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Nov 28, 2007 08:22 AM

Best Boston-area Supermarkets

I'm new to the area and haven't been able to find a really good supermarket. And by supermarket, I mean a store that is huge and has a selection of all sorts of foods and staples. Whole Foods doesn't count...

Where should I be looking?

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  1. I'm quite fond of the Shaw's at Packards Corner in Allston, which I consider quite superior to most stores in the chain. It's also, as far as I know, the only 24-hour supermarket in the city limits of Boston.

    But outside of farmer's market season, Allstonian and I often do a one-two punch on Pleasant Street in Watertown: Russo's and the better-than-average Stop and Shop a block down the street.

    The thing is, if you're looking for "huge" in the sense of, like, a Wegmans or an HEB Central Market...yeah, you're not gonna find that here. As beaten to death in the thread called "Wegmans in Boston?" on the Chains board, there are no big-box supermarkets in the Boston area.

    2 Replies
    1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

      The Fenway Shaw's is also a 24-hour supermarket. However, given the quality of the produce and the fact that they routinely have almost empty shelves where the milk or eggs are normally found probably makes it more appropriate for a worst Boston-area supermarket list.

      1. re: LauraB

        I've never been in the Fenway one -- that's the one on Beacon Street nearish the Landmark Center, right? Have you ever been in the one on Huntington behind the Pru? My god, that store is awful! It's quite new (it replaced that ancient little Star Market on Boylston), but it's horribly, horribly designed. Nothing makes sense in terms of the layout, the aisles are unaccountably small and it seems to have a really limited selection.

    2. I personally like Roche Bros. in Burlington, though they are just far enough away so I don't get there all that often.

      4 Replies
      1. re: hiddenboston

        I like the Roche Bros. in W. Roxbury...

        1. re: hiddenboston

          I work down the street from that Roche Bros. so I shop there often, but it can drive me crazy sometimes. I can't find many specialty items there and the "ethnic" selection is lacking. Their produce is good, but it's on the expensive side.

          For my money, you can't beat Stop and Shop in Somerville. It was built a couple of years ago and is massive. I still drive there on the regular even though it's out of my way

          Stop & Shop Supermarket
          775 Mcgrath Hwy, Somerville, MA

          1. re: heWho

            All good points, heWho. Roche Bros. isn't perfect. For a once a week shop though, it's pretty darn good. No, I can't get every single thing I want there, but for what I can get the quality is good. Plus, it's a pleasant store to shop in. Also, relatively close to me. MUCH, MUCH better than the S&S in Jackson Sq which is closest...yikes! Don't get me started.

            The question for the OP though, is where do you live? Although you may be willing to travel, it still would help us narrow it down for you..

            1. re: Kbee

              I should mention, that Roche Brothers has one of the best deals I've ever seen. A huge, enormous bunch of basil (looks like a wrapped up bunch of flowers) for $2 in the summer months. I saw it for $3 a week or two ago. I did a double-take the first time I noticed it and was convinced it was a mistake... sure enough it rang through at $2. If you're ever making pesto this is a can't-miss deal, the basil is always fresh as well.

              Kbee, good point regarding how pleasant the store is. Everyone is very helpful, and the staff is jovial. Also, they always have a ton of registers open, there's never more than a short wait.

        2. After exhaustive searching in the North of Boston area, we have finally settled on Market Basket in Middleton and Hanneford's in Peabody. Supplimented with regular trips to local farms and Trader Joe's we can now find all the ingredients we need to cook the kind of food we love to eat.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Gio

            We love the Super Stop and Shop at the confluence of Routes 93, 28, 38 and McGrath Highway in Somerville (exit 29 off Route 93N - exit 30 from 93S).

            The produce department carries a wide variety and includes many Latin-Caribbean vegetables. The Asian selection pales by comparison - but Reliable market in Union Square compensates for that.

            The meat department is huge and the butchers are very accessible and provide service with a smile. You can ask for cuts you do not see in the cases, and they will provide.

            The fish department is good - though I prefer New Deal or Courthouse when I want the best quality - but occasionally there are good deals on Captain's Cuts of cod for $6.99/lb and sea scallops are on sale regularly for $9.99/lb (usually $14.99).

            There is a pretty decent cheese case - but nothing like Whole Foods, alas.... all old standbys and a few things like stilton or aged feta available from time to time.

            The bread is very good - baked daily - however they do not have brioche (which reminds me - I should post a topic asking for bakeries that DO have brioche). You can order sheet cakes and the cookies, pies, rolls and bagels are all quite serviceable.

            They also have a pretty decent florist as well.

            The staff is pretty good - some problems with the produce staff on Sundays - note: a VERY bad day to be in search of produce. The shelves are depleted and do not restock until Tuesday morning. A hard lesson learned shopping for a client on a Sunday and a Monday in the past.

            But overall, I give this store very high ratings. I am happy to have it less than a 1/4 mile from my home!!

