The Rainbow Grocery thread - what to buy?
Rainbow Grocery gets reccomended often when people are looking for specific items.
However, what specifically is good there? What should be avoided.
As of this date Yelp has almost 700 posts about Rainbow. I gave up reading them at about 80 because they all said the same general thing ... outstanding bulk section, high prices, no meat sold, bad parking, and personal comments about the staff.
But WHAT are the outstanding, amazing bulk items?
I went Saturday to check out the bulk sauerkraut.
The last time I went to Rainbow was probably around the time it opened at the current location. I swear at the time they had NO parking at all ... no garage on the side.
What attracted me this time is that they sell Rancho Gordo beans in bulk, They aren't any less expensive, but I like the idea of being able to try out small quantities of the beans.
The black olives with cumin are really swell with a nice spicy burn. the olives with cinnamon and cardamom were fine, but sounded more interesting
How is the Trader Point whole milk and yogurt? I don't think I've seen another place sell St. Benoit yogurt in quart mason jars ... not even the farmers markets I frequent. For St Benoit, it was a really good price.
I never even heard of raw colostrum milk. It sounds scary.
I know this is a long shot and I should just pick some up next time, but has anyone tried something called 'Inka'? It is a mix of barley, rye, chicory, beet root powder. It seems to be mixed with water to make some sort of porridge?
Maybe Saturday is the big sample day, but they really, really had lots of free samples. What I liked best was Marieke raw milk gouda with foenegreek which is aged on pine planks imported from Holland.
I may be wrong, but produce didn't seem to be a strength and it seemed even more pricey than Whole Foods. However, there were quite a few yelp comments that while the selection was small it was very good.
They really have a big selection of wheat free bread and baked goods
They sell Primavera tortillas. They also sell Tortilla Factory organic tortillas, but they have guar gum in them. I haven't seen Grindstone Bakery breads at markets where I usually shop.
They even have cooking demos some times. On March 7th they had a demo down the street at Chez Spencer by Bryant Terry, author of Vegan Soul Kitchen
A few things I gleaned from reading the Rainbow website and reapeated comments on yelp.
- they have a cheese registry where if you are in the store and find a cheese you like they will record it so you don't forget. I wish Cheeseboard had something like this as I often forget what I tried and liked.
- ask and you can get a sample of any cheese
- they will special order items and they have a pretty good turn around, usually a few days
- On Wednesday and Thursday there is a 20% discount using a coupon found in the AT&T yellow pages of the phone book. It is a zoo on coupon night
- there is a Bakery Delivery Schedule on the website so you can tell when each bread is delivered
- there is a discount if you bring your own containers. If you bring a heavy container like glass, take it to the customer service desk to get weighed and they will mark it so the weight is subtracted.
- There are a number of discounts for various groups such as the SF Bike Coalition, senior citizens, etc
- additional parking spaces available every day of the week from 12 noon to 8pm. The garage is located at 1748 Folsom (across Folsom Street from Rainbow).
While the staff is great, it is hard to believe there is a place where the customers are more, uh, preoccupied than either Whole Foods or Berkeley Bowl. It is like Berkeley Bowl before the move on steroids. The pattern seems to be for people to stand in the middle of narrow aisles and strategically place their cart to block whatever remaining room there is. They then peer endlessly at the shelves, oblivious to anyone around them. The poor dears obviously have hearing problems as well so the only way to get by is to enunciate clearly and loudly “Excuse me” ... a number of times.
So, what have I missed. What do you specifically recommend to buy ... or avoid.
1745 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94103
We went to Rainbow Grocery Thurs 8/20/09 since we drove to SF and we had a 20% off coupon from the AT&T Yellowpages that my aunt gave me. It's good on Wed & Thurs 1 coupon per month until Oct 2009.
We got there at like 8:20pm and I wanted to see everything but there's just too many people shopping and the aisles are small & narrow.
Things I got:
Niepoort Ruby Port $17.99 - oh, the lady checked my ID!! Yay!!
