Customers wait to order food at Costco, including the $1.50 hot dog and a drink. (Photo by Merrill Shindler)
Food shopping makes me hungry.
I’ve tried following the sage advice to eat before I go shopping, to keep impulse buys to a minimum. And I do, I swear I do. But still, the sight of all those aisles of tasty treats — well, let’s just say my pantry and freezers are packed to a degree that I’ll put on weight during the next global pandemic!
Of late, the availability of yummy chow has moved past the world of supermarkets, into an unexpected food stand at a casual shoe outlet store. You want pepperoni pizza with your slip-ons? No problem.
But let us begin with the granddaddy of all supermarket eateries: the never disappointing, nigh on cult following Costco food court (locations include 14501 Hindry Ave., Hawthorne, 310-727-0419; and 2640 Lomita Blvd., Torrance, 310-891-1020; www.costco.com) — which has so much of an obsessive following, its hot dog has even inspired a website of its own (www.costcohotdog.com) written by and for true believers.
Costco’s food court offers cheese and pepperoni pizza. There’s a roast beef sandwich, and a turkey and provolone that’s pretty good. There’s a rotisserie chicken Caesar salad, because this is SoCal, and you gotta have salads. (It’s the law, y’know!) There are five ice creams, including a sundae, which is nice. But like the iconic Costco rotisserie chicken, it’s the hot dogs that really matter.
For $1.50, they come with a bottomless soft drink. You can top them with chopped onions, relish, ketchup and mustard. Costco sells millions of them every year. They have no fillers, no by-products, no artificial flavors or colors. Even the buns are good. Religions have been built on less.
I grab one before I shop. I grab another one after. It makes standing on the checkout line so worthwhile.
Some months ago, unexpectedly, Skechers opened the Skechers Food Spot (Skechers Warehouse Outlet, 19000 S. Vermont Ave., Gardena; 424-271-2361, https://local.skechers.com/ca/gardena/2), as an undeniable clone of the Costco food court.
You don’t shop for food at Skechers — obviously. I don’t know if shopping there makes Skecher-holics peckish. But if they do feel the need, the Food Spot menu is a cutdown version of the Costco one.
The hot dog is from Nathan’s of Coney Island, all-beef, going for $2.50. (For those of us from N’Yawk, the Nathan’s hot dog is a culinary object of desire!)
There’s also a double cheeseburger, three chicken sandwiches, two pizzas, and two salads — a Manhattan Beach Cobb and a Californian Caesar. The 20-ounce fountain drinks run a buck. Which means a dog and a soda will cost more than twice what it does at Costco.
I don’t wear Skechers; my feet need more support. Skechers also doesn’t sell gas. And Costco has randomly placed stands of people offering food samples. For me, Costco wins on so many levels.
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To return to the notion of how shopping makes me hungry, let me direct your attention to the front-of-the-store food court at H Mart (Vista Plaza, 4340 Pacific Coast Hwy., Torrance; 310-974-6880, gift.hmart.com/storelocator/index/index/id/51) — our local branch of the nationwide Korean supermarket chain, the Korean equivalent of the wonderful 99 Ranch Market, with its many aisles of Chinese products and ingredients.
The food court actually offers a proper, if very busy sit-down dining area, allowing you to feast on a wide variety of dishes, in the style of the Singapore hawker markets. It calls itself “KTown: Authentic Korean food for everyone.” Which makes it odd that when you enter the store, there’s the Frenchish Tous les Jours Bakery, with its madcap abundance of pastries. I was especially captivated by a birthday cake that looked like a smiling bear’s head with a pointed hat on top.
On the other side of the tables in the middle of the court, there’s the multidish Hansol Noodle Soup & Rice, which serves far more than noodles, soup and rice. I had a tasty beef bulgogi plate on one visit, and a crunchy pork cutlet on another. For even more crunchiness, there’s the functionally named BBQ Chicken. And next door, there’s Paik’s Noodles — which, like Hansol, offers far more than noodles. Paik’s deep-fried chicken is called kkanpunggi — a name guaranteed to drive my spell-check crazy.
You pick up your food at each stand, and walk it to a table. A sign asks diners to return the trays and dishes to the stand where they come from. But most seem to just pile them up at an unused counter. Totally understandable because there’s shopping to be done. And even a few food samples to try.
But there’s nothing as good as the Costco hot dog. Even the Dodger Dog pales in comparison. And Dodger Stadium doesn’t offer free parking.
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.