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Chino Farms, advice please!

  • g

I will be visiting San Diego next week and I am hoping to be able to drive over to Chino Farms for some great produce. Does anyone have any advice about what I absolutely must try? Unable to find much help on the Web, but wondering if any locals have been shopping there recently. Are there any spring fruits yet or still winter produce? Any advice would be helpful. Thanks!

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  1. p
    Professor Salt

    Bring cash. Haven't been recently, but here's a excerpt from my blog from March 27 2005.


    About ten miles further south, the Chino family produces unusual varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, and famously supplies such temples of California cuisine as Los Angeles’ Spago and Berkeley’s Chez Panisse. Since strawberries are in season, I bought two small containers of the small French cultivar called mar du bois for a pricy $5 each. These small berries the size of my thumbtip packed with intense tart and sweet flavor make industrially farmed stawberries taste like flavorless red pulp. They grow every kind of produce for flavor, and pick at the height of ripeness to eat that day. Their boutique produce is very expensive, but you’ll know where your money goes.

    Chino Nojo (nojo being a Japanese word for farm) is well off the freeway in a still underdeveloped part of highly exclusive Rancho Santa Fe, and it’s worth going out of your way to buy the best produce grown in Southern California. Bring cash - lots of it - because they don’t take credit cards.

    Chino Nojo
    6123 Calzada Del Bosque
    (exit the 5 fwy at Via del Valle east, go about 5 miles and turn right after “The Vegetable Stand” sign)
    Rancho Santa Fe, CA

    Link: http://professorsalt.com/2005/03/27/m...

    1. It's impossible to tell what's going to be there on any given day, but whatever IS there is bound to be good. Be openminded, remember that prices can vary from customer to customer (so be nice and ask polite questions), AND, as Professor Salt so wisely advised, bring lots of cash!

      1. g

        Thanks for the advice, I will try and limit the cash I bring so I don't buy everything I see! Will also report back with what I saw.

        1. Glazbrook - hope you got to visit "The Vegetable Shop" at Chino Farms. I just took a tour of the farm (bought at my daughter's school auction) which was fascinating - and delicious! We were eating fruits and veggies right off the vine - we even chowed down on raw sweet corn, which was the best thing I've ever tasted!

          1. If they have strawberries and corn, those are the best! They also usually have unsual vegetables, like fingerling potatoes and purple carrots, etc.

            1. There is a good farmer's market stand right on La Costa Blvd that has fresh produce, homemade tamales and lots of flowers all at normal prices.

              3 Replies
                1. re: The Old Man

                  I second that, Old Man. Either take Chinos or leave it.

                  1. re: The Old Man

                    Chinos makes no claim to be organic. They are totally honest about the corn being sprayed, even if it drives customers away. However, the techniques used on the rest of the farm are highly sustainable, meaning seasonal and diverse crops, and a slow turnover between fields. The corn is sprayed once at the start of the season, in moderation, unlike most conventional farms that spray in excess to turn out a higher yield.
                    Anyone who doesn't know why the prices are higher can just look into the field and see that all of the vegetables are being hand picked by only a small number of workers.

                    The way Chino farms functions is pretty remarkable, and for anyone who cares to get the facts rather than just whine, will realize that this place is much more than just a vegetable stand.

                2. I haven't been to Chino Farms. I set out once, without directions, and couldn't find it. I usually go to Be Wise Ranch in Rancho Bernardo (west of the 15 on Camino del Norte). They're organic and wonderful. I just checked their website and don't see a mention of the farmstand in RB. Is it still open?

                  1. I just read Alice Q's blog and she paid $20 for three tomatoes, 6 ears of corn and a small basket of strawberries at Chino Farms.

                    The stuff from Chino Farms is not organic.

                    We are all adults here and can choose how to spend or save our money.

                    ...and we are now aware of what stuff costs where....

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: Cathy

                      Cathy's comment that the produce from chino's is not organic is incorrect. It is not certified organic, however they use sustainable and organic styles of Japanese farming, with the exception of their corn. Their corn, all three colors, is sprayed. That is the only crop that is sprayed.

                      Anyone interested in going to Chino's should not be intimidated. Although there are no signs everyone who works there(includng myself) will gladly let you know howmuch it is how to cook it several different ways.

                      1. re: foodie24

                        It's funny that you say that because I once asked Tom Chino how to cook something that I found at the stand, and was met with a blank stare. I do think their stuff is high quality, but you certainly pay through the nose for it - I don't bother to go there now that I've discovered other organic vendors in town that I like just as well.

                      2. re: Cathy

                        "The stuff from Chino Farms is not organic."

                        Who cares? Though I guess, reading below, you comment isn't totally true.

                        1. re: The Old Man

                          Organic is a buzzword now. Something can be organic but carelessly grown. Chino is almost artisanal with their produce, which is much better than just an "organic" label.

                          1. re: risottoman

                            I agree that organic is a buzzword in the moment but I disagree that something can be organic and careless grown. (But there are of course differences in "how" organic something is but there is a "minimal" level of organic in organic produce which goes clearly beyong careless grown. And something doesn't have to be organic to be grown with a lot of commitment to the environment).

                            1. re: honkman

                              well, by careless, I mean that organic doesn't ensure good quality. And if something isn't good quality, well it wasn't tended to particularly well. I've had loads of bad, overpriced "organic" produce (well, Whole Foods could be the culprit of that)

                          2. re: The Old Man

                            They admit they have not gone through the process to become Certified Organic, The Old Man. There are costs involved in doing the proper documentation to be Certified, yes, and that cost is usually passed onto the consumer.

