Nothing tastes better than homegrown tomatoes, right? My favorite Kumato tomatoes have helped me get through winter and spring, but now’s the time grow my own in my garden.   For many years I’d buy my flowers and tomato plants from a well down garden center in Andersonville, but last year I changed it up a bit. I stopped at a place I took for granted for so many years: Meinke Garden Center. Family owned and operated since 1871, Meinke on Touhy in Niles grow all their plants and flowers on site. It’s somewhat hidden amongst the strip malls and is across the street from my beloved Fresh Farms.

grocery gal meinke garden center niles

Meinke Garden Center has been growing their own plants since 1871

This is the place for people to buy their tomatoes! You would never know of the variety they have from just driving by on the street. Multiple covered greenhouses are filled with so many varieties of tomatoes it’s actually hard to narrow down which to choose.

grocery gal meinke niles tomatoes

A new variety of tomatoes every few feet.

They offer hybrid and heirloom varieties, all grown on site. What I find most valuable at Meinke are their detailed descriptions of each type of tomato they offer. The sun beats down on my small backyard garden, and I like to choose tomatoes that do well in full sun and extreme heat.

grocery gal meinke tomatoes niles

Tomato stats

After I stopped in last year, I knew I’d never buy tomatoes anywhere else. I had limited time this year so I only bought tomatoes and some marigolds to keep the rabbits away early on a Sunday morning. Six hearty tomato plants and three containers of marigolds set me back $13! Now that’s a deal!

Memorial Day weekend officially kicks off summer. Did you kick off yours right with planting some tomatoes, veggies or flowers from Meinke? If not, stop on by soon. They open daily at 8am and close at 7pm during the week, and 6pm on weekends.

Meinke Garden Center. 5803 W Touhy Ave, Niles, IL 60714. 847-647-9455.


I’m a sucker for a Korean Sauna. My first experience was about five years ago at Paradise Sauna, a small place on Montrose.  I’ve been hooked ever since. Yeah, you have to get naked, but it’s the perfect way to kick a cold or just relax. A few years ago King Sauna opened in Niles, and I stock up on entrance tickets whenever a Groupon is available.

Grocery Gal King Sauna H Mart

King Sauna lives up to it’s royal name

So, why am I writing about a Korean Sauna on a grocery store blog? It’s because of King Sauna that I found the Super H Mart, located off of Waukegan in Niles. H Mart is a chain of Korean grocery stores located in a handful of states in the US, with two Illinois locations, in Niles and Naperville.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart Niles

The exterior reminds me of an old Service Merchandise

Before I came across Fresh Farms‘ incredible fish department, H Mart was the place to go to for fish. You select which whole fish you want, choose from signage how you want it cleaned, and they do the rest for you. On my last visit, it was about 7pm on a Monday evening, and the fish counter looked a little deserted, but the whole hamachi was looking good.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart

I’ll take a #7

Grocery Gal Super H Mart

Fresh Hamachi for $1.99 a lb.

There’s more than just the whole fish options at H Mart. There’s a good selection of shrink-wrapped sashimi grade fish, some frozen options, a huge lobster section, and a ton of dried fish and fish balls. Not quite sure where I’d be using fish balls, but if I ever come across it in a recipe, I know now where to buy them.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart

Dried fish and fresh lobster

Grocery Gal Super H Mart

Multiple varieties of fish balls

I didn’t need any fish in the whole, dried or ball variety this time. It was late, I didn’t want to cook, but I needed something to eat. H Mart has a few options for the non-cooks out there. There’s a diverse Asian-themed food court where you can eat in or take it to go.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart Niles

One of the H Mart food stalls

Grocery Gal Super H Mart Niles

Food court options. Do not eat the samples.

I’m not the most patient person in the world, so I skipped the food court and went after some prepackaged food made within H Mart. There are so many options; my only complaint is I wished they offered them in smaller portions so I could try more of a variety. This evening I grabbed some tofu cakes and pickled radish. The tofu cakes were still warm.  I’ll confess; they smelled so good in the car that I actually opened up the package and ate one during my drive home!

Grocery Gal Super H Mart Niles

Hot and prepared tofu cakes and fried zucchini

Grocery Gal Super H Mart Niles

Prepared pickled goodness… but I don’t quite know what it is

Since I was quickly assembling a meal for home, I went to grab some Kimchi. Yes, i realize I’m in a Korean grocery store so there would be a few options of Kimchi to choose from. However, I didn’t realize there were about 50 different brands of Kimchi, which also came in different vegetable options. It was late, so I grabbed an old reliable cabbage kimichi but plan on going back to try a zucchini or asparagus one next time.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart Niles

Who knew Kimchi came in different veggie options?

So what about the Grocery Gal fans looking for something to cook from H Mart other than fresh fish? They have an extensive produce section with Asian-specific produce like fresh ginseng, lemongrass and lots of radishes. Almost an entire back wall is dedicated to tofu.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart

Grocery Gal Super H Mart Niles

Lots of tofu options: regular, organic, and sprouted organic for the biggest health benefit.

However, if you plan on using the tofu in the next day or two, I highly recommend their in-house tofu. They also sell fresh soymilk in the mornings, around 10am. It must go fast or is just difficult to maintain, because they only offer a very small window on when to buy the soy milk.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart

Fresh tofu made in H Mart

Since H Mart is now closer to home than Tai Nam is, I find myself stocking up on my Asian sauces, oils and vinegars here. Prices are solid and there’s a great variety to choose from. The buckwheat noodle options could be a little overwhelming, but I find a nice size package perfect for my Buckwheat Noodle Salad. There’s an extensive frozen section giving people many options for potstickers and other packaged foods.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart

Buckwheat noodles – perfect for a cold Asian salad.

Beyond the grocery store and food court, there are a few stores within the building, like a mini mall. My favorite one to stop in is the housewares shop featuring great appliances not readily available in the US market. What kind of stuff? Cute little toaster ovens with names like Super Toasty Oven. What else? Well, you’ve got to go see yourself. And grab some tofu cakes for the ride home. Grocery Gal Super H Mart Super H Mart. 801 Civic Center Dr, Niles, IL 60714. (847) 581-1212. Open 7 days, 8am-11pm.


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