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takomabaker

Washington DC Area Grocery Stores

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Maybe this has been discussed before, but I can't find it.

When I moved up here from Richmond, I went into mourning for Ukrops -- a big, clean, well-stocked supermarket with an excellent meat counter, top-quality deli and take-out department, and wide variety of non-perishable items.

I went into Giant the other day looking for a pork roast. The only pork roasts that were available were pre-marinated in msg-laden sauces. If you can get someone to help you at the seafood counter (they always act as if my shopping is an inconvience), the quality of the seafood is so bad that it almost isn't worth the hassle. I bought some scallops there once, cooked them, took one bite, and put them into the trash. I started going to Safeway and it is just as bad. I dropped in to pick up three items when I had a visiting guest: a toothbrush, a small container of half-and-half, and a package of boneless chicken breasts. The only thing that wasn't rotten was the toothbrush. When I took the cellophane off of the chicken we almost ran from the house. The half-and-half had completely spoiled.

Someone at work told me that the grocery stores here are so pathetic because they are all union and it is politically difficult for any other grocery stores to get zoning. So, we have to put up with mediocre products, bad service, and high prices because we have no choice?

Seriously... where can I get a decent bone-in pork roast? Where can I get fresh vegetables when I missed the farmer's market on Sunday? And I don't even want to DISCUSS the take-out counters. Nasty coleslaw and chemical-tasting potato salad next to dried out bread pudding? Yech!

I sometimes go to Whole Foods, and they are pretty good, but I asked the butcher a few weeks ago if they ever sold veal bones for stock and he acted as if he had never heard of such a thing. And the selection -- although better than Giant or Safeway -- is still pretty mediocre if you are looking for something special or unusual. Whole Foods offers adequate products at expensive prices.

Is there any hope?

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I have accepted the poor and inconsistent selection. I shop at numerous places depending on the item quality/cost:

Safeway/SFW for grocery basics

Latin/Thai/Korean/Japanese/Indian markets for specialty ingredients, some produce

Sutton Place for specialty ingredients, sometimes beef and duck

Whole Foods for quality produce and fish

Maine Ave in DC for some fish/seafood

American Seafood in Arlington for certain seafood

On-Line sources for specialty ingredients; game meat & duck

DC farmers market in NE for bulk meat, some other misc. stuff

Costco for bulk things

I buy my wine at several shops, from brokers in CA and off private lists w/ friends

Once single store will never offer the selection, quality and price that I'm looking for.

edit typo


Edited by bbq4meanytime (log)

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First, I would dispute the opinion that the reason the stores are bad is entirely due to union workers. Some of them individually may be responsible for the surly service, but not the quality or selection. I grew up in St. Louis where the grocery stores were perfectly fine and they were fully unionized.

I think the reason the stores are so bad is because they had been able to get away with it in the past because they were all collectively bad (Giant, Safeway, Food Lion, Shoppers, Magruders, Super Fresh, or any others I can't think of) or too expensive (Whole Foods/Fresh Fields or Sutton Place).

My guess is that the emergence of Wegman's and Harris Teeter in the area is going to either make these others stand up and take notice and either improve or get worse.

As long as I live near Wegman's I don't need to worry about it though. I jus thope they don't live down to the competition.


Bill Russell

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I don't think Giant is bad at all for a middle-market supermarket. Maybe my standards are just terribly low (or maybe it's because I'm not trying to buy meat from them), but I find my local Giant to be surprisingly clean, well-stocked, and diverse in its offerings. Also, the employees are pleasant. I get a lot of stuff elsewhere because I'm picky and I like to support the co-op, but whenever I have to run out quickly for something, I'm quite happy to have Giant there. Safeway, on the other hand, is dire.


"went together easy, but I did not like the taste of the bacon and orange tang together"

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Ya'll need to move to NYC for a year or two. When you return to DC, the supermarkets won't seem so bad. Some have steps (yes, steps) in random places (what used to be an Associated Supermarket on Park Ave South), making manuevering with a cart difficult. Other times, you'll be walking down an aisle and...yo, there's a pole here that will definitely prevent me from taking my cart any further. Some are just so dirty you can't even imagine (I'm thinking of the place on Bleecker, just east of Seventh Ave South).

I found, similar to DC, that it was hard to get everything all at one place. Honestly, unless you live in a place with just one option, there's a good chance you'll make more than one stop.

As for DC...I live near a really crummy Giant, but it's fine for buying staples and right near the Metro. On the weekends, I'll duck into Whole Foods in Glover Park (for some reason, I like that one better than the Tenleytown location) and the nearby Safeway (which to me is massive and has most of what I want). Seriously, I'm pretty satisfied.