Organic Gravenstein Applies $1.79/lb (it came out to 4 for $2.15)
Saint Benoit Yogurt $2.69, but then there's a bottle deposit $1.50!! Yikes! I must return these bottles here next time!
Three flavors: Blueberry, Meyer lemon, plum
Fizzy Lizzy 4 pack $5.59 + CRV .20c
PMS Tea $4.79
Bariani Ca Olive Oil $11.39
Pure honey Mt Shasta honey Star Thistle Mowart Apiaries 24oz for $7.49
Snyder's toyon berry Honey 24oz for $11.79
Claires Squares $6.99 for 3 large squares.
With my 20% off it was $67.85! Credit cards taken.
They have an Express lane 10 items or less though it still takes Forever!
I'll buy less next month I hope.
Parking across the street in the Rainbow Parking Garage & on both sides of Folsom St. Up the road is Foods Co - any good? Close to Van Ness & Hwy 101.
You can probably return the St Benoit bottles at any store or farmers market selling it.
There is also a garage attached to the market.
I like FoodsCo in Richmond, but it is more about price than quality. They are the same as Food4Less. They sell Kroeger brand which is pretty good. They usually have some sort of amazing fruit bargain. Last week it was cantelopes for 20 cents a pound. This week it is watermelon for 16 cents a pound. Grapes are 69 cents lb. SoBe is 49 cents a bottle. You can also get deals on paper products like towels and toilet paper. The produce is supermarket quality and compares favorably and even slightly better that a market such as Safeway. I don't think I've ever bought meat or fish there. Grocery Outlet is less expensive for milk, so I don't buy milk there. Sometimes they have some major markdowns. I got cans of whole organic tomatoes for 50 cents which were quite good and some Carlo Rossi 5 liter boxed wine for $4.99 which turned out to be a decent red table wine. The markdown shelf is hit or miss. Worth eyeing for the occasional gem, but usually stuff that looks like it should be marked down. If you go early in the morning there is some markdown on some of the meat, but again, never bought any there. There is one oddball FoodsCo in Vallejo which has nothing to do with the chain but is part of a gourmet market chain based in Sacramento
Oddball Food4Less in Vallejo
I think responses should be grouped separately for those who buy exclusively--or as close as possible--organic and those who don't.
Here are this organic-shopper's random thoughts:
I gave up on BB ages ago because I found their organic produce worse than an after-thought, never mind having to stand in two separate lines if one made bulk purchases--one for weighing, another for check-out.
Rainbow's prices are much better on most produce than either WF's or Real Food's, plus one does not have to squint at each label to see if the item's organic.
The only place I know that sells both fluid and powdered organic buttermilk.
Though not organic, Bellwether's fromage blanc is always available and at least a buck less than elsewhere.
Organic kalamatas available in bulk for less than conventional elsewhere.
Hard-to-find organic sultanas (yellow raisins).
Where else can one find anywhere near the choice in bulk organic beans, flours, grains, nuts, etc.?
Organic milk runs 50 cents to a dollar less than at Real Food.
Where else can one find organic Brussels sprouts? Or org. habaneros, in season?
I don't know if anyone mentioned that every single bag (small ones--plastic or cloth or paper) for individual items earns a nickel credit. And the "tare weight" of containers is calculated on the scales by the customer--not at the front desk.
The wonderful Vital Vittles Sourdough Rye is hard to find anywhere else.
I don't think anyone mentioned either that strawberries are available in bulk (one may pick and choose berries and bag them) throughout the season.
Much of the year I can find org yellow, purple, and sometimes green cauliflower, often romanesco broc, and even org versions of the thorny, velvety variety of artichokes, fast disappearing from the planet.
Larger variety of org fingerlings than anywhere else I know. Good (well-priced) org red onions.
Equal Exchange Fair Trade Organic French Roast finally went up from 8.50 to about 8.70; it sometimes goes on sale and is always 10% off if one purchases a 5 lb bag--never mind the coupon days.