            1. re: Small Plates

              Will second that Stop and Shop - rarely very busy and it is pretty big. Prices seem lower than others of that brand. Certainly lower than the pirates in Porter Square.

          2. In the Cambridge/Somerville area, there's a lot of love going out to the Market Basket on Somerville Ave. It has a huge selection of all sorts of stuff. The shopping population there is heavily immigrant so there are staples from all over the world, there's a whole aisle of Brazilian food and more odd veggies than you can shake a stick at. Veggies in general are great, fresh with a huge variety. Pretty good fish, albeit pre-packaged under wrap, and a huge meat case with real people behind the butcher counter. Their cheese selection is poor, limited to industrial cheddar and the like, unless you're looking for Latin American cheeses in which case it's good. Likewise with bread and other baked goods: no fancy baguettes, but lots of Brazilian cheese bread and Portuguese-style muffin/rolls (my daughter loves these). Did I mention the prices? Low, low, low. It's like getting a pay raise if you've been shopping at Star. The crowds and parking can be intense on weekends after about 9am, and some evenings as well, so early mornings are good. Also, it's not open 24/7, more like 7-9.

            Finally, shopping at Star (Porter Square) feels so antiseptic after MB. It feels more like a hospital in there than a place where food is sold; it creeps me out now.

            7 Replies
            1. re: DavisSquare

              I've been in that Market Basket a couple of times, both in the early to mid afternoon on weekdays, and the idea that it's busier inside and that the parking is worse on weekends and evenings fills me with a sort of queasy dread. It's a great store -- it reminds me a lot of the old-fashioned small-town supermarkets I remember from the '70s and '80s -- and it's the one place I know of locally that sells Pace picante sauce by the 1.5 liter jug, which is how I usually buy it. But trust me, if you're not a fan of being one with the teeming mass of humanity, you're not gonna like the experience at all. Imagine shopping on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving AND the Saturday before the Super Bowl, at the same time: that's an average weekday afternoon at the Somerville Market Basket. Plus we're talking an extremely old-school townie clientele, which means there's, shall we say, a certain lack of BS. I was once told to perform an anatomical unlikelihood with a bag of pinto beans by a woman who looked like my grandmother, and to this day, I have no idea what on earth I did to cause that!

              1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                Maybe you took the last bag of pinto beans? :-D

                I know people who swear by Market Basket, mainly for their low prices, but I almost never go there because of the crowds and the craziness.

                My go-to market these days is actually (don't laugh!) the Johnnie's Foodmaster near where I live, mainly because it's about as laid back a market as you will find, there are never any lines, and the people are really nice. Produce is horrible there, though (but still a lot better than the so-called produce at TJs).

                Like I say, if there were a Roche Bros. closer to me, I'd probably go there all the time, but it's just a bit too far away.

                1. re: hiddenboston

                  Get a cold italian sub from the deli at Johnnie's. Depending on who makes it, they load it with decent meat. Decent roll, too. I think my son said it was $4.75 or something.
                  Got some pretty funky boneless chicken at the Johnnie's on the Cambridge/Somerville line. I threw it out, and don't think I'll be buying meat there.

                2. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                  Yea, it's pretty much a zoo and the parking can be a pain, although there is another whole lot on the right side of the building between MB and Ames paper. In the nice weather, we often take the bus which runs directly from Davis to in front of the MB. You just have to embrace the crowd and make it part of the shopping experience. It also doesn't help that they stock the shelves all day long since they're not open at night. People are very very rarely rude to us, despite the crowded conditions; perhaps shopping with cute kids (if I do say so myself) helps fend off the rude people. Anyway, like I said, after shopping there, Star just feels like a hospital, and it creeps me out to shop in a hospital.

                  I disagree that the vibe is "old-school townie", though. Like I said, there's a heavy immigrant clientele, with Portuguese and Spanish the most common languages, but lots of Haitian and Eastern European languages too. The diversity of people, and thus the diversity of available food, is one of the reasons we love it so much, along with the prices (1 lb. cream cheese: 99ยข at MB, $1.79 at TJ's).

                  1. re: DavisSquare

                    Yeah, we go to the MB every week. I love the prices and the produce is wayy better than Shaw's but the crowds overwhelm me. I joke with my BF that it is only a matter of time before we are in a car accident in the parking lot and then we can go somewhere less insane.

                    1. re: DavisSquare

                      Love the Basket on the Ave. If you want sticker shock, try comparing the prices of mainstream items there vs. the evil Porter Square Shaw's (or Whole Foods, even worse.) For example, Paul Newman Lime-ade at MB is usually between $1.50 and $1.99. At WF, it was $2.50. That's as much as a 66% markup! Robbery! Fraud!

                      In order to get through the crowds, you just need to have sort of a gestalt of going with the flow - don't fight it, just roll with it...and don't be in a hurry. Unless you are in a hurry, in which case you are just grabbing a couple of items and can dart through the crowd pretty well.

