Unless you happen have a personal assistant or spend lots of money on takeout, grocery shopping is one of life’s unavoidable chores. Pick the wrong store and you’re in for a hellish mash-up of overcrowded aisles, anemic produce and rubbery rotisserie chicken. Luckily, our city is home to a number of spots that make the grocery shopping experience downright pleasant. From a cheerful new market that celebrates the foods of the Midwest (and includes a terrific butcher shop) to a market that also sells terrific Korean food to old-school shops that will satisfy the most adventurous culinary explorers, these nine grocery stores will banish the gloom from your weekly shopping trip.
Best Chicago grocery stores
With its low ceilings and warren-like aisles, this family-owned Pilsen spot makes a charming alternative to the behemoth and chilly big-name stores that have come to dominate Chicago’s grocery market. According to shop lore, Casa’s owners were among the first Chicago grocers to import dry goods and produce from Mexico, way back in the ‘50s. Today, Mexican staples remain a strength, so fill your basket with items like squash blossoms, dried chiles and stacks of tortillas still warm in their paper packages. For natural food geeks, the shop also stocks products like kombucha, hemp oil and seitan from local outfit Upton’s.
This Edgewater spot works just fine as an in-and-out stop for affordable produce, milk and other grocery staples. But take the time for a leisurely tour of the aisles and you’ll be rewarded with a whirlwind education in the culinary traditions of Southeastern Europe. Tubs of kajmak (an ethereal dairy spread akin to clotted cream) share cooler space with a profusion of smoked sausages; the liquor department is stocked with Montenegrin brandy and Macedonian wine labeled in lovely Cyrillic script. Don’t leave without a loaf of the dense, flaky Bosnian bread, made in-house and waiting—still warm if you’re lucky—in paper bags on a rack near the checkout.
From an incredible variety of fresh noodles to a produce section stocked with items like gobo root and sesame leaves to shelves crowded with savory sauces and fermented bean pastes, this Avondale grocer is a curious cook’s delight. Hit up the meat department for thin slices of marbled shabu shabu beef, ribeye and pork belly at supremely reasonable prices; for a DIY Korean feast, stop by the self-serve banchan bar for side dishes like kimchi and spicy garlic stems. On your way out, pay a visit to the mandu stand, which has lately earned a cult following for its colossal and tasty steamed dumplings (packed with kimchi, pork or sweet red bean paste); at $2 a pop, they’re one of the city’s best bargains.
A new addition to Chicago’s grocery store scene, this airy space—a bright spot on a rather cheerless stretch of Elston—endeavors to supply shoppers with family-farmed produce and other goods from sources within the Midwest. As such, the fruits and vegetables are highly seasonal, which can be something of an adjustment for shoppers accustomed to the everything-all-the-time model of typical American mega-grocers. But rest assured, there’s plenty to build a meal around—including the interesting cuts, charcuterie and beautiful sausages from whole animal-focused Butcher & Larder, a former Noble Square standby that upped stakes to become an anchor here. You’ll also find items like freshly milled oatmeal and flour from the grain gurus at Baker Miller, pungent cheeses from producers like Tulip Tree Creamery and breads from Evanston’s excellent Hewn. If you’d rather let someone else do the cooking, pull up a stool at Stock—the onsite café—for pastries, soups and rotating blue plate specials like pork belly on grits.
Of all the Mariano’s stores that have popped up across the city in the last half-decade, the Ravenswood location is perhaps the richest in bells and whistles. You thought the pianist at your local branch was fancy? Try an oil and vinegar station, an apothecary-esque spice shop and an oyster bar. The well-stocked wine department is a pleasure to browse, and should you need a bracer before you hit the aisles, two bars pour brews from the likes of Revolution, 21st Amendment and Deschutes. In addition to standard butcher counter fare, the carnivorous offerings here include buffalo, rabbit and pheasant. The prepared foods department turns out meal anchors like smoked brisket and meaty salmon cutlets, and as with most locations, there’s a free grilling station, so you can take home a freshly cooked dinner and leave the cleanup behind.
Since opening in 2014, the shiny Near West Side location of this local chain has proven a flower in a former grocery store desert. Over in the produce department, you’ll find a wide range of affordably priced fruits and vegetables, fresh-squeezed juices and tasty grab-and-go options like cucumber rounds dusted with Tajin seasoning. There’s a nice range of housemade salsas (we’re partial to the seriously fiery avocado version), a bakery department that stocks breads from local outfits like D’Amato’s and Sanabel and a selection of Indian and Middle Eastern imports that’s a cut above that of the typical Chicago grocer. And the prepared foods section augments increasingly de rigueur supermarket offerings like sushi and pizza with more interesting ones, like stewed oxtails, flaky feta pies and a variety of tamales.
The sheer magnitude of Whole Foods’ Chicago flagship is such that, should someone suggest meeting at the bar, you’ll have to ask her to be much more specific—Beer? Wine? Juice? Trail mix? All the usual WF hallmarks are here: photoshoot-ready produce, meats and seafood, rated for sustainability and animal welfare; bang-up bulk and cheese sections; an astonishing variety of dry goods, frozen foods and beauty products branded with all-natural credentials. But the location’s rambling square footage affords it space to imagine itself not merely a grocery store, but a feel-good public space, a destination. On a visit here, it’s conceivable that you might order up ramen or barbecue at the extensive food court and enjoy a leisurely meal on the double-decker riverfront seating area, linger over a pint of local beer and take in a rooftop movie, all before—or even instead of—setting foot in the grocery aisles.