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Mar 26, 2007 05:14 PM

Random Thoughts on Grocery Purveyors-99 Ranch, Jons, etc.

I am the Chowhound formerly known as Slow Foodie, posting now as my real self, the other handle being co-opted.

I hit the 99 Ranch Market in San Gabriel yesterday where I stock up on good rice, cheap mushrooms, cheap peeled garlic, fresh noodles and tons of other fun stuff. I am intrigued by the fish tanks and it is cool to think about that kind of freshness and every single time I go there, and I go there a lot, I enter, determined to select a live fish and I am never able to do it. I’m good on picking out a dead fish. Really. You look for clear eyes. I bought an interesting long silvery fish yesterday called a Pacific Sierra, which had been deaded before my arrival. Sometimes English is a problem at the 99 and I misunderstood the fish man. I though he was asking me if I wanted it cleaned but apparently he thought I meant cut and took a hatchet to it, leaving me instead of a whole gutted fish, with some thick steaks. My intention had been to roast the whole fish stuffed with a bit of lemon and garlic and Chinese chieves (spelled like that usually). The steaks are a different challenge. Stay tuned.

So, I can eat a fish and we often order live fish in Chinese restaurants but our victim is selected for us. I am a wuss. I could not point my stubby finger at the live fish tanks. Just like my favorite character, Leslie Lapides, in Sophie’s Choice who could say fuck but could not do it. Although there is a tradition in Casamurphy dating back decades to torment dogs and family members by manipulating fish jaws so they lip synch Bobby Goldsboro songs or spout Becket or Joyce or endearments with a Turkish inflection. Popped roasted fish eyeballs are also a source of levity of the weekly piscean meal. We do find it curious that Leo and Spuds don’t eat fish.

Himself and I devour fish with relish. We both are mindful that they are gifts from God but they get to swim in water their whole lives. And they have to. We try to eat them mindfully and look for fins and scales.

I stopped today by Jon’s Market on Hollywood and Vermont to browse and select my weekly love offering of healthful snack foods for my beloved colleagues at the office. There was no produce, save a bunch of green bananas which I deemed office friendly. I picked up some Armenian string cheese with caraway seeds, dried apricots, and a couple varieties of cookies from local bakeries, all of which had really basic (and non-chemical) ingredients on the label. I would most rather buy produce at Gelson’s but it is dear. There is less, but often some, available suitable produce for office consumption at the Von’s on Hollywood Blvd. but there aren’t any baked goods worthy of purchasing. I bet sometimes too, you can pick up a produce bargain at Jon’s, today just wasn’t the day. Overall though Jon’s has much more modest selection than Super King but the prices are just about as friendly.

More of my eccentric profane food writing is located at

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  1. Don't feel that being a wuss at the fish tank is a bad thing... I think alot of share your hesitation... I can't even pick a lobster, and get a little teary-eyed when I see the prawns going off in a net to be disemboweled for my shrimp with spicy salt. With Babe, Foghorn Leghorn, and Nemo working their ways into the collective American psyche, I can't believe I even eat meat.

    But I can get behind just about everything else at 99 Ranch. The selection of just about everything that one would need that is East Asian, the prices, the great baked goods and produce are all under one roof. And where else can one typically get soya bean drink that is so fresh that it almost burns one's hand to grab a half-gallon off the shelf?

    1. Just a technical correction-- the seeds in the Armenian string cheese are nigella seeds, not caraway.

      Mr Taster
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      1. Above the fish counter in Ranch 99, they list options for preparing the fish, such as "1. Clean only", "2. clean and remove head and tail", etc. These are numbered, so you merely need to say the number that indicates the way you want it prepared.

        1. The original comment has been removed
          1. is anybody else puzzled by the fish offerings at 99 ranch? some of the stuff is just pristine and then right next to it will be a fish that looks like it's nearly mummified. they must know what good fish is, but they've got to be able to absorb some "shrink" to keep up quality. compare the overal quality levels at 99 ranch and, say, marukai or mitsuwa and it's pretty astonishing.

            i also have a problem with their live tanks--not that i'm soft-hearted, but they aren't cleaned often enough. in a good live tank the water should be clear, not cloudy and certainly not hanging with sediment.

            11 Replies
            1. re: FED

              Yes, I've noticed that disparity. There seems to be fresher fish on Fridays at the Irvine stores.

              It also seems to vary store to store. The one in Rowland Heights seems to offer the widest variety of fish, and in better condition than other stores.

              1. re: Professor Salt

                Conversely, the fish counter in the 99 Ranch on Artesia in Gardena smells of fish much past its prime.

                1. re: bulavinaka

                  Yeah, the only things I would get there are live...


                2. re: Professor Salt

                  From store to store and from day to day. It really is a true Chinese market, in which the crap is sold right next to the good stuff and if you're not savvy enough to discern between the two, then that's stupidity tax out of your wallet.

                  The Anaheim one has the best fish on Fridays, and it doesn't smell "fishy". I bought a fantastic baby salmon there, and I've had the Pacific sierra and the red snapper from there.

                  Had a conversation with the mahi mahi, though.

                  "Where are you from?"
                  "Just off the Big Island."
                  "Ah, I love it, how are they coping after the quake?"
                  "I wouldn't know, it's months since I've been there."

                  The Anaheim 99 Ranch, by the way, has a bakery in it (with one of the usual terrible names, Elite or Regal or Royale or whatever) that makes the most incredible nai wong taat I've ever had. Nai wong (or "lai wong" if you're in Hong Kong) is a sort of custard that tastes a lot like Peruvian leche asada... more cream than egg. Fantastic.

                    1. re: justagthing

                      Not really... daan taat are almost always violently yellow, very heavy on the egg, hardly any dairy at all, and often have a clear glaze on top. These were much more cream than egg, twice as deep as even the largest daan taat, and had a "brulee" appearance on top.

                    2. re: Das Ubergeek

                      The Anaheim one has the best fish on Fridays, and it doesn't smell "fishy".

                      Then what's that smell?

                      1. re: OCAnn

                        I haven't noticed the "fishy" smell the way I did in, say, Van Nuys. But then I've only bought fish there [in Anaheim] twice, I could have got lucky both times.

                      2. re: Das Ubergeek

                        Wow. I've never considered striking up a conversation with a grocery-store fish, not even for the halibut.

                        (Are there 99 Ranch or Jon's stores on the west side?)

                        1. re: Cinnamon

                          Nearest 99 Ranch to the Westside is in Van Nuys on Victory and Sepulveda, just a half mile or so east of the 405. Great Viet restaurant next to it, too.

                          Nearest Jons to the Westside is 1234 La Brea in WeHo.