                      1. re: Bob Dobalina

                        Lawd I miss Tha Basket! I moved to JP, then to Brooklyn and oh, what I wouldn't give for a good ol' Basket run, called "Doin' tha Basket".

                        If you are a short-tempered person, you will hate it and prefer to pay higher prices elsewhere. If you are a person that is uncomfortable around a very diverse international crowd with a sometimes very diverse opinion of personal space, you will hate it and prefer to go to Whole Foods or Shaw's. But Mr. Dobalina, Mr. Bob Dobolina, is right - be prepared and go with the flow and it's all good. Or just take it to the hole and operate your shopping cart the same way Boston drivers hit the roads. It's like a good video game.

                        So even with all these issues, I think this supermarket rocks. Great prices, really fresh produce, a diverse meat department (beef shin is cheap and makes an awesome stew), some decent organics and lots of specials. I love the packaged produce specials in the far left front corner by the ice cream: brussel sprouts, tomatillos, ginger, okra, jalapenos...amazing. Plus, I like to spy on what peeps from other cultures are buying - sometimes you can get some suggestions in the checkout line.

                        My secret shopping days:
                        if your schedule permits, go on a weekday morning before 9 (they open at 7) or on Monday night after 7 (what my friends and I call "Man Night" - all the single guys who were to busy over the weekend to make it to the market). On weekends it's best to go about 1-2 hours before closing time. And if you're only buying a couple of bags worth, just park on the street and walk.

                3. Anyone new to the area should take a trip to Russo's in Watertown. Although not really a supermarket, it is an enormous store with every kind of fruit and vegetable you could want. Also has fresh pasta, a huge cheese department, bakery department, bread department and lots of specialty foods.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: emilief

                    When it's no longer farmers' market season, I get whatever organic produce and "health items" can at my lottle local health food store (Good Health, Quincy--where the staff is so very helpful and friendly), then supplemment that with goods from Hannaford and/or Super Stop and Shop. This Stop and shop is very good and close off 93 for Boston folks.

                    1. re: emilief

                      We took the trip out to Russo's last month. On a Wednesday, around noon. I never saw so many people in one place before. Families even. With extended family members in tow. It felt like a bazaar in some far off land. Couldn't get near the cold cut dept., nor the bakery section. Perhaps we were there at the wrong time of day. Is it always so crowded? OTOH we were really impressed with the wide assortment of ethnic vegetables and excited to buy them. We probably will return, but not regularly.

                      1. re: Gio

                        I do not go frequently but when I do it is very crowded. I avoid weekend trips. It is puzzling that it was so busy on a Wednesday at noon. Maybe someone who shops there regularly can let us know when the "uncrowded" times are, if any!

                        1. re: emilief

                          Mornings are good, mid-afternoons are good (say, between 2 and 4). There are certain aisles that you're simply always gonna have trouble with: that aisle that's outside in summer, where the potatoes and onions are, is just plain always gonna be full. Similarly, when moving towards that little alcove on the east wall where the Asian vegetables live, it's quicker if you go down the front aisle (near the apples) than through the middle or rear aisle. Indeed, the rear aisle in front of the milk and eggs is another terminal bottleneck. The rest of the store is moderately easy to get through, although there's always a crowd at the registers. (Hint: next to last register, nearest the west wall, near the planters and things: for some reason, there is never more than one person in line there.)

                          Allstonian and I have gotten our Russo's shopping down to a science, so we're able to do pretty surgical strikes there even if we're buying a lot of stuff and picking up flowers for the house as well. (I like having a bud vase here on my desk with an Asiatic lily or a couple gerbs, and the single stems at Russo's are high quality and inexpensive. We also get bunches to put in the bedroom and living room for under $5 apiece.) Just keep going, find out and remember things are, and pretty soon you'll be flying through the place like everyone else.

                          1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                            Thank you so much for your very helpful information. Everything gets multiplied and exaggerated when having to negotiate in crowded conditions in a non-powered wheelchair.

                            1. re: Gio

                              another fairly accessible stop and shop with good parking is the one off North Beacon Street, down the block from Wolfer's Lighting. it is reasonably well--stocked, with large aisles and good parking. there is also the Costco in Waltham (Bear Hill Road i think) and I second Russos for produce, cheese and deli stuff. I'm a fan of my local trader joes (Brookline) but is can be a zoo and I understand the one on Memorial Drive is easier to navigate.

                        2. re: Gio

                          I actually was there on Sunday afternoon and it wasn't bad. Usually the weekends are a total scene - BUT, if you think it's crowded now, you should have visited it when it was the old building. Talk about a scene. Bumper to bumper cart traffic. It was hilarious. If you forgot to grab something, there was no way for you to maneuver back.

                          BTW, got a pretty good deal on a Christmas tree there. ~$40 for a six-seven footer - seems to be of good quality.

                          1. re: Bob Dobalina

                            Thanks so much BD and TZT. I appreciate all the advise and info you have given me. I hate that this has become an issue. But I refuse to say Uncle.