An Idiot’s Guide to Grocery Shopping near Tufts
Whether this is your first year off the unlimited plan, or you’re trying to cut all ties and go fully independent, you’re probably getting tired of expensive takeout and tasteless convenience food. You know you could spend less and eat better, but between classes, jobs, and extracurriculars, you don’t have the time to explore the town or compare prices. Luckily for you, we’re here to help: we’ve visited the most popular locations and have a concise list of where to shop and what to avoid.
Stop and Shop | Two Locations: Broadway in Somerville, and Fellsway in Medford
If we wanted to establish an average standard for grocery stores, Stop and Shop would be it. It is average. The produce is edible. The variety is satisfactory, especially for cheaper convenience foods. The international sections are small and disappointing from a foodie perspective, but satisfactory for someone on a budget. Given that Tufts runs a shuttle to the Medford location (Leaving Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:45 PM from the Campus Center), this is probably the most accessible to the average student.
The Bottom Line: If you just need pantry staples, inexpensive conventional produce, or conventional meat, you could do worse. Just don’t expect the highest quality or variety, especially in the international sections.
Shaws | Porter Square on the Red Line
This particular Shaws could basically be the Fellsway Stop and Shop. It has everything you expect in a grocery store, and much like Stop and Shop, the quality is decent but not great. Given its location, the store isn’t huge, and you’ll find a fairly limited variety, but for American standard food this location is probably a better choice than Stop and Shop.
The Bottom Line: Not happy with Stop and Shop? Check this place out. It’s got all the staples and normal foods at moderate prices, but again, the quality of fresh items is questionable. It’s also pretty crowded at most hours.
Market Basket | 400 Somerville Ave near Union Square, accessible on the 87 from Davis or 80 from Tufts
Market Basket differs in many ways from Stop and Shop, and not all of them are good. It brands itself as a cheaper option but this location also has an impressive variety of foods, some of them very high quality. Shopping here is stressful, tiring and constantly feels like you’re rushing, since this location is always packed with people, but if you’re willing to get up early you can find a great selection of international foods, pantry staples at lower prices than Stop and Shop, and even some higher quality items at surprising prices. It’s a pretty short trip and a worthwhile alternative to Stop and Shop and Shaws.
The Bottom Line: Go here for more unusual foods, especially Hispanic and Eastern European. There’s great variety in the produce areas and good prices, but the produce doesn’t always stay fresh. Go here when you’re tired of what you can get at Stop and Shop or Shaws, or looking to make something new.
Trader Joe’s | At Fresh Pond near Alewife, or Memorial Drive in Cambridge
Trader Joes is often branded as the college foodie’s best friend, since it serves up a greater variety of foods and a generally higher quality without being prohibitively expensive. The Alewife location is clean and friendly like you’d expect from a TJ’s, and it also happens to be across the street from a Whole Foods. The variety is good, not great (everything is TJ’s Branded); prices are higher but the produce is much better. The biggest downside of these locations is that they are out of the way – the Fresh Pond location is across a busy highway from Alewife Station – but if you have a car this is a great place to visit.
The Bottom Line: If you have a car, consider going here regularly for TJ’s favorites like cookie butter as well as better-quality produce. If you don’t, the Fresh Pond location is close enough to the T station (and close to campus) to consider visiting on a weekend if you don’t mind dragging your groceries back.
Whole Foods | Multiple Locations including Fresh Pond, Alewife Parkway near Campus, and three locations in Cambridge.
For the choosy consumer, Whole Foods’ saturation in the Boston area, especially Cambridge, means that there are plenty of options if you’re looking for organic/local foods, high-quality produce, and special diet foods. The Cambridge locations are constricted by their location and tend to be more limited in variety, while the Fresh Pond and Alewife Parkway locations are large and incredibly diverse. Prices are as high as the ‘Whole Paycheck’ nickname suggests, but if you’re looking for good cheese/dairy, organic produce, or high quality pantry goods, Whole Foods puts them all under one roof.
The Bottom Line: For a college student the prices at Whole Foods probably put regular visits out of reach, but if you’re looking for something that’ll impress a date, or are willing to spend more for higher-quality meat and dairy, Whole Foods are abundant and conveniently located.
Harvest Co-op | Central Square on the Red Line
Easy to overlook this unassuming little store near the T entrance in Central Square, but this place is a hidden gem for those who wish they could afford to shop at Whole Foods. If you only go here once, go for the bulk bins. They are an incredible deal, especially when it comes to bulk spices and flour. For the price of a few stale McCormick spice bottles you can stock an entire pantry with certified organic spices. This Co-op also sells coffee, organic/local produce, and a more limited but still high-quality variety of dairy, meats, and dry goods.
The Bottom Line: If you’re trying to eat organic or just save money on pantry staples, go here. The Co-op can’t manage Whole Foods’ bulk commodity organic model, so expect to pay more for produce, but when it comes to high-quality dry goods this is probably the best bang for your buck in town.
Pemberton Farms | Massachusetts Avenue, two blocks from Davis Square
Within walking distance of Tufts, this upscale food and garden store is a decent third option for higher quality groceries if you don’t want to pay Whole Foods prices. Its selection of produce is more limited but generally more affordable, and it has a great selection of pantry staples as well as a pretty well stocked cheese and meat section. The prices for produce are much better than Whole Foods or Harvest Co-op, but it lacks the expansive special diet options.
The Bottom Line: Mid-range specialty grocery store with decent pantry and good perishable selection. It’s so close to campus that it could be a great place to visit for fresh produce since it’s just a short walk from Davis Square.
McKinnon’s Meat Market | On Elm Street off Davis Square
The best term to describe McKinnon’s would be ‘unique.’ It’s a butcher shop from another time, smelling vaguely of death and packed wall-to-wall with pink and red flesh. This is the place to go for unusual cuts of meat. Don’t go here looking for certified organic, grass-fed meat. The meat is cheap and abundant and comes from every animal imaginable and in every cut possible. Even if you just want to buy a big package of chicken breasts, this is worth checking out, but for the more adventurous it’s an affordable and accessible source of the weird stuff. The produce section, which is limited in variety but very cheap and decent quality (best to use it soon after buying) is tucked in the back, as is an old-style deli counter whose products blow Oscar Meyer out of the water.
The Bottom Line: A unique institution that, if nothing more, is affordable and close to campus. A great place to buy meat, especially if you’re feeling adventurous, as well as a decent last-minute produce destination
Reliable Market | Union Square on the 80 or 87.
Out of Boston’s vast number of international groceries, this Korean/Japanese store stands out mostly due to its size, price, and location. While it doesn’t sell a huge amount of Chinese or Southeast Asian staples, anyone looking for Japanese or Korean pantry items, good-quality seafood, or East-Asian sweets should consider Reliable. It wins out over similar groceries on its prices (cheaper than Ebisuya in Medford) and quality (cleaner/better-quality produce and meat). For the average college student, its selection will be more than sufficient.
The Bottom Line: Worth checking out at least once, especially if you like fish. More conveniently located than most Asian markets (it’s a short walk from Market Basket) and friendly enough to the non-native to be accessible. If you’re looking for Chinese food, stick to C-Mart.
This list really only represents the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the rich variety of small gourmet shops, butcher shops, bakeries, and farmer’s markets which populate the Boston area. The stores listed here were selected for their variety, proximity, and accessibility to the average student. If you’re looking for something special, there’s a great resource on special/ethnic markets at this link. To find a local farmer’s market, click here. Happy hunting!