Sonoma’s family-owned international markets connect expats and immigrants to the cuisines of their homelands. The foods they carry are authentic and delicious — and absolutely worth seeking out.
El Brinquito Market
On weekend afternoons, the sight of steam rising from the grill in front of El Brinquito Market in Boyes Hot Springs is a beacon to drivers along this busy corridor of Sonoma Highway just west of downtown. For locals, the spicy grilled chicken, beans, and fresh tortillas are hard to resist.
Inside the colorful corner shop is a small grocery and a large meat counter. Marinated fresh pork and beef are prepared by artisan butcher Herlindo Torres, who has worked here for 17 years. Chips, Mexican pastries, dried chiles and spices, and pantry staples (tortillas, masa, a jumbo 32-ounce bottle of Tapatio) are mainstays, and on weekends, the store has fresh tamales, carnitas, and homemade flan — that is, if you’re lucky enough to get there before they’re sold out.
The Iñiguez family have owned the market for 20 years. Checkout clerk Esmeralda Sandoval, who also works as a custodian at nearby Sassarini Elementary, says it’s a family affair on weekends around the grill. “There will be seven or eight of the grandkids, everybody working together. You see the little kids getting the plates and wrapping up food for the customers— everybody’s included in it, and that’s really nice.”
17380 Sonoma Highway, Boyes Hot Springs, 707-996-4912.
When Analy and El Molino High School culinary students test recipes featuring Asian ingredients, they know just where to go: the Asia Mart emporium in northwest Santa Rosa. The market has been around nearly 30 years and is run by Philip Ma, who grew up helping out alongside his mother and grandmother. Ma, who worked at luxury hotels in San Francisco before returning to Santa Rosa to take over the family business, says customer service sets the store apart. “People want to cook something new, but sometimes they don’t know where to look. And they think there might be a language barrier.”
Imported snacks (basil chips from Thailand, shrimp chips from Japan) and hard-to-find cult sweets (green tea KitKats and almond Pocky) are popular, but the store also carries cooking sauces, pantry items (a dozen types of coconut milk, pickled mango and tamarind leaves, jackfruit in syrup), rice and buckwheat noodles, and frozen meat and fish. Fresh produce — long beans, mustard greens, Shanghai bok choy, and Jamaican yams — are sourced on twice-weekly trips to the San Francisco produce market. And the shop also carries bulk rice, housewares, herbal medicines, and tea.
“Definitely, the store brings people together,” says Ma. “We’re lucky to live in a diverse community.”
2481 Guerneville Road, Santa Rosa. 707-542-3513, asiamartsr.com.
European Food Store
“Every day is like travel for me, and it’s really nice to be able to explore the world through food— especially because that’s the best option we have right now,” says manager Jill Schulze of European Food Store in Santa Rosa. The bright, friendly grocery is owned by Olga Rozhkova, who arrived in Santa Rosa from Russia with her husband over 20 years ago. In Moscow, Rozhkova was a clothing designer, but after her son was born, Rozhkova realized there was no place nearby to find the foods she missed from home, and she decided to open a small store.
The shop sells prepared foods and ingredients imported from across Europe — Russian foods like caviar, pickled mushrooms and eggplant, kvass (a lightly fermented rye drink) and pelmeni (dumplings) — but also dozens of different sausages and pâtés, pasta and spaetzle, and fresh farmhouse cheeses. There are plenty of sweets too: traditional pine-cone jam from Georgia, spicy black licorice from Finland, sunflower halva from the Ukraine, and Swiss and German chocolates. And folks pop in all day long for hot piroshki (beef- or mushroom-filled pastries) and loaves of fresh-from-the-oven German rye.
It’s the connection to customers that matters most to Rozhkova, who is rebuilding after losing her family home in the Tubbs fire. “So many customers lost homes, too.
So it’s special when we can help them find something that makes them feel whole.”
2790 Santa Rosa Avenue, Santa Rosa. 707-527-0319, europeanfoodsonoma.com.
More international groceries
Apna Bazaar, 7500 Commerce Blvd., Cotati, 707-665-0333
Aroon Thai Market, 2770 Cleveland Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-576-0256
Lola’s Market, locations in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Healdsburg lolasmarkets.com
Mekong Seafood Market, 206 Sebastopol Road Santa Rosa, 707-544-6201