Ethnic Markets in the SF Bay Area
Local readers have asked where to buy some of the ingredients shown in my lunches. I’ve put together a list of my favorite markets in San Francisco as a resource (complementing my previous Bay Area shopping guide for bento gear). I haven’t listed chain stores (Mollie Stone’s, Whole Foods, Andronico’s, etc.), but instead focused on local stores, especially cheap ones with an ethnic specialty. I will edit this list as things change; please feel free to comment if you know other excellent local markets that we’d benefit from knowing about, especially in the East or South Bay. Links point to the stores’ Yelp.com listings with maps, photos, and commentary from the larger Bay Area community. I am not affiliated with any of these stores, please disclose any commercial affiliations you may have when adding a new store.
San Francisco Bay Area
Guide to Food Markets
Richmond New May Wah Supermarket
719 Clement Street (in the Inner Richmond)
(between 8th Ave & 9th Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94118 (415) 221-9823
Huge, cheap mostly Chinese supermarket with excellent pantry items, fresh seafood (complete with live fish and frogs) and meat counters, and comprehensive Asian produce (including many Thai items). They also have a small Japanese section with excellent prices (stocking both red and green hana-ebi for rice decoration, and in the snacks area they have the little tiny Kiku pudding cups often packed in bentos). If you can find your Japanese items here it’ll be much cheaper than at the stores in Japantown (listed below). The store is divided into two big sections with separate entrances (and a door in the middle) — pantry items on one side, fish/meat/produce/frozen items on the other. They carry fresh quail eggs at a good price.
2425 Irving Street (in the Outer Sunset)
(between 25th Ave & 26th Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94122 (415) 566-6504
Large, reasonable mostly Chinese supermarket, similar to New May Wah (but in the Outer Sunset). While their pantry items, seafood (also with fish in tanks) and meat are all good, their produce isn’t much to write home about. While you’re in the neighborhood, go to 22nd & Irving for produce, then to Sunset Super for your Asian items. They do stock nice fresh quail eggs (10 for $0.99?) in a nice cardboard container to keep them from squishing.
Ocean View Supermarket
3995 Alemany Blvd (bordering on Daly City)
(between Kempton Ave & Palmetto Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94132 (650) 994-2138
Large, clean, reasonably priced pan-Asian market with a large parking lot in the southern outskirts of the city. Good selection of Chinese and Filipino products, with Thai and Japanese products as well — including colored mamenori soy wrappers used for food art (5 for US$2.59) and Kiku mini pudding cups (package of 12 for $2.50). I went on opening day (August 16, 2007), so it was well organized and clean — we’ll see how it wears. Tanks of fish, “deli” section with whole roast ducks and prepared steam table food, a extensive refrigerated and frozen section, etc. Some lunch gear such as food jars and thermal lunch jars in the front of the store, with the rice cookers and electric jar pots. A recommend if it stays similar in the future (don’t underestimate the lure of free parking!).
548 Valencia Street (in the Mission)
(between 16th St & 17th St)
San Francisco, CA 94110 (415) 621-1717
No fresh food, but a good selection of Indian spices and pantry items, with some kitchen equipment as well. Be sure to go to the attached ice creamery for luscious Indian-style ice cream in unusual flavors (cardamom rose, anyone?).
1737 Post Street (in Japantown)
(between Buchanan St & Webster St)
San Francisco, CA 94115 (415) 563-1901
Sizable Japanese market (albeit pricey) with a comprehensive selection of Japanese food (including sushi-grade fish, good prepared deli food, little packets of cartoon-branded furikake, frozen croquettes and takoyaki, okonomiyaki mix, tenkasu, sakura denbu, etc.).Good sake selection. They also have some cooking gear and a few bento accessories, notably antibacterial sushi grass dividers and disposable food cups. You can find common Japanese items much cheaper at the pan-Asian markets, but this’ll have what you can’t find.
Super Mira Market
1790 Sutter Street (in Japantown)
(between Buchanan St & Laguna St)
San Francisco, CA 94115 (415) 921-6529
Small, friendly Japanese market with attached bakery. Not the cheapest, but worth a look if you’re in the neighborhood and can’t find something at the other markets. Common Japanese items are much cheaper at the pan-Asian markets, but they do have some unusual things (yuzu kosho, anyone?). A selection of tasty, freshly made onigiri rice balls ($1.50 each) — very nostalgic for anyone who’s lived in Japan.
1656 Post Street (in Japantown)
(between Buchanan St & Laguna St)
San Francisco, CA 94115 (415) 921-0515
Good Japanese market that’s larger than Mira, smaller than Nijiya — they all have their place. Good fish and meat counter. Common Japanese items are cheaper at the pan-Asian markets, but they have unusual, authentic items.