I do probably 85% of our food-shopping there and have rarely had a clerk make an error (standard practice at WF) and never seen one on a cell phone!
What store compares??
For organic, it sounds like nothing.
I did want to comment on Berkeley Bowl's organic produce, not send you there. They have so improved in that category. I remember at the old location cornering the produce manager and telling him that organic didn't mean rotten. Currently their organic produce is on par with there regular produce if not in quantity at least quality. Quantity is getting up there too.
The cheese people are terrific along with the cheeses. I just want to be the umpteenth to point this out. They deserve it. I'm with other posters on the other details, too. Some of the people there aren't that agreeable, but most are really helpful if you ask and know the products or will help you find out if they don't know personally.
Rainbow is an institution, one of the places that makes SF great, for its long history, commitment to quality and principles, disinterest in being mainstreamed. I've also been going there since the 16th St. days. Some of the workers have been around since the beginning or close to it. There are other stores like this around the country, some of them wonderful places to shop, but there's only one Rainbow.
I don't live in the city anymore, but I go there almost every time I'm there to stock up on bulk items, get some cheese, household stuff, whatever I want or need that they have. It always feels good to walk through the doors.
Beyond the things mentioned by others already, here are some weird specific things I buy from Rainbow that seem to be hard to find in SF.
* Dutch process cocoa (non-alkali) for deep chocolate baking/drinks. About a year ago I stopped being able to find it in normal grocery stores because Hershey's seemed to discontinue it (leaving me only with the expensive Droste box). Rainbow has dutch process in bulk. Yeah!
*The yellow popcorn kernels we've found at Rainbow bulk pop the best (Berkeley Bowl doesn't seem to carry it off corn season). It's something to do with the moisture content.
*My friend loves the jam section (Strawberry Rhubarb when it's in stock).
*I happen to like Rachel's yogurts. I will admit it's possibly the packaging... Rainbow has the widest selection of Rachel's yogurts (better than Berkeley Bowl's)
*Barley malt (for my chocolate malts and secret pancake recipe) which can be hard to find in normal grocery stores in SF. The only other place I found it was at Restaurant Depot in a large industrial container.
*Sacco powdered buttermilk is also no longer being made for grocery stores--but Rainbow bulk has powdered buttermilk. Savior!
*In the housewares section, they have these amazingly fine tea strainers by Kotobuki--really amazing to eliminate fannings. Of course, once people buy them all, Rainbow seems so slow to restock...
*Fresh OJ from Voila juices (of Oakland)--hard to find in SF. Usually I have to go to Voila themselves or to Berkeley Bowl. Way better than Columbia Gorge or flat, heavy, coasting Odwalla.
*Best selection of cane sugar (non HFC) sodas
The poster that favorably compared Rainbow's organic vegetables to Berkeley Bowl's tiny organic section was dead on. (Heidipie). And likewise, with BernalKC, I agree if someone opened up a freerange/grassfed meat counter, I would have literally no need to go anywhere else. I'd probably have to hold my wedding there.
Good point that the housewares deserves special mention. The only other places I know of in SF to buy Chemex coffee makers are Haig's deli and Cliff's Variety. Haig's has a wider selection, but never seems to be open when I need coffee filters or a replacement Chemex when I break mine. Rainbow theoretically carries both the 6 cup and the 8 cup, but the stocking issue you mentioned with the tea filter reared it's ugly head when I wanted a 6 cup.
Rainbow has a good selection of things like whisks, comparable in quality to Sur la Table, and probably comparable in price, but it saves me a special trip once in a while if I need to replace a candy thermometer or whatever.
Last, I love the collection of essential oils. 40-50 essential oils are available, supposedly for aromatherapy and such, but I've used them in baking with no adverse health effects. The bergamot made for a wonderfully citrusy/floral buttercream filling in a batch of orange blossom flavored macarons.
