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Best Place in the Bay Area to buy Spices?

I'd like to try my hand at making bitters for cocktails and would like to find a great place to buy spices (instead of the local megamart). Is there a local spice shop in San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma or Napa counties that anyone can recommend? I'd really rather go to a shop to get the "full" experience rather than order over the net. Your help is greatly appreciated.

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  1. SF Herb Co or Rainbow Grocery come to mind (both googlable). SF Herb is probably the cheapest source I know; the quality is okay (most certainly usable, but not stellar), and items are sold by the 1/4th lb or lb. Their inventory is online. Rainbow sells a lot of organic spices in bulk (you package) for more.

    1. I have to say that SF Herb Co. is an excellent source of very good quality spices of all kinds. In some cases the smallest package may be more than you bargain for, but I have always managed by sharing around with friends. Bay leaves, pepper, granulated garlic, chili powders, etc. etc. etc. Never been disappointed in the quality. Certainly Rainbow has some interesting stuff too, but the prices at SF Herb cannot be beat. It used to be possible to get a good variety of bulk spices at Bombay Bazaar on Valencia, but they have since reduced their bins to a much smaller selection of pre-packaged spices. Many good things can still be gotten at Haig's on Clement around 8th, and across the street New May Wah has good prices on many standard and exotic Asian and as well as common spices.

      1. There is a great small place in Berkeley but I cannot remember the name (lot's of help, eh?), but the Internet is the way to go these days, IMO. I prefer spicebarn.com.

        1. Lhasa Karnak in Berkeley.

          http://www.herb-inc.com

          For Indian spices, Milan International, 900 University in Berkeley. Better selection than any of the other Indian stores in SF or Berkeley.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            I second Milan. I could never understand why anyone would spend so much on spices at a regular grocery store...

          2. Since you mentioned Napa, I think Dean & DeLuca has a great selection of spices, albiet pricey. I love exploring their store in St. Helena.

            3 Replies
            1. re: singleguychef

              Funny you should mention Penzeys. I just ordered some salts from them today. A great find.

              1. re: Taree9595

                Actually since gourmetwannabee mentioned Penzey's 2 years ago they have a store in the Bay Area so if more convenient no need to order online.
                Menlo Park, CA
                771 Santa Cruz Ave
                (650) 853-1785
                Mon.-Sat.: 10:00AM - 6:00PM
                Sun.: 9:00AM - 3:00PM
                http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzey...

                1. re: wolfe

                  That store is great and it saves the shipping cost, but the selection's not as wide as online. The first time I went there they were out of cumin.

            2. India Food Mill in San Bruno. It's the most sanitary Indian spice shop that I've seen in the Bay Area For internet, Penzey's is my favourite.

              1. I realize you didn't mention Alameda County but the Food Mill 3033 Mac Arthur Blvd has a large selection and you can take very small amounts.

                1. This is great! I knew that there had to be some great spots....and it gives me an excuse to go explore a bit. Thanks so much ... off to the spice market!

                  1. The Whole Spice Company in the Oxbow Market in Napa has good stuff too. The guy is really friendly and lets us sample before we buy. http://www.wholespice.com/

                    -----
                    Whole Spice Company
                    610 First Street, Napa, CA 94559

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Shane Greenwood

                      I would second this recommendation . . . I have found them really helpful too and always have fun perusing the jars of everything under the sun.

                        1. re: Shane Greenwood

                          Yeah, I like that place a lot, I got some great stuff there last time I was in Napa, I'm definitely going to go back and stock up. And you're right, the guy is great and really knows his stuff.

                        2. I am a major fan of Rainbow spices. They have a large inventory, good selection, and they turn over their stock quickly which means their spices are much fresher and more pungent than any prepackaged spices. They also have a lot of teas, roots, and other peculiar items that you might find in your bitters recipes. Not all Rainbow workers are spice experts, but if you ask around, the experts -- one woman in particular who's been working there for decades -- really know their stuff and could probably help you source any special items they don't stock.

                          1. As Robert noted a few years ago, Lhasa Karnak in Berkeley (2 locations) is fantastic.

                            They're well-stocked, and the spices are quite fresh.
                            Their mint tea is the best.
                            And the staff is very knowledgeable and helpful.

                            love 'em.

                            http://www.herb-inc.com/

                            1. The Oaktown Spice Shop in Oakland (530 Grand Ave.) is new and seemed to have a very complete collection of spices on my visit today-- 3 kinds of vanilla bean, 5 kinds of cinnamon, many black peppers and salts, all sorts of ground spices and mixes, conveniently packaged (bulk, bags, jars) and accessible.

                              www.oaktownspiceshop.com

                              1. You've gotta check out Oaktown Spice Shop. Fantastic place and the owner John is a great guy.