2934 24th Street (in the Mission)
(between Alabama St & Florida St)
San Francisco, CA 94110 (415) 593-0785
Large Latin market with a cheap/good produce selection (many chili varieties, fresh epazote, yucca, whole & cut nopales, etc.), freshly made chorizo (try the Salvadorean!!!), fresh cheese behind the counter, kitchen equipment (tortilla presses, molcajetes, chili griddles, etc.), a freezer full of Mexican popsicles, unusual frozen fruit purees, lots of pinatas, etc. They often have Lizano sauce and aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow chile pepper).
El Chico Market #4
2965 24th Street (in the Mission)
(between Alabama St & Harrison St)
San Francisco, CA 94110 (415) 643-4550
Large, clean Latin Market with good produce selection and a good meat counter (with tasty marinated meats). I stop there if Casa Lucas is out of something (like Lizano sauce, which they often carry).
La Palma Mexicatessen
2884 24th Street (in the Mission)
(between Bryant St & Florida St)
San Francisco, CA 94110 (415) 647-1500
The place to go for all kinds of freshly ground masa (for tamales, tortillas, etc.) and bags of freshly made, warm tortillas. They also have a good to-go counter with all kinds of food, including tamales and pupusas. Be sure to take a paper number from the machine as you go in, then line up in the back.
22nd & Irving
2101 Irving Street (in Outer Sunset)
(between 22nd Ave & 23rd Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94122 (415) 681-5212
Cheap, large produce market with beautiful, fresh produce and a nice selection of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern pantry staples (no meat or fish). Regular/thick bourek dough, kataifi dough, good bulgur selection, cheap Greek yogurt, Turkish & Greek jams and honey, lots of fetas and Middle Eastern cheese, olives, unusual jarred/pickled/canned veggies, etc. No meat or fish counter, but it’s my top pick for affordable produce other than the farmer’s markets.
2990 Mission St (in the Mission)
(between 25th St & 26th St)
San Francisco, CA 94110 (415) 824-6555
North African, Middle Eastern market with excellent pantry and dairy items, also stocks authentic kitchen equipment like huge mezze trays and large flat skewers for real kebabs.
Queen of Sheba
1100 Sutter Street (in Nob Hill)
San Francisco, CA 94109 (415) 567-4322
Good Middle Eastern market.
In addition to markets like 22nd & Irving, El Chico #4 Market, Casa Lucas, and the pan-Asian markets, be sure to hit the farmer’s markets for fresh, local produce at reasonable prices. My favorite is Alemany Farmer’s Market.
Alemany Farmer’s Market
100 Alemany Blvd (in Bernal Heights)
San Francisco, CA 94110 (415) 647-9423
Much cheaper and funkier than its fancy cousin at Ferry Plaza, Alemany Farmer’s Market is the place to go for a boisterous Saturday morning veggie expedition. Stalls near the entrance tend to be a little more expensive than stalls in the middle or back; get there before 9am for the best selection. Don’t miss the Vietnamese herb vendor at the back for an astounding selection of herbs like Asian basils and sawtooth leaf (culantro). You can even get live chickens at a stall just outside the entrance, but avoid the fish stall outside (one smell will tell you why).
(See Kasma Loha Unchit’s Thai Market page for a comprehensive list of Thai markets in the Bay Area. Her Preferred Brands page is also interesting.)
339 Eddy Street (in the Tenderloin)
(between Jones St & Leavenworth St)
San Francisco, CA 94102 (415) 474-6436
Tiny, hole-in-the wall Thai market in a bad neighborhood, but it has exceptional Thai pantry items that aren’t available elsewhere (Golden Boy fish sauce) and unusual fresh items as well (kaffir lime leaves of course, freshly smoked fish on a stick, banana blossoms). Be mindful of your surroundings as you walk to and from this market.
Kukje Super Market
2350 Junipero Serra Boulevard (by the In & Out Burger just off of 280)
Daly City, CA 94015 (650) 992-0333
Huge Korean supermarket with a large self-serve panchan bar with Korean side dishes, good fish/meat counter (think hotpot, Korean barbeque and shabu shabu), a lot of Japanese products as well. Don’t miss it if you’re nearby — it’s not super-cheap like New May Wah, but it’s comprehensive. They also have a sizable housewares and cookware section, Lock & Lock containers, and some bento boxes (insulated bento sets were overpriced last time I was there — Kamei stocks the Zojirushi ones for $33). They have a frequent shopper card that you can sign up for; it doesn’t get you discounts but eventually you can get free stuff.
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- SF Bay Area shopping guide for bento gear
- Need for speed: A mommy’s lunch manifesto
- How to pack a bento lunch and use “gap fillers”
- Choosing the right size bento box
- Biggieâ€™s list of top speed tips, tutorials and equipment reviews