You should keep an eye out on the Grocery Outlet threads. From time to time they carry rachael's yogurt. The flavors are limited but at 3 for $1, a good deal.
Nice to know about the powdered buttermilk. Do you know if they carry bulk powdered milk?
Some smart farmers market should hold one in that area... probably on bargain nights. If they also had some good meat vendors, they'd probably do slamming business. Talk the office store or Best Buy into using their lots. They';d probably get a little more action too.
South River Miso. can't readily think of another place in the city that stocks it. small company based out of massachusetts. unpasteurized miso made traditionally, even though they make untraditional varieties, like chickpea. i'm not really a fan of their non-traditional types, but their sweet white and three year brown rice misos are delicious. unfortunately, they are not cheap, so i've been using other brands for awhile.
hmm. i think i'm going to head over there right now and grab a jar. and i read somewhere on this thread they have anson mills grits in bulk? never noticed that before.
so what i said about south river miso not being cheap? i went there tonight because of this thread and grabbed a jar without really looking at the price. a 16 oz jar cost me $13. this is more expensive than i remember. i love the product, and the different varieties have different costs, but just putting it out there. i'll make it stretch, sure, but...
i am excited to see how my blue grits turn out, though...
I agree their bulk bins are great. If the produce were better, I'd be there once a week -- as it is, I think it's worth it to drive to Berkeley to Monterrey Market, instead. Once, at RB, they had a stalk of brussels sprouts for $12 (other markets were selling them for $3). Yes, RB was organic but they were yellowing and I know would not have tasted good at all.
By the way, WF and Andronico sells that yogurt in quarts ($1.50 deposit) and also the small crocks. At WF I tried one I really like: White Mountain Bulgarian from Austin, TX. Comes in a glass pint jar that you don't have to pay a deposit on.
Been going to Rainbow every week for years and years. As to produce, I think their fruit fares better than their vegetables. That said, I've gotten some pretty amazing vegetables there in season (just had some beautiful snap peas). Prices are pretty much in line with other high end organic sellers. I love the Gayo Mountain Coffee (Taylor Roasters, i think). The produce workers will usually let you taste any of the fruit if you ask, which has been really helpful when negotiating the 15 apple varieties or 9 different tangerines. As has been said, the bulk selections are by far the best around. There is also a page of coupons in the yellow pages that can get you 20% off everything once a month on Wed and Thurs. This has become very popular, so shopping on these days can be a real challenge to one's patience.
if you look on their website, they say the 2009 coupons are good for every Wed & Thurs except for holiday times. They did this to reduce some of the frenzy on those days.
Thanks to all for the veggie tips. Instead of totally ignoring it, I'll cruise it to see what might be some unusual seasonal things.
And thanks for the answer on the inka powder, Emily
Anyone tried that Trader Point milk or yogurt?
Also, are there times that are less frentic than others? Or is it like Berkeley Bowl where it is sort of a roulette game of chance on less busy times.
I was shopping Saturday morning which in SF is a good time since people either don't get up early or are at the farmers markets. I was mainly zipping around the city. When I arrived at Rainbow, I found easy parking, actually next to the door. By time I left, cars were lined up around the block. It was still crowded inside though.
I generally agree with what others have had to say, but I want to clarify something on the veggie selection: Rainbow sources pretty locally, and as a result it's pretty seasonal. Right now, there are a lot of great green leafy vegetables, broccoli, etc. They have some fancy greens in bags from Mariquita or one of the other top end farmer's market stands, but no, they don't compete with the Ferry Plaza.
In season, swanton strawberries are available pretty regularly at Rainbow, which makes me very happy.
The foraged mushrooms and forest products are nice; not a huge selection, but pretty seasonal so what is there is at a fair price. Fiddle head ferns show up in season.
