Today’s Grocery Gal installment comes as a recommendation from a long standing client of mine. We were chatting about the cost of organic foods and how it’s a challenge to afford it. She told me of a place on Oakton in Skokie whose name escaped her, and I was intrigued because I had never heard of it. Always one for a new adventure, I started searching “skokie grocery store” on my iPhone to find what had to be the place: Marketplace on Oakton.

Grocery Gal Marketplace On Oakton SkokieThe day I made it out to Marketplace was the same day I discovered Hungarian Kosher. Both are on Oakton, but Marketplace is close to the Skokie Swift yellow line and the Edens. When I pulled my grocery getter into the large parking spot, I smiled, as it shared a space with my favorite chain grocery store, Aldi.

Grocery Gal Marketplace on Oakton Grocery Store

Grocery Gal Marketplace Foods Coccoa Kumato tomato

Cocoa Tomatoes are just like Kumato Tomatoes!

I wouldn’t call Marketplace a destination store, but a solid International market with fresh produce, a large deli counter and substantial butcher shop, along the lines of Produce World. I was impressed by the variety of organic produce they carried: staples such as apples, potatoes and onions at a fraction of Whole Foods’ prices.

Grocery Gal Marketplace on Oakton Grocery Store OrganicGrocery Gal Marketplace on Oakton Grocery Store OrganicTheir large ethnic produce selection rivals Fresh Farms.  I bought some taro root (I love taro root chips) and fresh turmeric.

Grocery Gal Marketplace on Oakton Grocery Store Indian VegetableI was happy to see some of my favorite Bende meat products – almost all of Marketplace’s smoked meat selections were from Chicagoland companies.

Grocery Gal Marketplace on Oakton Grocery Store Euro meatsMarketplace on Oakton has a fresh seafood counter, but I’m partial to their selection of canned fishes. They carry a wide variety; more than I’m used to seeing at other stores.

Grocery Gal Marketplace on Oakton FishAs most of my grocery shopping runs around running errands, I would definitely make a stop here if I was heading to Old Orchard. And for those European chocolate fans out there, beware – there are many tempting items in the checkout line!

Grocery Gal Marketplace on Oakton ChocolateIf you live in the area, it’s a solid stop for good quality, affordable organic produce, and a solid European style market.

Marketplace on Oakton. 4817 W Oakton Street, Skokie, IL 60077. 847-677-9330


Someone recently asked me, “Who has the best produce?”  The answer I gave was simple: it all depends on where you live. I was trying to think of landmark neighborhoods to answer her with and realized I hadn’t written about a great grocery store for people living near Lincoln Square and Albany Park: HarvesTime Foods. Located on Lawrence, between Western and California, you’ll notice HarvesTime as the building covered in solar panels alongside their large parking lot, and the delicious tamales for sale outside the entrance.

Grocery Gal visits HarvestTime FoodsHarvesTime is a nice mashup of a store who can cater to the variety of people living in Lincoln Square and Albany Park. HarvesTime is your standard Produce Stand meets Middle Eastern/Balkan Deli meets Latin Grocery Store meets Organic Foods meets Locally Sourced Products at reasonable prices and all under one roof. What else could anyone need? Well, booze, I guess…

Grocery Gal HarvestTime Homeade Guacamole

I was first introduced to HarvesTime at a party years ago, where their in-house salsas and guacamole were being gobbled up by everyone. I was familiar with the store and stopped in, happy to see many Balkan favorites of mine, including Vegata Natur, a nice deli selection and thorough meat selection. With such a heavy Eastern Euro/Balkan influence, I’m still surprised they don’t carry lamb. Years later, the store continues to expand to the needs of their clients, with a big push of organic and locally produced items (but I still need to buy lamb somewhere else). Grocery Gal HarvestTime DeliTwo local brands HarvesTime carries are Big Pork and Chef Martin’s Alpine Brand Sausages. I have yet to try Big Pork’s brand, but I am very familiar with the Chef Martin brand, and every type I’ve tried is outstanding. If you have your heart on sausages from Paulina Market and they’re closed, stop in at HarvesTime and try a few varieties from these two local Chicago sausage makers.

Chef Martin and Big Pork Sausage at Harvesttime FoodsAnother favorite that HarvesTime carries is Breadsmith breads. My husband (and I, before I went gluten free) go CRAZY over their French Peasant bread. As I stopped in late on a Saturday, I had to settle for their Rustic Italian bread. Their breads are absolutely amazing, and if you’re ever on the fence whether or not you should buy it, read their ingredient label and compare it to your other option. They use no additives or preservatives which is exactly why it tastes incredible. They also offer fresh Vie De France options along with a bunch of other very good local bakery breads, but my family’s choice for sandwich bread is always Breadsmith.

Grocery Gal buys Breadsmith bread at Harvesttime FoodsWhen you leave HarvesTime, make sure you have a few dollars cash on hand for the tamales for sale outside. The family selling them have been there for years, and I believe it’s 6 tamales for $5. I grabbed six cheese ones to share with my husband and they were still warm even after my bike ride back home.

