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Mar 17, 2012 01:08 AM

Grocery Shopping in San Francisco


I'm moving to San Francisco from Montreal this summer and trying to allocate a monthly budget based on living costs and expenses. The only thing that I'm not certain about is the cost of food shopping (not eating out but products for home) and would greatly appreciate your help. Of course this would be based on an average estimated budget...

What would you suggest a "generous" monthly grocery bill would total, if shopping for a single (hungry!!) mouth at mostly local grocery outlets; ie. Bi-Rite Market, North Beach delis, specialty products at the Ferry Building, small scale (non-chain) fruiteries, weekend farmer's markets, and maybe something like Whole Foods as well? I'm 30 years old, like to eat well and fairly healthy, and have a large appetite!

Thanks so much for any feedback and suggestions!!

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  1. Interesting question. I have no idea how to even begin to answer it! You can, of course, spend a lot of money. I guess it depends on how you shop. Are you the kind of person who goes shopping with an idea in mind of what you're going to buy, and buy it regardless of price, or are you the kind of person who goes shopping with a flexible plan that can be altered based on what's the best buy. How much meat do you eat? Are you a good enough cook to work with less expensive ingredients that require more time and skill or do you rely on a lot of prepared foods? How susceptible are you to the temptation of high-priced extras (fancy jams, condiments, juices, high-end cheeses, confections, etc.). Does your budget include alcohol?

    Farmer's markets vary in their pricing -- the Ferry Plaza farmers market is fabulous, but although there can be reasonable buys if you shop carefully, it can be very expensive. On the other hand, the Alemany farmer's market is much more reasonable, especially if you don't insist on certified organic.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      yeah and the places cited can be very pricey indeed. where you live can make a big difference SF proper or not? if proper there are all sorts of odd markets you can hit for this and one 2 blocks away for that. the fun part of SF is that once you make rent the rest is (relatively) easy, if maybe a treasure hunt.

    2. Thanks for the help!

      I'll definitely be living in SF proper and imagine most of my shopping will be done in or around the Mission, North Beach, Ferry Bldg market, etc. I don't necessarily shop with a plan in mind, although my habits will probably differ greatly in SF as opposed to Montreal, where I usually drive to my neighborhood chain grocer and walk out with a full fridge worth of food and prep for around $250. Then weekend side trips to the nearby market for specialty foods, condiments and ingrtedients, as well as boulangeries for specialty breads, patisseries for homemade pastries and treats, etc.

      In SF, I get the sense that I'll be heading to specific destinations for day-to-day shopping with general items in mind. I prefer to shop at standalone butchers, cheeseshops, breadmakers, etc. that specialize in items, rather than general mart-type shopping. I do get tempted by some of those high priced items named above (cheeses, juices, confections, etc) and other unique items as well as interesting seasonal produce.

      I would say that I eat a fair amount of meat, but don't do a lot of heavy meat cooking at home. I'm a fervid carnivore but generally indulge in any kind of meat/game at restaurants or when it comes from other kitchens! I like to buy artisanal sausages and lots of charcuteries and sliced meats and cheeses... I'll cook with duck, veal or rabbit from time to time, though it's more often than not incorporated into some sort pasta dish or paella, etc. It's rare that I'll just prepare a huge slab of meat because it's costly to do so for a single person and not always worth the effort. I barbecue a lot back home, but your city doesn't really seem geared towards that. I haven't seen many apartments with balconies that are suited to barbecuing, so I think that'll be something that I will leave behind to my beloved East Coast and nostalgically look forward to on return visits home.

      I tend to cook a lot of Mediterranean type dishes when preparing food for myself, and usually look to Southern European cuisines for inspiration - Spanish, Italian, Neapolitan, Tuscan, Sicilian, and Greek, etc. I like to eat fresh and farm-to-table whenever possible, which is a big incentive in moving to SF as it seems an inherent part of your city's food culture. I love shellfish and will probably be sourcing a lot of it from the waterfront, although I probably won't do too much cooking with other types of fish as I'll be in a studio or single bedroom and don't appreciate the smell. To be completely honest, I don't really have anything fixed in mind in terms of how I would adapt to food shopping in your city... I imagine there are weeks where I'll splurge on lots of fancy specialty items, preserves, mustards, condiments, high-quality oils... and others where I'll just go for the basics.

      I eat a lot of cereals and breakfast is a big thing for me. I'm also getting more into Indian cooking lately and would like to delve further into Southeast Asian cuisine; possibly taking some classes which will be another topic for discussion on this forum! I don't insist on certified organic and I'm not partial to adhering to any kind of strict or rigid food shopping guidelines... As mentioned, I like to try to eat fresh, healthy and sourced from the highest quality ingredients whenever possible. I will not buy prepared foods at chain grocers, but if I'm feeling lazy, I may opt for frozen or ready made meals from a market stall or specialty supplier that requeires little effort in heating/cooking. Back home in Montreal, that might be a tourtierre or duck filled ravioli, etc. Ocassionally, I'll pick up ready-made soups or other rustic comfort meals like shepherd's pie - again always from homemade sources. I do make soups and salads often; different variations almost every night in fact. And I love sandwiches with cured meats, fresh breads, and cheeses. Usually paired with some sort of simple variance of fresh quality veggies, plants, mushrooms - either seasonal or interesting import... These are the areas where usually where I'll get most carried away with my coin.

