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New Asian Big Box Grocery in Durham

Does anyone know when Li's Grocery (I think) is opening or if it indeed opened today? It is in the former Circuit City location in Durham near their Super Target.

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    He hoped to have the store open by Chinese New Year, which I think is today.

    1 Reply
    1. re: romansperson

      Right I knew there was another thread on the topic and I saw the post in the paper which is why my initial post stated if it was indeed opening today.

    2. I was in the area last night and drove by to check it out. From the street it looks open - fully lit, sign and all, but it looks like they have a ways to go when you peek in the doors/windows. It didn't see any fixtures install yet... Can't wait though!

      1. I poked my head in a couple of days ago. It looks close to completion, but there is no food on the shelves yet whatsoever. But it looks like it's going to be huge and impressive.

        6 Replies
        1. re: durhamois

          Wonderful to hear I hope it lasts as long as Grand Asia has and that it is successful! Maybe adds to what you can get at your local Asian restaurant.

          1. re: durhamois

            Wonderful news. There were things I couldn't find at Grand Asia. Won't be so sad when its a closer job, and heck, it sounds like maybe I'll even find them! Very excited.

            1. re: LulusMom

              What sort of things? If I couldn't find something there, I'd have to give up or maybe it was one of the few items that didn't have any English on it. Just kidding of course, but curious as to what you were looking for.

              1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                Are you familiar with Fuschia Dunlop's cookbooks (if you're not, I highly recommend them)? There are a couple of items from those that I was looking for and I even asked for them. Still no luck. I believe salted chilies (which should have been easy) was one of the items. I am away from home right now and don't have the books/my list with me, so can't tell you what else they didn't have.

          2. I just called the Raleigh store (A&C Supermarket). They told me the new Durham store may open on the 17th or 18th.

            1 Reply
            1. re: boaviagem

              Excellent! I hope they succeed and live long (and prosper).

            2. I stopped by after work yesterday. I was told the grocery portion of the store will be open on Thursday! The restaurant will have a later opening.

              There were a lot of items on the shelves and live fish (tilapia?) in one of the tanks in the back.
              The store looks really nice. I'll be back there on Thursday.

              8 Replies
              1. re: boaviagem

                Thanks for letting us know! I'll look forward to a review since I won't get there before Friday.

                1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                  it's big and it's clean. it still seems somewhat empty with large areas around the front of the store left open and empty especially near the checkout aisles. there is a little too much mainstream packaged western food like frozen pizza, ice cream, peanut butter, jam and cleaning supplies. i think any wise consumer could just as easily go down the street and shop at target for those things.

                  the meat/poultry section still seems a little green. it was mostly basic beef, pork and poultry. i didn't see any fancier offerings at usual big asian megamarts like black chicken, lamb, gizzards, tongue, heart or anything like that yet. i think it's just a matter of time before all this shows up.

                  the seafood section looks extremely promising but is still lacking the variety of grand asia. the live lobster and dungeness crab are priced more competitively than grand asia, however. they had some nice looking razor, cherrystone and manila clams too. it would be nice to see more varieties of shrimp but i'm sure that will change soon. it might be too much to ask for but it would be fantastic to see a little fridge filled with sliced and unsliced sashimi like a neighborhood japanese shop in a big city. maybe i can find mr. li ming himself and give him a piece of my mind! :)

                  the produce section didn't have huge depth to it but everything did look fresh and the prices were comparable with grand asia. no significantly exotic fruits and veggies (yet?). lots of oranges, apples, pineapples, bananas.

                  before i got there, i was most excited about the cafeteria offerings. it looks like all they have is the "pick 3 entrees with rice" deal. it's $5.49 which is very competitive but they still need some fine tuning. i had some black bean "chitlins," bbq chicken, fried fish and ham hocks. the only think i liked were the black bean chitlins. everything else was pretty standard and perhaps average or slightly below in seasoning, taste and texture. i think they should bolster and improve their offerings within a few more weeks. also, next to the cafeteria area, there is a sign that says there is a bakery on it's way. judging from the looks of how there is not even a display stand, display or baking supplies in the kitchen, i'm guessing this is at least a month away.

                  overall, it's a good start. i think it's still a good month away from seeing and tasting it's true potential. it'd be nice to see some made to order foods like noodle soup, stir-fried proteins and bubble tea. but until then, i'll still be frequenting grand asia for pretty much everything else.

                  1. re: whiteonyellow

                    Thanks for the early report. I only got to drive by late yesterday to confirm they had opened.

