We all have to eat, which for most of us means we have to shop for food. For many of us, going to the grocery store is a dreary chore. But it doesn’t have to be. The Sacramento region is home to a host of food markets that celebrate California and sell a wide range of specialty and international foods. We searched Sacramento and beyond for some of the best, most interesting and, frankly, most fun places to shop for your daily bread—not to mention meat, cheese, vegetables, sweets and more.
For decades, Corti Brothers has claimed the hearts of Sacramento residents with its old-school Italian-grocer atmosphere. This store is known far and wide for its deli department, where you can get hefty sandwiches, cooked items such as chicken cutlets and meats and cheeses sliced to your exact specification. Grab a numbered ticket and wait your turn to order salami, Boschetto al Tartufo Bianchetto (white truffe cheese), French ham or spicy coppa. Tucked behind the lengthy glass case are high-end imported comestibles such as guanciale and truffles. While you’re in the store, check out the vegetable aisle where, depending on the season, you’ll find interesting produce such as Hidden Rose apples, cardoons or fava beans. (Goes great, we hear, with Chianti, which Corti Brothers also happens to carry in its excellent wine department.) 5810 Folsom Blvd.; (916) 736-3800; cortibrothers.com
Drive on I-80 near Dixon and you’ll see hand-painted signs urging you to stop at this expansive produce market for seasonal, local fruits, vegetables and nuts. The store sells all sorts of bulk goods and snacks, including sugar-free chocolates, dried beans and okra chips. But nuts and dried fruits are the main event here. Stock up on pistachios in fun flavors such as garlic and chili lemon, as well as roasted cashews and flavored almonds. (Butter toffee almonds are a favorite.) The selection of dried fruits includes Turkish apricots, chewy soft mango and jumbo California mixed raisins. Pedrick Produce also carries natural and uncured salamis, local wildflower honey and an overwhelming supply of hot sauces. 6850 Sievers Road, Dixon; (707) 678-1814; pedrickproduce.com
An East Sac favorite since 1957, this small-scale neighborhood grocery store offers a wide range of conventional and natural-foods items. Store manager Brad McNeil is receptive to customer requests and brings in products such as Fiorello’s Artisan Gelato and From the Fields nuts and granola. One corner of the market has a casual bar and restaurant called Willy’s Cafe, which serves sandwiches, burgers and desserts (including Gunther’s ice cream). Pull up a seat and enjoy a bacon cheeseburger or a veggie wrap with a glass of wine or beer. 4065 McKinley Blvd.; (916) 456-2443; comptonsmarketeastsac.com
KP International Market
Offering food items from more than 40 countries, this grocery store on steroids is a global delight for the adventurous food connoisseur. You simply must see the produce section, stocked with a large variety of peppers, greens, mushrooms and hard-to-find tropical fruits like mangosteen. The aisles are packed with sauces, oils, vinegars, noodles and Asian and European snacks. The meat section carries hard-to-find cuts of meat, including oxtail and thinly sliced beef for shabu-shabu, while the poultry section offers black Silkie chickens, whole quail and pheasant. 10971 Olson Drive, Rancho Cordova; (916) 853-8000; sac.kpinternationalmarket.com
Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op
Known for its support of local farmers, expansive bulk-goods section and community roots, Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op also has one of the best cheese counters in the city. You know that you’re getting the freshest products when you see whole cheese wheels perched behind the case waiting to be hand-cut and hand-wrapped by in-store cheesemongers. 2820 R St.; (916) 455-2667; sac.coop
Babylon City Market
At this unassuming suburban market, the shelves are stacked high with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foodstuffs such as tahini, pickles, dried beans and rice. But the stars of the show really are the breads, baked on-site daily in a clay oven. You can buy whole round bread (pita), large flatbread and the traditional Iraqi diamond bread known as samoon. These baked goods also feature in the market’s falafel and shawarma sandwiches, and they accompany plate lunches of rice, meat, salad and hummus. The alluring aroma of warm bread competes with the intoxicating fragrances emanating from the spice corner; along with za’atar and seasonings for kabobs and falafel, you’ll find gems like dried lime and rosebuds. Don’t forget to visit the back of the store for halal meats and seasonal fruits and vegetables. 1745 Watt Ave.; (916) 486-7777
While the Sacramento region hosts a variety of Chinese, Japanese and Korean markets, this store is dedicated to serving the Filipino community. Within this vast market, the number of ube products is astounding, including ube ice cream, rice buns, dried powder, sweetened condensed milk, spreads and cookies. Pandan, durian and other Filipino faves such as coconut and grass jelly are also available. You’ll find pure calamansi juice in both the freezer and drinks section. Browse the aisles for all the toppings you need for halo-halo, such as macapuno, jackfruit and pinipig. Choose from several different flavors of longanisa in the meat case, and look for squid in the seafood case. A small restaurant inside the store serves pork adobo and pancit; the breakfast special comes with two scoops of rice, two sides and a fried egg. 8430 Elk Grove Florin Road, Elk Grove; (916) 689-0467; islandpacificmarket.com
Store co-owner Danny Johnson is a renowned butcher who led Team USA at the World Butcher Challenge in 2018. So it’s no wonder Taylor’s is known for its instore butcher shop. The artfully arranged display case shows off beautiful cuts of beef, pork, lamb, chicken and seafood, along with house-made sausages. The well-marbled rib-eye steaks are dry-aged in-house for at least 21 days. Friendly staff butchers will happily butterfly chicken breasts for piccata or expertly truss and season pork belly for porchetta. (You can even drop off your own seasonings if you wish.) They act like consulting chefs, providing pointers on how to prepare the proteins they sell. 2900 Freeport Blvd.; (916) 443-6881; taylorsmarket.com
This quaint country market in Davis is well known for its seasonal fruit pies and preserves. Choose from pie flavors such as marionberry and French apple, along with a variety of jams and fruit butters like boysenberry jam and mango ginger chutney, all made at Ikeda’s flagship Auburn store. At the Davis location, manager Medina Espinoza hand-shells more than 5,000 pounds of walnuts with his family and spends 40 days in the fall hand massaging hachiya persimmons to make hoshigaki (Japanese dried persimmons).
