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Looking for the best Whole Foods in the Boston area

In a few weeks i'm flying into Boston from LA with my 2.5 year old. we stay the night then drive 4 hrs deep into Maine. once we get to Boston I'm renting a car and needing to fill a cooler with food for me and my child. He suffers from multiple food allergies and Whole Foods usually carries what we need.

I see that there's several Whole Foods in the area. Which would you say is the best/biggest one? Thanks!

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  1. I like the one at Fresh Pond, in Cambridge. There is a Trader Joe's across the road -- TJ's can also be good for food allergies, at a nicer price than Whole Foods. Makes it convenient if you want to hit both of them.

    I think there is also a Whole Foods in Portland, but I haven't been to it.

    Trader Joe's
    1427 Massachusetts Ave, Arlington, MA 02476

    9 Replies
    1. re: czarp

      good call on the TJ's. you see we live right down the street in pasadena from the original TJ's so its an essential part of our repertoire. do they sell booze or do i have to go to the packy or whatever they're called? i lived in boston for a while but that was 23 yrs ago so memory is fuzzy.

      1. re: trolley

        The River Street Whole Foods in Cambridge is also nice and another Trader Joes that definitely sells alcohol is just down the street on Memorial Drive. I have never been to the Fresh Pond stores so don't know how they compare but I have always been happy with the River Street location. The Whole Foods on River Street also sells beer and wine.

        1. re: mocooks

          I don't think the Fresh Pond WF or TJ's sell alcohol, but there is a liquor store (packy if you will!) right next to that Whole Foods.

          1. re: stomachofsteel

            I can confirm all three of these statements. The packy has a pretty good beer selection, and they'll let you break 6pks if you want to buy singles. I can't speak to the wine or spirits choices, but they've got a lot of floorspace, so it can't be terrible.

        2. re: trolley

          Neither TJs or Whole Foods at Fresh Pond sell booze, but there's a little liquor store across from TJ's (next to the sushi place) and a big liquor store right next to Whole Foods.

          1. re: trolley

            If you are looking to get TJ's alcohol (is two-buck chuck still around?), there are only a couple of TJ's in Mass that sell booze, and one is the store that Mocooks mentioned, on Mem Drive.

            A couple of changes since you left Mass: (1) You can now buy alcohol on Sundays, and (2) no more sales tax on it.

            Also, we still have traffic, despite the completion of the Big Dig :). Seriously though, I would avoid driving to either Cambridge store during rush hour, particularly the late afternoon/early evening commute.

            1. re: czarp

              you can buy alcohol on sundays? wow! too bad we're leaving on sunday. my sister and i used to drive to NH to buy wine on sundays. and thanks for the traffic warning. i get in on friday afternoon but will be jet lagged so we'll probably get settled at the hotel then take the road to WF after 8 or so.

              1. re: trolley

                trolley, is your hotel in Boston, or are you heading directly to Maine?

              2. re: czarp

                Two buck chuck is 3 buck chuck in TJ's, I think, and yes the classic Charles Shaw label is still around.

                I believe you can only buy alcohol on Sundays AFTER 12.

                But if you are stocking up on any spirits, I'd hit the NH Liquor stores.. I've not been wow'd by their wine, but if you need something to go with the tonic water, NH's prices are better.. and its easy off the highway..

          2. I believe the Dedham one is the largest in the Boston area and maybe even one of the largest in the region. At least it is the largest one I have seen.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Gordough

              sounds awesome but dedham is the opposite direction we're going and we're sort of squeezed for time but thanks for the input.

            2. the whole foods in portland, me is huge, if you're headed that way. it's about the same size as the one in dedham ma which I think is the biggest in the boston area. but dedham is in the wrong direction if you're driving from Logan to Maine.

              4 Replies
                1. re: nasilemak

                  Third Portland: went there once a month in the past couple of years. Very nice, very big! I loved the noodle bar. At exit 7 off 295 - quick and easy to get to, then get back heading north.

                  1. re: pastrytroll

                    Portland is pretty new and big. Minutes off 95.

                    1. re: Msample

                      another vote for Portland..also...I would offer the suggestion that if you know which specific foods you will be purchasing for your son then call the store directly to make sure they have them in stock for you. Whole Foods ...to me ..is the best..and I mean the best store to shop at in terms of food allergies. The staff, at least at my local WF is always very knowledgeable..but even so..sometimes they are out of the things I like most and I have to wait for them to come in stock...I would hate to see you get there and have this happen to you.

              1. Don't know if it's the biggest or the best as it's the only one I shop at - but there's a WF in Cambridge on River Street. It's not a long diversion from either Rt. 93 or Rt. 1. Assume you'll be taking one of those North. There's also a wonderful organic market in Central Square in Cambridge - it's called Harvest Market.

                2 Replies
                1. re: pasuga

                  The River Street one is solid, but compared to the Fresh Pond WF, the River Street location carries about 60% of the items. For special diet foods, the River St location sells far fewer items than the Fresh Pond one. For biggest and best in the immediate Boston area, I think the Fresh Pond location takes the cake.

