Issacson & Stein. A Chicago institution that’s been around for over 80 years. Everyone knows the place, but have you ever been in there? When I worked downtown many moons ago, sales people would leave midday to pick up shrimp and oysters for their family dinners, while I was stuck at my desk creating their ads. Once, I got of work early and stopped in, but it was only a few minutes before they were closing. I could never make it in during the week, and by the weekend I had no desire to trek back downtown. Recently, I was in the neighborhood while Issacson & Stein was open (!) and made a point to stop in. Hopefully they had some Branzino fish so that I could try a new recipe from my Nom Nom Paleo cookbook. Issacson & Stein Fish Co Grocery GalThe store was much tinier than I remembered. I also didn’t recall it being self-serve before. When you come in, you can grab a basket, some plastic gloves and as many plastic bags as you need. They really give you the option to choose exactly which fish you want, with your gloved hands, instead of telling someone, “no, not that one, the one next to it.”

Issacson & Stein Fish Co Fish HeadsEverything was so fresh – the place had no fish odor to it. While they didn’t have the Branzino I was looking for, I knew I could substitute rainbow trout in the dish. They had Fresh Farms beaten by 15 cents on their oyster price: they were only 60 cents each, but I wasn’t in the mood for oysters that day.

Issacson & Stein Fish Co Grocery Gal OystersIssacson & Stein Fish Co Sepia Grocery GalOnce you’re done with your selection, you bring it to a counter where it’s weighed. From there, you get an adding machine receipt which you take up to the counter to pay. Fortunately, my rainbow trout was already cleaned, but if it wasn’t, I’d just have to bring it to the cleaning section after I paid. Issacson & Stein is definitely a self-service, no frills fish place with good prices. It’s also a Chicago institution.

Issacson & Stein Fish Co Grocery Gal

Grocery Gal Issacson & Stein Fish Co receiptOh, and if you were wondering, the trout came out delicious! I bought 2 fish for $12, stuffed them with parsley, thyme, oregano and lemon, and broiled in the oven. Yum!

Issacson & Stein Fish Co Grocery Gal

Issacson & Stein Fish Company. 800 West Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607. 312-421-2444. Monday 9am-4:15pm, Tuesday-Friday 8am-4:15pm, Saturday 8am-1pm, Closed Sunday.


Not sure where I saw the Supreme Lobster logo first – either on a spec request during my old Yellow Pages days, or on one of their many trucks that drive through the city. However, it was one of those logos that stuck in my head for many years. Fast forward to my current job in the western sububrbs, and one day during a hankering for some Jimmy John’s, I saw the original Supreme Lobster on North Avenue. I didn’t have much time, but I pulled my grocery getter into a parking lot and ran into a small store filled with lots of people and fish. There wasn’t enough time to even buy anything, and I knew I’d have to come back and take a closer look.

Supreme Lobster Grocery GalI didn’t intend it to take two years to return to Supreme Lobster, but it did. Before I drove out during my lunch break, I confirmed their address on their website. Good thing I did so, because I found out they had a new location and a 10% off coupon!

It was a few days before New Years, and I wanted to see what kind of specials they had for the holiday. When I found the new store, I was impressed by its large size, in addition to the fresh and modern interior.  It was bustling at noon with holiday shoppers stocking up for an eventful New Year’s Eve.

Supreme Lobster Grocery Gal StoreSupreme Lobster Grocery Gal Lobster TailThey had cute, tiny lobster tails for only $5.99 and larger ones from Maine, the Gulf Coast and South Africa. If you’re serious about your lobster, Supreme Lobster will have what you need. I’m no lobster connoisseur, but for $5.99 a tail, who wouldn’t leave without grabbing some of these appetizer sized beauties?

Supreme Lobster Grocery Gal Imported Lobster TailI’m personally more of a fan of crab legs than lobster, and Supreme Lobster helped me in that department, too. I could pick whichever King Crab legs I wanted for $19.99 a pound, but an even better deal was found in the tiny bags next to them.  They were 2 pound bags of bits and pieces of King Crab legs (but still as delicious) for around $25.

