Tucson supermarket review

If we don’t eat, we die. Thus we are stuck going to the supermarket.

Ryn Gargulinski

Ryn Gargulinski

This mundane chore is a bore for several reasons: the crowds, the crying children and the cost.

I frequent supermarkets as infrequently as possible – like only when I’ve finally wrenched the last bag of frozen peas from the back of my freezer or broke down and broke open the backup box of 99-cent corn flakes.

But sometimes the task is inevitable. Some Tucson supermarkets rate better than others for different reasons.

My supermarket of choice because it’s close and has fair prices. They are also always stocked up on the latest cheesy tabloids.
Highlight: The workers. The greeters make me smile and the produce people seem to actually care if I’m having a good day.
Lowlight: The produce itself could often use an upgrade. But they have been stocking Ambrosia apples lately. Yum.
Rating (1 to 10): 8

Trader Joe’s
Best cereal selection in town and some very hip workers. But it still has some drawbacks.
Highlight: Awesome prices and, in addition to the cereal selection, some very cool items, like curry naan.
Lowlight: Cramped aisles and, worse yet, shoppers that feel entitled to block the cramped aisles with no regard for others. Some have even “tsked” when I’ve politely said “Excuse me” as I tried to get around their cart to get to the curry naan.
Rating (1 to 10): 6.92

Sunflower Farmers Market
This place is very cool but seems to be set up strangely. I found it hard to figure out where the items I wanted would be. It’s also usually crowded and not very convenient to get to, so I usually steer clear.
Highlight: Unexpected items, like a full selection of Crocs clogs.
Lowlight: Unexpected costs, like when you end up buying three pairs of Crocs clogs.
Rating (1 to 10): 6.91

Ryn Gargulinski

Ryn Gargulinski

Something always seems a bit skeevy about buying food at Wal-Mart. Sure, they have dirt cheap prices, but they also have a warehouse aura and pushy crowds.
Highlight: Best prices on cleaning supplies and body lotion.
Lowlight: Rumors they abuse their workers.
Rating (1 to 10): 4.1

Sleek, clean, bright – and wholly overpriced.
Highlight: Less than a mile from my house.
Lowlight: High prices are the top lowlight, but some of the customers are also way too nosy. I dashed into Bashas’ after a romp at the dog park once and at least two people found it necessary to loudly proclaim I had dog hair all over my jacket.
Rating (1 to 10): 4

One of my friends falls over sideways complimenting this place. I’ve only one experience with Safeway, at its Grant Road location, when I desperately needed bubble bath and it was the only store open. They had one type of bubble bath – a Sesame Street brand in melon.
Highlight: Found a lavender bubble bath crammed deep in the back in one of those clearance kiosks.
Lowlight: Never trust a store that only features one type of bubble bath.
Rating (1 to 10): 2

I’ve left out places I’ve never shopped, such as Whole Foods, Food City and Albertson’s. The latter was my store of choice in New Mexico but I have yet to visit one in Tucson.

Readers, please feel free to chime in on those.


Desperation cereal/Ryn Gargulinski

Desperation cereal/Ryn Gargulinski

What do you think?

What’s your favorite/least favorite supermarket in town?

What’s the most important aspect of a supermarket?

What’s the most annoying?


About Rynski

Writer, artist, performer who specializes in the weird, wacky and sometimes creepy. Learn more at ryngargulinski.com.
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33 Responses to Tucson supermarket review

  1. leftfield says:

    I like TJ’s, but going in there I always feel very white and very liberal; like I’m going to end up with a “Save the Whales” bumper sticker on my car.  If it hasn’t happened yet, TJ’s, Whole Foods, etc, are going to end up being featured on the “Things White People Like” website.  Very, very yuppie stuff. 

    • Rynski says:

      hahhaha! yeah, i live without curry naan for months on end just so i don’t have to go into the tj zone. i try picking weird hours when i know not many shoppers will be around – that way i don’t have to get “tsked” at when i am trying to assess the humus selection.

