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Aug 22, 2014 06:02 PM

Best one-stop supermarket?

I am moving to the Bay Area from the Northeast, home of Wegman's: World's Most Awesome Supermarket. Looking for something equivalent where I can pick up a beautiful Brie, organic staples, and stuff like diapers and light bulbs all in one place. Any suggestions?

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  1. Doesn't exist but do you really need to buy lightbulbs and diapers with your brie? There are typically pharmacies within several blocks radius of most groceries. Whole Foods is probably your best bet otherwise.

    1. Berkeley Bowl, though the best Brie is no longer imported.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        I live in Boston but dream of Berkeley Bowl, which is wasted on my sister who lives near there but only buys "normal" fruits -- grapes, apples, oranges. Whereas I thrill to the five kinds of mango, 14 kinds of mushrooms, three kinds of currants, caltrap nuts, etc.

      2. Where in the Bay Area will you be living? The best answer to your question will vary depending on your location. And I do agree that you're probably better served by hitting a drugstore for things like diapers (based on availability, price, and/or selection) if you also want the best selection, quality-wise, in groceries locally.

        My answer would also be Berkeley Bowl (and there are drugstores within a block of both stores), but whether it's a practical place for regular shopping depends on where you will live.

        37 Replies
        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

          Hoping to be in outer or central Richmond, Caitlin.

          1. re: PastryPoseur

            Berkeley Bowl West is only 15 minutes away without traffic.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              From the Richmond District it's about min. 15 minutes just to get on the bridge.

              If You are going to visit Berkeley and like the best produce outside of a farmer's mkt, be sure to go to Monterey Market on Hopkins. Great prices, too.

              I rarely go to Andronico anymore .. sky high prices, produce that gets rained on too much. The only place I go to for fish, chicken, meats is Bryan's at Calif/Laurel but prices for everything in the store really high but the meats are the best quality.

              For fresh produce for reasonable prices, go to 22nd/Irving mkt across the park into the beginning of the Sunset district.

              Paper products, etc. I go to Target .. there's one at Geary/Masonic .. limited selection. I like the bigger one in Colma.

              I wish I could go to just one store. I do like the cheese selection at Trader Joe .. my favorite one is at Calif/Hyde. Very helpful/friendly staff, very clean spacious store. I never go to the one on Masonic .. you have to fight, wait in long line just to drive into the parking lot.

            2. re: PastryPoseur

              Richmond City, or Richmond District?

              1. re: soupçon

                That's the key. The Richmond in SF, or the East Bay city?

                If the former, then Berkeley Bowl is far away (and unimpressive except for the fruit, veg, and level of smug self-righteousness of many of the customers).

                Rainbow is very good, but no meatru or fish (and they've definitely lowered the hippie vibe and increased the quality over the years). It's do-able but not exactly local for the Richmond.

                Andronico's is local but offensively over-priced and the quality variable. Prepared foods are college canteen level and service can be awful.

                Closest to Wegman's may turn out to be Whole Foods: Clean, consistent high quality, good service. It's just so expensive.

                I'd recommend buying special items at Bi-Rite and everything else at Trader Joe's.

                1. re: davidg1

                  I don't think Trader Joe's works as an "everything else" place unless you're really into Trader Joe's. I'm not, and the few times I've been in there it's never struck me as a place I could do regular shopping.

              2. re: PastryPoseur

                if your intended place of residence is the Richmond district of SF, for bulk organic spices, grains, staples, very good cheese selection, organic produce, no meat or fish but organic eggs and dairy, good selection of local breads, decent selection of frozen foods, vitamins and supplements -- Rainbow, worker owned. expensive for paper goods and cleaning supplies and such. Trader Joe's complements Rainbow fairly well, other than fresh meats and fish. as far as one-stop, with a shiny corporate patina more closely resembling Wegman's, W.Foods fits the specs better, but it's weaker with local breads. if you're living in the east bay, your options are quite different w. B.Bowl, but W.Foods still has the edge in the sleek, corporate ambience.

