The CambridgeCooks Shopping List ver. 1.0

This is by no means the definitive shopping list for Cambridge and the surrounding area – not yet anyway. But it has aspirations and you can help by contributing your best finds, as well as your comments & corrections. (In many cases, you can read more details by clicking the tags at the end of this post.)

“Best” is a tricky term to throw around. Favorite is more appropriate. Some people are willing to pay a bit more (or a lot more) for best quality. I can’t pretend to know your priorities. (For example, I rarely spend an extra dime for “organic.”) But whatever you hold dear, remember that higher price and fancy label will not guarantee you a better product (especially true with olive oil, for instance).

In the future, we’ll cover specific food items and profile stores in more detail. For now, here’s a general guide to shopping around.

There's a wealth of great food sources in Cambridge and surrounding towns - if you know where to look. Some offer better quality; others better prices.

Favorite Stores:

Formaggio Kitchen (Cambridge) – Among the treats that owners Ihsan & Valerie Gurdal pack into their tiny space are the best collection of olive oils and vinegars in the area, along with the best advice. Jams, crackers, meats, cheeses – difficult or nearly impossible to find elsewhere, crowd the shelves. There’s lots more to discover here. Not many bargains, but some good values if you seek them.

Savenor’s Market and Fresh Pond Market (Cambridge) – Great sources for specialty meats.

Russo’s (Watertown) – A great selection of fruits and vegetables for generally less than you’d pay at a supermarket. Lots of high-quality “exotic” produce and terrific prepared foods. Also, the best value for fresh figs, squash, and apples. Off the beaten track, about a mile from Watertown Square on Pleasant Street (which runs parallel to Route 20) toward Waltham.

Market Basket (Somerville) – If you’ve traveled in Central or South America, you’ll feel at home here. If you go when it’s busy, which is most of the time, it can feel a bit chaotic. But it offers the best price on meats, poultry, and fish, and the best weekly discounts on groceries, including fruits and vegetables. Most of it is excellent quality (although not always the pristine quality you’ll find at Whole Foods). One word of caution: watch the register tape at check-out. Items sometimes ring-up at the wrong price, or they are moved to a bin advertising a price that belongs to another. If they ring up “wrong,” save your breath and don’t bother arguing. Just return it at customer service (if you don’t catch it in time), or chalk it up to experience.

Massis (Watertown) – One of several outstanding Armenian and Lebanese grocery stores along Mt. Auburn Street (home to one of the largest Armenian populations in the United States), and a wonderful source of Middle Eastern packaged and fresh foods, as well as select bulk items. (Arax and Sevan nearby are other local favorites.)

You’ll find the brothers (or their parents) who own this place to be very knowledgeable and helpful; a great excuse to work on developing your Middle Eastern repertoire.

Sofra (Cambridge, bordering on Belmont and Watertown) – Located down Mt. Auburn street from Massis, Arax and Sevan, this bakery and café pushes geographic boundaries from Lebanon to include the cuisine of Turkey and its neighbors. A limited but excellent collection of hard-to-find spices (including some special house blends). They also offer insanely good mezzes, or appetizers – along with some of my favorite sweet and savory pastries. Under the guidance of master baker Maura Fitzpatrick, they are always inventing new treats. (Many, but not all, inspired by the cuisine of the eastern Mediterranean.)

Between Sofra and Formaggio, it would be a toss-up for friendliest & most helpful staff. Great atmosphere, but once it gets cold and outdoor seating disappears, it can be tough to find a table.

Harvest Co-Op (Cambridge) – Not only the greatest collection of spices, flours, rice, grains, and beans, but you can purchase just the quantity you need. So there’s no excuse to buy a jar of over-priced spices in the supermarket that sits in your cupboard and goes stale. That’s reason enough to support this fine collective enterprise. They’re also open til 10 PM nightly. [Christina’s Spice in Inman Square and Penzy’s in Arlington provide good alternative sources for spices).


By Category:

Bakeries –

Boston may boast better restaurants, but you won’t find better bakeries on the other side of the river. Within a few square miles we’re blessed with:

  • Hi-Rise Bread Co, the aforementioned Sofra, Iggy’s Breads of the World, Flour (a Boston export and relative newcomer), and Rosie’s, all in Cambridge
  • Danish Pastry House in Watertown and Medford
  • When Pigs Fly (a Vermont export), The Biscuit (formerly Toscanni’s, formerly Panini) and Petsie’s Pies, all in Somerville, the last two competing for best scones
  • And the venerable Vicki Lee Boyajian in Belmont.

Spices  Harvest Co-op (Central Square); Christina’s Spice (Inman Square) and Penzy’s (Arlington). Harvest allows you to purchase just the quantities you need.

Specialty: Sofra (Cambridge – hard-to-find eastern Mediterranean and specialty blends). Massis, Arax and Sevan (Watertown – Middle East spices).

Bulk Items  (flours, rice, grains, beans): Harvest Co-op (Central Square); Whole Foods (various locations).

Specialty Items  (olive oils, vinegars, jams, crackers, cured meats, cheeses); Formaggio Kitchen (Cambridge); Cardullo’s (Harvard Square); Russo’s (Watertown).

Fruits and Vegetables  Haymarket (Fridays & Saturdays only, Haymarket T stop, Boston); Russo’s (Watertown); Market Basket (Somerville); Whole Foods (various locations).

Meats  Specialty & Quality: Savenor’s Market (Cambridge); Fresh Pond Market (Cambridge).

Best Prices/Supermarket: Market Basket (Somerville).

Best Prices/non-supermarket: International Food Co. (Hallal).  [Haymarket, Boston (617) 918-9988]

Fish  Quality:  Fish store in Huron Village

Best Prices/Supermarket: Market Basket (Somerville).

Best Prices/non-supermarket: International Food Co. (Hallal).  [Haymarket, Boston (617) 918-9988]

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One Response to The CambridgeCooks Shopping List ver. 1.0

  1. Wow, this is a great compilation!
    Let us add two Japanese grocery stores we like:
    Miso Market near Porter Square (small but friendly and very convenient because it’s close to our place, 1963 Mass Ave, Cambridge, MA, Website:
    Reliable Market near Union Square (bigger selection, 45 Union Square, Somerville, MA, Website: unknown)

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