In the bulk area, some things I love that have not been mentioned so far are the anson mills grits (both white & purple), ground nut flours (especially almond), pasta shop ravioli (no obvious bulk discount but a reliable source none the less), 00 flour, pastry flour, semolina flour. Bulk chocolate chips--not necessarily cheaper than packaged, but it's nice to be able to buy small quantities or huge quantities and limit the packaging. Being able to purchase specialty flours out of bulk bins is a huge benefit in my eyes, because flour goes stale, and I don't bake that regularly. This way, I can buy enough pastry flour for a weekend project, or enough 00 or semolina for pasta, but not have the remainder of a 4 lb bag going stale in my pantry or taking up space in my freezer.
As for the proverbial dazed stoner in the middle of the aisle: I find speaking to these people less effective than slowly moving toward them until they see you, at which point they move and you can politely say excuse me at low volume since you now have their attention. If you don't get close, they seem to assume you will make a u-turn and go somewhere else.
I don't think it's a matter of competing with Ferry Plaza exactly, or even selection. I shop at Alemany, or get produce from Mariquita or the corner produce store on Mission Street.
Maybe it's a matter of display. I remember the days before Real Food Company when organic fruit meant misshapen apples with holes in a dark room in a coop; but like a lot of people, I buy more when it looks more appealing. Or when I can taste it. Or when it's cheap.
And I agree that the veggies tend to be nicer than the fruits, Swanton being a notable exception. But you can get chard elsewhere without braving that garage and lines and bagging your own groceries. On the other hand, you can't find 50 honeys at great prices anywhere else nearby. Definitely a matter of motivation.
Yes, a little better display and lighting for the produce would help. The stuff in the refrig /wall section seems fine, you can see it and it's at waist level.
The produce in middle seems one step better then the old funky coop experience...like buying it from someone's garage which isn't really a bad thing but the prices are on the high side so psychologically you expect more. I haven't bought produce from RG for at least a year so maybe it's changed but leaving fruit in the palette crate isn't a great way to display it. Sure for special deals once in a while but all the time doesn't really work.
Re: Inka--it's actually supposed to be a coffee substitute--you mix it with hot water. I won't say it's great, it certainly doesn't taste like coffee, but it does have that slightly bitter/sweet/hot beverage thing going for it. I use it on camping trips, mostly.
Other than that, I agree with what others have said, especially re: cheese, olives, and bulk. When I finally get around to making the mesquite chocolate chip cookies from Super Natural Cooking, I know where to go to get mesquite flour! And although I hardly ever shop in the produce section and agree that it's spotty, if you stay away from fruit and stick to things like cooking greens, there are sometimes beautiful things at approximately the same price as the farmer's market.
Also, if you're into really dense, whole wheat/grain/rye breads (like Anna's Daughter), they have a nice selection. And a great and varied selection of chocolate bars.
re: Emily Hope
re: Emily Hope
I found rapini (broccoli rabe) there yesterday after checking many, many stores for a long time and I was very happy! True, I don't know exactly when it's in season and the produce guy at Bi-Rite was extremely noncommital and vague when I asked him about it a while back.
I'm in pasta-making mode these days, so I appreciate the semolina flour in bulk. I buy all my spices, salt, RG beans/non-RG beans, and popcorn in bulk. The cheese people are all totally delightful and really into their product. (Note: Not terribly long ago, Saveur named them one of the best cheese sellers in the US. Take it for what it's worth depending on how much you like Saveur.)
They sell the This Little Cookie shortbread cookies I love. Lots of vegan treats that I avoid like the plague. Decent bagels and soft pretzels. I sometimes buy Dr. Bronner's.
It's the only place I can find the almond meal I need for a certain cookie recipe (the TJ's product is unacceptable) and malt powder for another cookie recipe. Prices for snooty baking chocolate that I like haven't been higher than anywhere else.
I've bought compostable plates/bowls/flatware for parties.
My main gripe might be a funny one: I often would really like to buy a cup of coffee when I'm there, but the membership has been arguing about providing this service for years with no resolution.
I love Rainbow - and I hate it. I hate the atmosphere and I think the people who work there are generally horrible (other than the cheese people who are really helpful). But the things I love about it are enough for me to go there about once a week.
