Ten Best: Ethnic groceries

by Jordan Green

Pineview Self-Service

1347 Old Rural Hall Road, Winston-Salem; 336.744.0073 Just beyond Smith Reynolds Airport, Pineview Self-Service has been in business for a quarter century. Once named Oriental Oasis, Pineview has become an all-purpose yeoman’s small grocery serving “Spanish people, black people, white people,” as owner Rita Sehgal puts it. “We have Pepsi products, all kind of beer,” she says. “We take food stamps and WIC…. We keep bananas, potatoes, onions and peppers – things that people use every day…. We have everything that Food Lion has. We might have different kinds of cake. We have pork skins and different kinds of fatback.”

International Food Market

635 Peters Creek Parkway, Winston-Salem; 336.722.7386 The countries of origin for International Food Market’s clientele stretch from Mexico down through El Salvador in the Central American isthmus to Brazil in South America. Of all of them, manager Kevin Martinez says his Mexican customers are most likely to favor spicy food. They come to shop for tortillas and varieties of peppers – jalape-os, chilis and serranos – that are harder to come by in traditional chain groceries. Mexican sweet bread and Jumex-brand drinks imported from Mexico – in flavors of coconut, mandarin orange, guava and grape – are also popular.

Loma Bonita

2304 E. Kivett Drive, High Point; 336.883.2454 Turnover can be quick at ethnic groceries, but the market is often consistent. Such is the case with Loma Bonita, which opened last November and replaced La Tarahumara. The store is named after a small town in the Mexican state of Puebla – that would be “pretty hill” – but the family that took over ownership hails from Chicago. “Since we just started our business, it’s hard to have everything,” says Laura Espinoza, daughter and indispensable employee. “We just have the basics. Milk, cheese, some bread, tortillas, canned foods – Goya, La Coste-a and Juanita.”

Mahima Indian & Southasian Groceries

3808B High Point Road, Greensboro; 336.854.4412 The ice cream cooler at this little grocery on the inside corner of a three-sided strip mall in High Point Road’s bargain real estate market has been repurposed to stock Indian microwave dinners, including dal masala curry with lentils and aloo puri, which are essentially crispy fried medallions of potato and spices. It’s a vegetarian affair, but that doesn’t mean the store is without its charms. We could start with the Sunfeast biscuit (translation: cookie) stand featuring the smiling visage of a man I can only assume to be a Bollywood star. There are burlap bags of rice, and shelves of condiments – ah, condiments! Hot mango pickle… carrot chili pickle… green chili sauce… ginger preserves. A teenage guide also brings my attention to a shelf stocked with incense sticks – rose and jasmine among the fragrances – an accessory for the Hindu shrines that grace the homes of the faithful. And then there is an aisle with rounds of figs and pistachios – snacks for times of fasting.

Asian Market

2931 E. Kivett Drive, High Point; 336.887.8951 The cold beverage case in this unassuming block building where miniature bungalows start to thin in the countryside near the intersection of Kivett Drive and Interstate 85 Business are impressive enough: cans of basil seed drink, bottles of mangosteen drink, pennywort drink, soymilk in what looks like a Coke bottle, aloe drink in what could pass for a plastic Sprite bottle…. I picked up a small, heavy can of milky coffee made in Thailand that was sweet as nectar. The fare is mostly southeast Asian, with bottles of pad Thai sauce sharing shelf space with cans of Caf du Monde from New Orleans. For the real eye candy, head for the back of the store for the cooler where the meats are stored. Cooked salted duck eggs rest in plastic packages near dried squid; Laotian pork sausages lie beneath rice stick noodles; and beef tendon balls from Bangkok contend with vacuum-packed whole fish and gio lua, a Vietnamese cooked pork patty roll.

Saigon Market

807 Florida St., Greensboro; 336.273.2998 It’s been observed that immigrant settlement patterns – for economic reasons probably – shadow the geographic footprint of poor African-American areas of urban America. Saigon Market, an establishment in a strip mall at the corner of Florida Street and Freeman Mill Road a stone’s throw away from Smith Homes, is no exception then. Immigrant businesses also occupy undervalued real estate, playing a vital role in warding off blight. The interior of Saigon Market may not be the most decorous, but the shelves are stocked with a wondrous variety of foodstuffs: fresh quail eggs from Turlock, Calif.; jars of kim chee, a pickled vegetable concoction from Korea; mackerel vacuum packed in plastic; red dehydrated seaweed from the Phillipines; cans of sugar cane in light syrup from Thailand; and dignified tea sets nestled next to tubes of Crest toothpaste.

Carniceria Lupita’s

2703C High Point Road, Greensboro; 336.294.8085 The harsh glare of sunlight refracted from asphalt outside the store here on “Greensboro’s most important mile” belies the cheerful interior at this full-service Hispanic market. The first thing that catches the eye is the ample selection of CDs, including bachata and reggaeton, along with titles by the stratospheric los Tigres del Norte. Along one wall lie the essentials for Latin home cooking: cornhusks for tamales, cardboard boxes of spindly, dried red chilis and tubs of garlic. The meat case in the back holds sausages, shrimp, fish fillets, cuts of pork and beef, and rich red slabs of raw fajita steaks. I haven’t even mentioned several types of tortillas, mole sauce or white cheese, but I shouldn’t need to. On your way out, you’ll notice the pi-atas hanging from the ceiling, the pain relief medicines under the counter, and the spinning rack of Jarritos-brand sodas in flavors of grapefruit, orange and tamarind.

La Milagrosa Tienda Hispana y Joyeria

4725A High Point Road, Greensboro; 336.851.8881 La Milagrosa – read “the little miracle” – lies further out High Point Road where Greensboro’s urban sprawl gives way to Sedgefield’s manicured splendor. Like Carniceria Lupita’s, the store aims to meet all needs. Its windows bear posters advertising money transfer services and norte-o music concerts in Raleigh. Inside you’re sure to find the requisite Jarrito sodas, quesos and tortillas, but also – at least on one recent visit – a crate of watermelons. The store also distinguishes itself by displaying tiny children’s outfits from hangers on the ceilings, as well as a rack of expensive men’s shirts, including one with metallic buttons and a scorpion emblazoned across the breast that comes in extra large.

Giacomo’s Italian Market

4705 High Point Road, Greensboro; 336.547.2888, 2109 New Garden Road, Greensboro; 336.282.2855 A sandwich at Giacomo’s is sensory feast that goes beyond anything a regular patron of Subway or even Jimmy John’s can expect. Between halves of crusty and yet tender bread go any number of combinations of the store’s homemade Italian sausages – soppressatas, salamis, cappacolas – likewise homemade cheeses that include provolone and mozzarella – and grilled vegetables, starting with zucchini and peppers. All this and more can be purchased by the pound for home cooking. There’s homemade chicken sausage, blocks of romano cheese and homemade pasta. You’d expect to find a shop like this in the Carroll Garden section of Brooklyn, but nowhere south of the Mason-Dixon. Maybe that’s because proprietor Giacomo Santomauro comes from Long Island.

New Seoul Food Market

5318A W. Market St., Greensboro; 336.294.0717 New Seoul Food Market is located not far from real estate developer John Kim’s retail version of the United Nations, also known as Fantacity International Shopping Center, on West Market Street. It shares space with Seoul Garden restaurant in a nondescript building set back from the roadway. My visit transpired before opening time in the morning, so my impressions are limited to a collection of shopping carts careened against each other out front and a stack of red bean ice bars glimpsed in a freezer from the front window. The aisles are long and spacious, no doubt stocked with kim chee and a million or so other delicacies.