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Friday, April 22, 2005 | San Diego is home to a bounty of local farmers who sell their seasonal produce at weekly farmer’s markets. The markets have many vendors that sell everything from ceramics and silks to mushrooms, avocados and flowers. For example, at Hillcrest’s Sunday market located in the Department of Motor Vehicles parking lot, you’ll find an international collection of foods to eat while you shop for organic and pesticide-free fruits and vegetables, including strawberries that are coming down in price as they come into full season. If you have not experienced getting to know the people who grow the food you eat, run – don’t walk – to your local farmers’ market. The San Diego County Farm Bureau provides listings for markets and local farmstands.

If you can’t make it to the local farmers’ markets, two others are worth noting, as they are grocery stores. La Mesa’s Vine Ripe Market has just about everything one needs for cooking anything Indian, Middle Eastern or eastern European. It has fresh produce and a deli counter with feta cheese from Denmark, Greece and France, to name a few. They also have Halal meats; rice from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan; breads of all sorts; and Indian papadams that I love to eat with yogurt. (Halal meats must be slaughtered according to Islamic practices, similar to Kosher meats in Jewish law.) There is a small restaurant there that features kabobs, sandwiches, gyros, falafel, spinach pie and a not-too-sweet pistachio baklava. Vine Ripe Market, 191 Fletcher Parkway Drive, in La Mesa. For more information, call (619) 462-9900.

North Park Produce is an institution in North Park, and they also have a store in Poway. Here you’ll find produce as well as everything ethnic from tortillas to pita and lavash. They also have a Halal meat market and a large selection of fresh feta in their deli section. The North Park site is a bit funky, but worth a visit if you need orange flower water (as I did for those once-a-year Ramos fizzes) or other specialty ingredients. North Park Produce, 3551 El Cajon Blvd., in North Park. For more information, call (619) 516-3336.

The Wine Vault & Bistro will soon join the international group of casual restaurants on India Street between Washington and Chalmers streets in the Middletown area. Owned by Chris and Mary Gluck of Pasta Press fame, the restaurant will open upstairs above Saffron, the Thai chicken and noodle place. Others in this mini U.N. include Shakespeare’s Pub & Grille for British pub fare, Garden Grill for Middle Eastern cuisine, Gelato Vero Caffe for espresso and gelato, El Indio for Mexican and Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill for fish. Wine Vault & Bistro, 3731 India St., Suite A, in the Middletown area. For more information, call (619) 295-2939. Saffron, 3731 India St., Suite B, (619) 574-0177. Shakespeare’s Pub & Grille, 3701 India St., (619) 299-0230. Garden Grill, (619) 293-3660. Gelato Vero Caffe, 3753 India St., (619) 295-9269. El Indio, 3695 India St., (619) 299-0333. Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill, 3667 India St., (619) 497-0914.

For a lazy afternoon, consider tea on Shakespeare’s patio from noon to 4 p.m., Thursday through Sunday. You’ll find homemade scones with double Devon cream and jam, sausage roll with Branston pickle and, of course, tea. The afternoon tea is part of Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe that carries everything British, from soap to biscuits and candy to dish towels and cake mixes. Call for reservations. Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe, 3719 India St., in Mission Hills, (619) 683-2748.

Laurel Restaurant & Bar closes Saturday for an extreme makeover, which will include a new menu that will likely have many small plates as well as a la carte items, with a $30 minimum charge for small plates. Word is that the chefs from owner Tracy Borkum’s three restaurants (Kensington Grill, Chive and Laurel Restaurant & Bar) will spend a few days in San Francisco to check out what chefs are doing in that food mecca. Laurel Restaurant & Bar, 505 Laurel St., in Bankers Hill. For more information, call (619) 239-2222.

Marcie Rothman loves good food – no matter where it’s cooked – at home, a hole in the wall or a white tablecloth restaurant. Known as The $5 Chef on radio, television and in her two cookbooks, Marcie travels far and near with an eye on what’s current in food. You can find her at www.5dollarchef.com.

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