The La Jolla area has many excellent options for basic grocery needs, the most notable of which are Von’s, Ralph’s, Trader Joe’s, Bristol Farms, and Whole Foods (warning: although Whole Foods and Bristol Farms have high quality goods, they are not for the budget-conscious). Von’s and Ralph’s are your standard grocery stores, while Trader Joe’s, Bristol Farms, and Whole Foods focus more on healthy/organic ingredients, and carry the less familiar brands.
In addition to the traditional (nationwide) super market chains, San Diego is home to smaller chains and ethnic markets.
First off is Sprouts Farmers Market, a local chain of supermarkets. They are known for cheap produce of high quality. They also have large bins of nuts, candies and so forth which are fairly cheap compared to other stores.
The closest location to campus is in University City, but many go to the location in Clairemont Mesa, as it is closer to other locations, including the other ethnic markets located below.
For those looking for asian food, 99 Ranch Market is a great place to go. They have a lot of produce, seafood, meats and live fish and crabs. You will often see many faculty and (under)graduate students at the Market.
There are small Asian restaurants attached to the market and a couple Asian shops. Some of the restaurants only take cash, so be warned. Also, there is a fast-food (Panda Express-type) eatery inside of the market. Given the amount of food you get for the price, it is a fantastic deal. Bring your own drink, though, as you will have to buy from their vending machines otherwise.
The market (and associated shops, with the exception of the restuarants) are open from 9am to 9pm (hence the 99 in the name) seven days a week.
There are also a few Japanese markets worth mentioning. Nijiya, Mitsuwa, and Marukai are all in the Convoy area and have wonderful selections of ramen and fish. Nijiya is good for most Japanese staples, some fish, and one of the best places to buy chicken. It is also a good place to grab a bento box to go and enjoy a quick bite to eat.
Mitsuwa is good for picking up items you cannot find at Nijiya and Marukai is a good place to go for advertised specials.
Also in the Convoy area is Zion Market. Zion always has fruit on sale, also the garlic is usually the cheapest and best quality, along with other produce. Of course there’s the panchan, and the meat. The quality and selection in the meat department can be mind boggling; for example, 3 grades of cross sliced short ribs and 4 grades of sliced rib eye.
For those looking for Vietnamese cuisine, Lucky Seafood Market in Mira Mesa is a good choice. There is also a Vietnamese restaurant in the store that serves some delicious bowls of pho.
If you are looking for Mexican produce, consider La Tiendita Mexican Market in Clairemont Mesa. They have excellent tortilla chips and corn tortillas. On the weekends, there is often a little taco stand outside and it has some of the best tacos in town.
There is also a great little Mediterranean market near campus called International Market & Grill. They have some delicious prepared food you can buy and eat on the spot and other items you can take home and cook.
In addition to stores, San Diego is home to many Farmer’s Markets. (There is one almost everyday, somewhere in the county.)
There is one on campus each Tuesday, but it consists primarily of prepared food vendors and flowers, as there is not much demand from undergraduates for fresh produce. Still, some fresh produce can be found. Another close Farmer’s Market is at La Jolla Elementary each Sunday morning. It is one of the largest in the county and the selection is quite impressive.
While you may be able to find better deals in stores, you will know where the food is coming from at a Farmer’s Market. Moreover, there are usually plenty of samples to be had, which can make it a fun and enjoyable experience.