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Is Mariano's the best grocery store in Chicago?

Just moved here less than 2 months ago, and have done some research and it seems like Mariano's tends to be the best option for groceries. We live in Lincoln Park and tend to do most of our shopping at Trader Joe's, Walmart (shudder) and Market Place because they are all walking distance. We Zipcar'ed to Mariano's once and liked it (definitely better than the other 3), but wanted to see if this is indeed the best option for groceries.

Looking for a place that has a great bakery, deli and butcher and also great produce (though being back in the midwest I'm realizing I'll just have to suck up the seasonal-ness to produce). For reference, we moved (most recently) from DC, where we would drive out to Wegman's, who in my mind has been the best grocery store.

Would also love recommendations for ethnic grocery stores (esp. Mexican), where we can pick up certain spices/produce/meats that you don't typically find in grocery stores. One such item is maracuya (passion fruit) pure fruit juice (no added sugars or water).

PS - please don't say Whole Foods.

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  1. I live in Lincoln Park as well, and do nearly all my shopping @ the Whole Foods on North/Kingsbury. Doesn't getter much better for variety, freshness, and layout.

    I know you said "please don't say Whole Foods," but this particular location is a far better layout than any other I've been to. Maybe worth a shot if you've only been to others.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Possumlad

      Maybe it doesn't get better, but it can get cheaper. Mariano's is half a solution, albeit a very good one. You have to hit the suburbs for the real variety. Fresh Farms in Niles is very impressive for the breadth of their ethnic offerings. H-Mart and Assi in Niles are Asian megastores with a huge variety of Asian produce and products.

      For Mexican, there are lots of options. Cermak produce is one of the larger chains and has a location on North near California. And Jong Boo (Kimball near Belmont) is a closer Asian store, but the selection is not as broad.

      For your needs maybe Mariano's is sufficient, but you might want to Zipcar up North sometime.

      1. re: ferret

        It is worth noting that the Cermak Produce stores vary a good bit with several (including the North Ave. store) franchised out. The company operated Cermak Produce at 4234 North Kedzie is the largest and has the most diverse product mix of the stores on the North Side. This store is in the Irving Park neighborhood, which along with neighboring Albany Park has quite a diverse population mix. Even the Hispanic portion has many from Central or South America in addition to Mexico. Women in Islamic garb are common in this store as are yuppies. http://www.cermakfresh.com/

        Sanabel Bakery and Grocery store across Kedzie from Cermak is the southernmost of a series of Middle Eastern markets along Kedzie. Do not park in a Cermak lot and go to Sanabel as Cermak's parking enforcement is severe.

        It sounds as though OP lives fairly close to Diversey and so is fairly accessible to the Brown Line. The Kedzie stop has multiple restaurants and ethnic grocery stores within two blocks of the station.

        DePaul University recently published a study of ethnic grocery stores in Chicago: https://sites.google.com/site/chaddic...

        This study provides an excellent overview of the diversity of ethnic food stores in Chicago and is highly recommended for recent arrivals and long-term residents.

    2. Of the major chains I'd have to say Marianos is knocking the others all off the radar. It is run by the original Dominick's family.

      It's not my perfect, ideal store, but it's closer than any of the other chains. I usually shop the store on Western, but I know they have bigger, better, stores with more options.

      Surprisingly good produce with wonderful items (like squash blossoms) from local farms. The meat department is decent, although I tend to look for grass-fed, no hormones or antibiotics so I am more likely to go to Whole Foods for that. I hear the fish department is good, but my one experience with it was disappointing. The fish smelled bad when I opened the package at home. Very good cheese department.

      I find it to be lacking in some household products (maybe a space issue) and they had virtually no Passover products this week. That being said management is very responsive to requests and the price is excellent.

      Jewel has gotten pretty pathetic. Its produce and meat sections are jokes. Contracting choice (plenty of chicken breasts, baby carrots, and tomatoes that ship well; not so much if you want veal shanks or baby kale). Produce is almost all shrink wrapped in plastic which works for the store, but not the customer.

      Since Dominicks went to Safeway it's been going downhill. It's still not bad in the suburbs (the store on GreenBay Rd. in Evanston is still good) but I don't like it in the city. Quality in general is poor.

      2 Replies
      1. re: chicgail

        The Dominicks connection is not a family one. Bob Mariano was chairman of Dominicks during its expansion years, introduced the "Fresh Stores" concept and then moved on to head Roundy's when the Dominicks stores were sold to Safeway by the DiMatteo family. So there are no DiMatteos at Roundys.

