April 21, 2014

DTLA Grocery Guide

grocery storeWith the opening of Target at the FIGat7th shopping center, downtown Los Angeles now has two, count ‘em, two supermarkets. This is not a small thing when you consider that just six years ago there were zero supermarkets in DTLA. But even though it’s great to have two supermarkets within walking distance, you may find that the local stores don’t meet all of your needs. Luckily, there are a lot of shopping options in the neighborhoods surrounding downtown, most of them only a 10 minute drive or a quick Metro ride away. Here’s the scoop on where to shop. (If you have a favorite place to shop and don’t see it below, let me know about it in the comments!)

Target: The October 2012 opening of of this national chain at FIG at 7th has been a landmark event for the neighborhood, a symbol of the transformation DTLA has undergone over the past decade. And hey, you can buy groceries there too.

The Good: Target’s location across the street from the 7th Street/Metro Center Station means you can get to it via the Red, Purple, Blue and Expo train lines (not to mention the more than 20 bus lines that run within a block of the store). Target is also walking distance from a good chunk of downtown, which means you can push your groceries home in a granny cart if you need a workout. While you’re at the store, you can shop for an Isaac Mizrahi dress, pick up some sheets, buy a toaster…

The Bad: The grocery section seems to uncomfortably inhabit a space somewhere between a 7-11 and Ralph’s. It’s an okay place to pick up Cheerios, milk, and diapers, but the meat and veggie sections are downright unappealing. Plus everything is more expensive than it should be. This is more of a spot to pick up a few things on the way home from work than a supermarket you’ll want to shop at regularly.

The Ugly: The parking situation is apparently a mess. You can’t wheel your cart to your car, so they’ve instituted a valet system where you leave your bags with an attendant while you drive your car to a loading zone. The lot itself is fairly far away from the store, confusing to navigate and has poor signage. To cap it off, while the first hour of parking is free, you are dinged $2.50 for the next two hours.

Bottom Line: While you’ll probably shop at Target every week, you’re better off buying your groceries somewhere else. When you do shop here, leave your car at home.


Ralphs: For five years, the 9th Street store was the only supermarket in Downtown LA. Today, it still serves as a community hub for the folks in South Park.

The Good: A big produce department, wine department with regularly scheduled wine tastings, huge magazine selection, in-store Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, fresh flowers and plants. Carries all national brands and has a decent selection of store brands. Decent selection of baby food and formula. Free parking for the first 90 minutes and you can push your cart to your car yourself (unlike Target).

The Bad: Located in South Park, which means it’s not all that convenient if you live in other parts of downtown, especially if you have to haul home groceries for the entire family.

The Ugly: Holy crap, it’s expensive. Not a big deal if you’re shopping for one, but family grocery shopping can bankrupt you.

Bottom Line: Okay option if you live in South Park, but if you’re going to have to drive anyway, you’ll get better bargains elsewhere.


Trader Joe’s: Downtowners have been pining away for a local TJ’s but since the chain’s owners have repeatedly said they have no plans to build in DTLA, we’ll have to make do with the stores in Pasadena and Hollywood.

The Good: Both the Pasadena and Hollywood stores are blocks away from a Metro stop (Fillmore stop on the Gold Line and the Hollywood/Vine Stop on the Red Line). The Hollywood TJ’s is brand new and much bigger than the typical Trader Joe’s store. If you must drive, the Hollywood garage is big and parking is free.

The Bad: Public transportation will take you an hour round trip, not including shopping time. Driving to the stores in traffic can be a pain, and parking at the Pasadena location is notoriously terrible.

The Ugly: The Hollywood/Vine stop on the Red Line is dark, smells of pee and has some seriously aggro panhandlers. I’m not particularly paranoid but I’d rather schlep it on the Gold Line to Pasadena and avoid problems.

Bottom Line: Trader Joe’s is like a lover who doesn’t treat you right: you want to stop going back but despite all the inconveniences you’re still seduced into shopping there.


Von’s: With locations at Alvarado just south of Glendale and at 3rd and Vermont, Von’s is a good alternative to Ralph’s.

The Good: Same selection as Ralph’s, but a little less upscale. Butcher section at the Alvarado location is good. In-store Starbucks at the 3rd & Vermont location. If you are too lazy to travel to the store, you can order at Vons.com and have it delivered. Says a downtown parent: Vons.com automatically adds their coupons to your online order and it’s only $5 extra to get it delivered. Their produce is also super fresh because it comes from the Vons hub.

The Bad: There’s no great public transportation option, so you’ll have to drive. The Alvarado store is small and feels cramped.

The Ugly: Pricey for basics, though not as expensive as Ralph’s.

Bottom Line: If you need baby food or national brands and don’t want to pay Ralph’s prices, shop here.


Food4Less: Located at 6th and Union in the same mall as Home Depot and Rite Aid, this is a cross between a warehouse store and a supermarket. Food4Less caters to the working poor. Sort of the anti-Whole Foods.

The Good: Good for bulk items. Large packages of reasonably priced staples. If you’re looking to buy a ginormous tub of mayo for not too much money, this is your place.

The Bad: Overall quality isn’t great. Limited selection of meat and produce.

The Ugly: You have to bag your own groceries. You occasionally see bewildered hipsters wandering the aisles wondering if they carry organic produce (I am not kidding).