    • Carolyn Classen says:

      I agree with you there leftfield, but I like Trader Joe’s for its tropical ambience (those Hawaiian style t-shirts, the fresh orchids from Thailand, and some of my ethnic foods like sushi (though haole-style).   The prices are reasonable though.  I even found a tacky surfer-style can of macadamia nut cookies there once, and saved the covered tin for a friend in Honolulu.

  2. radmax says:

    Mornin’ Rynski! Split vote here. Fry’s does have the best prices, but some of their merchandise such as meat and produce usually look picked over and less than appealing. Safeway has a better produce section and far superior meats, but you have to wait for the items you prefer to go on sale and then stock up, as their prices are sometimes pretty high. There are also some items at Albertson’s that nobody else carries that I know of. So I frequent them once in awhile…uh, Rynski-I think you have dog hair on your jacket… 🙂
    Haha! on Sawyer sellin’ cornflakes, he’d make a great ad-dog! Is he a ham or what! 🙂
    PS-Apples are always better without that bar code on them Rynski, try it…

    • Rynski says:

      hahhahah! mornin’ radmax!
      i’m notorious for forgetting to remove apple stickers – hahah. i’ve eaten quite a few of them – or at least half stickers before i realize it.
      like i said, one of my friends is gaga over safeway – but that bert and ernie bubble bath really made a bad impression.
      good idea for any store – stocking up when there’s a sale. that’s how i end up with 500 boxes of – NONchintzy – cereal and 401 jars of peanuts.
      thanks for the dog hair tip – but you don’t seem to be the first person who mentioned it – hahah.
      yes, sawyer is a ham-o-rama. he could sell water to the flooded, i tell ya.

  3. Andrew Ulanowski says:

    Hiya Ryn! Hi Radmax, Lefty and Carolyn!
    OK, my picks: Fry’s is my ‘big store’ pick. Trader Joe’s , Sprouts and 17th Street Market are my other picks. Trader Joe’s for prepared specialty food: Indian dishes, Naan – Sprouts for meats and produce. Last but not least, 17th Street Market in Tucson for those extraordinary ethnic requirements. Asian, German, English, Mexican foods and spices abound at 17th street plus they have a music store with drums and all kinds of other lovely instruments. They often have free musical groups playing there too.

    • Carolyn Classen says:

      Hi Andrew, you’re correct that 17th Street Market has a good selection of Asian food (and good music too).  I wanted to also suggest to leftfield that if he felt too “white & liberal” at TJ’s he could visit any of the Asian food markets I wrote about:

    • Rynski says:

      hey andrew!
      i still need to check out the 17th st market – thanks for reminding me about all the fun stuff going down over there – not to mention all types of spices. i’m def. a spice head!
      also thanks for correcting naan spelling. will change in post. how awful if i never got to eat naan again just because i spelled it wrong.
      yes, fry’s seems to be topping the list for several folks. must be those cheery greeters and produce folks – hahah.

  4. azmouse says:

    Fry’s for price and convenience. I’m at the Gold Links and Kolb store often, since I do volunteer there for the elderly. But the Fry’s on 22nd and Kolb is less ghetto. The other day I ran into the Fry’s on Speedway and Pantano and was shocked. It was high falutin and the produce was spectacular with up lighting, down lighting, track lighting….everything was so shiny! It was like a rich people’s Fry’s and it has a dude there that’ll make you sushi in his own little cubby area. It was a mini sushi bar!
     Occasionally I’ll go to Trader Joes and I like AJ’s. AJ’s has the coolest reading glasses I’ve ever seen. I got a pair that look like a pink bandanna with a matching case…very cool.
    I prefer farmers markets for produce whenever I have the time.

    • Rynski says:

      yeah, wish i had the time and ambition to frequent farmers markets for produce. instead i get half-mushy cucumbers at the closest location.
      there are HUGE differences in fry’s for sure. some are falutin’ and others are pretty scary.
      just like tacky-canned macadamia nuts, stores that sell flashy reading glasses – esp. with matching case! – has got an advantage!
      love stumbling across unusual or treasure-y finds – like my new fave  fleece pj  pants  – only $6.99 at fry’s.

