Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How Not to Shop for Food on an Empty Stomach or Great Little Dining Gems in the Markets

The experts say that you shouldn't go to the market when you're hungry and it's true. All sorts of caloric and financial havoc happens when your stomach is grumbling as you stroll down the aisles.

Fortunately, there are a number of markets in town that also have great little eateries attached to them. So, if you plan it right, you can grab a meal first, get that rumbling tummy sated and then grab a cart and pick up your groceries.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Balboa International Market at 5907 Balboa Ave. in Clairemont. I've raved about the lamb shank and rice with fava beans but they also have great stews and kabobs that come with a full helping of rice and salad. You can also pick up containers of tabouleh or other salads and a chunk of one of their many feta cheeses. And, of course, freshly made flat bread.
  • Parsian International Market, another Middle Eastern market, in at 4020 Convoy in Kearny Mesa. They have delicious wraps and kabobs as well as Greek salads, soups and, well, just a tremendous selection of traditional Middle Eastern fare. Eat indoors or on their breezy patio on Convoy.
  • Mitsuwa at 4240 Kearny Mesa Road in Kearny Mesa. I never know whether to indulge in their delicious steaming bowls of ramen (no, the real deal, not Top Ramen) or some udon. Or perhaps sushi, freshly made in the store. Mitsuwa's food court always seems packed with ravenous people.
  • Northgate Gonzalez at 1410 S. 43rd St. in Southcrest. Hmmm. Butterflied roast chicken? Carnitas? Or perhaps a container of one of their amazing ceviches? The very long aisle of prepared foods invites happy confusion so bring some friends and order a bunch of dishes to try at one of the tables nearby.
  • Foodland Mercado at 1099 E. Main St. in El Cajon. I love the sopes in their taqueria--it's a thick, tart-like tortilla filled with beans and carne asada or chicken, then topped with crema, cheese and salsa. They also have a wonderful grilled whole chicken, tacos, tortas and burritos.
  • Mercado 2000 International at 1415 3rd Ave., in Chula Vista. This place was a happenstance discovery I made with my friend chef Deborah Schneider while we were hunting for someplace else. But we were rewarded by our curiosity. Around the corner of the store in the parking lot, they have a little taco shop. Truly, it's nothing to look at but the food is delicious: tacos, tortas, tamales. I had what's called a mulita, basically a thick tortilla sandwich with grilled chicken, cilantro, scallions, avocado and cheese. Plus a taco made with lingua (tongue).
  • Lucky Seafood on 9326 Mira Mesa Blvd. in Mira Mesa. I had my first banh mi sandwich here and it set me off on a course of true love. It's a warm, crispy French baguette encasing a little pate, pork or other meat, jalapeno pepper slices, sprigs of cilantro and shredded carrots. It's a wonderful mouth experience. And that's just at the express counter. Attached to the shop is a little restaurant where you can get the most amazing pho. Large, steaming bowls of soup filled with different meats and accompanied by herbal condiments make for a hearty meal.

And what about the farmers markets? My choices for dining and then shopping are the Hillcrest, Little Italy and La Jolla markets. At the Hillcrest market, try the trio of tacos for $5. Or the empanadas.

And get a cup of coffee with coconut-flavored whipped cream from my friend David at the orange truck that is Joe's on the Nose (he's also at the Little Italy Mercato on Saturdays). At the La Jolla market are crepes and kabobs, waffles and a full complement of Mexican food. In Little Italy and Hillcrest, the terrific Rey Knight of Knight Salumi is now grilling sausages and making sandwiches.

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