                1. re: moto

                  I'd really like to know how Trader Joe's is a "one stop" - in fact, I've genuinely been wondering what people on CH use TJ's for as in my opinion, it's the absolute worst grocery store in the city?

                  Their produce market is a joke. It's never fresh, fruits are never ripe, and it always seems like last pick stuff that no other discerning grocery would carry bundled together. Low prices are the selling point but I've bought bulk berries in the height of season that tasted like they'd been refrigerated and imported from out of state. Their vegetable selection is just as poor and it's impossible to buy anything in single units. Everything is pre bagged and bundled.

                  There's no butcher or meat market. The cheese section is terrible. I used to get better from my commercial grocery chain (Metro/IGA) in Montreal.

                  The focus of the store seems to be on their prepared foods, which is something I never touch and seems very "un-Chowhound-like" so it always surprised me to read any kind of praise for T.J. here. I should note btw, that my only experience with Trader Joe's has been the California St. location near Nob Hill and I will admit that we have been shopping there as of recent out of convenience and cost-efficiency since we're saving for a very expensive trip next month, but otherwise, I'd never see the need to step foot inside.

                  So this is a genuine question for Chowhound - what do you use Trader Joe's for other than prepared foods and is it good for anything else? Maybe I'm missing something but I can't seem to figure out why anyone would shop their other than the cheap prices. Everything I've ever tried with the T.J. brand label, from their almond butter to their tortillas, has tasted awful. Their fruits and veggies are the worst though; I often have to pick up six or seven different cartons of berries to find one that doesn't have mold or other problems.

                  As a regular as of late TJ shopper, I have to say that I hate them and I'm curious why others on Chowhound don't feel the same?

                  1. re: OliverB

                    Agreed on produce, meat and the hassle. I actually like the taste of many of their frozen meals, packaged sauces etc but I hate going there on the weekends or evenings so it's really dropped off for me.

                    1. re: OliverB

                      I can't get into it either, but I wouldn't say I "hate" them. The last time I went there was at least a year ago when I needed something for a buffet which was vegetarian and easy to just heat up and serve, yet a little bit interesting. It works for that, but not for everyday shopping.

                      1. re: GH1618

                        I wouldn't say I hate them either except that I've been shopping there lately out of necessity (exorbitant honeymoon in one month) so I've come to really dislike Trader Joe's. A lot of their brand labeled foods and grains have proven awful. We only shop for basics now; bananas, milk, etc. I suppose if we were shopping for prepared packaged meals from their frozen department, Trader Joe's would be servicable, but for our purposes I've come to hate TJ's and look forward to returning to our neighborhood farmer's markets and Whole Foods this winter when we return from our trip!

                      2. re: OliverB

                        I used to be firmly in your camp, but have changed my mind over the years mostly due to my friends' constantly raving about the place. I have good luck with well-priced dairy (milk, butter, sour cream, yogurt, etc), meat basics (ground beef, bacon), and excellent frozen vegetables. The store-brand grocery stuff is extremely hit-or-miss (enchilada sauce OK, pickles bad, Dijon mustard more than fine, for instance). It's not one-stop by any means, but there's a store close to me so that makes a difference in my case. Just sort of depends on how much energy someone wants to put into shopping, really, since a lot of their prices are attractive.

                        1. re: OliverB

                          Oh please. I'm not sure where to start. Trader Joe's is not Whole Foods, but you have to learn how to shop (unless you have unlimited funds) - especially if you are shopping for a family. "There's no butcher or meat market." Is there supposed to be? You buy what's good, and don't buy what's not. Same as anywhere, and you figure out what's good where and what you have time for, and money. For most people, Whole Foods combined with your local farmers' market (your stated shopping preferences) is not going to work, especially money-wise.

                          1. I hardly buy any produce at TJ's. The quality is not good and (except for bananas) the prices are NOT low - unless you're comparing to WF and farmers' markets - so that's not the selling point. Convenience is their selling point for people who buy produce there.

