Shoreline’s Central Market combines some of the best elements of a natural foods store, an Asian grocery, and a mainstream supermarket. Located just north of Seattle, in a strip mall that includes Sears and a discount outlet, it’s a sprawling, impressive destination store. Despite its size and its scope, there’s nothing pretentious about it. The shelves are filled with an dazzling array of upscale as well as mainstream products: everything from chicken nuggets to artisan chocolate.
The comprehensive bulk foods section has candy, beans, nuts, grains, pastas, and dried fruits, as well as spice jars that offer plenty of selection at a fraction of the cost of packaged spices. There’s grind-your-own peanut butter, as well as dispensers for sweeteners such as maple syrup and agave nectar.
The Asian food section offers the most complete selection of seaweeds, sauces, and noodles that you’ll find anywhere outside of a dedicated Asian grocery; in fact, these products command their own section that feels like an Asian grocery tucked inside a mainstream grocery store. Again, wholesome and artisan products share shelf space with less expensive items. You’ll find raw, organic miso shelved right next to packages whose ingredients include long lists of preservatives. The message is simple: we’ve got it all. Choose what you prefer.
There’s a well stocked organic produce section right alongside bays of commercially grown fruits and vegetables. True to the store’s Asian emphasis, it’s a great place to get fresh shitake mushrooms that don’t cost an arm and a leg, as well as fresh lime leaves, lemon grass, shiso leaves, and a half-dozen varieties of Asian cabbages. The quality of the produce is mostly quite good, although for some strange reason the avocados always seem to be either over-ripe, under-ripe, or soft on one side and hard on the other.
The supplement aisles offer a selection of vitamins and homeopathic remedies that you’d expect to find in a natural foods store, including store brand bottles of vitamins and minerals, and bulk flax seed and bee pollen in a refrigerated supplement area. The cosmetics section has inexpensive soaps shelves right alongside fancier brands, and there are even colorful bulk bars with smiley faces and deep sea graphics that you can have cut to the size you need.
Prices tend to be higher than you’d find at a typical mainstream chain, but lower than most upscale, specialty stores. The diverse and sensible array of offerings makes Central Market a worthy destination if you live far away, and also a convenient everyday option if you live nearby. That is, unless you can’t live without perfectly ripe avocados.