Supreme Lobster King Crab Grocery GalNot into shellfish? That’s ok. Supreme Lobster caters to restaurants, supermarkets, and food service operators beyond this retail store. What that mean to you is besides offering an incredible selection of lobster, Supreme Lobster’s has a fresh fish selection that is out of this world. If you can’t make it to places like Issacson & Stein, Hagen’s or Fresh Farms to buy fish, no sweat. Supreme Lobster will probably have what you’re looking for, and then some, all in a very inviting space. They also offer one stop shopping, as they sell craft beers and wines to pair with their products. Prosecco with oysters, anyone?

Supreme Lobster Grocery Gal WineSupreme Lobster Grocery Gal Fresh ShellfishSupreme Lobster Grocery Gal Fresh Seafood SaladThere was so much Supreme Lobster offered – I was like a kid in a candy store. The new location was so vibrant and exciting compared to the original storefront that I popped my head into a few years back. There’s a large frozen selection of Oriental Style breaded shrimp, along with other options like octopus, sepia and red snapper.

grocerygal-supreme-lobster-shrimpSupreme Lobster Frozen Fish Grocery GalReady for a crawfish boil? Maybe looking to add some Cajun spices to some fish? Or maybe you’re more into horseradish on some delicious smoked salmon? Whatever your taste buds prefer, Supreme Lobster has you covered. Supreme Lobster Cans Grocery GalSupreme Lobster Grocery Gal Smoked SalmonWant some Mahi Mahi? Chilean sea bass? Ahi tuna? No need to settle for whatever size filet is offered at other fish markets, they cut to order here.The prices are higher than what I’m used to spending (Mahi Mahi was $19.49/lb and the Sea Bass $39.99), but the quality is obviously second to none.

Supreme Lobster Fresh Fish Grocery GalThe store was very impressive. They are only open until 6 during the week, so plan accordingly. I’m sure they’re swamped on Saturdays, but it’s well worth it.

Supreme Lobster. 220 North Avenue, Villa Park, IL 60181. 630-834-3474. Monday 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Friday 9am-6pm, Saturday 9am-5pm. Closed Sunday.


Grocery Gal Hagen's Fish MarketAlmost every morning around 6:50am, I’m driving past Hagen’s Fish Market on the 5600 block of west Montrose, saying “oh, I need to stop in.” The problem is, I drive home along a different route.  When I moved into the neighborhood over 3 years ago, I was sure I’d be stopping in at Hagen’s regularly. In reality, I was a bad Grocery Gal and never made it back until recently. As I opened the screen door to enter this 68 year old Northwest side landmark, I was kicking myself for waiting this long.

Grocery Gal Hagen's Fish Market Montrose ChicagoHagen’s is such a treat to have in Jefferson Park. According to their website, they have remained family owned and in the same location for three generations. My first visit after my 3 year hiatus was a little after 5pm. It was just me and one other customer (which upon other visits, I learned was a rare instance). I picked up their smoked fish dip (best thing ever) and Charlene’s Crab Dip for my yearly “Romance Weekend” camping trip with my husband. I knew they smoked fish, but I didn’t know customers could also bring in their own catch, including fowl, to be smoked at Hagen’s for under $2 a pound. My plans are to cook my Christmas turkey (which I’ll be ordering from Amish Farmers) on my Weber grill, but this opens a whole new world of cooking opportunities! I love smoked meats and it would save me a ton of time! Hmmm, what would you do?

Grocery Gal Hagen's Fish Market MenuHagen’s Fish Market offers the smoked fish staples of mackerel, trout and salmon, but also sell smoked chubs, whitefish, ciscoes (which I had never heard of), and my favorite: smoked salmon candy. The points of origin, along if they were wild caught or farm raised, are listed on the label.

Grocery Gal Hagen's Smoked FishNot into smoked fish? That’s ok. Hagen’s also has a nice selection of fresh filets including Pacific Halibut and Cod, Lake Erie Walleye Pike (for your very own Friday Fish Fry), Lake Superior Whitefish, Lake Erie Perch, Atlantic Cod. Their preference is wild caught over farmed, and they notate it anything has been previously frozen.