                          2. I don't buy their prepared foods, fresh or frozen. Although if I was a consumer of prepared foods I'm sure I'd find some decent things there.

                          3. The cheese selection is "terrible" compared to what? Compared to most American supermarkets it's very good, and inexpensive. They have decent cheddars at a good price, fresh mozzarella, inexpensive parmesan (including Argentinian vegetarian parmesan, which costs double at Rainbow) etc etc.

                          4. Natural peanut butter is cheaper than anywhere else, so are nuts - and they have a good selection and excellent quality. Prices are pretty great, and the quality is first rate (both on their own brand and on national brands) on things like sunflower seeds, spiced cashews, fruit strips, brand name nutrition bars, crackers, organic chocolate sauce, yogurt, organic milk, canned fish, pasta and other dried goods, as well as liquor, Tom's toothpaste etc. And they have some pretty good wine bargains too.

                          1. re: davidg1

                            So your answer to my question (which was genuinely posed btw) is that you basically just buy seeds, nuts, dairy, pasta, grains, and sometimes wine. Fair enough.

                            I don't find their house brand yogurts to be particularly good but that's my opinion. With regards to their cheese selection (basing my judgement strictly on the California Street location) I'd say it's pretty poor compared to just about anywhere else that sells cheese-including many small corner delis. Never thought to peruse the wines as I usually make a side trip to our neighborhood liquor store for that but I'll take a look next time.

                            1. re: OliverB

                              well yeah if you're already at California and Hyde and wanting wine (and not on foot), why wouldn't you go to the Jug Shop at Pac and Polk? I would, even if I was on foot.

                              but that doesn't really answer the OP's question I suppose.

                              1. re: OliverB

                                Nope. I buy milk and yogurt, yogurt smoothies, bread for sandwiches, middle eastern flatbreads, rice flour tortillas, peanut and almond butter, pancake mix, almond flour, vanilla, steamed french lentils, eggs, egg whites, organic chocolate syrup, soy ice cream, veggie meatballs, Morningstar sausages, vegetarian Italian sausage and veg chorizo, canned tuna and boneless sardines, ready to eat polenta, pasta, Israeli couscous, kashi cereal, fruit strips, z bars, clif bars, kids' vitamins, Tom's toothpaste and deodorant, nuts, all sorts of crackers, flaxseed chips (super nutritious), cheddar, mozarrella balls, shredded mexican cheese, grated parmesan, mustard, olive oil, wine, beer, liquor, Hansen' s sodas.

                                90% of these items (a list just off the top of my head)are at a price and quality better than anywhere else.

                                I'm sure you're not interested in these things, as you're not buying for a family. But I need all these things on a regular basis and, unless I want to pay twice the price at WF, I don't think Trader Joe's can be beat.

                                1. re: davidg1

                                  Understandable then, but I find a few of the items that you listed such as the sausages (I've tried just about every one they carry) to be extremely subpar. It makes sense for non artisanal cheese like cheddar, shredded mexican, though I've purchased their mozarella for a pizza before and wasn't a fan of it. Ice cream, syrups, eggs, pasta - all makes sense and understandable. I've never enjoyed any breads I've bought from Trader Joe's. I think at the end of the day prices trump quality and that's why people favor TJ's. It's affordable and cost efficient for families or students on a budget (heck, that's why we're currently shopping there) but most of what they carry is not necessarily the highest quality from my experience. Thanks for answering my question though; that all makes good sense!

                                  1. re: OliverB

                                    The stuff I buy at TJ's is all top quality, but I've tried a lot of things that were not good. Their tortilla chips are remarkably bad, as was some packaged Indian food they had once. It's odd.

                                    The quality of the breads varies depending on the suppliers. Acme makes a couple that are good. Before they were Starbucked, Bay Bread made a great rustic whole wheat levain called Pain Pascal.

