My biggest problem when shopping for ethnic food is that I’m constantly craving something to eat. Just perusing the aisles of lemongrass, or roasted peppers or chorizo makes me yearn for a snack. Thankfully, you can do a little noshing with your shopping in Chicago, and sometimes, the store owners will even set up a few chairs and a couple of tables so you can dine comfortably.
1303 S. Michigan Ave.; (312) 356-9966
Now that Guy Fieri has put them on DD & D, I’m sure they don’t need any more business, but the thing I love about Panozzo’s is that it embraces the old school, as evidenced by making everything from scratch. Their Italian beef is revelatory, and the lasagna could make any nonna weep. The thoughtful, abbreviated selection of imported meats and cheeses is also worth taking a look at (my son adored the speck from Creminelli; we just had to buy a half pound to go), and when you do decide to order something to eat, they have a few tables and chairs near the deli case so you can eat your bounty.
3333 N. Kimball Ave.; (773) 478-5566
Also referred to as the Chicago Food Corp., this Korean supermarket not only has groceries, but some home appliances as well, such as rice cookers and kitchen gadgets. The kimchi assortment – and its accompanying aroma – could force the Taliban from a cave; careful not to leave it in your car too long. I also love the salad bar of panchan, or vegetarian side dishes. But the real gem here is the tiny cafe in the back corner; pictures on the wall tell you what’s available, and most of it is less than $8. My new favorite: the dukbokki, a sweet-spicy rice cake stew with vegetables.
1515 W. Devon Ave.; (773) 274-7788
You see Devon Ave. and you immediately think Indian/Pakistani, right? This Latin grocery store has been going strong since the 80s, and their selection of Latin, South American and Mexican dry goods is impressive. I’ve also bought frozen fruit pulps here, like passion fruit, maracuja and lulo for inspired smoothies. But head all the way to the back, and check out the Cuban cafe, where the arroz con pollo, Cubano sandwiches and flan truly make the schlep up here worth it (free parking too!).
5275 S. Archer Ave.; (773) 735-5334
This is Chicago, of course, so Polish food is in abundance. This 40-year old business near Midway Airport has one of the city’s largest assortments of Polish fresh, dried and smoked sausages. I really love that their on-site kitchen prepares dozens of their grocery items everyday, in a comfortable dining room, offering them on a buffet that could feed the entire Polish army.
5. (Tie) I love the Italian subs at both of these joints, but seating is pretty much non-existent, and the grocery items are limited to the basics – but they’re all high-quality of course.
Nottoli, 7652 W. Belmont; (773) 589-1010
Bari Foods, 1120 W. Grand Ave.; (312) 666-0730
Honorable Mentions (love these places, but they are almost too big to navigate sometimes):
Super H Mart - The Korean version of a Costco, only with better food and five great Asian snack shops
801 Civic Center Dr., Niles; (847) 581-1212
1295 E. Ogden Ave., Naperville; (630) 778-9800
Mitsuwa Marketplace - The midwest outpost of a global Japanese brand of superstores, containing travel agents, liquor, groceries, bakery and a half dozen quirky ready-to-eat options, including some tasty Korean food, pristine sushi to go and a dynamite ramen shop.
100 E. Algonquin Rd., Arlington Heights; (847) 956-6699