When developing your cooking skills, whether on at home or as a student in an Austin culinary arts program, knowing where to find high-quality, fresh ingredients can be as important as your technique. Austin is a city rich in both large grocery chains and small independent markets. Here are five grocers you should consider visiting before preparing your next meal:
H-E-B Grocery Company established the original Central Market in Austin in 1994. Now including nine stores across the state, Central Market locations differ from the primary chain of the San Antonio-based retailer through an emphasis on gourmet, imported and organic foods. The meat is antibiotic and hormone-free, with sausages prepared in-store. The produce section prioritizes buying from local growers and offers fresh-squeezed, raw juices. Hit the cheese counter to check out a tremendous variety of unusual, imported cheeses and the mozzarella prepared in-house. If you head to the liquor section, prepare to be overwhelmed by options, as the stores boast an impressive selection of wine and over 350 different beers.
Wheatsville Food Coop
Retaining its values of community and shared ownership, this natural foods cooperative has grown to over 17,000 members, expanding from its original store on Guadalupe Street to another in south Austin. When it tied with Fresh plus for the title of “Best Neighborhood Grocery/Convenience Store” in The Austin Chronicle readers’ poll, the newspaper described it as “the perfect place to shop whether you’re on a juice cleanse or looking for some vegan dessert.” Indeed, this market is ideal if you are after highly specialized or unique organic produce and ingredients. However, it’s even better if you’re feeling adventurous and prepared to embrace some of the more unusual items that appear on Wheatsville’s displays. The deli counter caters to vegan and gluten-free diets with items like the much beloved popcorn tofu, but freshly made sausages and other organic meat products are readily available.
Royal Blue Grocery
Operating five small stores spread across downtown Austin, Royal Blue is a far cry from the one-stop shopping centers that dominate retail. However, each store is designed to suit its own neighborhood surroundings, making for an exceptionally pleasant and quintessentially Austin experience should you stop in to pick up a few groceries or a cup of coffee. The prices are reasonable and ready-made lunch items are tasty. Plus, the Brazos and Congress Avenue locations both offer outdoor cafe seating, so in pleasant weather you can kick back and enjoy your purchases.
Located in Chinatown since 1984, MT offers over 100,000 square feet of imported Asian foods, specializing in Vietnamese and Thai cuisine. It isn’t always easy to find your way around, but with a little patience and determination, you’ll discover all kinds of delightful ingredients, not to mention dishes, kitchen utensils and knick knacks.The supermarket stocks an impressive assortment of cheap, fresh produce, including a huge variety of mushrooms, bok choy and fruits you’re unlikely to see anywhere else in Austin. Head to the seafood section to choose from a range of fresh fish and other underwater creatures, many of them still still swimming in the tank.
With four locations in the city and a history stretching back to 1927, Fresh Plus has deep roots in Austin. The stores feature plenty of mass-produced name brand items alongside a selection of all-natural alternatives, health food, and organic produce and meat. However, the grocery chain especially prides itself on its community involvement and stocking products from local businesses. Its shelves hold numerous hometown offerings like Epic protein bars, Lick ice cream and a variety of beers from area breweries, including Jester King, Hops and Grain and Independence Brewing.