                    I want to get some razor clams for home cooking, They were featured in the NY Times food section this week

                    Is there someplace in the Triangle that has better live lobter prices than Grand Asia?

                    1. re: boaviagem

                      $9.99 a pound for live lobster is pretty good. sometimes, i see it at $10.99/lb at grand asia. generally, they keep the smaller variety at chinese grocery stores. it's hard to find the whopper 3 - 4 lb versions and those are usually much more expensive anyway and hard to find live. when whole foods used to sell lobster, it was routinely over $17.99 a pound.

                      my friend vacations in the keys and rents a boat. when he goes, he's allowed to catch something like 6 lobsters per person per day. i think they essentially eat an all lobster diet for 1 week for the price of an airplane ticket and boat ride. :)

                      razor clams should be less than $6-7/lb. all the ones i tapped on yesterday looked quite live and fresh.

                      1. re: whiteonyellow

                        How should a live and fresh razor clam respond when you tap on it?

                        We went to the store today. We bought a few things. We're looking forward to the bakery and seeing more produce. They had some really nice looking ginger and mandioca (cka cassava or yuca) in the produce area.

                        1. re: boaviagem

                          I think they're supposed to slightly close when tapped, but maybe that is only mussels.

                          1. re: boaviagem

                            We got a few knick knacks as far as food goes, but I wish we knew more about the foods so we could go in an know what to buy instead of being giddy and saying this looks interesting lets eat it. I mean that is fun too but can lead to money waste.

                      2. re: whiteonyellow

                        Thanks for a really full report. Very much appreciated.

                  2. Haven't had a chance to visit it yet, but a Chinese friend of ours said that when she went in she was immediately assaulted by a strong chemical smell (possibly drying paint or other off-gasses from new construction). She had her baby with her, so turned right around and left. She does admit to being especially sensitive and cautious of such things, being the daughter of two research chemists.

                    Has anyone else noticed this?

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Remsleep

                      Yes, I had the same experience as your friend. I'm not sensitive in smelling at all and it was strongest (still faint to me) at the door and I didn't smell it in the other areas. I wasn't sure if that came from the cleaning chemical because they were obviously still cleaning up certain or area or something else.
                      I don't think they are ready yet, and I don't recommend going now if you're a picky customer. The bakery and most of the dining area are coming, and the only thing they have now is lunch box (5.92 for 3 items w/ rice). My friend and I didn't enjoy the dishes and we went to Grand Asia for our second lunch afterwards.
                      The price is comparable to Grand Asia and LiMing has more varieties and different brands on certain items, which is good. LM also sells many American goods, which I didn't pay much attention so can't comment much.
                      The bottom line is, I guess it'll take the store another 1-2 months to be fully ready and I may check it out again later.

                      1. re: saragirl

                        I've been twice already and I did not smell anything. They are about 80 % finished stocking the shelves. I talked to Li Ming and he said they will have more fresh seafood available as soon as they get in some more equipment. Even incomplete this place has way more offerings than any oriental market I've been to in the Triangle except for Grand Asia market and I think it will be better than GAM by the time everything is up and running. There is no reason not to go now.

                    2. We went on Friday (Thursday was not possible) and it was mostly filled. The thing that I like about Grand Asia moreso than Li Mings is that the former feels more like a market and less like a grocery store. Not sure if that statement comes across okay. I guess I feel more of a soul with Grand Asia and due to the space and mixes of Asian and American products in Li Ming it feels.. somewhat hollow. I will still go there for comparable goods that I'd normally have to go to Cary for, and I found that there were plenty of items though a lot of the ones I looked at or picked up were made in Brooklyn.. though that is just what I tended towards. There were some items that said needed to be refigerated such as 1,000 Year Old Eggs and they were just on the end of the isles. I'd really like to have a good sense of what I can do with some of the non typical items in the store such as pig blood (Just an example) so that I'm not just a caucasian going in and getting bao or seaweed snack, but actually shopping to make dishes for later.

                      I don't expect it to be better than Grand Asia. Just closer.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                        1000 year old eggs do not need refrigeration and most Asian stores carry them on the shelf.

                        1. re: ResCal

                          That is what I thought but the box it comes in says keep refrigerated I'm pretty sure.

                          1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                            I was surprised to see that regular eggs are not refrigerated in the grocery stores in New Zealand. Sort of turned me off, but I figure if they sell them that way, it must be safe.

                            1. re: LulusMom

                              Off-topic, but most of the rest of the world keeps eggs unrefrigerated. You can buy farm fresh eggs here and keep them out, they just won't last quite as long. I have no idea what they do to "industrial" eggs that require them to be refrigerated (or maybe they really don't either?).

