Exploring the specialty markets of San Diego is a great way to get to know the wonderfully diverse county we call home.

This week we take a tour of the exotic produce warehouse and retailer, Specialty Produce in Mission Hills.

The Market: Specialty Produce

Location: 1929 Hancock Street, #150, Mission Hills, San Diego

Hours: Daily, 8am-5pm

Specialties: Local produce and artisan goods

Specialty Produce is a warehouse of culinary wonders. The bare bones space is stocked with local artisan products, farmers market fruits and vegetables, and some of the most exotic produce in town. The 30-year-old market's main clientele are area chefs who rely on the retailer for a steady supply of restaurant staples, as well as introducing them to new products.

Lucky for us, the space is also open to the individual retail customers, so we can shop for the latest and greatest citrus, greens, and edible flowers, shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the hottest chefs in the county.

These guys are produce nerds, in the best way possible. As such, they've put together perhaps the most comprehensive fruit and veg encyclopedia anywhere, so if you don't know what to do with one of your exotic finds, the Specialty Produce App is available to tell you what it is, where it's from, and how to cook with it.

What to Look for at Specialty Produce

Spring Greens and Flowering Stalks

The farmers market walk-in cooler is stuffed with signs of spring right now. Find green blueberries and strawberries, great for pickling or use in savory applications, alongside edible edlerflowers, and flowering versions of more common ingredients, like Japanese flowering cauliflower and garlic scapes. These buds used to be discarded or used for mulch, but have become culinary darlings over the last few years.

The Usual Suspects, in Unusual Form

The local cooler stays stocked with the likes of cauliflower, carrots, and all kinds of other root vegetables and citrus year-round. Even these everyday items take on a rarified air here, where they are stacked and sorted by color and size in a way that makes it look more like artistic still life than the inside of a warehouse. Some standout items are the dried-on-the-vine raisins, which are a perennial favorite.

Exotic Produce from Near and Far

The team at Specialty is always looking for new discoveries. In the local farmers market cooler right now, you'll find Carmen San Diego nectarines. They look like normal nectarines, but taste like mango. Um, yes please. Over in the imports section, find everything from dragon fruit to 21 pound jack fruits. They recently found a reliable source for bread fruit, and will be the first to import it here.

Local Artisan Ingredients

San Diego-based small businesses making everything from curry paste and kimchi to pickles and pasta sauce have found a place on the shelves at Specialty. We are especially fond of the farmers market standbys like Baby Clydesdale hot sauces, the freshly made Oh Momo curry pastes, and the decadent sweets from Paleo treats.

San Diego Sweets

What's sweeter than local honey? Find rows and rows of the stuff along with artisan chocolate truffles, grape nectars, and even local pomegranate molasses. Extraordinary Desserts, perhaps one of the best known bakeries in San Diego, sells their cookie dough, cake mixes, raw baking chocolate, and salad dressings exclusively through this market.

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