The 20 Best Regional Supermarket Chains of All Time
Only the luckiest Americans get to live down the street from one of these—at least the rest of us can dream.
Rattle around this country like a marble in a half-empty tin for a few years, and you learn, eventually, that as much as things stay the same, they are often quite different, radically different, particularly when we talk about the way Americans do their grocery shopping.
From historic market halls across the Mid-Atlantic, to sparkling regional supermarket chains in the Midwest, to the lavish farmers markets spoiling Californians all year long, where you live really does make a difference.
In each of the fifty states, once you push past the most obvious national brands, you’ll typically find some fine, preferred local alternatives at your disposal; ideally, they will end up being one of the following.
The way Cleveland shops for food is one of the most immediately likable things about the city, from the aisles of the cavernous West Side Market to an array of outstanding bakeries, butchers, Italian delis, and the like. No surprise, then, that the region is also home to one of the best small supermarket chains in the country, priding itself on quality product, good prices, and smart store design.
The flagship store sits inside the old Cleveland Trust Rotunda Building, looking a lot more like a continental department store food hall under its grand, carefully restored glass dome than something along Euclid Avenue. In recent years, they’ve also managed to become a staple on Chicago’s tony North Shore.
Dorothy Lane Market
What is it about Ohio and knowing how food shopping should be done?
What else can we say, except that they’re just really damn good at it. For roughly 80 years now, the well-heeled Daytonite has relied on this tiny chain of markets, offering just three locations, which proves, and wonderfully well, that you don’t need to have massive reach to leave a lasting impression. From gorgeous loaves of fresh bread to artfully arrayed produce, to an embarrassment of delicious prepared foods, prepare to be spoiled, and perhaps slightly sad when you think about your shopping options back home.
Name a part of the world, and chances are excellent it will most likely be well-represented among Southern California’s ever-growing population, and you’ll find most of them, or at least it can feel that way, at this slick, often monstrously affordable chain of markets scattered toward the east of Los Angeles and beyond. Expect to hear multiple languages spoken, and to see produce and product you may never have seen at a supermarket before, along with everything else you have.
Like the city it has served for so long now, New York’s favorite bankrupt supermarket chain is a survivor—throw whatever you like at Fairway, but they don’t appear to be going anywhere, at least not without a knock-down, drag-out, hold-my-earrings kind of fight. Shopping here is nearly always an intense experience; there is almost zero rhyme or reason to the way anything works (#fairwayrules). You’ll probably get barked at twelve times to move out of somebody’s way, but every location, from the original Upper West Side store well into the ‘burbs, brims with high-quality food.
Let’s suppose you walk out of Fairway and think you’ve seen it all—well, friend, it gets even more ridiculous. For instance, let’s talk about this Connecticut-based dairy store, the one with the animatronic cows and the theme park-esque backstory, a quirky institution has somehow morphed into a regional heavyweight, with stores throughout the northern New York City commuter belt. Offering something like a county fair atmosphere with those giant bags of popcorn, piping hot donuts, and the mozzarella-making demonstrations, this is also a very serious supermarket, focusing on fresh, while also focusing on fun.
Grocery Outlet Bargain Market
What do you get when you shrink a Costco down to the size of a Trader Joe’s, and then sell everything at Aldi or Lidl prices? Something along the lines of this come-one, come-all seller of surplus foodstuffs, a West Coast institution that has become the go-to for a growing number of communities, all the way from Washington’s water-logged Olympic Peninsula to sunny San Diego, at a time when the cost of living on this side of the country has absolutely exploded. Real West Coasters can sing the radio jingle on cue.
This is not the Portland of Portlandia, but rather the pocket of Portland that feels more like a really privileged part of L.A.’s west side, let’s drill down and say Brentwood, except about 90% more likely to be wearing puffy vests, and definitely a lot more about knowing everything regarding the provenance of what’s on the shelves. Sourcing is impeccable, prices are usually through the roof, and we’re in awe.
Growing from a suburban Cincinnati farm stand to become one of the country’s most bizarre supermarkets, this two-location marvel is secretly one of the region’s finest tourist attractions, if rather by accident, thanks to a dizzying array of bells and whistles—salvaged monorail cars that never seem to go anywhere, animatronic animals, a manmade waterfall, and so much else. (It’s a lot. A whole lot.)
Never mind the silliness, this is a deadly serious destination for area gourmets, with an outstanding cheese and wine selection (in-store tastings can be raucous good fun), and one of the most incredible collections of foods from around the world found under one roof, anywhere, no contest. Start with the original Fairfield store—it’s quite special.
For the fastest reminder of just how differently things are done in the New Orleans kitchen, follow the very real housewives of Jefferson Parish to this classic Metairie market, where they’re still making creole cream cheese from the original recipe, where you can always get a Doberge cake from the bakery (just say dobash, lots of other people do), and they never seem to run out of po’ boy bread, Peychaud’s bitters, Blue Runner beans, coffee with chicory, and so many other things that make this part of the world so delightfully unusual.
Bring money to one of seven Seattle-area locations of this exemplary regional find, easily one of the best-looking supermarkets in the country. From alluring floral displays up front, to top-notch fresh everything, to the prime rib carving station (sandwiches are typically superb), this is living the good life, and then some. The store’s signature cookie, packed with chocolate and walnuts, is worth a visit.
Plus, ten more regional supermarkets we love:
These sprawling temples to Italian-American cooking—think Eataly, but for Italians who spent their entire lives within 75 miles of Columbus Circle—are a highlight of any visit to the New York City suburbs. Grab a box of rainbow cookies, all of the olive oil, some eggplant parm for dinner, and a fill-your-own-cannoli kit.
Any true local knows that some of the best poke in Hawaii comes by the pound from the supermarket, specifically this supermarket—the hometown favorite has dozens of stores, located throughout the state.
Serving the Seattle area as well as suburban Portland, this historic supermarket chain is something of a one-stop for all things Japanese-American; the International District store features a rather giant food court, along with a Kinokuniya bookstore.
These gargantuan Mexican supermarkets of the future—there are two of them now, both in the Houston area—are not-so-secretly owned by H-E-B, our #1 supermarket chain in the country for 2020.
Quality, quality, quality. There will never be enough room for everyone in the aisles, and most of us probably can’t afford to shop here, but if you want to see one of the country’s most perfect little markets, come to San Francisco. (There are two locations.)
Not everybody in South Florida shops at Publix—this Cuban-American owned local favorite (stop in for a cafecito, whenever) has been serving the community for more than half a century, with thirty stores and counting.
Part of a very small group of American grocers that do aesthetics exceptionally well, this one’s best appreciated in their food-literate hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan, but there are now stores in Downtown Detroit and Chicago, too. Prepared foods are top notch.
Shoppers with acute class anxiety may want to steer clear, but for a spot of free entertainment, throw yourself into the fray at this Uptown New York City institution, and see how the other half lives. Fun fact, Ina Garten shops at the East Hampton location.
In the spoiled-for-choice Twin Cities, this all-class, family-owned institution rises above the rest. It also happens to be one of a very few supermarkets that figured out the way to our hearts during the pandemic, delivering their excellent prepared foods to our doorsteps, via the apps.
Adams Fairacre Farms
These overgrown farm stands, wholly unpretentious, but always quality-driven, and very much loyal to local producers, are an essential stop on any supply run in New York’s Hudson Valley. The cheese section is terrific, spotlighting some excellent regional makers. Think Napa or Sonoma, without all the fuss.