L.A.’s Best Fancy Grocery Store Is This Bristol Farms in the Valley
Woodland Hills gets a 25,000-square-foot “concept store” that we hope is the future of supermarkets.
If you’re a certain kind of Angeleno, the kind who buys a lot of organic produce, prime beef, California wine, sparkling water, and freshly baked desserts, Bristol Farms is a gourmet grocery store chain that probably gives you lots of feelings.
Bristol Farms is very much a part of L.A.’s food-forward, relaxed-chic community. It’s where Oscar-winning movie producers behind billion-dollar blockbusters will go for huge trays of sushi on their way to a poker game. Bristol Farms is also where you can buy half a pie, which makes it easy to try all of its wonderful pie flavors (strawberry rhubarb is excellent). I assume that the half-a-pie thing exists because Bristol Farms understands that pie is the best dessert and you shouldn’t limit your pie options.
If you’re Lawrence on HBO’s Insecure, Bristol Farms is where you can accidentally show up without enough cash or any credit cards and have two coeds buy you booze and then convince you in the parking lot to ditch hanging out with your boy and hang out with them instead.
Bristol Farms is a grocery store with serious reach in Los Angeles. The store Lawrence hit is in Westchester, near LMU and the LAX airport. Last November, Bristol Farms opened a store all the way on the other side of L.A., in the San Fernando Valley community of Woodland Hills. And the Woodland Hills store on Mulholland Drive is, I believe, the single greatest fancy grocery store in Los Angeles. Yes, this means that L.A.’s best gourmet supermarket is in the Valley.
The first time I visit the 25,000-square-foot “concept store,” I instantly feel happy. Everything is so civilized. There’s no Whole Foods-like parking nightmare at all. The high-ceilinged store is airy and delightfully sprawling and not overcrowded on a Sunday afternoon. There are so many cashiers that the lines to check out are short.
The first thing you see when you walk into the store is a rainbow of local produce, like pixie tangerines and organic greens and radishes. The $5.99-per-pound fresh fruit bar, with sliced berries, melons, grapes, and more, is a bargain compared to the pre-packaged fruit salads you’ll find at other upscale supermarkets.
It’s the meat department, though, that stuns me. There’s a wide selection of 100-percent grass-fed First Light wagyu beef from New Zealand. This is the same stellar beef used by HiHo, the exemplary burger restaurant in Santa Monica. The First Light options at Bristol Farms include ground beef, marinated Korean-style short ribs, and many kinds of steaks. I get a bone-in New York and a marinated BBQ spice rib eye. The meat is tremendously beefy and marbled, with beautiful fat that almost tastes like stinky cheese after the steaks are grilled. At $27.99 a pound, these steaks are pricey but not more expensive than domestic beef you’ll find at competing butcher counters. The Bristol Farms seafood counter, with Dungeness crab cakes and frequent sales on wild-caught fish, also offers premium proteins and good value.
This new Bristol Farms also excels at being a solution for those days when you don’t feel like cooking. There’s an abundance of prepared-food stations, part of what’s billed as an “epicurean food hall and market experience:” wild-caught seafood salads and poke, sushi, sandwiches made with house-smoked meat, an impressive olive bar, and a build-your-own-bowl wok option that resembles Mongolian BBQ, among others. The serve-yourself soup area has bread bowls and soups like Peruvian shrimp, Russian cabbage, matzo ball, and both beef and organic vegetarian chili.
There’s a coffee bar with gelato, affogato, and $1 drip coffee. There’s a smoothie and juice bar. The “dairy deli” has more than 300 cheeses. The store’s staff keeps a close eye on the organic salad bar and the hot food bar. On a recent lunchtime visit, I’m bummed to see that the tray of carnitas is empty. But during the moment it takes me to put some fried rice and spaghetti and meatballs in my container, an employee puts in a new tray of carnitas. You can have lunch here at a leisurely pace: Some of the community seating inside the store is next to power outlets, so you can you charge your phone while taking advantage of the free wi-fi.
And then, of course, there’s the bakery with its half pies, assorted cakes, and a warm, chocolate-y delight known simply as The Cookie. Beyond the bakery, Bristol Farms also has your sweet tooth covered with sections for Sugarfina candy and Godiva chocolate. There’s even a section devoted to dessert toppings, everything from Hershey’s chocolate syrup to artisanal caramel sauce created by Berkeley’s CC Made. The wine and spirits area also runs the gamut, with everything from a display of 10 wines under $10 to top-tier options like $299 bottles of Opus One and $349 bottles of Macallan 17.
There’s a funny moment in Insecure when Lawrence realizes he can’t pay for the six-pack of Corona and bottle of Maker’s Mark he’s trying to buy at Bristol Farms. The young ladies behind him in line offer to purchase it for him. “What is it, like, $15 or something?” one of his new benefactors asks. “$46.92,” the stone-faced checkout clerk replies. It’s a good joke about overpriced booze at a high-end grocery store.
But I should also point out that the Woodland Hills Bristol Farms had six-packs of Guinness, Harp, and Smithwick’s on sale for $7.99 right before St. Patrick’s Day. This concept store is all about choosing your own adventure, whether you’re shopping with a budget or ready for a blowout. Val party!
Bristol Farms, 23379 Mulholland Dr., Woodland Hills, 818-449-8606