HarvesTime Foods. 2632 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL 60625.  (773) 989-4400


I’ve found I have more grocery stores and food related things to write about than I have time for. That’s the basis for GGBite: bite sized reviews of places that I stopped in at, but might not have the time to do a full-on Grocery Gal posting on. Today’s first GGBite I came across on my bicycle one Saturday afternoon while running errands: Ameera Food, located next to Chicago Live Poultry on Western Avenue at Devon.

Grocery  Gal GG Bite Ameera Chicago Live Poultry

My Two Wheeled Austrian Grocery Getter – KTM City Bike

I was on my way to an appointment at Santhigram Wellness Kerala Ayurveda (you must try an Ayurvedic treatment  – it will change your life!) and was running a little early. As I was on Devon at Western, I looked north and saw Chicago Live Poultry. I was always a little scared of the store – but now as Grocery Gal, I knew I just had to go in.

Sorry, there aren’t any photos. As you can tell by the name, here’s where you can buy live chickens, along with other types of fowl: turkeys, pheasant, duck, goose. There was a hand-written sign on the wall listing what was available and at what price. I didn’t take a photo, as it was just such an uncomfortable place to be in; I had to go. The gist is you can choose your animal and it will be slaughtered and cleaned there for you. You can’t get any fresher than that, but it’s not for those with a weak stomach.

Next to Chicago Live Poultry was the the bright, clean Ameera Food. There were no windows to look in, but fresh posters touting “Fresh Fish” and “Meat.” Inside, it looked as if they’d be open only a few weeks – the place was well stocked with African, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and South Asian foods.

Can't get any fresherThey had a pretty large fresh fish selection with many of the staples: tilapia, catfish, but a few other fish I had never heard of. All were tucked in with lots of ice to keep them fresh. What was most interesting was the aquarium where you could purchase live tilapia.

They also offered the services of Chicago Live Poultry without the full experience. You could tell the butcher counter you’d like a chicken, and they would take care of the rest. They had a small, but fresh butcher case with Zabiha Halal meats as well.

Grocery Gal Ameera Food Western ChicagoThey carried a lot of African products including Red African Beans, Oporo and dried Crawfish. There was a good selection of grains that I haven’t cooked with before: Elubo/Amala and Yellow Gari. As I’m currently eating gluten free, I bought some Fufu flour which is used to make a West African style dumpling. Yellow Gari Ameera Nigerian Grain Chicago Grocery GalFufu flour African Ameera Chicago Grocery GalThere was a small produce section. I think there are other options on Devon, like Fresh Farms, that are better options to by produce from. However, specialized ones like Ghana Yams are worth a purchase at Ameera.

Ghana Yams African Produce Chicago Grocery Gal AmeeraA frozen selection focused more on Asian specialties including Durian, which I have never seen outside of Thailand, and Cassava and Jute leaves from the Philippines.Durian Fruit Chicago Ameera Grocery Gal

Cassava Leaves Jute Leaves Chicago Ameera Grocery GalEntering Ameera was an adventure for me. While I didn’t exactly know how to cook much of the food they sold, I knew it’s a great resource to share on Grocery Gal. And next time I cook a whole chicken, I might stop in to get a freshly slaughtered on from Ameera. I’ll admit, it’s a little easier to digest when you don’t have to see the what happens behind the curtain.

Grocery Gal Ameera Food

Ameera Food. 6410 N. Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60645. 773-338-8400.  Chicago Live Poultry. 6421 N. Western Ave. Chicago, IL 60645. 773-381-1000.


I’ve always wanted to go into Moo & Oink. I remember their commercials growing up; I’d dream of the day I could have a barbecue big enough to warrant buying so much meat from them. I’d feel silly driving all that way for just a dozen drumsticks and some burgers.

When I used to take the Stony Island shortcut from the Skyway to Uptown, I’d see Moo & Oink with it’s great logo on the west side of the street. It was one of my must-write-about places for Grocery Gal. After getting my casings at Paulina Market the weekend before, I knew Moo & Oink was the place I had to go to buy pork to make my sausages.
When I finally got there on a Saturday in April, I was devastated (really, I was) to see Moo & Oink replaced with a Dollar Store. I was sad to see a Chicago institution gone, and was kicking myself for not getting their sooner. I searched the interweb and found Moo & Oink is still around (for over 150 years); they just focus on packaged meat sold at other retailers.
Grocery Gal Moo & Oink Chicago

Former Moo & Oink location on Stony Island

As Grocery Gal, I’m very deliberate when I shop. There’s no getting into my grocery getter and just driving. I have to plan my route and see what else is nearby to stop at. Yep, I’m a freaker and it’s exhausting, but I get a huge sense of accomplishment on my time management skills.  Attempting to go to Moo & Oink was part of a larger project of dropping off flyers for my husband’s furniture making company, Brokenpress Design+Fabrication, at local record stores before Record Store Day. Need audio furniture or record storage? I have an in with the owner, send me a message! After dropping some flyers at Record Breakers, I was heading West on Cermak, en route to another record store (which unfortunately had closed down). On my way, I came across Pete’s Fresh Market – a gleaming new grocery store on Cermak near California, and pulled right in.
Grocery Gal Pete's Fresh Market Grocery Store