I do not buy produce there other than basics like onions that I don't get (or forgot to get) at the farmer's market. I just don't think their produce is that good.
Bulk spices are a great buy - good turnover and you only have to get what you need. Prices on the spices are good.
Bulk dry goods are FANTASTIC! Again, freshness is paramount, esp. for flours and grains that you'd otherwise have to buy a big bag of Bob's Red Mill brand at WF and who knows how old it is. I get millet, quinoa, black rice, wheatberries, lentils, Rancho Gordo beans, garbanzo flour, sugar, sliced almonds, oats, you name it. All in bulk at good prices and I love the fact that I don't have to feel guilty about excess packaging. They also sell an Italian brand of dried pasta (I think Rusticella?) so you don't have to buy an entire 1/2 kilo (or you can get more, again with no packaging).
The cheese is excellent and prices are very fair. I do love that Marieke gouda style with fenugreek. It is unusual and delicious. When I am there they always have a sample of something good out and I usually end up buying it. The antique gruyere is a good buy and a really good snacking cheese.
Their dairy selection is very good and a number of egg producers are represented.
I do wish I could get some animal products here - I understand they are vegetarians, but it would be great to get canned tuna and anchovies (and fish sauce) at least.
Great selection of vinegars - I always find what I need.
The bulk olives are great, as are all the bulk dried fruits (I can get just a handful of dried wild blueberries for my homemade granola!) And they have preserved lemons in bulk. In fact in general the breadth of the things they have in bulk is enough to make one shop there.
>> I do wish I could get some animal products here <<
Somebody someday will have a booming business if they open a nice meat and fish counter on that block. Unfortunately there is no suitable storefront, vacant or not, close enough -- but the market for that is there. Somebody needs to fill that void.
Its not just that they are vegetarian either. For them it goes beyond that and is wrapped up in the politics and culture of sustainable, organic, local... Like I said about the produce -- they have no interest in catering to the effete luxury styles of the rich. They really have a collective commitment to a new world order. Sure that can be annoying -- I hate it when they find some nit-picky reason to drop various products (my fav cheeses!!) that I grow attached to. But I do admire their commitment to the cause and their trueness to their hippie, communal roots. I actually love the fact that they are oblivious to the yuppie, boorgie ire they provoke. I actually find everyone there to be totally helpful and nice -- but a lot of them probably recognize me by now.
Revisiting my assessment of the produce: if one confined oneself to the organic aisles at the Berkeley Bowl, Rainbow would rank WAY better in variety, price and condition of the stock. It's also nice, I think, to have them do the politics for me--if I'm at Whole Foods I have to read every label to see what's come from halfway across the earth, what's "conventional" etc. At Rainbow you know exactly what you're getting, and you don't have to worry about buying something on sale being "compromised" in some way, if you're the type to do so. And I also appreciate their naming the farms they buy from.
They have an amazing number of cheeses in that little area, and the prices for out-of-area cheeses are especially good. I'm a sucker for the bulk nut butters and nuts (where else do you find black walnuts?) Maybe not for the front-runners, but I find they have a good selection of bulk coffees at good prices. And of course, I don't mind the across the board 10 percent discount for Seniors.
As far as the aisles go, thet are far less claustrophobic than Bi-Rite's
As a (gulp) 28 year veteran of the place, I find this a hard question to answer. So I might end up with multiple answers. (BTW, it was located on 16th btwn Valencia & Guerrero when I first started shopping there -- a tiny little store.)
The bulk tea and spices are unbeatable. All of their spices are kept fresh, and there are often multiple sources/varieties. Bulk nuts, grains, pastas, oils, miso, tamari, tahini, peanut butter, olives, yeast, dried fruits, dried 'rooms... you get the idea. Best selection of granolas. Great selection in the dairy coolers, especially juices. Great selection of vinegars. You've already mentioned the cheese department -- I never miss a chance to sample whatever they have out for tasting.