        1. re: ferret

          Thanks for the correction. I knew there was a Dominicks connection and I thought i had been told it was familial. This makes perfect sense.

      2. I've been to a couple of the Mariano's. I don't think it's any better (or any worse) than the other small chains that have sprung up (mostly) recently in Chicago and its suburbs - Fresh Foods, Farm Fresh, Garden Fresh, Sunset Foods, etc.

        One thing that differentiates grocery shopping in Chicago from some other cities is that no one chain or store is outstanding at everything. If you want the very best meats, you'll do better for quality by going to one of our specialty butchers (Zier's, Gepparth's, etc) or, for great prices, at Sam's Club or Costco; if you want the best produce (for both quality and price), you'll do better by going to one of the grocers that specialize in that (Market Place on Oakton, Produce World); etc. That's not true in some other cities, but it's true here. Even Fox & Obel downtown, which is the closest thing we have to a Balducci's or a Dean & Deluca, is great at some things (butcher, prepared foods, breads) but not great at others (produce, pastries). Similarly, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's are both very good at some things, not good at others. (As noted above, the WF in Lincoln Park is unusually large with more variety than other stores; there's a new and similarly large WF in the northern suburbs in Northfield/Northbrook.) As for the conventional supermarkets like Dominick's and Jewel, quality can vary from department to department and store to store; in general, they're still a good option for packaged foods and dairy products (especially when on sale), and some stores do a good job in specific departments. For the best prices, there's always Sam's Club and Costco, for some (not all, but some) of the products they carry.

        1. 1) For Hispanic products go to Tony's Finer Foods, Fullerton at Central Park---a big supermarket with a vast array of Mexican, Central American, and South American products, many more than you'll find at the Mama-and-Papas. 2) For Asian products go to N Broadway along around Ainslie and Argyle. One big market is at the rear left-hand corner of the strip mall that faces Uptown Post Office. Another good one is at the far back end of a small strip mall perpedicular to Broadway, tall iron fence along front of parking lot, half a block south of Argyle. You will find everything from a thousand kinds of sauce to fresh duck and quail eggs. 3) For Middle Eastern groceries go up N Clark to just above Foster. Middle Eastern Grocery is on Foster two doors west of Clark. PARS grocery is on the left side of Clark across from Reza's restaurant. 4) For Indian or Pakistani products go to Devon Avenue for about six blocks running west of Western Avenue. Many stores, but Patel's is the biggest and most modern. I see that you used a Zipcar to shop; every place I mentioned is easily accessible by CTA---just take your shopping cart.

          Mariano's is unusual in that it carries both luxury goods and very modestly-priced Roundy' line, especially dairy products.

          1. Thanks for all the replies.

            "One thing that differentiates grocery shopping in Chicago from some other cities is that no one chain or store is outstanding at everything."

            This is what I noticed, and I guess I might have to just make some compromises or do multiple store shopping...

            Will definitely check out the ethnic markets mentioned, and when we get out to the burbs, we'll check out some of the other options.

            2 Replies
            1. re: mdpilam

              Which 'burbs do you anticipate visiting? Most of the above suggestions involve the close-in northern suburbs, which makes sense given where you live. But if you anticipate trips to the near west 'burbs, I'd be happy to suggest some other grocery options.

              1. re: mdpilam

                So we had a chance (very briefly) to check out a couple of the markets listed here (mainly were looking for Thai chili peppers and maracuya concentrate juice), and got some good places for future shopping trips.

                We were on a taco run (I'll try and post about that separately), and made very brief stops at a couple mexican markets near the taquerias in Little Village and then also stopped at Tony's Finer Foods and a Vietnamese market up in Uptown. Tony's seems like a good spot to get groceries; they seemed to have a wide selection, esp. of latino foods (unfortunately we were in quite a hurry and didn't have much of a chance to do much shopping) - though we still didn't find the maracuya juice. Next we made a stop at a Vietnamese market on N Broadway and Argyle and they had quite a big selection of Asian, esp. Vietnamese products, and we were able to pick up some Thai chilis.

                Thanks again.

              2. To OP: I thought of you today when I was at Tony's---saw frozen passion fruit pulp. I think it's meant for making batidos.

                1. Nothing compares to Wegmans. Certainly not Mariano's. Sorry.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Gelato_in_Roma

                    No reason to be sorry. I'm excited about Mariano's because the options here have become so pathetic. Wish we had a Wegmans.