Pete’s Fresh Market on Cermak in Little Village

I went in with no expectations. Inside, I found a spotless grocery store that looked like it has just opened up minutes ago. I did a little double take – I thought I was at Mariano’s. Pete’s offered samples when you walk in, featured produce in wooden crates with the Pete’s logo branded on it, sold fancy cheeses and meats along with a lot of readymade/hot bar/to go items. Where it surpassed Mariano’s was a huge meat counter and prices much cheaper than Mariano’s. While I didn’t get to shop at Moo & Oink, I felt like I was in good hands with Pete.
Grocery Gal Pete's Fresh Market

Pete’s must be using the same interior design firm as Mariano’s

Grocery Gal Pete's Fresh Market Cheese

A nice selection of cheese, crackers and spreads

Grocery Gal Pete's Fresh Market

Hot bar for those who want it to go

I couldn’t believe how every item on the shelf was pulled forward, the produce looked great, and the prices seemed good.  Their Jamaican Jerk selection rivaled Uptown’s Old World Market.

Grocery Gal Jamaican Jerk Pete's

Tied with Old World Market for the most extensive Jamaican spice selection in Chicago

While I did grab a few items, I came into Moo & Oink, errr, Pete’s for one thing: pork butt to grind into sausage. The people working the meat counter with their white coats and hardhats were super helpful. I was concerned at how large the piece of pork was; the butcher asked how much I needed, and sliced off a perfect 5 lb piece for me. Most other places, I would’ve been stuck with whatever prepacked sized they had available.

Grocery Gal Pete's Fresh Market Chicago

Fresh meat cut to size

I got what I needed, but as Grocery Gal, I still needed to check out the rest of the store. The endless butcher counter spilled into refrigerated cases where traditional and more interesting meat items were available. Not sure if I’m going to need pork spirals anytime soon, but when I do, I’ll know where to get them. And I bet they’re delicious. Grocery Gal Pete's Fresh Market PorkI was happy to get the fresh pork butt in the exact weight I needed, but what probably put the biggest smile on my face was some prepackaged meat I found: Moo & Oink packaged patties and links! Yeah, it wasn’t the Moo & Oink experience I was hoping for, but I think it was a little sign to give me the closure I needed.
Moo & Oink Grocery Gal

Moo & Oink lives on at Pete’s Fresh Market

If you live on the South side of the city, Pete’s Fresh Market is a great place for everyday grocery shopping. They have other locations in the South and Southwest suburbs; check their website for a location closer to you. While their name and logo aren’t as catchy as Moo & Oink (I have yet to see any commercials…), it’s definitely worth a stop!
Now I had the casings and the pork butt; the only thing left is the sausage making. That will be in an upcoming Grocery Gal post… stay tuned!
Pete’s Fresh Market. 2526 W Cermak Rd, Chicago, IL 60608. (773) 254-8400. 7am-10pm.

 


Wow, where there’s so much crossover in this and a few upcoming Grocery Gal installments, I was struggling on which topic to write about first. As you know, my European roots make me fond of meats of the smoked variety. Other than that, I’m not a big meat eater. It’s rare that I head over to an actual butcher, but I was planning on making my own sausages and needed to get some casings. I was told I could find them at Paulina Market.

Now that I live west of the Kennedy, I don’t make it to Lakeview often. I’m also not someone who traditionally buys steaks or large amounts of meat, because my husband is a vegetarian. If I did, though, I’d definitely go out of my way and visit Paulina Market for my special occasion meats. This isn’t a store where you’ll get some ground beef for tacos or poultry for beer can chicken. This is the place you go to when you want a special cut of meat, or something exotic. Forget Whole Foods; go support a Chicago staple since 1949.

Grocery Gal Paulina Meat Market Chicago

Don’t be fooled by the 80’s brick facade.

Paulina Meat market’s entrance is on Lincoln Avenue. They have a few parking spaces behind the store, which is great when you’re sick of shelling out $1 for 30 minutes of street parking like I am. The 80’s brick facade doesn’t prepare you for what you’ll experience on the inside. Even if you don’t know what you want, start out by grabbing a number when you walk in.

Grocery Gal Paulina Meat market chicago lakeview

Take a number!

Grocery Gal shops at Lakeview's Paulina Meat Market

Not sure if there’s anywhere in Chicagoland that can top this

Grocery Gal Paulina Market Chicago

a true butcher shop

Grocery Gal Paulina Market Chicago

Rabbit, Wild Boar, Pheasant, Poussin, Squab and Duck

Huge meat cases flank half of the store: fresh meat, fresh sausages and smoked meats. More exotic meats, game and fowl are in freezer cases which divide the store into quadrants. If you’re a breakfast person, grab a frozen pack of their Corned Beef Hash. Don’t worry about the $7 price tag – this is worth it! They’ve expanded their offering in 2007 and there just seems to be anything and everything you’d ever need related to meat.