Bottom Line: Okay for bulk basics, but don’t expect to find arugula or soy milk.


Grand Central Market: Open since 1917 (!), the Grand Central Market, located on Broadway and 2nd, is sort of a DTLA downscale version of Seattle’s Pike’s Place Market or Boston’s Quincy Market. Small stalls with vendors selling tacos, Chinese food, sandwiches and other yummies interspersed with produce stands,spice shops and a lone butcher shop.

The Good: It’s super-convenient for Historic Core residents. Prices for produce tend to be dirt cheap. And with the mix of Latino families, downtown hipsters and tourists, it’s a fun place to people-watch.

The Bad: The selection is extremely limited. Forget buying dairy or most packaged goods.

The Ugly: The produce tends to be really close to its expiration date so only buy what you can eat within a few days.

Bottom Line: Worth a visit for the cheap produce and entertainment factor but not a place to pick up everything on your shopping list.


Smart & Final: Four locations close to downtown: Beverly and La Fayette, just west of Rampart Blvd.; 1216 Compton Ave., just south of Olympic and a few blocks west of Alameda.; 2511 Daly St., in Lincoln Heights (this location is a Smart & Final Extra); and 2308 E. 4th Street at the corner of Soto.

Smart and Final is a warehouse store that caters to small restaurant owners and is open to the public. The location in Lincoln Heights is a Smart & Final Extra that has a bigger selection of produce and products like diapers and formula.

The Good: Closer than Costco and no membership fee needed to shop. Incredible prices for dairy, eggs and soda. Great for canned goods (really big cans, though) and cleaning supplies. Also good for paper goods. If you go to the one on Beverly, stop by the Original Tommy’s for a burger on the way home.

The Bad: Everything comes in big, huge and ginormous sizes only. Produce isn’t very good with the exception of the Lincoln Heights location. No baby food or formula for sale, except in Lincoln Heights (but they do have pet food and cat litter).

The Ugly: Checkout lines are long and sloooooow. Be prepared to wait. And wait. And wait…

Bottom Line: Worth the wait for cheap dairy, eggs and paper goods.


Farmer’s Markets: There are five weekly farmer’s markets in DTLA: Wednesdays at Pershing Square, Thursdays at 7th & Fig and City Hall, Fridays at Bank of America Plaza and Saturdays in the Historic Core on 5th Street between Broadway and Spring.

The Good: The produce (duh). Bread, cheese and eggs available as well. Pershing Square and City Hall have a big selection of food vendors for the lunch crowd.

The Bad: If you don’t work downtown, you’ll only be able to make it to the Historic Core market. If you buy your produce here, you still have to go elsewhere for the rest of your groceries.

The Ugly: Produce is reasonably priced, but other items tend to be expensive.

Bottom Line: Wonderful produce but if you have kids, farmer’s markets may not be all that convenient.


Costco: Located in Atwater Village on Los Feliz Boulevard just south of San Fernando Road, this is one of the biggest warehouse stores in LA.

The Good: Formula and diapers are literally half the price of any other store. Meat prices are excellent. Produce selection is very good, especially the strawberries. While shopping you can also develop photos, change your tires, get your eyes checked, buy a TV…

The Bad: It’s a five mile drive from Downtown and a membership costs $50 a year (but the savings on formula and diapers make it worth it).

The Ugly: The parking lot is a living hell. Atwater Village always manages to be five degrees hotter than downtown. You have to walk through the nasty food court to get into the store.

Bottom Line: Costco is worth the trip when your kid is in the formula-and-diapers stage, but less so once the kids are older.


Fresh & Easy: Located on Central and Adams. Says a downtown parent: We live in the Historic Core, and F&E is where we do most of our grocery shopping. Reasonable prices, good quality overall and nice balance of basics and prepared foods. Plus they have lots of English food products—Heinz baked beans, anyone? It’s a short drive or a pretty quick bus ride on the 53/753.


Woori Market: Located on 3rd & Alameda. Says a downtown parent: We don’t do all our shopping there but good prices on produce sometimes (we got tomatoes for 49 cents today!) and if you like to make your own – THE BEST SUSHI of any grocery store. Also fun for all kinds of asian sauces and noodles etc.


Nijiya: Located in the Japanese village on 2nd near Central. Says a downtown parent: Their produce/meats selection are small but they have some organic produce.


Super King On San Fernando Road in Glassel Park. Says a downtown parent: It is a bit out of the way, but worth checking out. Lower priced than Ralph’s across the board. Good produce. A lot of unique imported stuff. Can be really crowded at times.


Fresco Community Market: on Monterey Road in Mt. Herman, just off the 110 (not the other “Fresco Market” on Huntington). Says a downtown parent: This one has lower prices than Ralph’s and great produce. Great cafe/bakery/deli/meat counter. $1 coffee. Hang in there Historic Core, we will have something of our own.

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About Alisa Rivera

Alisa is a writer whose work has been featured in the Oregonian, the Syracuse Post-Standard, Latina magazine and other publications. She has also had her short fiction published in the Berkely Fiction Review and Iris: A Journal About Women. Alisa and her husband, James Hightower, have been happily raising their son, Nathan, in downtown Los Angeles since 2008. You can learn more about Alisa's work at www.alisarivera.com.