Sure, the ever-so-PC-and-holier-than-thou produce is not as beatiful as BB/WF... truly local, organic produce does have blemishes. The ones that cull it down to the beautiful specimens are selling luxury and not the whole package. That said, I do tend to pick and choose what I buy from the produce dept.
The most comprehensive bulk food selection, mostly organic. Neither Whole foods nor Berkeley Bowl comes close. Great dried bean selection—flageolets, scarlet runners, white runners, the Rancho Gordos. Great bulk seaweed, sea salts. Great dried herb selection, bulk teas. Personally I love having 10 different kinds of rice, much of which is organic. Just bought some "bamboo rice", lovely pale green and said to have a scent of vanilla when cooked, but I've yet to try it. Excellent selection of natural and organic personal care products (and don't say this isn't food related, it's food for the skin!). Bulk umeboshi!
One of the few cheese shops which regularly carries Cantal.
I think the produce section is improved recently, but not as good as the farmers markets.
Ever since they moved to this location I think of it as creditable one stop shopping for the organic, natural foodie. Wish they could see their way to selling sustainably raised meat, but I respect that they stick to their principles.
What I buy at Rainbow:
What I generally don't buy there: produce, which tends to be local, organic, but pricey and not sufficiently beautiful. I don't shop in bulk and find the self-serve stuff intimidating. If I remember I need popcorn, great, but seeing 10 kinds of rice in huge containers doesn't make me want to buy any. Ditto for quinoa.
I do prefer the atmosphere at the Bowl (not on a Sunday) or Whole Foods. And I don't agree the staff at Rainbow is great; the front registers are hellish. The focus is not generally on service, (not like at Bi-Rite, where they will slice cheese for 20 minutes in an attempt to find the perfect pairing, without any pressure to buy). The Rainbow cheese people are great though.
The cheese staff are just wonderful. Super friendly and enthusiastic, approachable, and what they don't tell you they write on those little cards that they balance on top of all the cheeses.
The grains, the flours, the oddball baking items in bulk, I find pretty unbeatable. About twelve years ago they gave in and allowed white sugar, IIRC, and they haven't looked back.
The herbs, the bulk seaweeds, the nut butters, the dried mushrooms, the bulk oils and vinegars and soy sauces are first-rate, encyclopedic and fun.
It's a great place to experiment with the bulk brand-name alternative cleaning products and personal care stuff. You can bring home fifty cents worth of henna and see what happens, do one wash load with some kind of vegan lavender soap powder, etc.
When I had little babies in the house I appreciated the excessive variety of baby foods and gruels my mother had never encountered--cream of amaranth, anyone?
The produce is definitely anomalous, and I think the canned and "ethnic" sections are weak also, but really in every other department the buyers are knowledgeable and continually experimenting. This is what I like the best--that I can get over there three or four times a year and find stuff all over the store that I haven't run across anywhere else. And I find the prices competitive, too.
The current location use to be a St. Vincent DePaul and the old RG use to be on Mission and 14th(?) and it was scary as hell...total hippie funk.
Any way, no rec's on the bulk but comprehensive and fresh, stuff seems to move and the stuff seems clean as opposed to being there years. I buy beans and lentils from them. The produce is sub-par but organic...it's like they have no concept for buying produce...or they have pre-existing relationships. I use to buy apples and some citrus when I lived in SF but that was it. The cheese section is huge but I'm not a cheesehead.
Price-wise, a bit more expensive then other places but if I'm there and need something, I buy it there. Huge and very good natural health section.
The clientele are a hoot because you get all kind, as are the workers...real pre dot com SF hipster, self involved, boho attitude...like the old mission art scene. I find the workers charming in that sort of slacker way but great, not sure if that's the word. The people on the floor are helpful but cash register people are affected. I don't really mind aloof or attitude but cellphone calls while you check out...com'n.
That said, I do like RG. I hope they stay in business because it's like a living time capsule in there.