The butchers (I think they’re all men), know their stuff and are ready to recommend anything you ask them about. What type of meat should I use for jerky? Eye of round recommended for at home, but would I like to try a sample of theirs which uses sirloin? Why yes, yes I would.

Grocery Gal shops at Paulina Meat Market in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood

Paulina Market’s beef jerky sliced to order – super tender and not tough

What also makes Paulina Meat Market absolutely amazing for cooks is the breadth of their offering. I found out from Chef Martin at my DANK Haus sausage making class that Paulina Meat Market would carry natural casings to make your own sausage. When a woman working there showed me where to find it, I came across rendered duck fat, pork lard, pork crackling, who knew it was different than pork lard, and goose lard. So, if I made my own sausages and then cooked some fries in duck fat, I could create my own take on Hot Dougs!

Grocery Gal shops at Paulina Meat Market in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood

Rendered Duck Fat, Pork Lard, Pork Crackling, Goose Lard and plain ole butter

While I did pick up the Nature’s Best casings, a company based out of Chicago, I passed on getting the pork shoulder at this time. I knew I could find it cheaper somewhere else. Being so close to Wrigley Field, Paulina Market created some “Beat the Curse” Goat Brats, and I picked up one to grill at home. I highly recommend it whether you like the Cubs or not!

Grocery Gal Paulina Market Chicago

Fresh made brats, including the Cub Fan Favorite – Goat Brats. It was amazing!

Grocery Gal Paulina Meat Market Chicago Lakeview

Who doesn’t love the Sausage Font?

If fresh meat isn’t your thing, they have other options, too. Frozen meals, cheese, fresh bread, and a limited produce section which is more for the items you forgot to pick up at another store. Lots of fancy European snacks and spreads, with a particular nod to Germany. There’s a great selection of sauces and condiments, and Paulina Market does a nice job providing local brands.

Grocery Gal Smoke Daddy Lille's Q BBQ Sauce Chicago Paulina Market

Get sauced at Paulina Meat Market – including local Chicago brands

Overall, Paulina Market is so much more than a butcher shop. If you’re a chef that is cooking a special meal, head on over. If you don’t like to cook but want some comfort food, you can easily stock your freezer with their stuff. Have a question about meat? Not sure if anyone else can better answer your questions than these people. This is a great stop for out of towners with all the vacuum packed and frozen options; it’s easy to take stuff home. And on top of it all, everyone at Paulina Market seems to just love what they do. In true European style, they have limited hours, so make sure you get there on a Saturday if you don’t live nearby.

Grocery Gal Paulina Meat Market Chicago

Beyond the traditional smoked meat fare: goose, tasso, pork loin and turkey

Paulina Market. 3501 N. Lincoln Avenue (corner of Lincoln & Cornelia) Chicago, IL 60657. 773-248-6272. Mon-Friday 9am-6pm, open till 7pm on Thursdays. Saturday 9-5. Closed Sunday.


I’ve been rather busy lately, which doesn’t give me much time to devote to my Grocery Gal fans. However, a package arrived yesterday and I just had to share it! I’ve gotten my first Food Dehydrator! I remember hearing about food dehydrators as a kid, but never thought of getting one… until I realized you can make your own beef jerky with it! Finally, I can be prepared for the zombie apocalypse! What really is great about the Nesco dehydrator is that it’s programmable. I’m hoping I can prepare everything either before I go to bed or to work in the morning.

Grocery Gal Nesco Food Dehydrator American Harvest Made in USA

Now I can prepare for the zombie apocalypse

The inspiration to make my own jerky came after I had visited Paulina Meat Market for the first time in a few years. Yes, comin’ soon to GG. Paulina Meat Market makes their own beef jerky, and it’s just super yummy. This will be new cooking territory for me, but I will share my experience (and my recipe, if it’s good) in the near future. Stay tuned! Have you made your own jerky? Any suggestions on flavors are welcome!

Grocery Gal shops at Paulina Meat Market in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood

Paulina Market’s beef jerky sliced to order – super tender and not tough


When I first moved to Chicago almost 20 years ago, I fell in love with in Lincoln Square. It was a little one way slice of Germany on Lincoln Avenue with a great Oktoberfest that made me love living in the city.  I would visit a friend who lived in an apartment near the cul-de-sac  at Giddings Plaza. We’d spend Sundays at the Hüttenbar eating Snackmaster snacks with my Spaten. Despite the hipster influx over the past few years, it’s still one of my favorite bars in all of Chicago.