26295 Mace Blvd., Davis; (530) 750-3379; ikedas.com
It’s fun to shop at small independent and specialty markets. But sometimes, bigger really is better. The Sacramento region is home to two locally owned grocery store chains: NUGGET MARKETS, with nine stores, and RALEY’S, with close to three dozen stores (including BEL AIR and O-N-E MARKET stores). Each has its own strengths and personality.
Raley’s is the giant of the two, selling everything you could possibly need or want, including all the big national brands, high-quality store labels and specialty products, both from around the world and from local growers and producers. Known for its commitment to wellness, Raley’s uses a Shelf Guide system to help shoppers find products that fit their dietary needs, with icons that identify foods that are plant based, keto friendly, vegan and have no added sugar. Last year, the company signaled its commitment to local produce when it teamed up with Farm Fresh to You, the Capay Valley CSA box company, to offer produce boxes in the store. Members of Raley’s Something Extra loyalty program get access to free nutrition services such as virtual cook-alongs, one-on-one coaching with a registered dietitian, wellness classes and more.
Nugget Markets is a bit more of a specialty grocery store chain, with an emphasis on natural and organic foods. Its stores are known for its excellent prepared foods, bakery, and cheese, meat and fish departments. The stores also have a great wine program, and each location has a wine steward (many of them certified by the Society of Wine Educators) who can answer your wine questions and make recommendations from roughly 1,800 wines, 800 spirits and 500 beers.
Travel to Newcastle and meander around this charming local market, which pays homage to Placer County producers and growers. You’ll find produce—tucked away in wooden fruit boxes—from West Sacramento, Penryn and Newcastle itself. Select from locally made jams, raw wild mountain honeycomb and felted soaps made in the foothills. Build your own sandwich at the deli or pick up house-made salads, lasagna and enchiladas, many of them made with locally sourced products. 9230 Cypress St., Newcastle; (916) 663-2016; newcastleproduce.com
Don’t be deterred if you happen upon La Esperanza and find a long line outside. You’ve made it to the place to stock up on Hispanic groceries along with authentic Mexican prepared foods and bread. Follow the warm smell of cinnamon and vanilla wafting from the panaderia (bakery), where the cases are filled with beautifully decorated cakes and all sorts of pan dulce, including conchas, doughnuts, churros and niños envueltos (the Mexican version of the jelly roll cake). From the store’s deli, you must try the tamales (beef, pork or chicken), along with the chicharrón and carnitas. Sandwiched between these two eateries, the market offers a huge selection of dried chilies, Hispanic snacks, drinks and special cuts of meat like beef tongue and tripe. The produce section sells whole sugar cane, raw garbanzo beans and tejocote. La Esperanza also carries house-made corn and flour tortillas along with chips and tostadas. 5040 Franklin Blvd.; (916) 455-0215; laesperanzaca.com
This family-run Japanese market in Land Park is the go-to place for sushi-grade sashimi. Choices include yellowtail, tuna, salmon and spicy ahi tuna, with fresh catches delivered at least three times a week. Oto’s also carries exclusive cuts of meat like Wagyu beef and Kurobuta pork. Swing by the kitchen for a daily selection of bento boxes that include chicken katsudon, gyudon and hand-rolled sushi. In addition, Oto’s grocery aisles provide an extensive and interesting variety of other Japanese goods, like Hikaru sushi wine and Bossen Bursting Boba. 4990 Freeport Blvd.; (916) 424-2398; otosmarket.com
Big Upps Jamaican Caribbean Food Store
Located at the corner of Truxel and Arena Commons Driveway in Natomas, this humble corner market selling Jamaican and Caribbean ingredients and prepared foods is perhaps best known for its hot Jamaican beef patties. Here, you can stock up on Scotch bonnet peppers in the freezer section and salted codfish in the refrigerated case. Jamaican goodies include Tiki Gold candy bars, Excelsior Water Crackers and BIGGA soft drinks in flavors like grapefruit and pineapple. The store also carries a variety of jerk seasonings, marinades and other spice blends. 4301 Truxel Road; (916) 550-0250