We've all been there. You finally cracked open that Sichuan/Oaxacan/Malaysian/whatever cookbook your aunt sent you for your birthday a couple of years back, and after five seconds of perusing the gorgeous photography, your mouth was watering. We feel your pain. Just one problem: where to find that queso fresco, those kaffir lime leaves, that black cardamom? Not at Trader Joe's, we know that much. Fortunately, you live in LA, you geographical genius--and that means the specialty ingredients you're seeking are just a short adventure away. Below, a sampling of our fair city's best ethnic grocery stores; tell us about your favorite spots in the comments!
Silom Supermarket: At Hollywood and Serrano, near the Western end of Thai Town and next to a Ralph's, is where you'll find the Silom Supermarket, a terrific place to pick up all the ingredients you need for home Thai cooking. We're especially fond of the dirt-cheap curry pastes and the ice cream made from coconut milk available in the jam-packed freezer section. Be aware that you need cash for purchases under $10, and that fresh Thai tacos often await, temptingly, in the small parking lot.
5321 Hollywood Boulevard, LA, CA 90027
Rincon Argentino Carniceria: Love you some Inca Cola? Us too. You'll find it at this little grocery/deli in Glendale, along with Argentinian sausage (look into it) and all kinds of other imports from south of the equator, including South American wine and desserts. As a bonus, pick up some fresh empanadas to help wash down that Malbec--the vegetarian ones are especially noteworthy. Parking is street-only, and keep your eyes peeled or you just might miss this little nook.
1375 E. Colorado Boulevard, Glendale, CA 91205
Han Kook Supermarket: This Korean supermarket--which, at the size of your average Gelson's, truly earns its super label--at Western and Beverly has everything you need to make your own kimchi, plus the affordable, quality meat you need for the KBBQ to have with it. (Seriously, does anyone else only do KBBQ for the kimchi?) Plus there are tons of pre-made banchan, and if you go by day you might be treated to a fun sample or two. Best of all, unlike most places in K-town, there's abundant parking in the lot out front.
124 N. Western Avenue, LA, CA 90004
Vallarta Supermarket: Vallarta's a chain with a few different locations around the LA County, and its fresh tortillas are the ones to beat. Grab a few and add some pre-marinated meat to your cart to cook up and fill them with; round out your menu with a fresh (and affordable!) tres leches cake, and you might as well have taken a field trip to Rosarito. Plus, you can grab a couple of tacos to go if your grocery shopping temporarily depletes your blood sugar. Plenty of parking in the lot.
10950 Sherman Way, Burbank, CA 91505 (and plenty of other locations)
India Sweets and Spices: Nestled along Los Feliz Boulevard in Atwater is India Sweets and Spices, a one-stop shop for everything you need to rock your own palak paneer or tikka masala. The spice selection is truly dazzling, and they even sell pre-mixed blends if you don't trust yourself to concoct your own. In the restaurant next door, there are samosas with chutney and an array of desserts (hence the "sweets" in the name), not to mention homemade chai.
3126 Los Feliz Boulevard, LA, CA 90039
A Grocery Warehouse: The one failing of too many specialty grocery stores is the produce, which can sometimes be a little lackluster. Enter A Grocery Warehouse, bigger on the inside than it seems on the outside, where you can get all those fresh ingredients for Asian (including Filipino!) home cooking--Thai basil, lemongrass, pitayas, lime leaves, even the notorious durian. There are also fresh egg and spring rolls and assorted other snacks to go.
1487 W. Sunset Boulevard, LA, CA 90026
[Silom image via Flickr user A Culinary Journal]
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