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May 17, 2013 06:34 AM

Ethnic grocers in Houston

Hi all,

Looking for some chowhound help.

I am moving to Houston and will be living in Midtown/Montrose. I am completely unfamiliar with the area and the US grocery stores. I know there is a WF and TJ's closeby but I was wondering where else you recommend for cheaper groceries. I am mainly interested in fresh produce, dried beans, possibly spices and such (we don't eat meat, cheese, etc). Typically ethnic grocers give good value and variety but I am looking for suggestions.



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    1. Yes, as saeyedoc says, you should check out the Houston board.

      But I'll tell you that Houston is the 4th-largest city in the US, and it's a immigrant city and, according to a recent study, "The most ethnically-diverse city in the US."

      I don't know where you're coming from, but I'll put Houston's "ethnic grocers" up against anyone's. I'll wager that there are far too many for you to visit each, even if you live here for decades. But certainly, you should put Phoenicia high on your list of places to check out immediately upon arrival:

      1 Reply
      1. re: Jaymes

        Yeah, Phoenicia is the best and there's a new store downtown. You can find its location on the website Jaymes provided.

        For fresh produce, check out Canino's on Airline. Also, there are some great stalls in the back with wonderful selection of dried beans, etc. Across the street, look for Flores Spices. (Vanilla, Bay Leaves, etc.).

        Speaking of dried beans, I can't believe that Jaymes didn't mention Revival Market for her friend's heirloom dried beans, (Rancho Gordo).

        They ain't cheap, but they're awesomely good.

        Look for a Fiesta Grocery.

        There's one at 4200 San Jacinto.

        There are literally dozens of Asian markets along Bellaire Boulevard between Highway 59 and almost to Highway 6. I used to visit Hong Kong market quite frequently, but these days I go to 99 Ranch Market on I-10, as it is much closer and easier to get to for me.

        Welcome to Houston.

        No meat or cheese?

        That's alright...we'll have lamb!

      2. Sweet.. thanks for all your help and the tip on the Houston board.

        I am very encouraged by all the recommendations. :)

        1. I agree with Phoenicia - you will definitely need to get around to checking out the big store on the west side. Wear comfortable shoes and expect it to take a while (you'll do a lot of browsing). It's been called a Sam's Club of Spices and prices are very reasonable. - but produce is not their strong point.

          There are ethnic grocers all over but perhaps none in the Montrose. I used to work down there almost 20 years ago and there has been so much gentrification I don't know if there's anything left. There should be a carniceria (Mexican meat market) somewhere but I can't place it. They are not typically known for produce, either, though.

          Is there any particular ethnicity you're interested in? Some are more concentrated in certain neighborhoods, such as the Mahatma Ghandi District, on Hillcroft, north of the SW Fwy (US 59 S), or our huge China/Viet Town on the far west side and Korean along Long Point in Spring Branch.

          Besides Ranch 99, there is also Super H Mart, on the same street but a little further off the freeway.

          You mentioned not knowing US grocery stores. The main chains here serving Montrose are HEB, Fiesta, Kroger and Randall's (owned by Safeway). HEB is the parent company of Central Market and there is a very nice one right in Montrose. It is a beautifiul store (not all HEBs are). Selection is not as wide as CM and prices are not as dear. I drive all the way in from the far SW side to shop there sometimes because it's such a nice store and the HEBs near me are dumps.

          Fiesta is a locally based chain that started in the barrio and is known for it's ethnic foods sections (Houston is such an international city that most big supermarkets have international food sections but Fiesta does it better than any). Besides the one on San Jacinto there is a larger and nicer one on S. Main at OST (aka Old Spanish Trail, aka US 90A) south of the Medical Center. There was one in Montrose but it was put out of business by the new HEB.

          Kroger has two stores close to Montrose and another not far away in the Heights; Randall's has one store in Montrose and one in mid-town. Price-wise I have listed them pretty much from least expensive to most. If you shop at Kroger and Randall's, get their shoppers card which will save you money.