      • azmouse says:

        I didn’t see any of those at my Fry’s! I want some too!!

      • Rynski says:

        they were briefly in the ‘seasonal special’ aisle – only lasted about a week. i was fortunate enough to nab two pairs. cozyfine. keep eyes peeled for future stuff in seasonal special aisle…

  5. Marie says:

    Truth be told, I will go out of my way to purchase an item or frequent a store if I like the item or love the store.   That even extends to the store’s location.   There are several locations of a popular grocery store that I frequent at least once or twice a month, that I will drive out of my way to get what I want as I have had bad customer service in the their other stores.    

    Trader Joe’s — Pros:  Lots of yummy stuff.  Cons:  Hard to stick to the list with so many tempting items.  

    Whole Foods — Pros:   Bulk food bins.   Cons:  Organic produce costs.  Need to sell an arm or leg to be able to regularly purchase the organic produce.

    Fry’s —  Pros:  Costs are generally cheaper than any other place.  Cons:   Crowds, and the produce selection could be a little wider. 

    17th St. Market —  Pros:  Every imaginable food item under the sun.  Produce items that are generally unavailable any place else.   Some from right here in Southern, AZ.  Cons:  Overwhelming place to shop at if one looking for straightforward pantry items.      
    Roma Imports — Pros:  Everything.  I LOVE the vegetarian stuffed grape leaves.  Cons:  Can be pricey, but hey, it’s the real deal and their extra virgin olive oil makes me swoon.  

    Nadine’s Bakery —   Pros:  The place to get fresh baked bread and other bakery items.   The place even smells good.   Cons:   The glass case filled with heavenly baked goods is not compatible with any diet known to mankind.  

    I’ve also tried two of the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) services here in Tucson with limited success.   If you’re into doing this, I have found it is easier to just go to the farmers’ markets around town.   Better food items in quantities that I can actually use.  

    • Rynski says:

      marie – thank you so much for your input!
      i’m going to bookmark it for future use – and fresh bread purchases.
      your descriptions made me laugh, esp. the bakery one. bakeries CAN be VERY evil!!

  6. Lydia Brewer says:

    Trader Joe’s is my number one because all the food there is REAL. I need to be very careful about additives for my body’s health, and wheat allergy doesn’t help. TJ’s has plenty of organic and Fair Trade.
    Traditional grocery stores have virtually nothing I can actually eat. “Hi  Hon,” says my hubby on the phone. “I’m at Safeway–anything you need here?”
    “Uh…no, but thanks for asking.”
    Besides ultra-expensive Whole Foods, the best place in Tucson for wheat-free is actually Sunflower which is weirdly expensive despite their motto unless you are shopping the specials.  I buy my wheat-free at Sunflower, and then do the bulk of my food shopping at Trader Joe’s. Fortunately, they are near one another along Limberlost.
    Nice idea, Ryn.

    • Rynski says:

      thanks for comments, lydia.
      one of my friends has a wheat allergy and it’s heck for her trying to find right foods to eat – esp. when we eat out.
      sunflower is pretty pricey – i initially thought it was just because i bought clogs along with the grocery but now that i think about it…
      glad you found two places to fit your needs – that are near each other, to boot!

  7. Mark B. Evans says:


  8. likeusdude says:

    I like Ralph’s. Of course those aren’t in Tucson. I go to Costco all the time. They have the best steaks I’ve found in town. You can get 4 or 5 huge fillet mignons for $25. Safeway has the best produce (non brown stuff) in town. AJs has great Honeycrisp apples (which are delicious, I might add).

    • Rynski says:

      did someone say honeycrisps? those are as good as ambrosia!
      ralph’s is good, but it falls into that category of “why did you name your food store after vomit”?
      ralph’s rocks in san diego.

  9. tiponeill says:

    Whole Foods is famous for campaigning against the health reform bill, and a lot of us vowed to never shop there again – a vow which I still honor.
    I split my shopping between Fry’s and Sunflower. Especially if you buy “house brand” products Frys prices are much much better than Safeway.
    Frys has upgraded it’s anti-gay policies enough so that now they are tied with Safeway (but not Sunflower)  – whenever possible I try to check the HRC Buying Guide and they recommend Costco, Food Lion, Albertsons and Sunflower.

