I remember when I first arrived in Los Angeles and going grocery shopping for the first time. I think it was Ralphs supermarket on La Brea. I was amazed by the fantastic selection of fresh produce, the liquor selections available, and all of the other great items that were not easily available in Montana. I started shopping at the big chain stores in Southern California, and eventually branched out to the smaller ethnic markets in the various neighborhoods I lived in.
I will break down the different markets into categories and explain what I think the pros and cons are of each one. One thing about it, you won’t likely be complaining that you can’t find certain items in Los Angeles, because with the hundreds of grocery stores and ethnic markets in the city, there is something for almost everyone. Wherever you come from, you are in for a new experience grocery shopping in Los Angeles.
There are dozens of Ralphs locations throughout Los Angeles. The location in the San Fernando Valley near Burbank and Van Nuys Boulevard is known as the “Rock and Roll Ralphs,” because so many wannabe and real rock and rollers shop there. The Ralph’s on 7257 West Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood is also known as the “Rock and Roll Ralp’s,” for the same reason. Ralphs supermarkets are clean, well lit, and up to date stores. Some of them have pharmacies, and most have bank branches inside of them. Ralphs routinely has specials, but you have to be a club card member to take advantage of them. Club cards are free, but it is irritating to always dig out the card, or tell them your phone number each time. I think their produce prices are high, and I can find better deals on produce and meat at smaller stores.
Vons also has multiple locations throughout Los Angeles. Depending on where exactly in the city you live, you are likely either a Ralph’s person, or a Von’s person. Vons also has clean, up to date stores, and is also a club card store. Once again, they have some great sales, but I think there are better places to buy many items. There is no “Rock and Roll,” Vons that I know of, but there is a “Hot Chicks,” Vons on Pier Avenue in Hermosa beach. I just called it that, because I never saw so many pretty girls in my life than I did at the Vons in Hermosa Beach.
Pavillions is probably the number three super market chain in Los Angeles, and my least favorite. They are also a club card store and I have always found their pricing confusing. If you live close to a Pavillions store, you will probably shop there and adapt to their system. My son is a Pavillions person, because that is closest to where he lives in Agoura Hills.
There are many Vallarta Markets in Los Angeles, particularly where heavy concentrations of Hispanics live. I hear that Vallarta markets are owned by Vons. Vallarta markets usually have Mexican music blasting on their PA systems, and they have Mexican restaurants inside of them. They are not a club store and have great sales. They have ridiculously cheap produce, but much of it is sub standard, and mass produced from Mexico. Likewise, I am not a fan of their meats, and think that they are sub standard. I live close to a Vallarta market and shop there all the time, but think that there are better places to buy many items.
I personally am not a fan of Walmart. I just don’t like the huge barn atmosphere of the place. However, many people love Walmart, because it has nearly everything, and it is all very cheap. I don’t think Walmart is a club card store, so you don’t have to be a member to take advantage of the sales. There are not as many Walmart locations in Los Angeles.
Costco is a membership store, meaning you have to pay an annual membership fee of $55. Costco has great deals on everything from furniture, to clothes, to groceries. As a single person, I don’t think it pays to belong to Costco. For families, I think it is great, especially when you buy things in bulk. Sam’s Club, is the same type of thing. There are not as many locations of these stores.
Smart & Final
Smart & Final is a box store, meaning that many of their products are stacked in boxes, like a warehouse. They have great deals, especially when you buy things in bulk. I often shop there when I am buying merchandise for my bartending business. They also have a regular produce and meat section at some of their stores. You don’t have to have any kind of club card or membership to take advantage of their sales.
Food 4 Less
Food for Less is the discount store owned by Ralph’s. Their locations are often in the lower income areas of the city. Food 4 Less is also a box store, where they have boxes full of merchandise out on the floor. I really don’t like Food 4 Less stores, because I think they are often poorly lit, and just have a depressing appearance. I also think much of their produce, although cheap, is sub-par. Superior Market, is another discount store, and I feel the same way about it.
Trader Joe’s is the store of choice for hipsters, yuppies, actors, and aficionados in Los Angeles. There are many locations, and the stores are smaller than most supermarkets. The parking lots are usually smaller too, and there are many jokes about parking lot wars at Trader Joe’s. They have a great selection of frozen foods, organic produce and meats, and a great liquor department. This is a great place to shop for single people. It is not the best place to buy certain items, like paper towels, laundry detergent, etc. You don’t have to have a club card or membership to shop there, and many of their items remain at the same low price all the time.
Gelson’s locations are usually in more upscale areas, and their prices on most items are higher. They have a great deli and bakery, and I think that is the reason many people shop there. They have great produce and meats, but again, that is if price doesn’t matter. I think Gelson’s caters to an older, more affluent clientele who expect top notch customer service.
Whole Foods is where the foodies, environmentalists, and health nuts shop. Whole Foods probably has the largest selection of organic produce and hard to find fruits, vegetables, and herbs. They have many organic wines, and a great selection of craft beers. They also have hefty prices for said items. Some people might think shopping at Whole Foods is a luxury, others might say that buying only organic is the only way to go if you don’t want 10,000 forms of cancer. Another chain similar to Whole foods is sprouting up around LA, and it’s called “Sprouts.”
99 Cents Only Store
For certain items, like canned foods, soap, bleach, and cleaning supplies, it pays to shop at the 99 Cents Only Store. Some items might cost $2.45 at Ralph’s and the same name brand item can be bought for 99 cents here. They have some produce, which isn’t the best quality, but in some cases is a good deal. I buy hair dye (I admit it)at the 99 Cents Only Store. The same stuff costs $7.99 everywhere else.
This is where the real fun comes in. There are ethnic markets all over Los Angeles. I frequently shop at an Armenian market in the San Fernando Valley. I don’t even know the name of it, because it is written in Armenian on the sign. The store is small, the aisles are cramped and cluttered, but they have the best produce and meats I have found. I buy ground beef there because it is priced right and they grind it right there. It is way leaner than ground beef you will buy at any super market. Their produce is of much better quality than what you find in the super market, and it comes from local farmers.
There are markets from virtually every continent on the earth in Los Angeles. You will find Chinese markets, Filipino, Indonesian, Indian, Russian, Ethiopian, German, Greek, and even Chilean markets. Many of the ethnic markets do catering and you can buy all kinds of ethnic delicacies for your next party. Some of the markets specialize in seafood and you can get all kinds of fresh fish and seafood brought in daily from local fishermen. Homemade breads and pastries are also available, as are soft drinks and liquors from various countries around the world. There are so many of these markets, I can’t list them all here, but if you look for them, you will see them everywhere.
I urge everyone reading this article to branch out of your comfort zone and seek out some ethnic markets in your neighborhood. You will hear languages being spoken that you have never heard before. You will see products advertised in their native alphabets. You will also get a quick immersion into many different cultures without ever leaving the United States. It is also nice to support small family owned businesses, rather than the big conglomerates.
Happy grocery shopping in Los Angeles!