Having recently moved back to Austin after a 25-year exile in St. Louis, I am both fascinated and horrified by Central Market. What a buttload of stuff! But what an ordeal!
I frequent the S. Lamar depot, but not before steeling myself with a couple of martinis and strapping on some elbow pads. The impenetrable, labrynthine layout and unapologetic throng make simple nagivation a nightmare; HEB should equip the carts with turn signals. And this whole weigh-it-yourself thing! Not only do you suffer infinite tortures jockeying for position at sparsely located scales and failing to remember lengthy PLU codes, but the keypads are so grimy you hesitate to touch them with your bare hands. Gross, yo!
I can't comment knowledgably about prices, since everything in Austin seems to cost roughly seventeen times what it would cost me in St. Louis, but I do know this: I once paid 10 bucks at Central Market for 3 tomatoes. No lie.
I tried Randall's, but the unholy stench of their seafood department puts me off my feed; I go there only for Ziploc bags and Diet Coke.
I adjudge the quality of the experience at Whole Foods on 6th a notch or two above that of Central Market, and while they do not stock fifty-eight kinds of exotic (and unripe) melon, at least you don't have to mess with scales and stickers. I would shop there every day if it were possible to actually find a parking space; all the "compact only" spaces are full of Ford Exterminators.
Pointers and tips welcomed.