                            The fact that Chino can't seem to get around to becoming Certified, yet has some of their workers telling us here and supposedly people at the farm stand that the food is grown in a 'sustainable and organic style' is very suspcious to me.

                            If it is organically grown, prove it. Implying the food is organically grown and thereby worth the exaggerated price is just a snob factor.

                            1. re: Cathy

                              What in the world does "sustainable" mean? They've been farming there for decades.

                              1. re: The Old Man

                                I was quoting foodie 24, who says s/he works there and explained it was organic, just not certified.. Or at least said so, when s/he commented last April.

                                This is an old thread, yet Chino Farms is still not Certified organic...

                                My whole point was they charge outrageous prices and for no reason, other than the snob factor of saying you bought stuff there.

                                1. re: Cathy

                                  I have to disagree with the statement that Chino's prices are not justified by the quality of the produce. My husband and I have been going to Chino's about once a month (maybe more during the summer) since I moved here six years ago. Personally, I think their produce is extraordinarily good. We often go to both Chino's and the Del Mar or Solana Beach farmer's market in the same day, and although Chino's is undoubtedly more expensive, the produce is better to my tastes. Admittedly, I have never really considered whether their produce is organic and don't know if I care, given what passes as "organic" in the supermarket.

                                  Further, in my experience, the statements about snobbery and poor service at Chino's are overblown. I have been going to Chino's since I was in my early twenties and at all times have been treated with complete respect. Once I became familiar with the staff, they started making recommendations, telling me what was the absolute best that day, and even throwing in freebies here and there, such as an extra pint of strawberries, an extra ear of huitlacoche, or something unusual that they want me to try. The people who work there remind me of the people I encountered when I lived in Boston: a bit detached upon first meeting, but once you get to know them they become incredibly warm and friendly.

                                  1. re: uchound

                                    I strongly 2nd uchound's comments about Chino's produce being worth the $$. I've never felt "snubbed" there (and I'm usually there, all sweaty and gross from the gym) and found the staff helpful with all the produce. If someone can find me corn and strawberries as good as theirs in SD (the only ones that were better were in SC) without driving to all ends of the county, then I'd love to know!

                        2. I went to Chino Farms today. Got a bag of tomatoes (maybe 2 pounds), 8 small ears of corn, 1 cantaloupe, 1 pint of strawberries for $25. No posted prices, so I held back, thank goodness.

                          1. French strawberries.They taste like candy.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: SeanT

                              Thanks for the advice, I think I'll be going down this weekend.

                              1. re: risottoman

                                They are totally worth the price!!!

                            2. Save your money. The produce is definitely not worth the price.

                              1. Been going to Chino's for many years and Tom and his family have always been so kind..
                                Pricey..YES..worth it...absolutely!

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Beach Chick

                                  Yes, it's ridiculously pricey, but I have never found better tasting strawberries or corn, just to name two things that I love from Chino's. They also have all kinds of sprouts (I love the purple-ish ones), great varieties of cabbage, and to-die-for sweet, tender peas this time of year. I also have my other go-to places and farmer's market stands for produce, but there are certain things (esp. the corn and strawberries) that are truly far better at Chino's, IMO. It's a little maddening that they don't show prices on anything, and you must pay cash, but I still go.

                                  1. re: susan3733

                                    Love anything purple at Chino's..purple radishes are delicious.
                                    I don't like strawberries at all but they are incredible and yes, the corn is out of this world!

                                    1. re: Beach Chick

                                      My wife went Saturday and got some great carrots and strawberries and the best kale I've ever had ... she also had a funny moment which she wrote about on The Knife (noticed the person up above mentioned and excerpted their blog, so I hope this is okay) ... she dared to ask for a sample ...


                                2. Just recently moved to RSF and heard about Chino farms from some of the local restaurants so had to check it out. First things first – you arrive and there is no clear indication of what the process is for ordering. After several awkward moments you are instructed to start at one end of the produce counter. The first thing that strikes you is that there is no pricing and you are made to feel uncomfortable to ask. You certainly get the feeling that there are “regulars” and they are treated much better than the new and uninitiated. My first thoughts were that I was suddenly transported to a Seinfeld episode with the Soup Nazi. The staff there is pretty aloof and seem downright annoyed that you are there. I kept waiting to hear them say “no produce for you”. That being said I must admit that everything I was finally able to purchase there was fantastic albeit very expensive. Over the past several weeks I have become something of a regular and am convinced that I now pay less for the same amount of produce that I did when I first visited. I pretty much go there for specific items that I cannot get elsewhere.
                                  So if you do go be meek and humble otherwise “No Soup for You”!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: edlaw

                                    If it's new to you, I'm not surprised you feel bad about asking. But just ask, they're happy to tell you the prices. For the quality and flavor of what they sell, the price is generally reasonable. But yeah, it's expensive at the same time.

                                  2. Linking: Chino Farm

                                    Chino Farm
                                    6123 Calzada Del Bosque, Rancho Santa Fe, CA

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                      I am hoping to revive this post, as I would like to make a stop here on my drive from Laguna to San Diego. I will be in that area October 23. Does anyone know what might be in season?


                                      1. re: rp1760

                                        According to this website:


                                        ...you can call (858) 756-3184 for recorded farmstand information.

                                    2. Can mere mortals (as opposed to the culinary elite) get a tour of even part of the farm?

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: pine time

                                        These guys seem to have managed a self-guided tour -- maybe it's a don't ask don't tell situation?


                                        1. re: bizzwriter

                                          Yep...Don't ask. Have you met Tom Chino?!?!