                  What do you like about Harvest? I've always found it to be very limited selection, poor produce, really bad meat, and generally high prices. I'm all for supporting co-ops, but I think Harvest is just plain terrible. Do they have a better selection of special diet foods than WF?

                  1. re: DoubleMan

                    The bulk section at Harvest is pretty darn good, and the prices often beat prepacked items. I usually buy things like steel cut oats, French lentils, specialty flours (when I want ~1 cup instead of 5lbs), and random tiny quantities of use-once spices. I also scope out the bread aisle for day-old, marked down loaves when I'll be toasting them anyway. Otherwise, nothing too interesting.

                2. The Portland, Maine store is a good suggestion. I haven't been but my sister said it's quite large and well-stocked.

                  The Woburn, Mass. store is a good alternative. It's a few miles off of Rte. 95/128 on Rte. 3A, not a bad ride. Rte. 93 N, which you'll probably take from the airport, will take you nearby.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: bear

                    Portland. Four hours will not get you deep into Maine. That area is still called "Little Boston". The Portland store is relatively new and is the only one in the state.

                    Seven hours north of Boston Dumkeg.

                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                      Although River Street WF may be smaller in comparison, they sell wine/beer. Instead of driving all over tar-nation (which you will be doing), you could kill two birds with one stone.

                  2. 17 responses after posting less than 24 hrs ago! you guys are awesome here on the Boston board! not used to people being so helpful. a big thanks!!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: trolley

                      If you can stand one more rec, the WF in Framingham is large and well-stocked, has a liquor store next door, and a Trader Joe's across the street. In the parking lot of that Trader Joe's is a Walgreens, so you can buy your politically incorrect groceries, such as paper towels and toilet paper that doesn't scratch. But of course, this all depends on where you're actually staying in the Boston area.

                    2. Woburn, Dedham are both pretty large.. there's a WF in Portland, ME as well, if you pass that way. Things vary - Fresh Pond has a better seafood counter than Dedham, but Dedham has a better meat counter (these are fine points... none of them are serving swill). The WF's close into Boston seem smaller - the one by Mass Gen Hospital is decent, though.

                      If you are staying in Boston, River St. in Cambridge, or route your trip to hit Woburn as you head north..

                      1. make sure you don't head north on rt 93. major construction on the weekends will delay you by hours.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: pariss

                          Absolutely correct. Here is what I would do.... go TJ and WF at Fresh Pond. Stock the cooler with your food, grab whatever beer/wine you want at the liquor store next to the Whole Foods. Then head out Route 2 and then take 128/95N to your Northern route. 128/95 won't be empty or anything, but it will have more than one lane open. 93 on the weekends is a total nightmare right now and best avoided at all possible costs.

                          There are some back roads which could eliminate the need for all interstates, but after a day of travel and then food shopping, the interstates are just a bit easy to navigate.

                          1. re: smtucker

                            wow! even traffic report. you guys are seriously giving the rest of the regions a run for their money (ahem, Los Angeles) anyway, i will avoid 93. i'm planning on going to Fresh pond in the evening and then get on the road in the morning.

                            1. re: trolley

                              One more travel tip: Although Trader's Joe's is just across the road from the Fresh Pond WF, you can't just drive drive across that road. The solution is to go to the corner of the WF parking lot that is furthest away from WF, over by Staples. There, you can drive under the road and over to the other side.

                              Oh, and if you happening to be coming the weekend of August 13-14, there is a Massaschusetts sales tax holiday those two days. No sales tax on most items under $2500.

                              Hope you have a great trip!

                        2. Based on all your needs, I'd agree with those who suggest that Fresh Pond is best. River Street seems to concentrate much more heavily on prepared foods, as well as a very good cheese selection..Yes, there IS a WF in Portland, but it may not have the exact, allergen-free products you're looking for, their ordering is a little more hap-hazard than the ones in town. Definitely shop one in town before you head for the hills.

                          As others have pointed out, the liquor store is literally next door to the Fresh Pond WF, you don't even have to move your car.

                          Woburn WF has less traffic, so their fish is a little less dependable, and less varied. I wasn't wowed by the fish department at the Portland WF when I was last there (2 weeks ago)...

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: galleygirl

                            seeing as i'm trying to fill a cooler with just snack items and easy road food i may not need the seafood dept. but thanks for the info!

                            1. re: trolley

                              Well, in that case, LOVE the cheese section at Woburn, and there's a liquor store in the same strip mall here, as well. Plus it is also just off of 128N on Rte 3.

                              1. re: justbeingpolite

                                I wouldn't say its "just off" - you've got to get through a few major intersections to get there.. maybe 2-2 1/2 miles in?

                                1. re: grant.cook

                                  Fair enough, 3.4 miles by googlemaps, but a straight 6 min shot along Rte 3.
                                  And from the Fresh Pond WF to 128 along Rte 2 is over 7 miles.

                          2. We have many allergies in our family, wheat, egg, milk, poultry, oat, nuts, shelfish, etc. Whole foods wise, we like the Alewife location the best. Fresh Pond/Alewife has great selection of the snacks such as the Enjoy Life and Orgran brands for children (brownie bars and dinosaur cookies are winners). There are also the Annie Gummies snacks that I think all children like. This location has the Hain's rice cakes the are just rice and corn. Also the honeynut version has not nut in the ingredients just a nuttiness from the carmelized sugar. Good corn chips and popcorn.

