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Mar 1, 2013 02:33 PM

Hidden Gems: City Discount on Polk [San Francisco]

City Discount is a shop based on a model that my grandmother would recognize. It reminds me a lot of the Fruitery, the produce shop on Main Street in the town where I grew up, a family-owned place where the proprietors carry your basket and select your produce, using their expert judgment to select what is the very best mango or tomato that day.

You don't shop at City Discount because they've got the lowest-priced reamer or paella pan (though the prices overall can be pretty reasonable). I shop here because the owners source carefully and well, and if I'm shopping for a food mill, I know that any employee I'm speaking with has tried everything on offer and has road-tested advice. Since I'm lucky enough for a $1 price difference on a lime squeezer to not make a huge dent in my well-being, I'd rather shop here.

They mostly sell cooking devices, but have a small (mainly European) packaged-goods food section. I've been a regular lately after discovering they have Cipriani egg noodles--the quality and bite has really made an improvement in quick week-night dinners, and make even olive oil/garlic simplicity feel like something special.

Some other grocery items I noticed today: a few different types of cookies, Biscoff speculoos spread, As do Mar tuna in olive oil and a few types of Spanish conserves, Antica Enotria tomato sauce. We talked shop about olive oil for a bit. They carry a few Spanish and Italian brands as well as at least one unfiltered oil. She recommended that I try Monte Pollino olive oil, the one she uses as at home (which apparently some Chowhounds like as well:

Despite the fact that she has about 50 years of accumulated wisdom on me, the proprietress insisted on carrying my purchases to the register.

Address + details:

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  1. This reminds me of a curious experience I had in Paris last year in a produce store there. I pulled a plastic bag and proceeded to select my produce. The proprietor let loose a volley of shouted "&@^!" which I translated to mean "STOP, you Stupid American!"

    He then selected my produce for me, and looked at me for indications of when to stop.

    OK, so I learned something. CHs, don't be gauche!

    BTW, the little melon wrapped in tissue was $7! But it was the most unbelievable melon I've tasted in my life.

    4 Replies
    1. re: NapaSpy

      I love city/country droppers. My Paris mistake was bagging the produce and taking it to checkout without weighing it. Silly me.

      1. re: NapaSpy

        This store sounds wonderful, pane, thanks for the heads up. I love looking at cooking devices!

        It was the same in the parts of Italy we visited on our lone trip there in 2007. You must let the shopkeep select your produce.

        1. re: grayelf

          It's worth a visit on your next trip, and within spitting distance of other good stops, like Zitouna.

          1. re: grayelf

            at the small produce vendors in France and Italy it's best to assume one can't touch anything without permission, and if one does touch, the item is purchased. handling for examination purposes is for the proprietor to conduct. they cannot afford to discard the heaps of stuff consumers in the u.s. just assume are part of the overhead.
            it is a loss to the neighborhood and to civilized urban life when a shop like City Discount goes out of bidness. there are places like it in old world cities but they are becoming extinct here.

        2. I love City Discount. All the staff are nice; the owner is a gem. One time I was standing in line at Cala (before it closed down for good,) and I was worried about getting to City Discount to buy some "00" flour before it closed for the day. Lo and behold, there was the owner standing in the same line. Even though I probably could have made it, when I told her I was rushing to her store, she insisted on driving me there even though she was on her way home. I kid you not. Also, she has given me recipes and it's so wonderful to hear her describe the ingredients and the process. You just don't get service like that at many places these days.

          Like the OP said, they source well, and they are very knowledgeable about the inventory. Despite the small store size, most prices are surprisingly competitive. They have mostly kitchen stuff. They have modern items, but also some good-old standbys. It's one of those places you go when you need something like plain, well-made flour sack towels without all the flim flam that comes with them at the big box stores. You leave the store with the towels, a diminutive cake pan set, a candy thermometer like your mother had, and some tuna conserve. Around Christmas, they usually sell a very good torrone by the slice, as well.

          2 Replies
            1. re: rebeccakinney

              I'm sad to report that City Discount is closing at the end of this month. The shop owner told me she lost her lease.
              Everything is 50% off. A lot of inventory has already been cleaned out, but there are still some good finds—stockpots, bakeware, flatware, etc.

              1542 Polk St
              between California and Sacramento

            2. I saw this thread today for the first time today, which is a bit of a coincidence since I visited the City Discount store for the first time just a week ago. I have lived in San Francisco for over 40 years, but was not aware of the store until I walked by it last week. I went inside for a quick look around. The store seemed to have a nice inventory for such a relatively small shop and the prices seemed to be quite reasonable.