Grocery Gal in Lincoln Square

The Hüttenbar for some delicious German Adult Beverages

There were little shops selling figurines and magazines which made me think of my Grandma in Austria, whom I’d visit whenever I could score a cheap $400 flight in the winter for a long weekend. Yes, back in the day you could fly to Europe on the cheap.   I would grab a ticket inside Meyer Delicatessen, excited for my turn to ask one of the ladies behind in the counter if the Leberkäs was still warm, in German.  It has only been a few years since studying abroad in Vienna, so I didn’t want my German to get rusty. Years later, there are more strollers in Lincoln Square than German speakers, but the area is still part of a wonderful German experience, thanks in part to Gene’s Sausage Shop.

Grocery Gal in Lincoln Square's Gene Sausage Shop

A mecca of German goodness in Lincoln Square

I remember being sad when Meyer Delicatessen closed down. It was the only true German store I knew of in Chicago. Sure, you can get a ton of European foods at all the Eastern Euro shops on the NW side of Chicago, but they didn’t carry Oblatten for my mom’s date Christmas cookies, hot Leberkäs on Saturdays or Lebkuchen at Christmastime. It took Gene’s a long time to open up, but when they did it was a true gourmet experience. They went all out to design a store that’s beautiful, and I think I sighed out loud when I saw they saved the original delicatessen sign and gave it a prominent display up the grand stairwell.

Grocery Gal in Lincoln Square's Gene Sausage Shop

The original signage from Meyer Delicatessen greets you in Gene’s

Grocery Gal in LIncoln Square's Gene Sausage Shop

Two levels of goodness

It seems to me that everyone who lives East of California raves about the smoked meats at Gene’s Sausage Shop. They do smoke all their own sausages in house, and offer a pretty big selection. However, you’re much better off heading farther west to places like Montrose Deli for a better tasting sausage at a cheaper price. Gene’s sausages, to me, seem to be missing the extra flavor that other delis (coming soon to Grocery Gal) offer. Here, you’re paying for convenience and a beautiful space.

Grocery Gal in Lincoln Square's Gene Sausage Shop

Schnapps they way it’s supposed to be. From Austria.

When I do come to Gene’s, it’s for specialty items. On this visit, it was for some Austrian Schnapps, which is rather difficult to find in the city. This isn’t the schnapps that you knew as a college kid; it’s a distilled spirit made from fruit, is a great digestive and is just wonderful. My favorite is a Williams Pear. I can’t wait until the day Chicago distillery Koval offers a traditional Obstler or Williams (hint, hint). This is the perfect after dinner drink, especially after a filling dinner. You sip it; don’t slam it.

Gene’s also has a great beer selection: German/Austrian, Eastern European (since the original Gene’s is located on Belmont near Central), Craft Beers and old reliables like PBR and Schlitz. I was excited to even see cases of the mini Rhinelander bottles – a perfect beer back to a Bloody Mary.

Grocery Gal in Lincoln Square's Gene Sausage Shop

Little Rheinlanders – first time I’ve seen them outside of Wisconsin

A fan of German chocolates and sweets? They have my favorite, Topkuss; marshmallows in a hard chocolate shell. Yes, they do look like the ghosts from Pacman… and they’re delicious at the same time.

Grocery Gal in Lincoln Square's Gene Sausage ShopMy purchases at Gene’s are rather limited, but I consider Gene’s a part of the whole Lincoln Square experience. They would make the original Meyer Delicatessen proud: they do offer warm Leberkäs, alongside the many other premade foods available at both Gene’s locations every day of the week. However, you will have better luck speaking Polish here than German.

Grocery Gal in Lincoln Square's Gene Sausage Shop

Hot Leberkäs and Alpine Sausage

I treat Lincoln Square as an overall experience – this post is not just about Gene’s. I would say I shop at Merz Apothecary more regularly than I do Gene’s. I admire the German bath oils, and find myself stocking up on Swiss-made combs for $5 and natural bristle toothbrushes from Germany. Their pharmacist will recommend homeopathic options for almost anything, and I have yet to be disappointed. They keep it to real European styles: they close promptly at 6pm and are closed Sundays.

Grocery Gal in Lincoln Square

My favorite European shop in all of Lincoln Square – Merz Apothecary

I took these images one evening before heading to a cooking class at the DANK Haus. It’s the German American cultural center in Chicago. If you’re looking for a little more German culture in your life, they offer German language classes, cooking classes, concerts and speakers. They have a beautiful Skyline Lounge that is available to rent, and should be open on Friday evenings. The view is killer.

While it’s not European, there are two other stores worth noting in Lincoln Square. Tigerlilie Salon is an amazing salon which specializes in vintage hairstyles. Not into vintage? Don’t worry – they do a spectacular job with any style cut or color. A new spice store called Savory is a great place to find individual spices, but what makes them special is their spice mixes and gift packs. They’ll be featured on Grocery Gal soon, too.

I always will love Lincoln Square. I do plan on spending more time at Gene’s this summer. Last year they opened up a rooftop Biergarten, and which is on my “to do” list. After a winter as long as this has been, I foresee it being on a lot of other people’s “to-do” lists, too.

