After H-Mart opened a few weeks ago, I mentioned that a second national grocer, 99 Ranch Market, would be opening in March.
Earlier this week, I visited the newly opened store to see how it compares to H-Mart and the other Asian grocery options already here. The 33,090-square-feet supermarket at 6929 Airport Blvd. in North Austin is “the new flagship store of the Lone Star State,” according to 99 Ranch Market’s website, its 47th store in the nation and the sixth store in Texas.
That’s a smaller space than H-Mart, but not even H-Mart can compare to MT Supermarket on North Lamar Boulevard, which remains the largest Asian grocery store in Central Texas. The new 99 Ranch Market is across the street from Han Yang, another prominent Asian grocery store that has been locally owned for more than 20 years. Hana World Market on Parmer Lane has been open since 2011 and is another great option for a locally owned Asian supermarket.
As the Austin Chronicle pointed out in a recent story, the locally owned stores, not to mention the dozens of smaller shops, including Asahi Imports on Burnet Road, are going to face serious competition from these national chains, but as several Austinites have pointed out when H-Mart opened, you know a city has made it when both of the country’s biggest national Asian grocers open within weeks of each other.
Although the store is technically still in the soft opening stage this week until its grand opening festivities this weekend, the store had piles of shining produce, tanks filled with live fish and seafood, shelves lined with both international and domestic goods and plenty of — but not too many — shoppers.
When you start shopping, you’ll notice the bar of frozen fish balls, the freezers fully of thinly sliced meats and the brightly colored fish on ice, but the store feels more like the other options that we already have here. Not that it’s not a welcome addition to Austin. A friend texted this morning to sing 99 Ranch Market’s praise for having a good selection “without being completely overwhelming.”
In the inner aisles, you’ll find find typically “American” products alongside the Asian products, such as this selection of soy milk just a few doors down from cow’s milk, or the shelves of Lucky Charms and Cheerios or Campbell’s soup next to their international counterparts.
H-Mart has been jam-packed since it opened, and though this weekend’s grand opening will surely be crowded, I don’t get the sense that we’ll see quite the same crowds at 99 Ranch Market. The food court is much smaller, with only one hot food option — a very basic Chinese buffet with dim sum on the day I went — and a fruit/smoothie/boba tea counter. They do sell Peking duck in the food court, which I have only seen hanging at First Chinese Barbecue and other restaurants like that.
The best part of my shopping trip on Monday was meeting a sweet Taiwanese couple who wanted to explain how to use some of the ingredients I was inspecting. I didn’t end up with one of those black silky chickens, but I did some home with frozen fish, fish balls and hotpot soup mix to try my hand at some new dishes.
What do you think of the new 99 Ranch Market? How does it compare to your other favorite local stores? Leave your comments below!