                            Although if wheat is the allergy, Roche Bros in Burlington has best tasting wheat free/egg free bread by the Schar brand (also good corn and rice pasta and crackers), and they also have Pearl hotdogs that are also not processed with milk. If you will have access to a kitchen, Roche has a really good selection of cake/pancake mixes as well by the Really Good Food brand I think.

                            We have been very picky as product manufactured in a plant with allergens has still caused our little one to break out in rashes.

                            If you want to highlight what you are looking for brand or type of food, potentially I can point you in other locations as well.

                            Good luck!

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: makonna

                              we have an egg, tree nut and peanut allergy. sounds like the east coast WF or at least the Mass. does a great job with stocking allergen free foods. we live right near the West Coast flagship store and they have a gluten free section but don't carry brands like Orgran. i've asked them to stock some of the cookies but fell on deaf ears.

                              even though we don't have wheat allergy b/c of the nut/egg thing we often end up eating gluten free foods which we totally love. i'm thinking of buying, a loaf of bread, cold cuts, condiments, fruit, cookies and other road snacks for our 3+ hour trip to Maine with a 2.75 yr old. we need to be at a family event by 1pm in Maine so we need to get the food the night before and wake up and drive.

                              1. re: trolley

                                I would do the Hi-Rise and Formaggio's Kitchen trip, they are within a block of each other. They'll have all that stuff except a slicer to cut the bread. If something is missing, you can drive a 1/2 mile to WF. It would be more interesting than seeing YAWF (Yet Another Whole Foods).

                                Some Speck, Sopressata, Finocchiona, Iberico for cold cuts at Formaggio, and the best cheese counter in the country perhaps, plenty of condiments and perfectly ripe fruit to be had since it's a gourmet provisions store at heart, and bread and cookies at Hi-Rise. Then just use WF for like, iced tea or something. Or pre-sliced bread. You'll be all set, with a little tour of some of the best in Boston.

                            2. Fresh Pond WF is by far the best. Dedham is basically a giant deli. River St is pretty small if you take away all the prepared foods and liquor. Fresh Pond has the best cheese counter, the best seafood, the best selection of actual groceries, and their prepared foods is pretty mediocre just like any WF. (It always amazes me how they can turn the best ingredients into meh.) Still, they try, with a pretty serious bakery onsite and they make many of things onsite, unlike other WF who receive shipments of say, guacamole or salsa or orange juice, made at the WF depot in Chelsea. Even the flowers aren't bad.

                              I've shopped at WF Fresh Pond for a while, the employees don't change to much, and the managers are pretty responsive. If you ask them to stock something, they actually make phone calls. I guess I like two things about it in the end: Not to much gimmicky crap and well, it *used* to say "The flagship WF" on the receipts. Sure Dedham is bigger, but it's all filler.

                              If you are not picky, none of this matters at all, but to me it does. The liquor store next door, with their better than average selection and good prices, is a side benefit.

                              All of the specialty counters, such as cheese and seafood, are easily bested by other nearby (less than a mile) specialists, such as Formaggio's Kitchen for Cheese, Hi-Rise Bread Co. for Bread, and a little far, but still in Cambridge, New Deal Fish Market for Fish, but all in all, it's clearly the best one-stop supermarket.

                              Hi-Rise Bread Co
                              208 Concord Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138

                              New Deal Fish Market
                              622 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02141

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: tatsu

                                Ok, I can see the Dedham whole foods being described as a giant deli. This is a great location but not worth a long ride. Parking can be a nightmare.

                              2. Just slightly off-topic, but I'll share anyway. Yesterday, I was shopping at the Brighton Whole Foods (tiny and far from the best). I was looking for When Pigs Fly low-carb bread, a staple in my household, and an item usually available at this store. All the When Pigs Fly bread has been moved to the lowest shelf, and stacked six-deep, so I had to actually get down on the floor and root around for my bread. I brought this to a team member's attention, that it made the shopping experience unpleasant. His response: "I know, it sucks. Corporate policy." Wow! what a distressing answer on so many levels for a company that prides itself on empowering the store teams to optimize the shopping experience. So, I guess what he's saying is that the corporation is mandating that all the locally produced stuff be pushed aside to make room for shelf after shelf of Whole Foods and 365 brand breads. I understand that pushing their own brands is part of the business model, but doing it in a monopolistic way is just tacky.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: FoonFan

                                  "So, I guess what he's saying is that the corporation is mandating that all the locally produced stuff be pushed aside to make room for shelf after shelf of Whole Foods and 365 brand breads. "

                                  Oh yeah. And not just in the bread department, altho it's really funny how they raise the prices on lots of local items that haven't raised their wholesale prices to WF...

                                  1. re: galleygirl

                                    I just stopped at the Washington Street Newton store on the way back from a meeting, and guess what? All the When Pigs Fly bread is stuffed into the bottom shelf down at floor level there too. So I guess that confirms it's corporate policy. Weird and obnoxious.