Going to your local grocery store to replenish your food supply may seem like a chore, but browsing ethnic markets is a fun way to discover new foods. Here are seven great ethnic markets and grocery stores in the Washington D.C. area covering Hispanic, Turkish, Lebanese, Ethiopian, Italian, and Vietnamese cuisine.
About the author: Erin Zimmer, our Washington, D.C., correspondent, is a new media analyst and frequently writes for Washingtonian, DCist, and other local publications. While Georgetown's food columnist, she investigated the cafeteria's omelet station, Hoya coffeeshop's cultish pumpkin muffins, and what exactly the basketball players ate.
Address: 3178 Mount Pleasant Street, NW, Washington, DC
Along this lively six-block strip of the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, BestWay Supermercado is the go-to for Peruvian hot peppers, thick corn tortillas, spicy red sauces and products from familiar imported brands like Goya, Inca and Mexican Nestlé. Outside, street vendors hawk other fruits and veggies, including fresh-cut mangoes from "the mango lady."
Le Petit Corner Store
Address: 1643 34th Street, NW, Washington, DC
Le Petit Corner Store, or just “Little Corner Store” is a tiny Turkish shop on a cobblestoney Georgetown corner. Shelves are cramped with dainty rose jams, boxes of Narnian turkish delights, tahini, Apollo brand phyllo dough, mulberry molasses and bags of bulgur. There's kotfe in the freezer and brined sheep’s milk in the fridge. Behind a glass counter deli sits fresh-baked baklava and homemade borek, or Turkish spinach pie, made by one of the shop managers, Anna.
Lebanese Butcher and Restaurant
Address: 113 E Annandale Road, Falls Church, VA
A halal butcher shop/cafe where most meats come from owner Kheder Rababeh's Warrenton slaughterhouse. Buy your ground kafta beef then pick-up some fresh pita, pickled lemon and veggies for a DIY sandwich at home.
Habesha Ethiopian Market
Address: 1919 9th St NW, Washington, DC
In U Street's "Little Ethiopia" neighborhood, across from one of the city's best tibs-serving joints, Etete. This shop is half-informal eatery, half-market with roasted Ethiopian beans, vibrant-colored spices like turmeric and berberé, tea leaves and slabs of spongy injera. Whiffs of the lamb wot from across the street, or from this small kitchen behind the counter, might require a premature snack before scooting home.
El Chaparral Meat Market
Address: 2719 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA
Phone: (703) 276-8336
Facing a Whole Foods, but this South American-minded Latin market is much cheaper. Locally-made sweet breads and dulce de leche, plump Argentinian chorizo, plantains (usually on sale in mass quantities) and beautiful dried chilies. In the liquids department, check out non-Corona cervezas, sangria-flavored sodas and Chilean vino.
The Italian Store
Address: 3123 Lee Hwy, Arlington, VA
Every ingredient you need for a Babbo-caliber meal at home. Jarred vodka sauces, fresh mozzarella balls, basil bunches and floury raw dough (ask the white-smocked mortadella butchers if they seem sold-out; there's usually more in the back). If the lazy bones in you hollers, grab some fresh lobster-stuffed ravioli or a hot slice of pizza suprema (pepperoni, onions, black olives and Italian sausage).
Address: 6765 Wilson Blvd, Falls Church, VA
Wedged inside a Vietnamese hyper-stripmall, next to restaurants, bakeries, coffeeshops and a few other similar-minded markets. Narrow aisles are stocked with fresh udon, exotic canned produce (like lotus and papaya), silken tofu, smelly fish and all sorts of sauces—black bean, soy and garlic. Funky-looking chopsticks too.