While I didn’t buy any fresh fish filets this time around, I know I’ll be back soon. The struggle I often have with fresh fish is how to cook it. Again, Hagen’s comes to the rescue! They have a wall of recipe cards that give you many options on how to cook the fish they sell.

Hagen's Fresh Catch Grocery GalMy only gripe (coming as a design snob) is that they use Comic Sans for the font on these cards! Hagen’s – if you’re reading this – please update the font style on those cards! They’re such helpful recipes, don’t dumb them down with that terrible font! Tell me your font options, and I’ll give you recommendations! Ok, rant over!

Grocery Gal hates comic sansThere’s a generous selection of East Coast canned chowders and bisques, Bayou fish spices, and European sauces and mixes along a wall.

Grocery Gal Hagen's Fish Soups

Grocery Gal Hagen's SpicesA refrigerated section offers multiple sizes of homemade specialties including pickled herring, mustard dill sauce, Charlene’s Crab Dip, and the amazing smoked fish dip.

A few frozen cases house frozen options perfect for parties including stuffed clams, jumbo shrimp, escargot, and some Scandinavian specialties including lingonberries and potato lefse.

Grocery Gal Hagan's FishAbout two weeks later I altered my route home from work to stop in and get some scallops for dinner. The place was hopping – some were picking up their made to order fried fish dinners, while others picked up their smoked fish orders, most likely from a weekend fishing trip. I made the mistake of not grabbing a number as soon as I got in, so I perused the shelves while waiting for my turn.

Grocery Gal Hagen's Fish Market MontroseWhen it was finally my turn, I grabbed my six scallops, but also included a piece of smoked trout, one homemade crab cake and a half dozen blue points. The blue points are a steal at $9.60 for a dozen. Sure, I can get them for five cents cheaper at Fresh Farms, but it’s only five cents (!) and I can walk to Hagen’s from my home. The oyster selection, along with their mussel selection, is based on availability. The man behind the counter told me I could always call in an order in the morning, and they would be happy to hold them for me. My most recent visits had Bluepoint and Montauk oysters, black and P.E.I. mussels and Cherrystone clams for sale by the dozen.

Grocery Gal DinnerIf you like any type of fish: fresh, smoked or freshly fried fish (I didn’t even go into their extensive fried-to-order fish menu), head on in to Hagen’s now. They’re open seven days a week and they really have something for everyone. With the holidays comes entertaining friends and family. Hagen’s offers a lot of low effort and delicious options that can take your entertaining to the next level. Now, who wants some oysters?

Hagen’s Fish Market. 5635 W Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60634. 773-283-1944


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’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

 


I’ve noticed all my posts have required all my readers to have a set of wheels to get them to the recommended Grocery Gal destination. Today’s installment can be easily reached via the Red Line at the Argyle stop, or the Broadway bus, the 145 and 146, if those are still running. It’s a tucked away market in a very busy strip mall in Chicago’s Southeast Asian neighborhood near Broadway and Argyle, and it’s called Tai Nam.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

People from all over the midwest show up at Tai Nam on the weekends. Take the el or park on side streets when you go.

I lived in Uptown for well over ten years, and it was the both the diversity and history that made the area special to me. There are many more restaurants than markets on Argyle, and I was always a little intimated grocery shopping, because I couldn’t decipher the packaging. It’s a little easier for me to figure out what’s going on when the Latin alphabet is being used.  The markets were also rather pungent upon first entering.  It wasn’t until I took an amazing hands-on Vietnamese/Thai cooking class I had with Chef Rebecca Wheeler circa 2006-ish at Wooden Spoon in Andersonville when I understood which markets I needed to go into and what I needed to buy.

