus, pannetones and fresh sashimi, if you know where to look. Here's a list — arranged alphabetically — of our Top 10 ethnic markets in the SGV.
1. 168 Market
A Vietnamese market located in a former Vons, 168 makes the list for some unique highlights – most notably some tables apart from the seafood counter where you can literally pick your own fish or shellfish. If that isn't enough, there's a great selection of snacks and candies, small plastic tubs of stinky tofu and an ice cream section second to none in the SGV featuring containers and packaged ice bars in a dizzying array of flavors — durian, avocado and brown sugar & konjac (the latter in bar form) to name just a few. And for those seeking easy parking, 168 is hard to beat.
1421 E. Valley Blvd. Alhambra; (626) 282-5168.
Open since 1948, the original San Gabriel location has been the valley's place to go for imported Italian items such as lupini beans, pannetones, candies, cookies and coffees. Claro's also features a full service deli offering meats, homemade sausages, cheeses and sandwiches as well as a great selection of desserts and pastries, including fresh pizzelles — an Italian waffle cookie.
1003 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; (626) 288-2026.
19 1/2 E. Huntington Dr., Arcadia; (626) 446-0275.
While each of the Chinese supermarkets in the SGV have something to recommend them, none seem to have to scope of the venerable Hawaii Supermarket. A large selection of anything Chinese and Vietnamese you can think of can be found among its highly stocked aisles — spices, dried peppers, a huge selection of teas, a large meat and seafood department offering fresh and frozen items from the common to the exotic. The market also has an entire row devoted to Filipino items. Want to pick up a hand-cranked machine so you can make your own Taiwanese shaved ice at home? Find it here in the large kitchenware section. The produce department is noteworthy for boldly stocking fresh jackfruit and durian, the latter's odor so notorious other markets only offer it frozen.
120 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; (626) 307-0062.
4. Punjab Indian Grocery Store
A small market tucked into a modern looking strip mall near the Alhambra-San Gabriel border, Punjab features Indian spices and fresh veggies — anything you need to make Indian dishes at home can be found here, as well as cookies, crackers, beverages and other snacks — like packaged bhelpuri. A counter features fresh desserts like Gulab jamun while Bollywood DVDs are found at the back of the store — the perfect accompaniment for your Indian meal.
1300 E. Main St. Suite 101, Alhambra; (626) 576-0749.
Located in a former Target store, and with vendors offering CDs, DVDs, jewelery, clothing, toys, artwork — pretty much anything — 'superstore' is a befitting designation. Skewing more Vietnamese than Chinese — an entire aisle is devoted to fish sauces — the store also features the most extensive beverage aisle of any area supermarket. A Yum Cha Café is available for on site eats ranging from a whole roast duck to dim sum.
1635 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel; (626) 280-9998.
6. Thun Phat Supermarket
Housed in a warehouse type building that also features other vendors and another Yum Cha Café, your first thought might be — why is this on the list, or yet another Vietnamese supermarket, what gives? Huge plastic tubs filled with live seafood (crabs, lobsters, fishes). And the spectacle of petite Vietnamese women reaching in, grabbing their selections and tossing them into their carts is enough in itself for inclusion. That aside, a large snack section made up almost entirely of items not found at other markets (durian crackers, fruit chips) and small, but well stocked aisles of Malaysian and Indonesian items like fruit jam spreads — kaya (coconut), pandan and durian — makes this market list-worthy.
2650 N. Rosemead Blvd., South El Monte; (626) 279-7898.
Yes, it's a chain. Yes, Vallartas can be found all over the place. And yes, Vallarta was featured in the top 10 for the San Fernando Valley. But, this is not plagiarism or laziness, as the same applies to the SGV as well — for one stop Mexican/Latin food shopping, Vallarta simply can't be beat. A great produce department, meat counter, their own brand items, a taqueria offering a great range of good take out or dine in fare (al pastor or chicharron tacos), and a panaderia offering fresh baked goods.
13940 Ramona Blvd., Baldwin Park; (626) 480-8960.
8. Vartan's Family Groceries
If you're looking for anything Middle Eastern, much of it homemade, this market is your stop. Located in the north end of Pasadena, the address below will take you to the family's produce market — the hard-to-find full market can be found around the back. A deli counter features items like basturma and soujuk – a dried beef sausage. And a trip to Vartan's would not be complete without their hummus.
1515 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 791-1086.
9. Veer's Dollar Store (closed)
This tiny, family-run market is even smaller than Punjab, but has a great selection of Indian, Sri Lankan and Burmese items in it's small space. It also offers some take out food, ranging from snacks and dessert items like jalebi, but, the standout here are the samosas — chicken curry and veggie. At $3 for 5, the veggie samosas are one of the best deals in the SGV, and mighty tasty.
1107 W. Mission Rd., Alhambra; (626) 458-8641.
Easy to miss (next to a Thai restaurant, look for the blue awnings on the north side of the street), this narrow Mom & Pop market features a selection of Japanese items — rice, soba noodles, produce, pickled veggies, snack items, imported beers and sake and even Japanese DVDs for rent. But Yama truly stands out for a small selection of sushi-to-go and freshly cut sashimi from the counter. Looking for some fresh tuna, salmon or uni?, this is your place.
911 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel; (626) 281-8045.