You'll notice that this list focuses on large chains. If I had unlimited time and money, I would stay away from all of these stores and shop strictly at farmer's markets and local bodegas. Unfortunately, our reality doesn't line up with this ideal. We work long hours and sometimes need the convenience of our neighborhood 24-hour Safeway. For information on local farmer's markets and Community Supported Agriculture programs, click here and here.
This DC, Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware chain that we call "Gigante" can be hit or miss depending on the location. Some, like the one closest to our house on 8th Street, are a bit run down and the selection can be frustrating. One day we were in search of boneless-skinless chicken breasts and they didn't carry them. Also, the bacon and processed meats section takes up an entire aisle but they stock only a few varieties of yogurt. I'll save the rant on the obesity epidemic in America for another day.
To be fair to Gigante, there are some jewels in their crown. The Super Giant in Columbia Heights has a much larger selection and a wider variety of natural food brands. Giant also features Peapod, a grocery delivery service. We've never used Peapod but know neighbors who have and swear by it.
I don't need to say much about Safeway since you probably are familiar with this mega-chain. For our West Coast readers, Safeway = Vons and for our Chicago readers, Safeway = Dominick's. For some reason, DC has a thing with giving each Safeway a cutesy name. Here are a few:
The Social Safeway: This Safeway, on the outskirts of Georgetown, is apparently the place for single people to go if they're looking for a date. You'll find lots of Georgetown students there trying to buy their beer before the 10pm alcohol sales cutoff. The clientele is young and chatty. Don't go running over to Wisconsin Avenue now though - this location is closed for a major renovation.
The Soviet Safeway: Empty shelves and long checkout lines give this Dupont Circle Safeway its name. It's a very small store in a crowded neighborhood with no parking lot, so not the best place to go for a serene shopping experience. The chances of them having everything on your list are slim. Luckily, there is a big Whole Foods just a few blocks away.
The Sexy Safeway: Mayor Fenty named this brand new Safeway located at 5th and L in DC. It's bright, big, and new, and corners the market on strange gimmicky features: a fancy bakery that will bake you bread in the shape of a crab (yeah, I don't know either) and a make-your-own nut butter station. While I love the free underground parking and the fact that it is open late, I think a better name for this place is the Surly Safeway. Want to see what I mean? Just try giving the cashier your reusable grocery bags. The number of eye rolls and sighs I've gotten when I hand over my bags are too numerous to count. Come on cashiers, it's not like I'm giving you homemade canvas bags that don't stay open. These are huge, insulated bags that stand straight up on their own for ease of loading. Do these people have a secret pact with plastic bag manufacturers? Anyway, if you can take a bit of 'tude with your turkey breast and Total cereal, this place is for you.
We first discovered H-Teet when B lived in Virginia. It operates in 8 states and DC, and is our favorite of the regular grocery chains. It has the best selection of produce and healthier foods, and is generally clean, fully stocked, and staffed with friendly people. The DC location is on the small side, so we recommend making the trek out to Pentagon City. They also have free cookies for kids by the checkout lanes and I may have liberally interpreted the meaning of "kid" on a couple of occasions. Shhhh.....Whole Foods
People in DC like to call this store "Whole Paycheck" but I think it is worth paying more for their gorgeous (and often locally grown) produce. It's also one of the few places I can find all of the ingredients for my favorite Green Monster smoothies and maintain my quest to eliminate highly-processed foods from our pantry. They are conveniently located on P Street in Logan Circle, but it's better to shop early in the day because it gets really crowded on the weekends.
I have lots of nice things to say about Trader Joe's but B's love for this store shines so brightly that I wouldn't want to deny him the opportunity to tell you about it. Before I pass it off to him, I'll say that our Foggy Bottom location is the second most visited in the U.S. (behind Manhattan). But, as you stand in the long (but quickly moving) line, make sure to look around because Sonia Sotomayor was seen shopping there recently.
B here. That was quite a build-up but I must confess that it is true. Among the local grocery store chains, Trader Joe's is far and away my favorite. It seems to combine interesting international products with local and fresh ingredients, all while keeping their prices mysteriously low. Seriously, I don't think I've ever left without being pleasantly surprised at how affordable it is. Like many of you, we have our own favorite items. Of particular note, take a long look at their frozen food aisle, the 99 cent pizza dough, and of course, all the free samples. I can't tell you how many interesting homemade meals have been inspired by a curious jar of who-knows-what found at Trader Joe's. Despite all this praise, TJ's does lack some necessities which forces us to other stores. If they didn't, I'd never stray but since that's the case, I do get the opportunity to be reminded how much I love great service at low prices. How's that for making lemonade out of lemons?