This is supposed to be the golden age of cooking. “Iron Chef” episodes clog our DVRs, and it’s hip to work in a restaurant. But we don’t all cook—especially on those busy nights leading up to the holidays—and that’s OK because Orange County has super supermarkets. These stores have delis with ready-to-eat meals for almost any taste, whether you love hot and spicy tandoori chicken, or cool salmon sushi. Hungry? Get going—and don’t forget your insulated grocery bag.
1. Irvine Ranch Market
Behind the modest exterior are an excellent wine selection, a bakery with pretty cakes ($24 to $36), and heat-and-eat entrees. The deli, above, dishes up roast beef by the slab ($13 per pound) and torta rustica ($9 per pound)—ham, bell peppers, spinach, and cheese baked in seed-topped pastry. For the kids there’s mac ’n’ cheese ($5 per pound), and for moms, salmon with brown rice and vegetables ($11). 2651 Irvine Ave., Costa Mesa, 949-631-4404,irvineranchmarketoc.com
This is the place to grab a whole roasted lemon-pepper chicken ($11) and a cold bottle of Acacia Chardonnay ($16). There also are barbecued ribs ($7 a pound) in a sauce with the right balance of sweet and tang. For lunch, Promelis offers paninis ($8) on soft foccacia bread with Boar’s Head meats, as well as crunchy, cucumber-laden salads ($7). Pick up some flan ($5) or bread pudding ($2.50) for dessert. 2121 Westcliff Drive, Newport Beach, 949-548-2500; 508 W. Balboa Blvd., Newport Beach, 949-566-9996; promelis.com
3. Pacific Ranch Market
This market caters to the refined tastes of hill-dwellers with sumptuous salads such as ambrosia ($7 per pound) and Saigon chicken ($8 per pound), and ready-made meals with Italian flair: penne with meatballs, meat ravioli, and stuffed shells ($6 per pound). Serve them with red vino; the wine department has some astounding selections. And don’t forget the sweets: Pacific Ranch took first place in Orange Coast’s best grocery store brownie judging [May 2012]. 7540 E. Chapman Avenue, Orange, 714-639-9792, pacificranchmarket.com
4. Wholesome Choice
Dining tables outside invite you to feast at an international deli with treats that range from Indian favorites such as tandoori chicken ($6 for half a bird) and lamb shanks ($7 each), to Chinese and Thai fare. You’ll also find exotic saffron-perfumed basmati rice ($2.50 per pound) and various types of kookoo ($5 per pound), a Persian version of frittata. 18040 Culver Drive, Irvine, 949-551-4111; 5755 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills, 714-779-7000; wholesomechoice.com
5. Bristol Farms
Eye the tempting Mexican lasagna ($8 per pound) and Italian turkey meatballs ($9.50 per pound) behind the deli glass. The selection of paninis ($6 each) is unparalleled, including the ham-and-salami Italian, and the French with ham and cheese. The chef stuffs ready-to-heat sliders ($5 per pound) with Nathan’s hot dogs. 810 Avocado Ave., Newport Beach, 949-760-6514, bristolfarms.com
Over the entrance at the Irvine store, the words “From Our Kitchen” hold great promise—and Gelson’s delivers: a cavalcade of salads ($6 to $11 per pound) such as Waldorf and lemon chicken.; rotisserie chicken ($9 to $11) in herb, no-salt barbecue, and other flavors; a bounteous salad bar ($8 per pound), and fancy cakes and cookies from the bakery. 5521 Alton Parkway, Irvine, 949-551-6093; 1660 San Miguel Drive, Newport Beach, 949-644-8660; 24 Monarch Bay Plaza, Dana Point, 949-488-8147; gelsons.com
7. Marbella Farmers Market
Come hungry. Each piece of chicken breast Italiano or cacciatore ($8 to $9 per pound) is as big as a conch shell. On the side, serve ratatouille ($5 per pound) or their enormous stuffed potatoes ($4 each). Marbella also sells spinach quiche ($12), pizza ($5 each), and a variety of soups ($2 and $4). 31109 Rancho Viejo Road, San Juan Capistrano, 949-248-1067, marbellafarmersmarket.com
photography by Priscilla Iezzi
This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Orange Coast magazine.