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On the weekends, I'll duck into Whole Foods in Glover Park (for some reason, I like that one better than the Tenleytown location) and the nearby Safeway (which to me is massive and has most of what I want). Seriously, I'm pretty satisfied.

'Cause Glover Park is bigger, brighter and less crowded than Tenleytown. :smile:

And there's a Jamba Juice. :smile: And there aren't AU students in their pajamas walking around. :biggrin:


True Heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.

It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost,

but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. -Arthur Ashe

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Takomabaker, I hit the TPSS Co-op for produce when I miss the Sunday Takoma and Dupont farm markets. I find the co-op is a pleasant shopping atmoshpere, clean and easy to navigate. Their produce selection has improved dramatically over the past year since they hired a new produce manager, who has done a great job of shifting the inventory to reflect seasonal changes and who has found inventive and attractive produce displays.

I was shocked at the state of DC's supermarkets when I moved here from North Carolina, where Harris Teeter sets the standard. Unfortunately, Montgomery County is not benefitting from the Wegman's/Harris's phenomena, possibly partly because of county liquor laws (ie, you can't sell beer and wine in a supermarket). Over time I've come to not mind my local Giant so much...the store on Arliss Street has decent produce, acceptable meats, and the usual suspects of other groceries. Still I'd rather be in the co-op, at the farm market, at Whole Paycheck, or sometimes at Han Ah Reum in Wheaton for cheap seafood, produce, whole ducks and all the 80s music you can tolerate.

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I can't speak to Giants, but Safeways vary tremendously based largely on their customer demographics. 10 years ago, at least the rich neighborhoods got the good stuff and the poor neighborhoods got the castoffs. My info source (a former area produce manager) is no longer available, but I'd guess that such practice continues to be the case based on on poking through the stores in various neighborhoods. Here in Adams Morgan/Mt. Pleasant, our store has undergone a dramatic quality improvement in the last five years, corresponding to the rapid gentrification of its customer base. (still not good in the basic meat department, but I don't shop there for that anyway. the collards, on the other hand, are damn reliable...but they're hard to screw up.)

I'm lucky to have a couple of fantastic ethnic markets in the neighborhood, which reliably offer better produce, fish, and meat, replete with Real Butchers...but my staple yogurt, humane-ish eggs and meat, crackers, olives, and parsley still come from whole foods, which is actually pretty price-competitive on such yuppie basics.

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but Safeways vary tremendously based largely on their customer demographics. 10 years ago, at least the rich neighborhoods got the good stuff and the poor neighborhoods got the castoffs.

That's why there's the Social Safeway, the Soviet Safeway and the UnSafeway :biggrin:


True Heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.

It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost,

but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. -Arthur Ashe

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I'm curious to know what particular stores you frequent. The quality varies tremendously, with the "Social Safeway" at one end and the many in-town stores harmed by the fact that they are old, small and serve a less-affluent customer base. On the other hand, my experience with large, suburban outlets here, in Denver and in the upscale suburbs of Atlanta leads me to believe that much of the difference between those gleeming behemoths and babka's and my little Soviet Safeway is cosmetic.

For the record, I've only ever been in a Harris Teeter once, and was deeply disappointed.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I'm curious to know what particular stores you frequent. The quality varies tremendously, with the "Social Safeway" at one end and the many in-town stores harmed by the fact that they are old, small and serve a less-affluent customer base. On the other hand, my experience with large, suburban outlets here, in Denver and in the upscale suburbs of Atlanta leads me to believe that much of the difference between those gleeming behemoths and babka's and my little Soviet Safeway is cosmetic.

For the record, I've only ever been in a Harris Teeter once, and was deeply disappointed.

Grew up going to the Safeway on Capitol Hill (the UnSafeway) and in Waterside Mall for everyday things and the Social Safeway in upper Georgetown for my mom's "special foods". Even as a kid you could see a difference in the types of cookies.

As for the Soviet Safeway, I went when I was in middle school with a friend who lived nearby. I know it was somewhere around Adams Morgan/Mt. PLeasant area, but I just don't remember where. But this was the '80's and the Soviets were the bad guys so we new it was bad.


True Heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.

It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost,

but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. -Arthur Ashe

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and babka's and my little Soviet Safeway

actually, we're the one misnomer--the Spanish Safeway. it was accurate 20 years ago, but the barrio has been pushed back from 18th to 16th street, and is now leaping out into the suburbs. remaining salvadorans shop largely on Mt. Pleasant and northern 14th.

soviet safeway is on 17th and dear god--I love shopping there, only because it's so mind-blowingly awful--some genie in its shift software took the name a little bit too much to heart.