For those driving to Tai Nam, don’t even attempt to park in their parking lot. Or on Broadway. Especially if it’s the weekend. It’s a mess, so either walk, take the CTA, or park on a side street and take a walk there. Make the most out of it, checking out the next outdoor Vintage Garage Chicago event, grab some lunch (Dim Sum at Furama, Thai at Thai Pastry, Pho & Vietnamese pancake at Tank Noodle/Pho 777, or sandwiches at Ba-Le), and then head on over to Tai Nam.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Sauces as far as the eye can see – and all at great prices

You can easily stock up on affordable sesame oil, Asian sauces, rice, rice noodles and canned baby corn for a perfect stir-fry at home. They also have a very busy butcher counter, live lobster and crab for a song, and self service fresh fish. The self service part still freaks me out a little; I have yet to buy some. However, the eyes always look clear, which means it’s fresh. One day, when I’m ready to take the plunge and pick my fish with tongs and put them in bag myself, instead of pointing and telling someone else to do it for me, I’ll be back. I’m just not there yet.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Self-serve fresh fish at Tai Nam market in Uptown

I have yet to purchase live lobster. $9.99 a pound seems like a ridiculously great price, but I can’t see myself steaming these guys in a big pot at home. If you’re a lobster-boiler, please send me a message and tell me if it’s really not as horrendous as it seems to be.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Live lobster for $9.99/lb.

What I DO come into Tai Nam for is fresh mint, Thai basil, lemon grass and Thai red chilies. The mint and basil are at unheard of prices. Making mint juleps? Grab a huge bag for mint for under $2. Three stalks of lemongrass for $.99! They also have pea shoots for $2 a bag and a bunch of super fresh Asian greens.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Bags and bags of fresh mint, Thai basil and many other goodies – most under $1.50 each.

What did I need Thai basil, lemongrass and fresh mint for? It’s all part of the most delicious Thai Beef Salad recipe below. I lost the recipe during a move, but the ladies at Wooden Spoon dug into their archives and emailed it to me. Check out their cooking classes, they’re always a great experience.

Yum Neua Fiery Beef Salad

Chef Rebecca Wheeler, Wooden Spoon Chicago.
Serves 4­-6 people

Dressing
2 tablespoons chopped Thai bird or Serrano chilies (about 4 chilies)
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons palm sugar or light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup fresh lime juice

Salad
1 pound skirt steak
2 large stalks lemongrass, tough outer leaves discarded, lower stalk trimmed to 4 inches and finely sliced as thin as possible
1 small red onion, cut in half and finely sliced then roughly chopped to make approximately 1­inch pieces
1/2 pound small pickling cucumbers or regular cucumbers peeled and finely sliced
1 tomato cut into wedges (for garnish)
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh Thai basil
A few leaves of leafy lettuce for garnish
1/2 cup bean sprouts (optional garnish)

Combine all the dressing ingredients in a bowl and stir to dissolve palm sugar and combine. Set aside.

Let the meat come to room temperature before grilling. Dry the outside so there is no moisture and season liberally with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper on all sides. Preheat a grill or grill pan and grill the meat until it is medium rare. Allow the meat to rest before cutting about 15 to 20 minutes. Slice the meat against the grain at a 45­ degree angle in very thin slices. Slice in half again if needed so pieces are about 1 inch long, or bite size. Transfer the meat with any accumulated juices to a mixing bowl and toss with the remaining salad ingredients. Add the dressing and mix well. Let stand 15­-30 minutes before serving. Garnish a platter with the lettuce leaves and tomato wedges. Arrange the salad on top and top with bean sprouts and additional herb sprigs if desired. Serve at room temperature. If you refrigerating for use at a later time allow the salad to come to room temperature before serving.

Note: To reduce the level of spiciness, remove the seeds from the chilies or omit the chilies altogether.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Shopping for some good luck.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Sweets of the gummy variety are pretty popular.

Tai Nam Food Market. 4925 N. Broadway Street, Chicago, IL 60640. 773-275-5666.


Yeah, I lied. I said I was going to write about the Kosher Jewel next, but if I threw in another Rogers Park/Evanston joint on Grocerygalblog.com, there would probably be some type of uprising.

I had a little accident with my grocery getter which required me getting a new windshield. The grocery getter was a little shorter than the 8 ft tube of steel that needed transporting. So while waiting for the repair on Harlem Avenue, I was trying to figure out where I could get some guacamole and Rick Bayless taco sauce for the night’s dinner stat.