                              1. re: billyjack

                                I remember reading that in the US eggs are generally washed before boxing. Washing removes a natural, protective coating thus creating the need for refrigeration.

                                1. re: meatn3

                                  My Brazilian friend never refrigerated American eggs and amazingly, she's still alive. I believe in refrigeration for keeping things fresh, but Americans are obsessed with it.

                      2. I went of Friday, and if the crowds were any indication, the store is going to do well in that location. I didn't notice an chemical or off putting smell at all, just the smells from the cafeteria/restaurant. I also didn't pay much attention to the non-Asian grocery aisles, but I do appreciate their inclusion - I think they have a good grasp of the market overall, and will do well with the product mix. I was a little disappointed to see the empty shelves in housewares aisle, but that just gives me something to look forward to the next time I visit. My cashier was a little bewildered/overwhelmed and said they were hoping for a soft opening since they weren't fully stocked or trained yet. She asked how I heard about their opening, and I told her I'd been looking forward to it for some time and checking in on their progress periodically.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: mpjmph

                          My cashier said the same thing and also asked me about it. I also didn't smell anything chemical. I did smell what I would consider like a soupy smell or something you might smell going to Chinese buffet.

                        2. I am thrilled that this is around the corner from me and went on Monday. It definitely has that new store feel and I'm sure it'll take a while before it gets settled into a Grand Asia-like vibe, if ever. But it's just so close. I met one of the guys in the cafeteria section and he was very nice and introduced himself. Tried a bit of the duck and it was quite good. Just as with Grand Asia, you have to pay for the prepared food in cash. Can't wait for the bakery. I bought a red snapper to steam whole and it was amazingly fresh and delicious. The produce section didn't rock my world, but it's not bad. The prices are good.

                          1. We will definitely go once the bakery open.

                            1. My husband and I split a plate of food there today for $6. We had the eggplant, fish with celery and carrots and bok choy with steamed rice. Great fast food! Makes me feel like I'm back in Asia which has the best fast food in the world. Can't wait for the bakery to open. Two weeks...

                              10 Replies
                              1. re: suse

                                So what would an Asian bakery have that you are looking forward to? When I hear 'Asian' and 'Bakery' in the same sentence, my mind goes blank - can't think of a thing they might carry.

                                That part of the world generally isn't known for breads or cakes or pastries (and Vietnam doesn't count since there was the French influence there), so what am I missing?

                                1. re: romansperson


                                  If they have decent charsiu bao, "pineapple buns", and dan ta (egg tarts), that would be good enough for me.

                                  1. re: mfg

                                    Thanks for the link - don't know why I didn't think to look there! Looks like there are a good number of savory items too.

                                  2. re: romansperson

                                    Our favorites (at Grand Asia) include the aforementioned char siu bao, pork & quail egg buns, anything filled with coconut or red bean paste, hot dog buns, egg custard tarts, steamed rice cakes with peanuts, and those appalling things overflowing with whipped cream and sprinkles (hey, I've got an easily dazzled kid).

                                    1. re: rockycat

                                      Having tried several of those items at GA I can't get that excited. Perhaps its just me but if I want bakery/pastry items I'm going to drive the two miles down the road to Guglhupf.

                                      1. re: bbqme

                                        Yeah it's just you. Asian baked goods are not meant to satisfy Western pastry palates, nor are Western baked goods meant to satisfy Asian palates. When I want chewy rye loaves and flaky croissants, I also go to a place like Guglhupf. But when I crave "char siu bao, pork & quail egg buns, anything filled with coconut or red bean paste, hot dog buns, egg custard tarts" I go to an Asian bakery. Just because they're both called "bakery/pastry items" does not mean they are the same thing and functionally interchangeable.

                                        1. re: ResCal

                                          What is wrong with the buns you can get frozen and take home and steam?

                                          1. re: ResCal

                                            I didn't suggest that they were the same thing/interchangable, rather that one, Guglhupf, is infinitely better IMO in terms of quality, taste, and aesthetic.

                                            1. re: ResCal

                                              totally agree with you, ResCal To me it could be paralleled to the single origin coffee, you can surely prefer Kenya AA more than Sumatra Mandheling; yet they wouldn't be compared in the same competition in real life even though they're both coffee.

                                        2. re: romansperson

                                          I'm generally with you on the Asian bakery front. Much prefer European bakeries, but there are one or two things I like and that remind me of living in Asia. Custard buns and like mfg, the egg tarts. Plus, I just think it will add to the vibe of the place. I'm hoping they do steamed buns like they do at Grand Asia. That would make me really happy!