Gene’s Sausage Shop. 4750 N Lincoln Ave. Chicago, IL (773) 728-7243. Mon-Sat: 9am-8pm, Sun: 9am-4pm.


I’m not going to go into detail here, but I know we’re all sick of snow. I dream about being on a beach feeling the sun’s rays on my skin and sipping a fruity cocktail. Then the alarm goes off and I’m off to another day of work. If I’m still dreaming of the beach on my way home from work, I’ll stop at Rio Valley Market to get the ingredients to make a feel-better fish taco dinner.

Grocery Gal Rio Valley Market

Rio Valley Market on Mannheim at Grand

I think the first time I went into Rio Grande I stopped in my tracks as soon as I walked in. Why? My favorite summertime beer, Tecate, was a mere $14.99 a case. OK, Pacifico is my favorite, but on a budget it’s Tecate. Somehow over the past few years Tecate has gotten into bargain basement pricing, and that’s fine by me. I’ve yet to see it cheaper anywhere else. They even carry Tecate Light – but, seriously, don’t waste your time.

So many choices, but the best deal is 24 Tecates for $14.99

So many choices, but the best deal is 24 Tecates for $14.99

In a perfect world, fish tacos are grilled over real hardwood charcoal on my Weber grill. When it’s 1 degree outside, I’ll have to settle for fish tacos from the kitchen. Rio Valley is by no means a fish market. They are a traditional, independent Latin-influenced market, nothing fancy and value priced. Think full butcher section with an offshoot of fish staples. They carry different types of fish – tilapia, basa, swai and catfish. I’m usually in a rush, so I grab some prepackaged fish for around $5 a package.

Grocery Gal Rio Valley Market

No time to wait in the deli? Grab your fish to go. Don’t worry, every day is “today’s special” — doesn’t mean it’s about to go bad.

What goes with fish tacos? Well, mango salsa, of course! All the staples I need are here: fresh, ready to eat mangoes (not too ripe and not too hard), cilantro, jalapeño, red pepper, limes and avocado. The week I was there avocados were 4 for $1!. There’s also red cabbage for shredding and adding the perfect crunch to your taco.

Grocery Gal Rio Valley Market

Who don’t love avocados?

I’m also a sucker for Crema – Mexican Style sour cream. I think it’s because it has a slightly salty taste to it; it’s replaced traditional sour cream in my house. Yes, it has a few more calories, but with so much flavor, you can use it sparingly. Lots of choices at Rio Valley and usually at least one brand is on sale.

Grocery Gal Rio Valley Market

So many Crema choices, so little time…

That’s it. My cart is filled with fresh tortillas (the corn ones are often still warm, they must get daily deliveries), fish, produce and a case of Tecate. I quickly check out, get in the Grocery Getter and head home to put a little sunshine in my family’s dinner that night. Why not stop in and grab what you need to make some for yourself? I’ve included my recipe for mango salsa along with my husband’s killer aioli recipe.  You can most likely feed a family of three for $15, which includes a few Tecates for the adults!
Mango Salsa

  • 1 Mango peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 red onion finely chopped
  • 1/2 red/orange/yellow pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 avocado, chopped (but not mashed)
  • 1 small jalapeño, seeds removed & chopped
  • 2 T chopped cilantro
  • Juice of 2 limes

Mix all the items together and taste. Feel free to add more/less of any ingredient, based on spice needs. Sometimes I add a 1/4 peeled/seeded cucumber.

Aioli for Fish Tacos

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise (I prefer it with olive oil)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • dash of Lawry’s seasoned salt
  • 1-2 T Mexican-style hot sauce

Press the cloves of garlic with a garlic press. Mix everything together. This is a perfect “base layer” for your tacos. It gets so addicting, I’ve found myself using it as a dip!

Rio Valley Market. 2745 Mannheim Rd, Franklin Park, Illinois 60131. 847-451-8440. www.RioValleyMarket.com


To say I have a love-hate relationship with Fresh Farms off of Touhy Avenue in Niles might be a little too harsh. I love everything about it. The hate comes because I really can only ever get there on a weekend when it’s pure chaos. However, this is a true one-stop international market with one of the best fresh fish selections I’ve ever seen. So you might want to do a little mediation and park as far on the outskirts of the parking lot before going in, because you’re food mind will be blown.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms International Market Niles

Park far away, take a deep breath, and grab a cart on your way in.

I decided to feature Niles’ Fresh Farms sooner than later for two reasons. The first reason is because the fish selection is just insane – quality and prices are out of this world. Thick, sushi grade wild ahi tuna steaks for $14.99 a pound? Yes, you read that right. The second was a Facebook challenge. A friend wrote he could never truly appreciate Men At Work until he could try some Vegemite. If anywhere in Chicago would have Vegemite, it had to be Fresh Farms in Niles. Grocery Gal was on the hunt!

While this Fresh Farms is a sister store of the one in Rogers Park, it’s a true international market catering to all different ethnic backgrounds. I seem to be the only person there who’s native language is English – and it’s not limited to one continent or region within the continent. It’s a true Grocery Gal store.

