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Mr. Chen’s Asian Supermarket and Restaurant isn’t much to look at from the outside, nestled in the tired and out-dated Village Shopping Center on South University, but don’t let the simple sign and boring facade fool you: this is one of the most exciting and interesting places to shop and eat in the city. The main grocery part is large and almost overwhelming at first, with aisle after aisle of exotic condiments, spices, snacks, and cookware — and that’s even before you make it back to the well-stocked fish market that takes up the entire left side. Live crawfish and blue crabs are available for purchase, and huge slabs of grouper, catfish, and tilapia are all iced down over tanks holding more fish swimming live. On my last visit there, the fish section was piled with fresh prawns larger than my thumb and some the freshest snails, clams, and conchs I’ve ever seen offered in the state. The entire back area of the store is taken up with produce, and bargain hunters would do well to take a look at some of the fresh herbs and vegetables here. Some of the delicacies, such as balut (fertilized duck eggs) and durian (the legendary smelly fruit) were intriguing but beyond my experience, while the whole roast ducks and packages of frozen quail were perfect for my tastes.

In addition to the wonderland of ingredients and cookware that constitutes the grocery section of Mr. Chen’s, the store also has a small, but elegantly decorated restaurant located immediately to the left as you enter the store. Like the grocery section, the restaurant’s offerings are diverse, reasonably priced, and extremely fresh — and served up quick enough to make an hour-long lunch break seem a lot longer.