Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Downtown Family Resources (first of a series)

When I first moved Downtown (you know, all of three months ago), MB and I struggled to find the best places to shop, eat and recreate with Kidlo. It's still a bit of a struggle but we're getting great tips from other parents and blogs such as Angelenic and Blogdowntown.

Over the next few months I'll be writing posts listing resources for Downtown parents. Links to the posts will go in the sidebar where the link to City Kids LA lives. I'd like it to be kind of a one-stop resource where Downtown parents can get quick answers to their questions.

Today's post deals with a basic issue: where do you buy groceries? Here's a list of local options, along with pros and cons.

Ralph's: This is the only major supermarket in Downtown LA. Opening day drew a crowd of more than 1,000 people.

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. The only supermarket in Downtown LA.

The Bad: Located in South Park, which means it's not all that convenient if you live in the Historic Core, 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.

Liborio: Located on 3rd Street & Bonnie Brae, just east of Alvarado, this store is part of a small, family-owned chain specializing in Mexican and Latin American products.

The Good: Astoundingly good produce section, with a huge selection of fruits and vegetables at great prices. Bakery and butcher counter are also excellent and well-priced. Mexican and Latin American products a plenty. Store is an easy bus ride from the Historic Core and they offer a free shuttle van so you can get your groceries home without a car.

The Bad: Not much of a selection of national brands. Dairy products and eggs are a little pricey.

The Ugly: The pre-packaged meats don't look so hot. Poor selection of baby food and pet products. American basics like cold cuts get short shrift.

Bottom Line: You'll want to shop here for produce, bread and meat, but skip it for anything else.

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 as Ralph's, but a little less upscale. In-store Starbucks at the 3rd & Vermont location.

The Bad: Farther than Ralph's or Liborio. The Alvarado store doesn't have as good a selection of produce and meat as the 3rd and Vermont location.

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.

99 Cent Store: Located on Wilshire and Alvarado, this chain offers overstocks and closeouts, including grocery items.

The Good: The price, obviously. Also good for canned goods (this week's flyer includes organic diced tomatoes), tortillas, bachelor size bag salads, milk and eggs. Occasionally you'll get lucky and find decent wine. If you spot something you like, stock up because stuff sells out quickly.

The Bad: Limited selection. Some of the items are weird, like Fear Factor Candy and Baby Cuttlefish.

The Ugly: John Morrell meat products. Absolutely everything has minced beef hearts in it. 'nuff said.

Bottom Line: If you have time to browse, it's worth checking out, but not a place for regular grocery shopping.

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-Pavilions.

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: Koreatown residents trying to decipher the Spanish signs.

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

Smart and Final: Located at Beverly and La Fayette, just west of Rampart Blvd.*, this is a warehouse store that caters to small restaurant owners and is open to the public.

* A reader tells me that there is a closer Smart & Final at 1216 Compton Ave., just south of Olympic and a few blocks west of Alameda. I haven't shopped at this one, but presumably it's not that different from the one on Beverly.

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. 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. No baby food or formula for sale (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.

Downtown LA Farmer's Market: Every Wednesday at the Central Library, this is one of the biggest and best farmer's markets in the city.

The Good: The produce (duh). Bread, cheese and eggs available as well. Big selection of food vendors make this a great place to have lunch.

The Bad: Limited hours so forget shopping here if you don't work downtown. 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 it may not be convenient to shop here.

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.*

* A reader says that there is also one in Alhambra and I know there's one in Burbank too. They are farther but may be more convenient for some people, depending on where they shop for other stuff.

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.

That's it. Feel free to let me know if I've left out any good stores and I'll update this list.

ETA: Great minds think alike--the day after I drafted this article, Angelenic published a bargain hunter's guide to Downtown LA. There's some overlap with this article, but also has good tips on place to buy housewares, linens and toys. I'll be placing links to both articles in the sidebar.


Anonymous said...

As for Smart & Final, there is one in downtown closer to the location you listed.

It's not *that* scary of a store location.

jim said...

we always go to the costco in alhambra. i think it may be a little further than the one in los feliz, but not by much.

Anonymous said...

You forgot the most awesome grocery store in downtown LA Mitsuwa and you also in the same vicinity have Marukai. Little Tokyo is an awesome place to go for grocery shopping. And it doesn't have the stinky pee problem.

If you haven't discovered Little Tokyo/Japantown in downtown LA, run, run, run...and from the historic core it's a stone throw away, it's really close.

Main to 1st, 1st to Los Angeles and you're there.


Li said...

We tried going to Mitsuwa one night and the store was empty and looked like it had closed down. Did it move to a new location?

Marukai is cool but pricey. Still, it should definitely be part of this list. I'll add it when I get a chance.

Li said...

Oh how funny--as soon as I posted that comment, this article came up on Angelenic:

Ginny Brideau said...

Faster way to get to Costco in Atwater village:

shoot up 2nd street, left on Riverside, Right on Los Feliz


For those who take the bus:
the 92 to the 201 to get there.
the 180/181 to the Red Line to get home.

bgfa said...

I shopped at Mitsuwa last week, and at Ralph's this week. As of last week it was still there... I'll check it out tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

99 Cents store has had frozen Stouffer's entrees over the past few months to a year, on a fairly consistent basis. That's a great deal and I (bachelor who hates to cook...actually hates to clean up) have been living on these (when I'm not eating out).

99 Cents for these is a steal. Even at Ralphs, when they are deeply discounted sometimes, they only go as low as $2.

Anonymous said...

Mitsuwa was open yesterday. They've got earlier closing hours than you'd expect, around 7:30 pm they start closing off the entrances and moving the customers to pay up and leave for the 8 pm closing time.

Marukai changed its closing time to 9pm. Woo Woo!!

JD at Bunkerhill

Judi Love said...

I hear you ran into Ronan and Jano at Vons - his new favorite haunt. LOL. I like Liborio the best for the produce and meat.

Li said...

Yes! I immediately recognized Ronan because of those amazing blue eyes :). We have to get our kids together soon for a playdate. I'm around this weekend and next, so let me know if you'd like to meet somewhere.

McKenna Rowe said...

I go to Ralph's all the time now since it's next to FIDM. Have you been to one of their wine tastings?