Mariano’€™s Fresh Market

***** (5 stars)

I think I’m in love.

I’ve always considered the ultimate grocery store to be Southern California’s Gelsons (although many vote for Wegman’s, where I’ve never been) with The defunct Florida Gooding’s a close second. But Mariano’s certainly has those two beat.

Basically it’s like Whole Foods plus normal foods, plus a good wine, spirits and liquor store.

I love the vast variety of produce, the way everything is displayed, the logical arrangement of the two levels of the store, the extensive cheese offerings, and the large international section.

It’s great to be able to get organic produce, gourmet products and everyday packaged foods (okay, junk) without having to visit Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Jewel. Mariano has it all. Although I’m not a comparative shopper, prices also seems quite reasonable.

The employees I met were very helpful and cheerful, and the whole store seems like a great place for everyday shopping and discovering new goodies.

I think it will be a long honeymoon.

Mariano’s Fresh Market
333 E Benton Pl
Ste 206
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 228-1349

Los Paises

IMG_7441 IMG_7442

**** (4 stars)

This little market looks pretty scary from the outside, and upon entering things don’t seem much better, with decades old merchandise in the front case. But make your way to the back and you’ll find an excellent (and popular) little taqueria. There are a large number of prepared items available cafeteria style for lunch, but I prefer to order something made to order.

My favorite is the Tortas Pastor, a generous sandwich filled with a slightly spicy marinated pork, plus fresh avocado, tomato and lettuce. The tacos are also excellent, with fresh corn tortillas and cilantro.

Refrigerated cases hold a large selection of soft drinks from Mexico. You can also pick up groceries that are hard to find elsewhere.

You pay for everything on your way out.

Los Paises
6100 W Colonial Dr
Orlando, FL 32808
(407) 253-9199

Sea Ranch

**** (4 stars)

Sea Ranch is a weird combination of sushi restaurant and mico Asian market. They carry a few hard to find Asian ingredients such as various noodles, seaweed, rice crackers, candies, drinks and condiments.

There aren’t a lot of places in Evanston to buy good seafood. I’ve been disappointed with the various markets and even Whole Foods. Sea Ranch has a very limited offering of fish–the day I was in it was basically tuna and salmon–but it is of very high quality, and they sell the sushi cuts separate from fish better suited to cooking.

As far as a restaurant, the ambiance is a non-started for me. It’s basically like eating in the aisle of a small store, because that’s exactly what it is.

Sea Ranch
518 Dempster St
Evanston, IL 60202
(847) 492-8340

Convito Cafe & Market

IMG_6921**** (4 stars)

What lovely place for a al fresco lunch on a nice day! Plentiful patio seating, most of it nicely shaded make this a terrific (and popular) place to enjoy a nice day outside.

We particularly likes the salmon flatbread, with its pungent base of boursin cheese. I also enjoyed the trio of cold salads, which featured a particularly tasty chicken salad the day we visited.

The blood orange mimosas are a nice midday drink. I thought the ginger beer could have used a bit more kick; its heavy emphasis on citrus made it more like lemonade.

Definitely a nice respite from downtown sidewalk dining!

Convito Cafe & Market
1515 Sheridan Rd
Wilmette, IL 60091
(847) 251-3654