I first learned about Fresh Farms through a random text I received from my dad. My dad is awesome; he’s 71 going on 35, but not big in the world of texting. A picture of fresh fish appeared on my phone. A lot of fresh fish. All for sale. I replied back “Where is that??” but of course there was no response. I had to wait to get the answer in person.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms International Market Niles

Fresh fish as far as they eye can see. Turn around for more!

Fresh Farms has a great location somewhat off the Edens, which could be why it’s packed all the time. I think the Jewel across the street has felt Fresh Farms’ impact. I’ve made the mistake shopping on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and any Saturday or Sunday, but it’s still worth it. I’ll just grab a sample of wine to help me make it through the masses. If you’re able to make it during the week at all, your sanity will thank you.

You’re welcomed into Fresh Farms with an amazing, but chaotic, produce selection. It’s a true variety o produce, each appealing to the different ethnic palettes shopping there. The quality is outstanding. The prices for Grocery Gal are fair. I can’t do everyday shopping here, because I know where I can get it a little cheaper. But by no means is Fresh Farms overpriced. I usually come here for one thing: seafood. Then I grab whatever else I’m missing, along with a handful of choice finds, while I’m there.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Fire up the grill for calamari and octopus

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Oysters

My family is crazy for blue point oysters. At 75¢ each, who wouldn’t be?

There’s always a lot of samples to try, but they’re pretty strict on doling it out. There’s usually an older gentleman cooking up some fish with a lemon/garlic coating on it. They give you tips on how to cook the fish, and the quality and prices are unheard of. Afraid of a whole fish? They’ll clean it, remove the head and filet it for you, if you ask. But why waste it? The cheeks have yummy meat you’ll miss out on, but it’s ok to stay away from the fish eyes. I’ve never bought a bad piece of anything here. I get their emails that highlight weekly specials, just tempting me to come in… even on a Saturday.

Grocery Gal Chicago Fresh Farms

Oooh! Mussels on sale this week? Break out the vino and grab some fresh bread!

After making it through the produce and seafood areas, the place seems like a traditional grocery store – except each aisle is like it’s own ethnic specialty store. This is great when you have wasabi powder, jerk seasoning, olive oil and fresh ricotta all on the same grocery list. Normally, that would be 3 Grocery Gal pit stops, but at Fresh Farms I’m finding the same brands (no sacrifices here) all under one roof. Since that saves me time, I’m fine dealing with slightly more expensive produce and the crowds.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Greek cheeses made from goat and sheep milk

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Dried dates and figs from the Mediterranean and the Middle East

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Ukrainian style pierogis

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Canned clams and sardines from Spain

So on this trip I was on the hunt for Vegemite for Brian. I was on my third grocery stop for the day, so I although I was a little tired by this time,  I still zipped through the aisles in searching for Vegemite. No dice. This makes me think it either is unavailable in the Chicago area – or I missed it. But I did find some nice finds I hadn’t noticed before. In the “Croatian Section” which usually just consists of Vegeta, Ajvar and Kras wafers, I saw they also had Cedevita, the Tang-like drink I’d have every morning at my Aunt’s house.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Ready for a Croatian breakfast?

But don’t worry, my Austrian heritage is well represented, too. Milka Chocolates originally come from the Vorarlberg province of Austria, where my mom was from. The company has since been bought by Nestle and then Kraft, but I grew up with those purple cows. Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t like milk chocolate, so I’ve never been a fan of Milka. Doesn’t mean it’s not tasty to everyone else, though!

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Milka comes in pallets to Fresh Farms

Some of the other things I buy from Fresh Farms is their olive oil. They have a nice collection of Greek and Tunisian olive oils, also at unbelievable prices. It feel like the Greek brand is somehow owned by the family owning Fresh Farms; they’re always pimping it out. I love the organic one, but each time I go I still try a sample with some fresh bread, even though I already know how good it is.

Try and buy their extra-virgin olive oil

Try and buy their extra-virgin olive oil

They also have a great selection of items you don’t think of, like pot stickers and fillo dough. The fillo doughs are from the different Mediterranean regions, so you can choose which brand you prefer based on country of origin.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

So many fillo choices to choose from

Items I haven’t touched on that are also great are their bakery, butcher shop, prepared foods, deli and, well, just about everything. They have a small liquor section to pick up wines, but the beer selection has some opportunity to improve. So while they don’t carry Vegemite (I’m convinced it’s just outta stock…), it’s probably one of the best grocery stores in the entire Chicagoland area. Don’t let the crowds scare you. They’re just all on to a really good thing.

Fresh Farms International Market. 5740 W Touhy Ave, Niles, IL 60714. 847-779-7343. Open 7 days 7am-10pm. www.myfreshfarms.com

 


Looking for more heavy duty grocery shopping, but don’t want to go as far west as Harlem Avenue to hit Caputos? If you live west of the Kennedy in Chicago, A&G Fresh Market might be exactly what you’re looking for.

