, 5895 San Felipe. The home to Table 57, the only full-fledged restaurant in an H-E-B in Houston, is a enormous store. That means there’s room for everything, from basic groceries to the more fiddly gourmet stuff, like specialty salt and cooking gear. Having an in-store restaurant means that busy parents can have a meal with a glass of beer or wine, watch the kids frolic in the play area, then grab a cart and load up on groceries. There’s a temperature-controlled wine cellar in the back as well as a wine bar (which sadly wasn’t open when we visited). The selection of organic produce is larger than average and the prepared seafood items to go, like lobsters steamed upon request and pre-made crab cakes, make it easier to get dinner on the table.
, 1302 Blalock. Houston’s premier Korean market is home to one of the best food courts around. Korean-style fried chicken, bibimbap
and other classic dishes are readily available from one of several stands. The actual groceries to be had are just as impressive. There’s a huge variety of store-made banchan
, including cabbage kimchi
, marinated daikon
, sesame oil-dressed bean sprouts and dried anchovy fried in hot pepper. The huge seafood market is one of the best departments in the store and includes tanks of live fish and lobsters. One entire side of an aisle is dedicated to gochujang
(spicy pepper paste) and fermented soybean paste. This is also an excellent spot to buy soup bones and stew meat. A second location recently opened at 9896 Bellaire.
3. Whole Foods
, 1700 Post Oak, #100. If the Jetsons were real, they’d shop at Whole Foods in the Galleria. The technology employed to get shoppers in and out in the most efficient and convenient way possible is outstanding. Parking is in an underground garage, so inclement weather isn’t an issue. There’s both an escalator and an elevator to get into the store and a conveyor ramp to get shoppers and carts back down to their cars. This location is the only one in Houston to have its own brewery, an asset to the beer bar next door. There’s also an attractive bakery with a fetching selection of in-house baked loaves of bread. The seafood counter is well-stocked, and the open, upstairs dining area means customers can eat prepared foods in comfort before heading back to their lives.
2. Phoenicia Specialty Foods
, 12141 Westheimer. This is the original Mediterranean market in west Houston, the one that predates the sleeker second location at 1001 Austin downtown. The original has lost none of is charm, though. Kids and adults alike love gazing at the conveyor belt that carries puffy, just-baked pita breads down from the second-floor oven to the main shopping area. There, they are deflated, packed into bags and immediately put out for sale. (Linger long enough and someone might hand you a warm pita to try.) This is a great place to buy halal lamb and goat at good prices, and there’s a selection of housemade ricotta and yogurt as well. The baked goods counter tempts with fine desserts, little savory feta pies and a wealth of honey-soaked treats that prove there’s a world beyond baklava. Phoenicia is also an outstanding place to buy olive oils, spices, tea and European chocolates.
1. Central Market
, 3815 Westheimer. When it comes to setting standards for grocery shopping in Houston, Central Market has long been ahead of the pack. There are dozens of checkout lanes and about a third of those are dedicated to express checkout. Both the butcher and the seafood counters have some of the best selections of quality meat in Houston. The prepared foods counters include cold deli items, soups, salads, sushi and sandwiches. A dining area is outfitted with a few microwaves for those who want to dine in. Central Market also has the largest cheese selection in Houston and showcases more than 700 varieties. The winding front aisles of produce always showcase several examples of what is in season, whether it’s citrus in December or stone fruit in July. As far as bulk dry ingredients and snacks go, including dried fruit, flour, sugar, spices, nuts, gourmet coffee beans and candy, the selection is unmatched. The store is starting to show its age, so a remodel is in progress, but the inventory still reflects Central Market's high standards. People who want to improve their cooking skills and knowledge really should check out the classes that are held upstairs, which can be registered for online