The best grocery store in San Francisco you’ve probably never been to

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The first thing you need to know about Nijiya Market is that it is awesome.

The second is that it may be the most poorly put together grocery store you’ve ever visited.

For the uninitiated, Nijiya Market on Post Street in the Japanese Quarter of San Francisco is one of the best grocery stores in town. If you are looking for Japanese products – from essentials like soy sauce to extremely specific varieties of white rice – this is a culinary paradise.

For almost as long as I have been alive, I have been a regular at Nijiya Market. Growing up, my parents drove my grandmother there once every few months for supplies. There aren’t many places where the Bay Area’s Japanese-American community meets, so there is something almost common about this store. Workers have become familiar faces, old friends accompany you with carts through the narrow aisles.

The small chain, with 12 stores in California and Hawaii, was founded in 1986. Despite its American origins, it is intended to serve Japanese-speaking customers. His website is in Japanese and English, and publishes a seasonal culinary magazine also in Japanese. And unlike a “specialized” grocery section, Nijiya deepens its selection. There are dozens of different green teas, for example, and every conceivable variety of dried soba noodles.

Matcha snacks at Nijiya Market on Post Street in the Japanese Quarter of San Francisco.

Blair Heagerty / SFGate

The challenge some days is to arrive at this selection. Since opening, Nijiya has used his space in the strangest way. The most popular section – its assorted, fresh and inexpensive bento boxes – creates a bottleneck right at the front of the store. If you are flying around the area in search of your favorite type of sushi, you are inevitably in the way of someone sneaking around. God forbid, you have to go back: now you are grouped behind a row of bento-seekers, blocking the entire aisle.

The selection of bento boxes at Nijiya Market in the Japanese Quarter of San Francisco.

The selection of bento boxes at Nijiya Market in the Japanese Quarter of San Francisco.

Jason C. via Yelp

But logistics aside, these bento boxes are worth it. The cheapest sushi roll plates, 12 pieces in total, cost less than $ 10. A more sophisticated option, like an Alaskan roll, is between $ 8 and $ 10. The chicken katsu curry plates with a small side are pretty much the same. Only fish options other than sushi, or meals large enough to share, normally exceed $ 11.

A sushi bento from the Nijiya Market on Post Street in the Japanese Quarter of San Francisco.

A sushi bento from the Nijiya Market on Post Street in the Japanese Quarter of San Francisco.

Blair Heagerty / SFGate

A chirashi bento from Nijiya Market on Post Street in the Japanese Quarter of San Francisco.

A chirashi bento from Nijiya Market on Post Street in the Japanese Quarter of San Francisco.

Blair Heagerty / SFGate

Beyond the bento aisle are rows of Japanese crackers and candies, condiments and noodles. Lately I’ve noticed that some of the staple items are showing up as trendy (and expensive) novelties in other stores. Blue Apron meals regularly use a togarashi spice blend, a version of Japanese hot paprika. Their two-ounce jar costs $ 9.99 without tax or shipping. You can get the same amount from Nijiya for a few dollars less.

Then there is the meat day.


You will know when a meat day is coming. Large yellow signs proclaiming “MEAT DAY !!” going up to the windows, heralding the upcoming sale. Hosted once a month, virtually all of the meat is at 20 percent off. If you’re looking for premium beef, this is a particularly good sale. But unless you really want that cut-price Wagyu beef, the Meat Day signs are a warning to stay away. The store can get crowded these days, creating an in-store flow even worse than usual.

Like so many places in the city, Nijiya Market has changed a lot over the past 15 years. With each passing year, there are fewer elderly customers in the aisles, less Japanese spoken at the checkout.

My grandmother also rarely makes the trip to Japantown now. It is far from home and the journey is more trying than before. Today, any shopping trip to Nijiya inevitably brings up memories of her putting some cakes in her basket for me to take home.

Now I buy these cakes for myself, a little taste of nostalgia in this crowded and delicious place that always reminds me of family.




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