Food Fight: Battle Asian Supermarket

Sweet little baby octopus...a summer treat.
Ever since KoMart -- the long-standing Korean grocery store on Gessner -- closed earlier this year, the Asian grocery scene in Spring Branch has been dominated by Super H Mart and the newer 99 Ranch Market.

They're both large national chains, and they're both based in California. Super H Mart was the first of the chains to hit Houston, opening in a refurbished Randall's on Blalock in the summer of 2008 with the kind of fanfare last seen when IKEA opened just down the freeway. A little over a year later, 99 Ranch Market opened up to just as much fanfare in the old Fiesta location right down the street. Ever since, Blalock has been home to two of the city's best Asian supermarkets -- a boon if you live on the west side, and easy enough to travel to if you don't.

Much of Houston's attention has been focused on the battle between the Kroger's on Buffalo Speedway and its new competitor, the shiny and modern Buffalo Market H-E-B just across the street. But there's a far more intriguing, if less showy, battle going on between the Asian superstores in Spring Branch.

Which one reigns supreme?

Super H Mart

Parking: Easy. The lot is very big, with plenty of room to manuver and enter/exit. There's also some shade thanks to some oak trees cattycorner to the store, a welcome refuge during Houston's summer months.

Food Court: Awesome. Toreore, the fried-chicken stand that's dominated the food court since Super H Mart opened, is still going strong, as is the wonderful bakery, Tous Les Jours. Some of the original food stands have since closed (R.I.P. kimchee fried rice; you were addictive and gone far too soon) and made way for somewhat shadier-looking joints, but the food remains great -- especially the bibimbap and bulgogi on the far end of the food court. Pro tip: Stake out a table before you order and leave someone there to guard it, at all costs.

Grocery Store: Vast. There's virtually no Asian staple you won't find at Super H Mart, and you certainly won't find a better selection of kimchee -- even the wonderfully muted, freshly made kind -- anywhere in town. The fish section is perhaps the greatest draw, with a nearly endless variety of whole fish and seafood, along with fishmongers ready to slice it up any way you see fit. Bonus: Food sampling sessions on the weekends rival that of Sam's and Costco; you barely need to each lunch.

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