                                    1. re: OliverB

                                      Within the severe limitations of the species, I think the tofurkey veg Italian sausage is about the best around, better than Field Roast. And Morningstar sausage patties, links, breaded chicken patties are great, although highly processed. If you know if better, I'd be genuinely interested to know.

                              2. re: OliverB

                                I agree. A store with packaged produce, AC on full blast, and an always-chipper and talkative staff? Have I entered Hell??

                                I never go out of my way to go to Trader Joe's, but if I'm in one, I like their almond milk, cereal, and the Vitamin E and 100% Aloe Vera in their (very small) bath care section. I agree that it's mostly a mecca for pre-packaged foods and junk food treats.

                                To stay on topic, I live in the East Bay and loooooove Berkeley Bowl's produce and bulk bins. Pak N Save is great for much cheaper dairy and dry goods, such as cereal, yogurt, butter, etc. For home stuff I like Target and will always like Target, and Whole Foods has the BEST and cheapest (yes, much cheaper than Target) selection of lotions, soaps, lip balm, etc. If I need groceries when I'm in the city, I just opt for a Safeway or a Whole Foods.

                                Unless I'm dragged to a TJ's by someone else, there is absolutely nothing I prefer to get there.

                                1. re: OliverB

                                  Dairy products -- in the bay area, their organic line is Strauss. I absolutely adore the texture of their whole fat Greek yogurt with honey and it is a daily staple for me. Butter is cheap. They carry things like bellwether creme fraiche for at least a dollar cheaper than regular grocery stores. Cream cheese, St Andre, fresh mozz is all fine. They do carry lots of cheeses I won't touch.

                                  The belgian "pound plus" chocolate bars are great, I love that they have a variety of %s.

                                  I'll admit it's hard for me to spend $8 on pastured eggs with regularity, so I buy organic/free range at TJs for about half that.

                                  Dried fruit and nuts. Water crackers. Those triple ginger cookies are damn good. Ice cream mochi :)

                                  Often buy their pastrami or their sliced roasted turkey breast, it's convenient and is fine for weekday sandwiches.

                                  I like their toiletries, triple milled lemon verbena soap is heavenly, but that's very personal.

                                  I will buy a chicken for roasting from there, but only in a pinch. I like their "black forest" thick sliced bacon. Sometimes I'll buy their nitrate free all-beef hot dogs.

                                  oh yeah! And their house brand of Pirate's Booty ... they have some fun snacking foods.

                                  1. re: Torina

                                    TJ's organic cream-top milk is from Straus, the nonfat is not.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      In the Bay Area, I believe the non-cream-top organic milk at TJ's is Clover. Not sure on sources of other organic dairy there, except that the "European-style" yogurt is clearly Straus.

                                      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                        So the homogenized full-fat milk is Clover?

                                        That's the one I buy. Tastes good to me. I agree with Robert about the clotting on the cream-top, I find it off putting.

                                        Did a side-by-side tasting of the organic butter vs strauss butter and it was definitely the same, but that was several years ago (and I don't care for Strauss butter, so I actually buy conventional).

                                        1. re: Torina

                                          Is TJ's organic butter 86% butterfat European-style? Because hat's the only butter Straus sells, unless they're running a special product for TJ's, about which I'd have my doubts.

                                          The best way to find out what dairy private-label milk is from is to use this site:

                                          1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                            I haven't checked the label in a long time because I didn't like that butter when I did the taste test, so I'm not sure. But if you like the Strauss butter, it's worth trying.

                                            Again, it was several years ago, but our little group tasted about a dozen butters, and the TJs organic was identical to the Strauss at that time. I like "european style", ie higher butterfat content, cultured butter, and was a very happy customer back when they sold Plugra at TJs. Maybe I just didn't care for the flavor of the culturing agent Strauss used.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                I always read 'european style' as cultured. Does it just mean higher butterfat content?

