For the last several months, the grocery store last known as AA Supermarket, located behind popular Chinatown restaurant Sinh Sinh, has been showing signs of transition. Inside, the produce was fresher, the products on the shelves looked more like that you’d find in a Korean store, and the in-house food labels read “HMart.”
The transition is now complete. The sign on the front of the building now reads HMart instead of AA Supermarket, and, after a splashy grand opening celebration on October 2 involving Lion dances and in-store gifts with purchase, the shiny, new HMart at 9896 Bellaire Boulevard is ready to welcome new customers. Here are five reason we think you should pay a visit:
5. The Food Court
Though it’s quite small and hasn’t really taken off yet, we can see the potential in the food court in the back of this HMart. There’s a hot food counter with digitized signage where you can choose two to three item rice or noodle dishes (organized like Panda Express) for about $5. In addition to the hot items, you can order fresh Chinese barbecue — we salivated while watching them chop fresh roast pork — by the pound. To the right of the hot counter is a small Korean restaurant with a picture menu which lets you choose typical Korean dishes like bibimbap, Jajangmyeon and more. Hidden gem cheap eats find? Come find out!
4. The seafood counter
During our visit, we saw Alaskan king crab claws for the picking from the frozen section next to an island filled with live blue crabs that you could select to take home. The fish selection, from whole pompano to redfish and snapper, is smaller than other such departments in the area, but the fish looked to be of the freshest quality. Other items of interest include whole conch, fresh u-10 scallops and live lobster in a tank.
3. Oodles of noodles and condiments
Fresh noodles — from Chinese egg noodles to noodles for making Vietnamese pho and Korean jjambong — take up an entire cold section. Then there are dry noodles galore — from boxes of Korean ramen to bags of dehydrated sweet potato noodles for Korean japchae. On the condiment side, you get everything you would at a Chinese or Vietnamese super grocer — soy sauce, fish sauce, pre-made stir fry sauces, vinegar, cooking wine, etc — and also a super selection of Korean condiments such as gochugang red chile paste and bulgogi marinades to boot. Budding young home chefs, this is your chance to experiment and come up with a killer version of Korean bulgogi tacos.
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2. The produce is some of the freshest in Chinatown
Yes, you can go to the Hong Kong Mall IV, Viet Hoa Supermarket, Welcome Food Market or the Dun Huang Market just across the street, but HMart gives all these stores a run for their money with some of the freshest and most competitively priced produce around. Seasonal produce is on display near the checkout lines, just as customers are entering the store. We saw fresh longans, donut peaches, pomegranates, persimmons and plums on display. Pre-packaged bags of leafy green vegetables, long beans, green leaf lettuce, onions, mustard greens, Chinese broccoli and bok choy were just some of the veggie delights that caught our eye. The fruit selection is strong, and we were extremely happy to pick up several fresh young coconuts, on sale for just $1.29 each (compared to $2 to $5 elsewhere).
1. The kimchi and banchan (side dishes) selection
If there’s only one reason to visit HMart, it’s to scope out the kimchi and side dishes cold section. Not only does the store have choices that come from California and Korea, but HMart also has a selection of fresh, housemade items such as the weird yet wonderfully spicy baby crab side dish we picked up for around $6. Total. Score!
Bonus: The audio system plays Korean pop music, which is upbeat and festive!