10 'Secret' Supermarkets You're Going to Love
They don't have the market share or, in many cases, the marketing budget, and they're probably not coming soon to a shopping center near you. They are the real American supermarket heroes, the ones that do the most, year after year, without the benefit of the biggest spotlight. And while they will probably never have the reach and the clout to place in the national surveys—they can't all be Wegmans—here are ten regional gems that will always be number one, or something close to it, in our hearts. Check them out.
Jungle Jim's, Cincinnati
There are two of them, both in the suburbs, both rambling on forever, both utterly ridiculous—at first glance, anyway. Behind the animatronic animals, the waterfalls, the mothballed monorail cars, and all of the other geegaws this grocery-themed amusement park is known for, you'll find one of America's most unusual supermarkets, offering an astounding amount of product from around the world, one of the best beverage selections you'll find under one roof (both alcoholic and not), a dizzying array of produce, of cheese and charcuterie, plus, you know—all that everyday stuff. The original Fairfield location is the really fun one.
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Super King, Southern California
If you are looking for the future of America, the many and varied supermarkets of Southern California are a great place to start, and you may wish to begin at this one. Super King has been around for a while, now—owned by an Armenian-American family, it caters to pretty much everyone.
Expect to hear multiple languages spoken, expect to find a dozen kinds of rice from all over the world, produce you've never seen before, kosher meats, halal meats, and—well, everything else you can imagine, all available for delivery via Instacart. For maximum number of worlds colliding, head to the store (one of seven) on San Fernando Road in Los Angeles, which lures in savvy shoppers living right next door in some of the West Coast's hippest zip codes.
Fairway, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut
Calling New York's most hilarious supermarket chain a circus or a zoo is an insult to circuses and zoos—this implies that things at Fairway are in any way choreographed, and that you're probably not going to get stepped on. No such luck at Fairway, pal, where to shop is to go into battle, particularly at the original Upper West Side store, an impossibly cramped, multi-story cavern, bursting with good food, each centimeter of floor space hotly contested by hordes of ferocious shoppers. (Pro tip: Wear close-toed shoes.)
After a disastrous IPO and subsequent bankruptcy—even the most loyal fan would have to admit, the whole catastrophe was completely on brand for Fairway—they're still here, and they've still got plenty of stores around the region to choose from. The aforementioned Broadway original, however, with its upstairs café—where you can eat a delicious, if straightforward, sit-down dinner—consistently brings the crazy, and we're never not loving the ride.
Going back more than half a century, this memorable classic is far enough away from New Orleans touristlandia that most visitors don't even know of its existence, but that's fine, because the housewives of Jefferson Parish do, the ones whose grocery lists include things like creole cream cheese, Peychaud's bitters, red beans, olive salad, coffee with chicory, not to mention everything you need to commemorate and/or celebrate the annual, often regionally-specific lineup of holidays, feast days, festivals and what have you.
Walking through these doors is like stepping back in time, and it's oh-so-easy to work this into your next New Orleans itinerary—Dorignac's is right on your way to (and from) the airport.
Good Earth Natural Foods, Bay Area
People often make the mistake of lumping California's Marin County together, like that little piece of paradise on earth is inhabited by one bloc of rich people who all vote the same way—things are a little more complex than that, give them some credit. Let us suppose, however, that you are not interested in the nuances of life here, in this scenic pocket of privilege. That you are looking to generalize, and broadly. In this case, go directly to Good Earth, with stores in Fairfax and Mill Valley, two impossibly lucky places filled with impossibly lucky people who pay $10 for a pound of coleslaw like it's nothing.
The morning cattle call here—consisting of a broad selection of locals who all seem to know each other, and all have a lot of very Marin-like things to say to one another, loudly, over strong coffee, or perhaps baked goods, or even a very good vegetarian breakfast from the hot bar—is more entertaining than any supermarket has any right to be.
Karns Quality Foods, Central Pennsylvania
Have we Americans ever been so obsessed with our many and varied regional cuisines? Probably not. There's one you won't find proliferating from coast to coast, not just yet, and that's Pennsylvania Dutch cooking—you know, tomato pie, shoo fly pie, whoopie pies, all of the pies, basically, including chicken pot pie, which isn't actually a pie. (Not the way they do it, anyway.) Happily, there's no great threat to this slice of very old American food culture—head to the part of Pennsylvania where it came from, and you'll find a very large group of people eating just like people around here always have. (It's a beautiful thing, truly.)
This little-known cluster of stores—known best for their meats—in the Harrisburg area is an enthusiastic ambassador for the genre, offering up straightforward and delicious prepared foods, a stunning array of homegrown potato chip brands, all of the Lebanon bologna, the potato bread, and—rather importantly—some of the tastiest, fluffiest whoopie pies in the state.
Stew Leonard's, Connecticut, New York
Does your local grocery concern feature animatronic cows? This beloved staple within the New York City commuter belt does. Equal parts entertainment and a place to run necessary errands, Stew Leonard's began life decades ago as a dairy store; to this day, the focus here is more on fresh (not to mention fun) than on bringing you all of the supermarket staples—your trip through the store, until you figure out the shortcuts, anyway, is tightly programmed, like you're at a theme park.
Metropolitan Market, Western Washington
Ask your nearest expat pal from the United Kingdom what they miss the most, and plenty of them will talk about the supermarkets. The quality, the prices, the design—it's all, well, it's just better, and there's no use pretending otherwise.
The price points may be very much American, not much to be done about that, but Metropolitan Market—there are seven of them in the Seattle area now—could go toe to toe with some of those better British brands, featuring artfully-arranged produce, inventive floral offerings, great breads, poke bars, prime rib sandwiches from the carving station, coffee, pastries, and more. Bring all of your money.
Mitsuwa Marketplace, Nationwide
So it's not Tokyo, not quite, but the food courts inside the eleven locations of this Japanese supermarket chain will always succeed in bringing you just a little bit closer, kicking things off with some of the most authentic, everyday ramen you can pay for in dollars, then moving on to pretty much any kind of Japanese food (including desserts) you are looking for.
The stores are found in California, Texas, Illinois and New Jersey, the latter right along the Hudson River, with giant picture windows looking back across to New York City.
Plum Market, Michigan/Illinois
Ann Arbor, Michigan is a town that knows food—remember Zingerman's? (Still there. Still completely badass.) Plum Market might not be a tourist attraction where people line up for sandwiches, but it's the supermarket you'd expect to find in a city this passionate about good eating. (And drinking—their beer selection, as you'd expect in a place like Michigan, is pretty great.)
Another one of those too-rare American markets where appearances apparently matter, you'll find the five locations in places where their customer base is most likely in complete agreement. How good are these guys? They've recently managed to stake a claim in one of Chicago's high-end Old Town neighborhood.