No offense to the Jewels and Mariano’s of the world, but between the long lines and harsh fluorescent lighting, sometimes shopping at chain stores isn’t always a particularly joyous experience. And while their selection is by no means small, if you’re looking for a very specific ingredient, or just want grocery store sushi that won’t make you sad, things start to get tricky. So we made this: a guide to 19 of our favorite specialty grocery stores and markets. Those hard-to-find items from back home (or ingredients from that Tik Tok video you saw) are easy to locate when you know where to look.
H Mart is a national Korean grocery chain, and happens to be one of our favorite stores for produce, imported snacks, and pre-marinated, grill-ready, meat and whole fish. The location in the West Loop also has a food court where you can get dishes like kimchi stew, sushi, bento, and ramen. Oh, and sheet masks.
Joong Boo Snack Corner
Stock up on gochujang, gochugaru, kimchi, and other Korean pantry staples at Joong Boo in Avondale. This market also has a huge selection of teas and snacks, as well as a butcher, fishmonger, and fresh produce. Plus the pièce de résistance: a wang mandoo stand with giant fluffy buns.
Park To Shop Supermarket
Park to Shop is a Chinese grocery outlet with locations in Chinatown and Uptown, and both stores have rare (and valuable) parking lots in neighborhoods where parking is hard to find. More importantly, they also have a huge variety of Chinese spices, herbs, and condiments, and plenty of ingredients for dishes like dan dan noodles or mapo tofu. They also have helpful butchers and a large warehouse-type space that’s full of frozen items.
Located in Arlington Heights, Mitsuwa Marketplace is a Japanese grocery chain that offers a wide range of groceries along with things like cosmetics, appliances, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. It’s a bit of a trek if you live in the city, so be sure to get some sushi, sashimi, or travel-friendly bento boxes for the long journey home.
Old World Market
Old World Market is Uptown’s go-to for African and Caribbean spices, herbs, sauces, snacks, and produce. This place is a must-visit for when you’re preparing, suya, jerk, and stew, and if you’re shopping on an empty stomach they also have fresh Jamaican beef patties to power you through. And we feel obligated to mention that this is one of the only places in the city that carries scotch bonnet peppers.
Don’t let its small size fool you: this market in Edgewater has everything you need to prepare an Ethiopian feast at home. Among all the spices you’ll also find a fantastic Berbere seasoning, hard-to-find lentils and legumes, grains, and sourdough starter to make injera. While you’re there don’t forget to order an Ethiopian coffee.
Gio's Cafe & Deli
Gio’s Cafe is a small Italian grocery store and deli in Bridgeport. The attached restaurant serves Italian dishes like spaghetti and chicken parmigiana, but we prefer the market where you can shop for ingredients to make your own. Come here for things like fresh sausage and pasta, housemade giardiniera, and all sorts of Italian specialty products.
La Casa Del Pueblo
This little grocery store in Pilsen has an impressive amount of produce, fresh and deli meats, Mexican products, and plant-based specialty items. Special shout out to the cafeteria-style restaurant next door with delicious rotating daily specials. Extra special shout out to the tamale ladies stationed outside year-round.
Carniceria Guanajuato is on the southwest corner of California and Elston, and has a large parking lot just in case you’re driving. The main draw here is its fresh meat and seafood. And while you can buy your asada here, it’s doubtful you’ll be able to prepare it as expertly as the taqueros at the taqueria in the back of the store. That’s where you’ll find tacos, burritos, gorditas, chicharrón, and horchata to rescue you for when you get home and (inevitably) don’t feel like preparing dinner with all the groceries you just bought.
The Butcher & Larder
The Butcher & Larder in Lincoln Park has locally-sourced meat from butchers who are knowledgeable and happy to help you out. You’ll find housemade sausages (both smoked and fresh) in addition to other cuts of meat - like lamb shanks and tomahawk steaks, plus marrow and animal fat. This place might be trendy and aesthetically pleasing - but we can’t deny that the shop concept is very well fleshed out. Get it? Fleshed out.
Gene’s Sausage Shop
Genes in Lincoln Square has been selling sausages and German specialty items like kraut, bread, cheese, and mustard for over 50 years. The large retail space is spread out over two floors, so has enough space to beautifully display pretty much every kind of sausage you can think of, from fresh bratwurst to ready-to-eat smoked varieties.
Lawrence Fish Market
This small, cash-only single counter spot on the northwest side has a wide variety of sushi and sashimi-grade fish. Get tuna, salmon, hamachi, unagi, uni, and pretty much any fish you would want thinly sliced and consumed raw. If you haven’t quite mastered the art of making sushi yourself, you can also pre-order prepared sashimi and nigiri platters for pick-up.
We go to Wixter Market in Wicker Park for sushi-grade fish, and flash-frozen catches. The owner will be probably be there, and tell you all about their grocery practices, sustainable harvesting philosophy, pairings, recipes, and anything else you might want to know.
Black-owned and located in the Pilsen neighborhood, Paulette’s will spoil you with their one-stop-shop that features a wide variety of groceries, sweets, snacks, drinks, dried goods, and items - in addition to a deli counter that holds a treasure chest of chilled dishes, salads, sandwiches, and take-and-bake meals. They don’t sell alcohol, but that’s about it.
Hyde Park Produce Market
This produce and dried goods market is in the same strip mall as a Harold’s and a liquor store, so try and stay the course. Hyde Park Produce has a great selection of fruits and vegetables. In fact, this spot always seems to have the sweetest, freshest, most flavorful version of whatever happens to be in season. Though that might be all the fried chicken and liquor talking.
This neighborhood grocery and produce market has been providing Lincoln Square with a little bit of everything since the 90s. Come here for your regular groceries and fresh produce, but also pick up a housemade deli salad, those special gluten-free seeded crackers you can never seem to find at Jewel, the “good” mustard, olives, and little pickles. There, now you’ve got yourself a solid indoor picnic.
Bonne Sante Health Foods
Our immune systems can use all the help they can get, and that’s where Bonne Sante comes in. This Hyde Park market has stuff like seamoss, turmeric, aloe vera, and echinacea, plus a helpful staff. They also have tasty prepared foods like paninis, salads, and fresh-pressed juice.
The Spice House
Located in Old Town, The Spice House has barrelfuls of any dried herb, root, or spice you could possibly need, plus housemade spice blends and gift sets that would make anyone who likes to cook smile real big. Need special Mexican vanilla or Indonesian cinnamon? No problem. Can’t find black lime or star anise anywhere? Don’t worry. Even if they don’t have it in stock they’ll just order it for you.
Old Town Oil
Right down the street from The Spice House is Old Town Oil, which sells infused oils and vinegar. The goods are stored in big metal canisters that can be sampled and then doled out by weight. If you’re used to buying whatever EVOO is on sale at your regular chain grocery store, this place will totally change the way you think about using oil in your cooking.