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San Diego's Spiciest Ethnic Markets

Filippi's is in Little Italy.
Photo by Garrett Richardson

Anybody can push a cart through the wide lanes of a corporate supermarket, or wave a gallon of skim milk through the self-checkout scanner. But if you’re brave enough to venture into the diversity of San Diego’s various boroughs to discover worldwide cuisines with exotic spices and fresh fruits, then check out these four local ethnic markets:

Filippi’s Pizza Grotto
(The heart of Little Italy since 1950)

Squeeze in past anxiously anticipatory restaurant customers and catch a glimpse of the fully stocked shelves (while your ears are filled with the classic operatic voice of Pavarotti pouring through the speakers). Penne rigate and maestri pasta are packed neatly onto shelves. The refrigerator boasts Old World Spumoni in the traditional flavorings of chocolate hazelnut, strawberry, rum and pistachio. Scan around the room and discover capers, artichoke hearts, marinara sauce and a plethora of olive oils. Behind the counter, you will find fresh cheeses, salamis and even Italian soda syrups. Despite its crowded atmosphere and the curious queue of eager customers, the inside of Filippi’s Pizza Grotto is an accessible choice for authentic Italian ingredients.

Rancho Fresco Market
(A Supermarket, Barrio Logan Style)

Behind a pair of rolled up garage doors in Barrio Logan exists Rancho Fresco, a quintessential Mexican market. Table tops with pyramids of fresh mangos, papayas, cactus, yams and acorn squash border the spacious room.In the far corner stands the meat counter, behind which are fresh cuts of carne asada and prepared chicken. Another table overflows with nuts and Mexican delights like chili-covered mangos and dried pineapples. Across from the bulk bags of beans and rice, sits cases full of Serrano, jalapeño, tomatillo, yellow and California chilies. For local Mexican ingredients and freshly prepared tamales sold from a cart in the parking lot, stop by Rancho Fresco.

Minh Huong in City Heights.
Photo by Garrett Richardson

Minh Huong Supermarket
(Affordable Asian Cuisine)

Don’t miss the catfish swimming in a tank to your right as you enter Minh Huong Supermarket in City Heights. The refrigerated meat section holds cuts of meat that include chicken feet, beef tripe and duck gizzards. The main aisles display bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, giving way to coconut jelly and shrimp snacks.For the traditional familiarities of rice noodles and chow mein, and the novelties of shrink-wrapped corn and cockroach traps, visit this Asian market.

Middle East Grocery
(Elements of the Middle East brought to City Heights)

Gallon-sized extra virgin olive oils and bags of grape leaves dot the shelves of City Height’s Middle East Grocery. The Eastern music sets the tone for couscous, tahini, fava beans and Moroccan sardines. Delicious fruit juices and jars of authentic natural honey stick to the shelves, some with honey comb still sunken in the nectar. A large section of the store houses everything from Lipton black tea with Arabic packaging, to loose leaf Indian teas. The store contains a meat counter with uncommon cuts of lamb and goat, and an alternate counter showcasing Middle Eastern cheeses. The friendly service makes navigating through the grains of Iranian spices a delight.