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Vicente Foods: Touring L.A. in One Market

It’s easy enough to shop locally for produce at farmers’ markets. Things are a little trickier when you’re keen on finding an interesting locally produced relish to jazz up your burgers, or maybe a homegrown barbecue sauce to toss into a gift box (Father’s Day is right around the corner). One of our favorite markets for finding foods made right here in SoCal is Vicente Foods. The selection of jams, sauces and even baked goods — a rare sighting, as those small-batch chocolate chip cookies tend to have a short shelf life — is always changing at this friendly, family-owned grocery store in Brentwood.

A word of caution. It’s wise to use a bargain-wine-like strategy at Vicente Foods. Go home, taste immediately, and if you really like that Simmie J’s barbecue sauce, stock up on a few jars right away. We find the store’s sporadic shelving policy endearing, as it forces us to sample new things, but it can be frustrating when you stop back a few months later for another jar of Viola’s spicy tomatillo relish and discover it’s gone.

Here are a few of our favorites from a recent shop-and-taste. Most of the local jams and sauces are on the same aisle, but be sure to hit the cookie and snack aisle, too. That’s where we found the Sweet Square monkey bars wedged right next to the Nabisco wafers.

Vivian Poutakoglou, owner of Vivi's Original Sauces

Vivi’s Original Sauces

A schoolteacher by day, Vivian Poutakoglou peddles her version of her grandparent’s mustard hot dog relish on weekends. She calls it Carnival Mustard as a tribute to the 50 years the former dairy farmers spent traveling the carnival circuit to sell hot dogs loaded with the relish. It’s great on hot dogs, of course, but it also adds a nice kick to a burger. We like both the regular and the spicy chipotle versions.

Simmie J’s Barbecue Sauce

A Rancho Cucamonga family recipe from a great-great grandmother by way of Georgia, this sauce has been plugging along as a small business for more than 20 years. It’s a hickory-kissed, tangy-sweet sauce with a lingering spicy finish, and it’s great on chicken, beef, pork — really, whatever you’ve tossed on the grill.

Matheny’s Tartar Sauce & Cocktail Sauce

This Moreno Valley company is a larger affair — you can find its sauces in many Bristol Farms and Vons — but it’s still small by corporate food standards, and it’s local. Though it’s not as good as homemade tartar and cocktail sauce (what is?), we keep a jar of each handy for when we don’t have time to make our own — which seems to be quite often these days.

Sweet Square Bar Cookies

Friends Samantha Page and Camilla Yates bake up blondies, brownies, dream bars, lemon bars and monkey bars. If your mom baked it, you’ll likely find a similar version here. Blessedly light on the fancy flourishes and trendy flavors, this is hearty old-school comfort food that we can’t get enough of.

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