                  2. Went to Treasure Island in Lakeview, and was pleasantly surprised. It was a quick trip, but noticed they had a pretty good produce section and some good meats - found some air chilled chicken. Prices seemed a little higher than most standard grocery stores. Overall, seems like a solid grocery store...

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: mdpilam

                      From the mid 1960s to the early 1980s the Treasure Island minichain would have qualified as the best supermarkets in Chicago. Following problems including embezzling by one of the original partners, they went into a slide with several stores closed. Today they are a shadow of what they were at the peak while competition has increased. If you are within walking distance, most of the stores are a live option. Produce is their strongest department. My feeling is that TI's produce is about as pricy as Mariano's with marginally higher average quality. They have a weekly ad in the Tribune and Sun Times as well as online at http://tifoods.com/

                      1. re: Eldon Kreider

                        I agree with your assessment of TI. The only thing I would disagree with is that I think their pricing in general is on the high end while Mariano's is on the low end.

                    2. THE MYSTERY IS SOLVED: Regarding passionfruit juice at Tony's, I have some in my freezer right now---it really does exist. I will tell you how to find it. GOYA puts out a very limited line of frozen tropical nectar concentrates that in Chicago is distributed ONLY through Tony's. I have seen guava, soursop, passionfruit, and a fourth I don't remember. Look for a small collection in the big freezer department or ask somebody. Since GOYA is a Puerto Rico-based company, they use the Puerto Rican names for fruits and the PR word for passionfruit is "parcha"--- the can says parcha on one side and passionfruit on the other. BTW the big Harper Collins Spanish-English Dictionary says maracuya' is the New Mexican Spanish word for passionfruit and it translates passionfruit as granadilla. A lot of produce items have totally different names in different countries (I learned Spanish in Argentina and when I moved to Chicago I had to learn all the Mexican words for produce eg melocoton instead of durazno, albericoque instead of medalllon de damasco, etc). But definitely passionfruit juice in frozen concentrate is at Tony's---try parcha and see if it isn't maracuya.

                      1. I like Mariano's pretty well... better than Jewel or Dominicks but would never go to Walmart... I need to be able to look myself in the eye. Convenience isn't everything to me. I do sometimes venture to Skokie (Lincolnwood, Niles?) to Fresh Farms west on Touhy. Fabulous produce, fish and ethnic goodies of every description.

                        1. Not by a long shot. Steer clear of the upscale stores like Mariano's and Whole Foods. There are plenty of small places all over the city that you will be far more satisfied with in the long run.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: csiusasvu

                            Any specific suggestions as to what other stores are worth seeking out?

                            1. re: danimalarkey

                              Fresh Farms in Niles is like a United Nations of local ethnic stores. It lacks the breadth of specialty produce that you'd find at more ethnically-focused spots like H-Mart or Cermak but it has representative produce samplings from a number of regions. They excel in the grocery, deli, meat and fish department with a broad range of foods cutting a wide swath through various cuisines and cultures. I have yet to go with a first-timer who isn't impressed by the store.

                              1. re: danimalarkey

                                I have recently found a store I love but, a caveat, it is very different from WholeFoods. Shop&Save, 5829 S Archer, is a huge supermarket that leans very heavily toward Eastern Europe with entire aisles of Polish and Hungarian products as well as a respectable showing of other international groceries. They have every possible variant of Polish pickles, sauerkraut, and beets (used a lot in Polish relishes); a huge variety of herbal teas; European chocolate and cookies; jams we don't much see here, like Rose Hip; a big variety of canned fish; a deli counter a block long---think of hams and sausages; low prices on veal; Polish-style "pork cutlets" eg boneless chops put through the cubing machine so that they grill or fry up fast and melt in your mouth. But the item I have become addicted for and with which I fill my freezer is their Seven Grain bread, which makes the best toast I have ever eaten, wheaty and crunchy and full of seeds ( the store has its own bakery). If you're not driving, the 62 Archer bus runs south through the Loop on State, otherwise (faster) take the Orange Line to Midway then do five minutes on the 62 Archer heading toward Harlem and get off at Linder. BTW if you stay on this bus a few minutes more you will pass three ace Slavic bakeries, Racine, Pticek's, and Weber (all have websites).

                            2. Mariano's is far from "upscale."

                              1. Try Green Grocer on Grand. It's a small locally owned store that sells all locally grown and/or organic veg, meat and craft beer.

                                1. I like Marianos, and they have just picked up another dozen Dominicks to convert. I'd agree with whomever said H mart for Asia (or fresh seafood). It's a long drive by Joe Caputo in Algonquin is great too.