                                      2. I visited on Friday (3/4) and was pretty disappointed. I was excited at the idea of not having to drive all the way to Cary but I thought this store was basically an Aldi or Compare with a bit of Asian flavor. The small selection of soy sauces, noodles, hot sauces etc, would have fit into a corner market and did not even rise to the level of the (very missed) tiny Asian market on Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill. However, the produce looked good, and I would have bought some shallots ($1.99/lb) and red cabbage ($0.69/lb) if the check out lines weren't so crowded. The seafood looked ok, but I am off buying non-wild caught shrimp these days. I hope that the business plan changes to one more like Grand Asia, because I think the Target (practically) next door is a better bet for most of the items sold at Li Mings. As a final issue -- the only odor I noticed was the fishy one which I notice at the Harris Teeter at University Mall as well (but not so much at the one on MLK.)

                                        Harris Teeter
                                        , New Bern, NC 28560

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: omoshiroi

                                          I think the place needs some time to settle and jell. The first time I went I couldn't find lo mein noodles, but they were there the second time I went. I agree - it kind of like an Asian Compare, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Grand Asia is much nicer, but it's not around the corner from me. The roast duck and roast pork are both very good and I think the seafood is definitely better than okay.

                                          1. re: suse

                                            I went to the market Friday and liked it quite a bit. One of the knocks is that half the store is "regular" items that could be found in a Food Lion or something. Perhaps, the owner is trying to attract the locals? My wife picked up a few items that she would have bought at Target or Harris Teeter.
                                            Great produce section! Lots of interesting stuff to try. I pickled something that looked like a cross between a turnip and daikon last night and it tastes great today.
                                            We went to buy geoduck, but they didn't have any, which was a bummer. Hopefully next time. All in all, the selection is somewhat better than the Chinese market on University (?) in Derm. I like Li Ming's quite a bit and will return.

                                          2. re: omoshiroi

                                            I like Compare - this, not so much. I'll give them a shot again in a few months but will stick w/ Grand Asia for now.

                                          3. I tried Li Ming today. I was not impressed with the lunch counter yet, but tried some food and did some shopping out of a sense of obligation to support a business like this in Durham. I also felt bad for them, because that is a WHOLE LOT of store to stock. And they really have done a good job with filling the seafood and meat counters already (and yes, they do have fun stuff like pork uteri and whole oxtails, as well as some live seafood).
                                            I got a "spicy" cold pig ear (not spicy, but not inedible or anything), some spicy stir fried chicken that was actually pretty good (nice charred jalapenos and dried red peppers), and some basic/fine greens with basic/fine steamed rice. Service was polite. Very fast; no line. There were several other Asians (including employees -- who had big bowls of yummier looking stuff ;), and one Anglo-looking couple eating there when I was there at a late lunch time.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: moxsa

                                              My wife turned me on to a great fast lunch item from Grand Asia and Li MIng's, but I don't know what its called.

                                              It's a rice ball wrapped in a banana leaf. Inside the rice ball is some pork and a few red beans. It's sweet and savory at the same time. Its shaped like a 4 sided pyramid. Does anyone know the name of this item?

                                                1. re: ResCal

                                                  Yes, that's it. Thanks for the linkage.

                                            2. The tea shop and bakery are now open. Both are delicious! I had hot almond boba tea, a warm pork bun and a delicate, lovely egg tart. My husband got a red bean bun. We have been wishing for something like this to open in Durham for YEARS! Prices are great, food is delicious, atmosphere is utilitarian because you are eating in a grocery store. I believe steamed buns are coming soon as well.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: bobatea

                                                We've stopped at the bakery and eaten lunch there a couple of times in the past few weeks.

                                                The bakery is a little smaller than what Grand Asia offers but quality and prices are very similar.

                                                I'm not a huge fan of Asian pastries because I don't consider a hot dog bun squirted full of red bean paste to be a pastry, but if you do like Asian pastries, these are pretty good.

                                                We've had lunch from the hot trays and the offerings are very similar to what Grand Asia has although you can also order off a menu at Grand Asia and that doesn't appear to be an option here.

                                                We won't be driving to Grand Asia nearly as often now that it is available.

                                              2. They are now also selling various steamed buns and shu mai in the cafe area.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: bbqme

                                                  Tried the Shu Mai and Char Shu Bao and one other porky dumpling and found them all to be pretty meh. The frozen sui mai at Trader Joe's were better imho. On a tangential but related note the pan-fried pork dumplings at Jade Palace in Carrboro are really good.