                                                FWIW, it didn't taste cultured. Hate to simply say their product tastes bad, but I guess it does (to me).

                                                1. re: Torina

                                                  Plugra and Straus use "European-style" to mean higher butterfat.

                                    2. re: Torina

                                      If you'll excuse me a rant, chocolate labeled "Belgian" is, unless otherwise specified, from Barry-Callebaut. Barry-Callebaut is the largest industrial chocolate producer in the world, larger than Hersheys. They won't reveal their sources, but their demand is so huge it's a safe bet they use Ivory Coast chocolate, and much of Ivory Coast's chocolate industry uses child slave labor. Personally, I never buy chocolate without knowing the provenance, and NEVER buy Belgian chocolate.

                                      The good news is that Trader Joe's has what is probably the biggest chocolate bargain in town in their "Dark Chocolate Lover's" bar, 3.5 oz. for two bucks. It's just an alternative packaging for Luker 1906 Tumaco Extra Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa made from single-region Colombian Chocolate. A bar of equal quality and provenance would easily go for $6 and upward at Fog City News or Chocolate Covered.


                                2. re: PastryPoseur

                                  The Richmond District in SF?

                                  Rainbow is the one standout independent grocer in SF. They have a lot of stuff including an incomparable bulk section and a pretty decent cheese selection, but the store has some gaping holes due to being run by a vegetarian hippie collective, and rather a lot of floor space devoted to dietary supplements, organic hemp dreadlock covers, and the like.

                                  The Irving St. Andronico's would be worth checking out.

                                  Whole Foods is really expensive and the smaller branches have a very limited selection of products.

                                  Buy your diapers, toilet paper, paper towels, etc. at Costco a few times a year. Buy LED lights at City Lights and you won't have to replace them for years.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Not to stray too far OT but with the exception of weekly items like t.p. and paper towels, I order in bulk from Amazon once or twice a year and usually save a ton of money. They carry all the non-chemical organic housecleaning brands. It's a heck of a lot more convenient to restocking every other week or combining your grocery shopping with house cleaning.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        We buy Meyer's everything for house cleaning and Amazon is the cheapest source if you order in bulk. We generally save 25-50% by stocking up for the year. I don't shop at Costco but I doubt they carry these brands.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          If you do not have a car, it is much more convenient. My car-free sister in Berkeley does this all the time.

                                        2. re: OliverB

                                          Somehow I don't follow how toilet paper and paper towels are weekly shopping items. If there's ANYTHING I prefer to buy in bulk, it's those things.

                                  2. You can do this at the independent groceries in the East Bay (Piedmont Grocery, Farmer Joe's, Berkeley Bowl) though you'll pay a premium for the diapers and light bulbs. Whole Foods comes pretty close (no light bulbs there, at least at ours). I'd check out the indie SF stores (Rainbow Grocery is the only one I know by name but there must be others) and see. But don't expect Wegman's!

                                    1. I've never been to a Wegman's, so I'm not sure what you want. Is it a comprehensive superstore? Or is it a more upscale place with better products and a nicer shopping experience?

                                      The nicer places tend to be smaller. I like Nob Hill (a branch of Raley's) which has good products and a nicer shopping experience, but is too small to be comprehensive. They have a poor meat department, so I go to Piedmont Grocery for that. But PG is a small boutique place which doesn't work for me as a reqular grocery. I just get the few things that are hard to find elsewhere. There is a Raley's in San Pablo next to Richmond. Piedmont Grocery is on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, not convenient for regular runs from Richmond, but worth stopping in at when you are in the area.

                                      If I want a special cheese I can go to a cheese shop. It doesn't matter that my supermarket has mostly ordinary cheeses. Light bulbs are in the hardware store. Then there's online shopping for certain specialty items. I don't expect to get everything at one place.

                                      Some people like Whole Foods but I don't like it at all. It's just the vibe. Berkeley Bowl is popular around here for an alternative to the chain supermarkets, but I've never been. I'm sure it's worth checking out.