A cropped view of a glass-fronted fridge cabinet displaying a variety of packaged pickled vegetables, including seaweed and radish.

A review of H Mart in San Francisco

Korean grocery giant on the edge of town

by AK Krajewska

Sometimes, when I see something beautiful, I want to stare at it forever. I want to consider it from all angles and let its beauty pour into me and flood my senses. I feel a warmth in my chest, a radiant, glowing sensation a lot like falling in love.

That is how I felt at H Mart. I wandered through the aisles clutching my shopping list like a talisman against the near-overwhelming desire to buy more than I could possibly carry home. I probably looked confused, and I was a little confused, but more than anything I was overwhelmed with joy.

What's H Mart? #

H Mart is a chain of grocery stores in the United States that sells Korean food, along with some other Asian food like Chinese and Japanese. The focus is Korean food, and it has a larger variety of Korean groceries and deli food than I have seen anywhere else in the US. It's known for having a huge variety of snacks, ramen, and ready-made food.

Drive my cart #

The H Mart in San Francisco is laid out like a suburban grocery store. The aisles are wide and the store is huge. They don't even have shopping baskets; you must take a huge shopping cart. It feels spacious, and is well lit and clean. You might think that being clean is a given for a grocery store, and you would be wrong. I'm not even talking about corner stores with dusty mac and cheese boxes. There are some Safeways in San Francisco that are downright dingy. Even so there's clean like, hey, it's clean, and clean like, holy moly it's shiny clean. H Mart is shiny clean.

Once you get your oversized shopping cart, you can cruise along the aisles and pick up the things you want to buy. Or, and I was not the only one who opted for this approach, you can leave your shopping cart and wander off, then find it again and deposit your loot, I mean groceries, as you go. My shopping cart didn't drive very smoothly so it added some literal friction to my experience.

Some snapshots from my travels #

I want to give you a sense of what it's like to shop in H Mart--that is what it feels like rather than giving an inventory of H Mart or a guide to how to shop there. The best way to do that is with some pictures.

Ramen overflow #

Variety of colorful packaged ramen on top of a cold display cabinet

This isn't even the main ramen aisle. It's overflow ramen stacked on a display cabinet for cold goods.

Korean pickled food #

A glass-fronted fridge cabinet displaying a variety of packaged pickled vegetables

This section is separate from the large fridges of kimichi and other prepared banchan.

Pickled radish #

A glass-fronted fridge cabinet displaying a variety of packaged pickled radish

Pickled radish deserves its own subsection next to pickled food.

Salted seaweed #

A glass-fronted fridge cabinet displaying a variety of packaged seaweed

A vast array of salted seaweed, between pickled radish and Korean pickled food.

Frozen seafood #

A close up view of frozen packages of frozen squid

A close-up of just a bit of the frozen seafood. There is also fresh seafood and dried seafood. You want five kinds of flavored dried squid? H Mart has you covered.

Sweet snacks #

A cabinet full fo prepared sweet snacks

This was one of the hardest aisles to walk by without loading up. I kept having to say to myself "We have cake at home."

My haul #

Though iron self-control, and the sure knowledge I would have to carry it all to the bus and then ride the bus for 45 minutes, I limited myself to just a few things.

Korean groceries lay on a table

I cooked dinner with the firm tofu yesterday and it was very fresh and delicious. I'm looking forward to trying out the tofu soup kit. I love tofu soup but have been too daunted to try making it myself.

How to get there #

The San Francisco H Mart is at 3995 Alemany Boulevard, which is right on the border with Daly City. Spiritually, and practically, it's much closer to Daly City than the center of San Francisco. If you have a car, it seems pretty convenient, with a big parking lot, just like any suburban grocery store.

The nearest transit stop is the Daly City BART station, and it's a 12 minute walk through an area which has sidewalks but doesn't feel pedestrian-friendly. Several Muni buses stop there, including the 14R. As I learned the hard way, the 14R doesn't stop in the same place as the other Muni buses, but instead stops at the SamTrans bus shelter. The only mark is yellow paint on the roadway, which is, come on, I mean, come on! It's a station with multiple agencies and modes of transit and the least you could do is make it clear which buses stop where. I've been at worse Muni stops, but I expect better for a stop that's the terminus of a major line and a connection to other agencies.

The transit connection is crappy enough that I think it will keep me from vising H Mart too often in the future, and from buying too much when I get there. Maybe that's for the best. I will probably only go back when I need Korean specialties.