Splendid Safeways. Click on the icons for an elegant display of too much alcohol, time, and computing power.

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Oh that site is too much! We used to go to the Secret Safeway when the MacArthur Safeway (which I swear also had a name -- the first time we went in there, in about 1987, the diapers and feminine hygiene items were stocked on a shelf above the meat) didn't have what we needed. And when mom really needed something and was willing to risk her sanity for it, we went to the Social Safeway.

(I grew up around 39th and Reservoir.)

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Up until October 2002, I lived at 16th and Columbia and would rather drive to the Social Safeway than go to the Spanish Safeway on Columbia, which was just awful.

Now I live at 14th and N and will luckily can walk to the Whole Foods which is excellent (for DC). But of course, you can't get everything there, so I'll sometimes drive to the Giant around 7th, which isn't bad for DC but still sucks.

I miss the Publix of my youth in Florida.


I let Jsmeeker tell me where to eat in Vegas.

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Actually, when I first started hearing these "___ Safeway" titles, the "Social Safeway" was, as it is now, in Georgetown.

The "Soviet Safeway" was located across the street from the Uptown Theater in Cleveland Park. It's now an independent grocery store whose name I can't seem to pull up, even though I go there all the time. It was the Soviet Safeway not because it was evil, but because the store was so small and dingy, and the selection so small -- much worse than any of the Safeways vying for the title today. Anyone remember the Safeway on, like 9th and G? That was pretty scary, too.

The Sodomy Safeway (very incorrect, and rarely ) was the one at 17th and Corcoran. You didn't hear this one in casual conversation too often, and even then mostly after you'd been drinking with people who lived out of the neighborhood.

I never heard the Adams-Morgan Safeway called the Spanish Safeway, but it seems obvious, in retrospect.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Up until October 2002, I lived at 16th and Columbia and would rather drive to the Social Safeway than go to the Spanish Safeway on Columbia, which was just awful.

Now I live at 14th and N and will luckily can walk to the Whole Foods which is excellent (for DC). But of course, you can't get everything there, so I'll sometimes drive to the Giant around 7th, which isn't bad for DC but still sucks.

I miss the Publix of my youth in Florida.

I go to the Giant on 7th every now and then, usually when I'm in that area getting wings from the Philadelphia Pizza carry out on 9th and O. I used to go there regularly back in the early 80's, and it's still occasionally jarring not to be the only white person in the store -- and to see a selection of wines for sale.

The great thing about that store was the old guys that would idle out front, in middle-aged 4-door sedans, waiting to give you a ride home. It was a great service if you didn't have a car, costing three or five bucks, and the drivers were always old neighborhood types who loved to talk about the old days. In between rides, they'd hang out out front and shoot the breeze with one another. They saw their friends and picked up a little supplementary Social Security, you didn't have to schlep home 50 pounds of groceries. Sadly, I think they're gone now.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Huh, that's funny. I always heard the 17th and Corcoran Safeway called the "Soviet Safeway." I bought almost all my groceries there for years; I'd Metro to Tenleytown once a month to shop at Fresh Fields but other than that everything we ate came from the 17th Street Safeway.

I now shop at the Giant on Arliss in Silver Spring, the Takoma Park-Silver Spring Natural Foods Co-op, the Takoma Farm Market. I used to shop at Snider's Super Foods in Silver Spring but haven't the time to make it there lately. I sometimes hit the Whole Foods in Silver Spring (despite the lack of fennel that vexes JPW and the lack of frisee that vexes me). I do visit the Safeway on University in the Hampshire Langley shopping center to pick up foods for work (usually buttermilk and bread). They have a good selection of Hispanic specialty foods which is displayed front-and-center. I think the exterior of the store is completely unwelcoming, but inside it's nice and clean and the produce looks decent. (Never really looked at the meat.)

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I sometimes hit the Whole Foods in Silver Spring (despite the lack of fennel that vexes JPW and the lack of frisee that vexes me).

Yes! What is up with the lack of fennel at the Silver Spring Whole Foods?! I can rarely find it there. My staple stores these days are the Silver Spring Safeway, farmers markets when I can make it, and the Korean market up on Georgia whose name always escapes me for veggies and fish. Also, I work in Ballston and often buy meats at the Harris Teeter at much better quality and prices than Giant, which offered fatty flank steak for $8/lb recently! Personally I love going to multiple places when I have the time.

