By Bonnie Yap

I know it’s been bugging you. Haunting you day after day. You’re craving it. You want it. Homemade Asian food, like mama (or the chef at Golden Bowl) used to make. Maybe it’s something specific, like bulgogi or pancit noodles, or maybe you’re just looking for kimchi that’s better than what the Co-op has to offer. You’ve tried to deal without it but Pierce is just not givin’ it to ya’ right and Noodles leaves you limp. Well, as we all know, in this life if you want something done right you must do it yourself. This is why today we’re going over the best East Asian grocery stores in Chicagoland. Because I know you’re just itching to make some great Asian.

Located on North Kimball is Chicago Food Corp. This is one of my favorite grocery stores. Chicago Food Corp is a Korean grocery that has a great kimchi bar (kind of like a salad bar, but kimchi) and a little eatery where you pick from a variety of Korean dishes. They also have a butcher/fish section where you can buy beef cut for making galbi, bulgogi, and other treats. Even though Chicago Food specializes in Korean, you can also find some Japanese ingredients here, too, like sauces and miso paste. If you’re not into cooking from scratch, they also have a great variety of instant noodles, snacks, frozen treats, Korean drinks (Lotte!), and my favorite, Korean rice. In my experience, Chicago Food is the most reasonably priced Korean grocery store, but it’s a little tough to get to from CTA. So if you’re making a trip there, try to con one of your friends who has a car into driving there.

By far the cheapest Asian grocery I’ve found, Viet Hoa Plaza, is neither Vietnamese, Filipino, Chinese, nor Thai. There’s a good mix of all sorts of ingredients here. You can find noodles, sauces, and snacks from all over East Asia. This is where you go to buy the staples of Asian cooking. They have a fish section, but I would advise staying out of it. Here the best strategy is to stick to stuff that doesn’t need to stay fresh. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great market with really good prices, but the fish section stinks.

Out of Chicago, but too good not to mention, is Mitsuwa. Mitsuwa (formerly Yoahan’s) is a Japanese plaza. Inside, there’s a grocery store, dish store (better than the dishes at Chicago Food), an eatery, a bakery, a bookstore, and various other stores. Like most Japanese things, Mitsuwa is a tad expensive, but you know you will get good quality, especially when it comes to food. Don’t buy produce here. It’s best to just buy Japanese ingredients that you can’t find elsewhere. They also sell sushi trays and other ready-made foods. Even if you’re not into buying groceries, Mitsuwa is a great place to go check out. Their bookstore/music store is really cool, and their stationary store has all kinds of neat houseware gadgets. Check it out if you’re headed to Woodfield Mall or Ikea.

And finally there’s Uni-Mart on Clark. Uni-Mart is a Filipino grocery store that sells all kinds of Filipino goodness. Inside there’s also a bakery and a to-go counter. The place smells like fish, but it’s worth putting up with because where else are you going to find all those Filipino treats that you’ve been craving?

These places can be tough to get to. I suggest taking a car, especially if you’re buying a lot. If you’re looking for a place that’s easy to get to, take the Red line to Chinatown and check out May Flower Food. It’s located in the China Place Mall at 2104 South Archer. The selection is limited, but it’s the cheapest grocery store in Chinatown.