I pulled into the parking lot for the flagship store of Angelo Caputo’s on the corner of Grand and Harlem Avenue, at the cross sections of Elmwood Park and Chicago’s Montclaire neighborhood.  There are different Caputo family markets in the Chicagoland area: Angelo’s (since 1958), Joe’s, a Cheese Market (all coming soon to GroceryGalBlog.com). Angelo’s has a pretty interesting history and it’s stores like these which makes me be Grocery Gal. Before I even made it into the huge store, I realized why I stopped buying produce at Fresh Farms and found other markets to shop at. There were huge, oversized boxes outside the entrance with acorn squash and Michigan apples, both for $0.49 a pound. Beautiful stocks of anise were 2 for a dollar; a perfect side dish when roasted with some sausage and/or butternut squash in the winter. The quality was just as good as Fresh Farms, but cheaper.

Grocery Gal Angelo Caputo's Market

Anise 2 for $1. Yes, please!

So I wheeled my cart in with a pair of anise, ready to get my two other items: guacamole and a New Mexico red chile sauce mix. Before I made it in through the breezeway, I stopped in my tracks, drooling at the imported Italian fig delicacies for sale only during the holidays. I grew up on figs, so I snapped up a fig salami, which is basically figs, walnuts and almonds pressed together in a salami shape. Perfect with some sheep cheese and crackers… and red wine at the holidays. I was dwarfed by Panettone cakes, but good thing Grocery Gal digs savories more than sweets, or I would’ve bought one of every brand. grocerygal-caputos-pannetone

Grocery Gal Angelo Caputo's Market

Special holiday fig delicacies from Italy at Caputo’s on Grand and Harlem

Guacamole, where are you? Are you next to the pile of asparagus for $0.79 a lb? Or wait, are you hidden behind the $0.79 four packs of the most flavorful greenish-red Kumato tomatoes? I just saw these for $3.29 at Trader Joes – same packaging and all! My grocery cart is filling up and I came in here for what again? Rapini for $0.99 a lb and not $2.99 a bundle?!? Oh yeah, guacamole! Under normal circumstances, I always make my own guacamole, but it was a long day and I got lazy. Serrano peppers in my guac or not? Definitely with. OK, in my cart. Just one more thing and then I’ll be outta here.

Grocery Gal Angelo Caputo's Market

Rapini only $0.99 a lb? Normally $2.99 a bunch elsewhere.

Oh wait, I’m at Caputo’s! I need some PASTA! They always have a great selection of different brands of pasta: semolina, wheat, organic, cheap, not as cheap, and a great selection of shapes. Most of their pasta is imported from Italy, so I always try and pick up something a little out of the ordinary here.

Grocery Gal Angelo Caputo's Market

House brand, imported and mainstream canned tomatoes and pasta at Caputo’s

Grocery Gal Angelo Caputo's Market

A small sample of Caputo’s imported pasta – only 2 for $5

This was more of a run in and pick up something quick excursion, so I bypassed the fresh fish, fresh meat, deli and cheese counters. They have a good selection of ready made food to go, and a snack bar (wait… I never noticed this trend before) at the front of the grocery store.

Grocery Gal Angelo Caputo's Market

Deli fresh meat, cheeses, olives and ready to eat foods.

Even with all the bypassing, I still stocked up on various veggies, pasta, sauces, frozen pizza dough and, yes, a mini cannoli for being such a good shopper. And it was all packed together in a repurposed produce box. I love that they give you this option – it’s easier to transport and recycle instead of those stupid plastic bags. Please note, Grocery Gal usually shops with her own reusable bags, but getting the box this time was all in the name of research!

Grocery Gal Angelo Caputo's Market

Many cannoli choices, but I took the mini one for being a good Grocery Gal

Caputo’s in Elmwood Park is one of the rare grocery stores that I could actually buy all my groceries at. Good, full selection of produce and staples, and overall really nice prices. They have multiple locations in the Chicagoland area, so if you’re not near the Elmwood Park one, check out another one of their locations. Angelo Caputo’s Fresh Markets. 2400 N. Harlem Ave., Elmwood Park, IL 60707. Open 7 days 6am-10am. 708-453-0155. http://caputomarkets.com/