          Spec's Liquor Warehouse on Smith in mid-town has a deli and a produce department. Can't comment on the prices since I've never paid any attention to it. Grocery shopping in midtown and downtown is still a challenge - there aren't many options.

          The other chains in the area, including Food Town and Foodarama, do not have stores anywhere near Montrose.

          Aldi, the German company, has just started opening stores here but there are none near Montrose. There are a couple of other new chains coming in, Sprouts and Fresh Direct I think are the names. One is a competitor to WF. I haven't been to any of these new ones as there aren't any close to me.

          Oh yes, Walmart - if you don't have issues with dealing with them as some foodies do - there is a big Walmart along I-10 on the southern edge of the Heights.

          Canino's is really a produce wholesalers market, not a farmers market, but toward the back of the warehouse are some booths of individual sellers including many offering special Mexican products.

          You are close to the biggest actual farmer's market in town, the Eastside Market, held on Saturday mornings and Sunday middays. It's called Eastside because it's on Eastside street but it's actually west of Montrose a couple of miles. There is also a small farmer's market at Rice University, just south of Montrose, one afternoon a week (it's either Tuesday or Thursday but I can't remember which now), and a small one at the Houston Community College campus on West Loop 610 on Friday afternoons. Of course, farmers markets as they exist here are not places you go for bargains and cheap produce, it's where you go for specialty items, organic foods, etc.

          4 Replies
          1. re: brucesw

            Thank you so much for the very thorough reply.

            I realized afterwards it was such a broad question - ethnic can be anything - but I am equally versatile since produce can be made into anything and I can explore new areas if it is new. I am most familiar with Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern fare but I imagine I will learn a lot more about Latin cuisine, too. Since this is a short-term move (only a year), I am going to try to keep my pantry small, though.

            I am moving from Toronto, and very much used to the eclectic nature of the city.. and now, excited to explore my new city. Thank you for the run-down on the grocery chains, too, since that was opaque to me, too. :)


            1. re: blinknoodle

              I remember the first time I ever visited Toronto and was really impressed. It was a world class city and Houston had quite a way to go. That was over 30 years ago and while I haven't been back to Toronto in a long time, I think Houston has done a lot of catching up.

              I think you'll enjoy your stay here but the weather is going to be quite a shock!

              Good looking blog, by the way.

              1. re: brucesw

                Thanks! Since I am moving at the end of June, I have been told that the worst thing will be the weather, too. Toronto can be hot and humid, but nothing compared to Houston, for sure. A colleague went last summer for a conference and said it was too hot to even walk 2km, so he took a taxi to the conference (not a problem since it is fixed rate or something downtown?). ;)


                1. re: blinknoodle

                  I don't know about downtown taxi rates but Yellow Cab has a website that will detail fares, I think. United probably does also.

                  Houston is very spread out, btw, in case you're planning on getting around by cab during your stay. Like Montreal, though for the opposite reason climatalogically, downtown Houston is laced by underground tunnels and there is (so far) a single light rail line.

                  Of course, like any major change in climate or altitude, your body will adjust in a few days or weeks and the weather will be more bearable. Which is not to say you'll come to like it, of course. Many of us dread summers, especially late summer, but I had a cousin, born in Sask, who came down here in the 60s, loved it and never left. His sister, living in Oakville, would show up here in mid-February to get started on her tan. You can't do that every Feb, but sometimes, alas, you can.

                  Just concentrate on the food!

          2. Oh, a quick follow-up question. Whole Foods is very expensive here in Canada. In your spectrum of grocers, is it at the high end in Houston, too?

            2 Replies
            1. re: blinknoodle

              I would say yes. In my experience, based on what I buy, I'd put WF, CM and Rice Epicurean at the high end, Randall's and Kroger under that, Fiesta, HEB and Food Town at the low end but other's experiences may differ. Rice has only one store left; their other locations are being taken over by one of the new chains coming to town. They cater to upscale neighborhoods and offer home delivery and you probably won't ever encounter them.