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

From Belmont, A&G looks small, but the main entrance is off Major Ave.

I’m not quite sure how originally I stumbled across A&G. Perhaps it was from a weekly mailer or an ad in the Nadig Newspaper, a great local newspaper that shows up mysteriously at my door every few weeks. A&G is pretty nondescript when you see it on Belmont, west of Central Avenue. But once I drove around back, I saw a huge parking lot with a more formal entrance. There’s often a sweet older lady helping with getting the carts back into the corral. They have the European-style carts that cost a quarter to “rent,” so before I even made it inside I had some high hopes of what was going to lay ahead.

A&G is as large as Caputo‘s and most old school grocery stores before they became the size of mega-malls. When I first came in I saw the bakery on the right with lots of fresh bread baked in-house alongside bread from local vendors. The breads weren’t as heavy on traditional European styles; think more French and Italian style breads.  At first glance it seems as if half of the store is filled with their produce selection. Later on, you realize there’s a whole other half of the store with traditional grocery store goodies. Produce here is of good quality at good prices. It’s a mix of traditional, European and Latin vegetables. Sure, they sell watercrest instead of watercress, but I couldn’t tell a difference!

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

I judge many markets by the quality of their radishes, and their watercrest

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

I could’ve shopped for my juice cleanse here for half the price!

A&G is a great spot for one-stop shopping. A busy deli counter with fresh ricotta, feta and mozzarella cheeses, smoked sausages, and good quality deli-meats. They carry a good amount of vacuum-packed smoked meats from local European markets in Chicago, like Bende and Andy’s Deli (both comin’ soon!).

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

Prepackaged smoked meats from local Chicagoland markets

There’s also a fresh meat and seafood counter alongside a prepackaged meat (fresh) and seafood (frozen) area for those in a rush.

grocery gal a&G fresh market chicago

Who wants fajitas tonight?

There are two main staples I buy every time I come to A&G. Like I wrote, there’s an entire area for traditional groceries, but there’s also two different side areas: one for Latin foods, and one for Eastern-European ones. Both have lots of goodies in them!

First off, I’m a HUGE fan or Rick Bayless’ skillet sauces. My hands-down favorite is the New Mexico Red Chile sauce. We use it to season tofu for some mega yummy tofu tacos. Second favorite is the enchilada green sauce. I highly recommend both of them. They always have a good selection here, and often it’s on sale (bonus). I also beeline over to the refried bean aisle. Yep, there are so many choices, it seems to have it’s own aisle. About a year ago I tried red refried beans for the first time. There’s no lard and they’re from Guatemala. I go between two brands: the green can from Ducal or the red one from Malher. I usually buy whichever is cheaper, and there’s always at least 2 cans stocked in the Grocery Gal pantry.

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market Chicago

Guatemalan red refried beans. Trust me, you’ll get hooked

After I get my fill of Latin foods, I head on over to Eastern Europe. Living on the northwest side of Chicago gives me a pretty good in to all that’s Eastern European, but I do stock up on some staples here. Until I moved to Jefferson Park, I would find myself paying $4-5 for some really good German pickles at some overpriced deli. Now I find ones just as yummy from a few different Polish brands at a fraction of the cost. I recommend Lowell’s Old Country Style Polish Dill Pickles (that’s a mouthful). They’re slightly sweet and the jar is filled with huge sprigs of dill and chunks of garlic, carrots, onion and mustard seed. The pickle juice is a perfect addition to your next bloody mary, too. There are lots of choices by many different brands, so if Lowell isn’t available, go for one with a bunch of extra goodness floating in the  jar.

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

Country style old world pickles. Y U M!

My stop at A&G was during baking season, and I was in need of some almond extract. Yeah, I could’ve spent $5 for some McCormick imitation almond extract in the baking aisle (that will take me an eternity to get through), or I can shop in the Eastern-Euro aisle at A&G and buy a small amount by Dr. Oeteker for only $0.99! No, I cannot read Polish, but the photos are pretty straight-forward enough. Though I’m not sure what daisy flavor is.

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

Tiny vials of baking extracts. Perfect size & price.

The rest of the store is like I wrote earlier, your typical grocery store. You can buy regular staples here at prices comparable to Jewel. The dairy/butter section is pretty straight forward with a few choice Eastern-Euro goodies.

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

Never buy Boursin again! Perfect for bagels at breakfast or with crackers and wine in the evening!

One thing that never quite made it in the US is farmer’s cheese. I don’t know why, because it’s absolutely delicious when flavored and made into a spread. It’s like having a lighter version of Boursin. Almette is a hit every time I bring it out at my house. There are various flavors – from horseradish to pickle (I’m assuming that based on the product picture above) and mixed herbs. They’re all spectacular… and there’s other flavors, too. There aren’t a lot of preservatives in it (hooray) so be sure to check the expiration date on the bottom. As tempting as it is to buy one of every flavor, that’s a lot of farmer’s cheese to eat in 7 days. Space it out. Or plan to do a lot of entertaining!