You don’t generally find grocery stores listed in travel guides.
They don’t make lists on TripAdvisor of the best places to see.
Yet, when I travel, I’m as likely to take in a supermarket aisle as I am to go into an art museum to see the paintings.
Food is part of tourism. People want to explore the flavors of an area and seek out the beers that a place produces or the baked item that is beloved by locals. We find restaurants that we don’t have in our home community.
Grocery stores are usually the territory of a local. Wherever we live, we tend to be loyal to a nearby store, and, over time, it comes to reflect us and how our families eat. With a few exceptions, they aren’t geared toward those who wander and fill a cart with things they didn’t know they needed on vacation.
On a recent trip to Cleveland, I spent more time in grocery stores or markets than I did places with paintings or exhibits. (Part of that was a power outage cutting short a visit to the Greater Cleveland Aquarium, but that’s another story.)
The way into town included a requisite stop at Trader Joe’s, the California-based cousin of Aldi that specializes in private branding fun ingredients and flavors. We left with bags full of snacks and breakfast items for the Airbnb, as well as some potential lunches for me.
If I had known that I’d find a bevy of other fun food places, I may not have loaded up at TJ, but I have no regrets.
A former co-worker who lives in Cleveland recommended Lucky’s Market. Though there are locations in 10 states, I’ve never walked through the sliding doors. More than an hour later, I left with a bowl of ramen to eat overlooking Lake Erie and more snacks and provisions, including bacon made with Hatch green chile powder, Sweet Po-Thai-To coconut curry dip and a few nubbins of cheese priced around $4.
Lucky’s was started in 2003 by two chefs in Boulder, Colorado, according to the history on luckysmarket.com. The store is a mash-up of a health food and grocery stores, with doses of fun and accessibility.
“We believe good food shouldn’t be a luxury, it should be a right,” according to Lucky’s mission on the site. Amen and amen.
After Lucky’s came Heinen’s Grocery Store, which started in Cleveland in 1929 and now has locations in Chicago as well. I love the location that’s in the former Cleveland Trust Building, which opened in 1908 and became a Heinen’s in 2015. Under the rotunda is a salad bar, deli and 40 wines offered on tap. Former Elkhartan and current Clevelander Mark Chupp took me there during our tour downtown, and I loved it.
Cleveland is known for West Side Market, which served generations of immigrants coming to the Midwest. The butcher shops and bakeries within are a true tourist attraction but also a beloved spot for locals. Thanks to Mark’s suggestion, I made sure to pick up a few smokies, the beloved smoked meat stick that is part of Cleveland culinary history.
Near West Side Market is a Dave’s Markets location. Dave’s, founded in the 1920s, has 13 locations in northern Ohio. A Dave’s Mercado has the largest selection of Hispanic foods in the Cleveland area, according to the Dave’s website. Dave’s has focused on investing in and serving neighborhoods.
As I wandered, I thought of other grocery stores that I have come to love and those I hope to explore.
I’m a fan of Hansen Foods in Hart, Michigan. Near Lake Michigan, it feeds the tourists who come to the area in the summer but also the year-round residents. I look forward to the day when I finally get to Jungle Jim’s International Market and its 200,000 square feet of space in Cincinnati.
You can learn a lot about a place in a grocery store, and I’m happy to be that kind of tourist when I travel.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.