      I realize this is all very vague and general, as shopping habits and associated costs can vary wildly, but I'm really just looking for a rough estimate. I'm not looking to be super thrifty or spendy - it may shift ocassionally to either end, but for now I'm just curious about an average monthly budget based on all of the information provided above and factored by relative costs of the different grocers, markets, bakeries, stalls, etc. in your city. None of this is inclusive of booze btw! I'm well acquainted with San Francisco's wineries and liquor stores, hah! I'll draw out a separate budget for alcohol; mostly wine.

      I really appreciate the help!!

      4 Replies
      1. re: OliverB

        Got an eye on prospective neighborhoods? Because some are better for food shopping than others. Shopping at places like Bi-Rite, Whole Foods and the Ferry Building is probably not something you'll want to do on a regular basis -- that's a good way to go broke! The best food shopping neighborhoods are probably the Mission and the Richmond District.

        Maybe the best thing would be for us to give you an idea of how we shop. For example, I hardly ever go to the supermarket. I shop for produce at a local independent grocer, ethnic (Mexican or Asian) markets, or farmers markets (particularly fruit, because I hate to buy fruit without sampling it first).

        My shelf goods and dairy products tend to come from places like Trader Joe's and Grocery Outlet. Baking supplies and spices I tend to buy from the bulk department at a natural food store (you should look into Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco) or at ethnic markets.

        Meat is the big variable ... sometimes I buy in quantity at Costco, sometimes I buy a single, expensive chop at the fancy butcher, sometimes I hit the Chinese or Mexican butcher. I don't cook a lot of seafood, but again, you probably want to go to an Asian market for that, not the wharf.

        What I spend on groceries fluctuates wildly on a week-to-week basis. If I had to put a number on it, I'd say $350-400 a month -- I'd guess maybe 25 percent more more for a hungry 30-year-old guy. Coming from Montreal, the local produce is going to blow your mind!

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          Is the city considered your home town?

        2. re: OliverB

          I have no budget info but I do have some recommendations.

          Like anywhere else, you can find an array of places at different price points for different occasions. I myself never go to Bi-Rite or Whole Foods.

          In the castro, there's a produce place called "Golden Produce" that is well priced and has almost anything I need in terms of fruits and vegetables. Occasionally I'll hit a farmer's market. And if they are missing something, I can often fill in at Safeway across the street.

          For basic meat and fish, Golden Natural Foods (same people as Golden Produce) is a few doors down. Again, well priced and higher quality than safeway.

          My favorite fish place is actually in the east bay. Tokyo Fish Market in Berkeley.
          But closer to home for higher end meat there's Golden Gate Meat in the ferry building (great housemade sausages too). Also, (but pricey) is Bryan's up in laurel village.
          There are some fantastic Russian markets out in the Richmond. European Foods (clement and 29th) has great prepared stuff (stuffed cabbage, pickled watermelon...) and Russian Sodas. New World Deli (geary & 20th) has a ton of great prepared salads, interesting dairy, smoked fish and salamis.

          There are also great Japanese supermarkets. I really like Nijiya in Japantown.

          1. re: pauliface

            I almost mentioned the Russian markets in the Richmond. Love them!

        3. A CSA box subscription can save you maybe 30% off what you'd pay at farmers markets.

          The Ferry Plaza market has the highest prices in the Bay Area, there are some vendors that only sell there that make it worth a visit but for regular shopping you can find many of the same vendors elsewhere selling the same stuff for less.

          Similar story for Bi-Rite. They have great stuff but if you're trying to keep to a budget you can often do better elsewhere, such as at Rainbow Grocery. Trader Joe's and Costco have some first-rate products at unbeatable prices.

          North Beach is not a very good neighborhood for food shopping. There's only one deli left, Molinari's, and I think it's more expensive and no better than Lucca's on Valencia. There used to be a good Italian grocery store there but it's gone.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            As someone who lives pretty much right in between Bi-Rite and Rainbow, I've found that the prices are actually pretty comparable (and sometimes even higher at Rainbow!) I was surprised by this, since Rainbow feels more like a Berkeley Bowl and Bi-Rite feels like an upscale Ferry Plaza experience, but my husband pointed it out to me, and sure enough, once I paid closer attention, I realized the prices at Rainbow are pretty much neck and neck with Bi-Rite. The bulk bins at Rainbow are probably cheaper than those types of items (beans, grains, nuts) at Bi-Rite, but fruits, veggies, cheese and dairy are all very similar in price, if not higher. I shop at both fairly regularly and they're great resources, but neither one is going to win any prizes for cheapness.

            I agree that North Beach is not a good place to grocery shop. In addition to the points you make, it's highly inaccessible by public transportation and parking is a nightmare.

          2. Oliver,
            it depends on where you shop and what you plan on getting. There are far more local food options here than in Montreal and food prices here are higher than in Montreal. The sky can be the limit with some organic local produce or you can get good deal at some markets. I don't think it's unrealistic to spend 400 a month if you are planning on doing local, organic veggies and meat and at your convenience shopping and splurging on all the local yumminess (not including booze) Definitely check out Trader Joe's to stock up on some basics like cereals. You can certainly spend less here especially if you do cook with grains and homemade.

            1. since you're going to be around downtown and North Beach and are omnivorous, then definitely check out the wet/live markets on Stockton near Jackson for fish and chicken (there are definitely times to go or not go if you're at all claustrophobic, they get crowded at certain times and days but then that's usually when it's the freshest)

              and talk about fresh, the fish are often still flopping and the chickens were probably still alive that AM