Turtleboy is right about Publix in FL - great stores, especially the new ones.

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Soviet Sodomy Safeway here (although I've never heard it referred to as either of those; maybe I just haven't been paying attention). Although it's small, it's not so bad for grocery basics, and even sturdy produce. My only real problem with it is how freaking crowded it is - it's ridiculous to even contemplate navigating a cart around inside. And anyone who thinks they can just pop in to pick up some greens for tonight's salad and be out in five minutes is sorely misinformed: I've never waited less than ten minutes on line.

I'll walk or drive to Whole Foods on P for meat, fish and decent produce. I'll also stop by the huuuge Han Ah Rheum by my office to see what looks good at their fish counter. On occasion, I'll go to the tiny little bodega-ish place on 17th next to Safeway for dried beans and spices and the uglier parts of pigs.

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Takomabaker,

Lots of shopping suggestions were mentioned on this thread.

I presume from your handle that you are in TP. I think that Malawry's suggestions would serve you well. I live right over the border in SS.

It is interesting to note the wide variety of quality even within the same chain. If you want a laugh sometime, go into the old Safeway on University Blvd, just West of Four Corners, then compare to the newer Safeway in downtown Silver Spring, then visit a brand new Safeway (like the one off of 28 just west of I270).

Perhaps you could tell us more specifically what you are looking for.

I personally think that grocery stores in and around DC have improved tremendously over the last few years as the big chains are losing market share to the Whole Paycheck/HarrisTeeter.Wegman's group of smaller chains. They are trying to improve.

But as some have mentioned there are some great hidden local gems depending on what you are looking for.


Edited by JPW (log)

If someone writes a book about restaurants and nobody reads it, will it produce a 10 page thread?

Joe W

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I'd have to nominate Magruders as the worst offender. There is one on Duke Street in Alexandria. Seven cash registers, always manned by exactly one person who is apparently heavily medicated.

Absolutely filthy, I wouldn't even by a Twinkie from them.

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Ya'll need to move to NYC for a year or two. When you return to DC, the supermarkets won't seem so bad. Some have steps (yes, steps) in random places (what used to be an Associated Supermarket on Park Ave South), making manuevering with a cart difficult. Other times, you'll be walking down an aisle and...yo, there's a pole here that will definitely prevent me from taking my cart any further. Some are just so dirty you can't even imagine (I'm thinking of the place on Bleecker, just east of Seventh Ave South).

I found, similar to DC, that it was hard to get everything all at one place. Honestly, unless you live in a place with just one option, there's a good chance you'll make more than one stop.

As for DC...I live near a really crummy Giant, but it's fine for buying staples and right near the Metro. On the weekends, I'll duck into Whole Foods in Glover Park (for some reason, I like that one better than the Tenleytown location) and the nearby Safeway (which to me is massive and has most of what I want). Seriously, I'm pretty satisfied.

I agree with this 100%. I don't want to hear anyone complain about grocery stores until the only one in walking distance to your apartment is the Key Food on 91st and Lex and all the meat is a grayish hue and there are dustballs on all the canned food...excuse me, on the absurdly overpriced dust covered canned food.

Just go to Wegman's and all problems will be solved.

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I used to live around the corner from that Magruders and would avoid it as much as possible. It reminded me of the 1960's era IGA we used to go to in St. Louis in the early '70's before newer chains started driving out the old ones.

That reminds me of something. I'm ashamed to say that last Christmas I was cooking at my mother's house and found an IGA spice container still in her cabinet. I know that store closed down in 1977 or 78. But that's a topic for another thread.


Bill Russell

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Huh, that's funny. I always heard the 17th and Corcoran Safeway called the "Soviet Safeway." I bought almost all my groceries there for years; I'd Metro to Tenleytown once a month to shop at Fresh Fields but other than that everything we ate came from the 17th Street Safeway.

According to the Cleveland Park Historical Society, (thank you, google) their Safeway closed in 1987, so it was "Soviet" several years before Whole Foods came to town. It was dramatically dingier than the 17th St. Safeway, where I had been shopping on and off for years by then, as I moved from apartment to group house to basement in various neighborhoods. I don't know which Safeway first earned the term (the old 7th St. Safeway on Capitol Hill was pretty grim, too), but Cleveland Park certainly seemed the most deserving of it.

PS. Has anyone ever gotten a date in the "Social Safeway?"


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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PS. Has anyone ever gotten a date in the "Social Safeway?"

I usually get my dates at Whole Foods. :raz:


peak performance is predicated on proper pan preparation...

-- A.B.

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