My rating is about the beers although I do buy groceries here sometimes. This is the best place in the Austin area to buy consistently fresh beer. The beer and wine area is right next to the meat area. As a result, the ambient temperature is lower so the beers that sit at room temp will stay fresher longer. The local beers are on the endcap of the main beer cooler, so you have to look at the end to find a good selection of Texas/Austin micros. I’ve had to return beers to Whole Foods, HEB, and Wheatsville for lacking freshness. The Whip In sold me a horrible bomber of Ballast Point Dorado IPA from their cooler. I’ve had stale beer from Specs. After you’ve been burned once, you never want to buy beer from these places again. Go to Central Market for beer. And start returning beer to your retailer if it’s not fresh! Both the retailers and the distributors need to get the message.
The usual disclaimer: a perfect 5.0 on selection not because it’s the best you’re going to find anywhere, but if it’s available in Texas there’s a 97-98% chance you can get it at Central Market.
Both Austin locations have a similar selection, so there is little reason other than proximity to choose one over the other. Both have cafes with outdoor seating and bands on the weekend. Central Market itself is owned by HEB and centrally located in Austin, although in the last few years it’s branched out to the San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas areas. Those who have Whole Foods in their neighborhood (none too coincidentally also headquartered in Austin) will pretty much know what to expect. The main difference is probably in the beer selection. Prior to the Austin Whole Foods relocating to it’s new, much larger, World HQ building in March the selection they had was maybe one-fourth of CM’s at best. Even at the new World HQ the selection is not quite as large as CM’s, although there are a few meads stocked by WF that are not available at CM. Central Market is constantly battling it out with the Whip In and Grapevine Market for beer supremacy in Austin, so it never hurts to hit all three. If I could afford the gourmet food prices I’d do all my grocery shopping there as well.
Fairly typical grocery store ambience. If you see someone on the floor they’re all very helpful, but some are obviously more familiar with the wine selection than the beer, since it’s in the same area. Decent selection that is, as of right now, almost always growing. Steph is doing a nice job transforming this place from decent to great. There are a few things missing here that are available elsewhere which seems to be due to a lack of space, but it’s always worth stopping by if you’re looking for something rare just in case. Prices are hit or miss. Some things will be cheaper here, other things will be more expensive. Local things tend to be more expensive than at other places and there are some outliers like Green Flash bombers that are way expensive, but you might save $1 or something on others. You can grab anything out of a pack and buy it individually, though prices for that vary from $2 to $5, depending on what it is and if they’ve put it in the system.
A large organic and local produce supermarket, but that doesn’t only mean there isn’t much of a service. It also means very reasonable prices and a selection ranging from macro to local micros. And this one has very nice Texas offerings as well as some lesser available (yet not quite rare) national ones. For me, as a non local, lots of niceties to choose from. I don’t complain, but it won’t be your go to shop if you live in the area, I bet.
slimchill (88) Austin, Texas | June 2, 2008| Updated September 15, 2008
Pretty solid selection, a bit disorganized but comprehensive. I’ve never been helped by anyone but I assume that they have solid customer service. Nice glassware selection and great prices.
fly (273) austin, Tejas, Texas | February 11, 2004
Most of the staff seems more dedicated to wine (profitability?) although the former Beer & Wine person at the south store (now at HEB @ Hancock, I believe) was very much into beer. It is convenient for me to pop in and they often have a decent sale item or two or three. You can get deli food or from their cafe (not great, not bad and a tad pricey when you consider they provide their own damn ingredients) and do a "fly" - buy beer from beer section, grab some food, and eat in cafe or out on patio. Not exactly kosher, but haven't been stopped yet.
Service makes a difference here. If selection is about the same for Grapevine and Central Market the big difference in my book is that Grapevine has people that will ask what I'm looking for, make phone calls for me and point out new offerings.
I’ve beer shopped at both the Westgate and North Lamar locations. They’re a great place to shop for groceries, to start with. The beer coolers are pretty sizable, and generally they have most of the beers you’ll find at a Spec’s or other beer store in Austin. It’s rare for them to have the particularly limited-release beers, although every once in a while they’ll get in a new beer a week or so before the other beer stores - for example, Brooklyn Local 2. Prices are moderate - some good sale prices, but generally they’re a little higher than a store like Spec’s. Not a bad place to go beer shopping, though not the best in town.
Way better than the average gorcery, but not up to par with a top notch bottle shop. Service is very hit and miss, but mostly miss. They also put up signs that say things like "exclusive in Austin" for new beers in town which are not always true (I had already seen the same beer at a bottle shop).