  10. likeusdude says:

    Oh big deal. Whole Foods (aka Whole Paycheck) are terrible stores in Tucson–run down, cramped, small and generally not the Whole Foods that people are used to. I will shop at WFM outside Tucson, and I own their stock. I also own stock in Exxon, Berkshire, WalMart and some other “red” companies. I do so with no qualms or regrets. In fact, I will buy some more WalMart soon.
    Ryn: There are still Honeycrisps at AJs. I don’t know if they are keeping them in a fridge somewhere but they’re just as good as when they’re there in the fall. The apples certainly aren’t being picked. It’s much too cold and wet in Washington (or Minnesota for that matter) for the fruit to still be on the trees. I have a huge bag of them in my fridge at the moment. YUM!

    • Mark B. Evans says:

      From: http://www.honeycrisp.org/

      Honeycrisp apple’s harvest season ranges from September 15 to October 10 in east central Minnesota. Optimum harvest usually occurs in the fourth week of September. Honeycrisp fruit has shown excellent storage characteristics. The outstanding flavor and texture can be maintained for at least six months in refrigerated storage without atmosphere modification.

      Honeycrisp was produced from a 1960 cross of Macoun and Honeygold, as part of the University of Minnesota apple breeding program to develop winter hardy cultivars with high fruit quality. The original seedling was planted in 1962 at the University of Minnesota Horticultural Research Center, located near Excelsior in east central Minnesota.  Honeycrisp is protected under the U.S. Plant Patent Act (Plant Patent No. 7197). It may be propagated only by licensed parties.

    • Rynski says:

      thanks, likeusdude, i’ll have to swing by ajs to get a bag of those honeycrisp!
      i miss quality apples so much since moving from nyc.
      and thanks, mark, for the history of the honeycrisp. i shall feel much better eating them now that i know they are bred to last six months…and i can thus technically get them through april…

  11. Ed says:

    O.K. guys you need to go to El Super, on 6th abuting I-10.
    I don’t speak Spanish, I’m not a big fan of Mexican food but El Super is, in fact, super.
    The freshest produce in town, great prices and, my favorite part, the longest meat counter in town where you get fish, meat and poultry cut to order.
    Oh, yeah, add the best supermarket bakery in town. By far.
    Did I mention the low prices?
    If you don’t speak Spanish it’s difficult at times to order but the food quality makes it worth it.
    It’s super!

    • Rynski says:

      hi ed,
      thanks for input – you make el super sound like it def. lives up to its name!
      you piqued my interest with ‘freshest produce.’ i’ll keep it in mind. i’d prob. steer clear of the meat counter if you have to order in spanish, tho, since i’d have no idea what i’m asking for.

      • Ed says:

        The sign are in English in small letters below the larger Spanish letters. You can certainly order in English, by pointing or through the luck of the drawer (you take a number to get served) get a bilingual server.  I’ve had a few problems, such as getting 2 pounds of pork chops instead of the 2 pieces I ordered, but you can work it out.
        Don ‘t forget the check the counter across the from meat case…salads, lunchmeats etc. at great prices (as I type this I’m eating a nice steak along with potato and macaroni salads…all bought today…the later at 99 cents a pound).
        High turnover is one of the reasons the produce is so fresh. This place is busy! When entering the store it is best to get your meat counter number and then do the rest of your shopping.  When ultra busy…as on Sunday mornings…it’s great they have a big HDTV at the meat counter. I was able to watch the Celtics – Orlando game last Sunday while waiting.
        If you haven’t had pork chops cut this morning for your diner tonight…with the freshest of salads, freshly picked corn on the cobb and delightful fresh baked rolls…with muffins to die for as desert…
        You know where to go!

  12. Jody says:

    I shop everywhere but Safeway. I really think their prices are too high for mainstream groceries.  A bit ago, I did a price comparison and Fry’s was substantially cheaper. I am terribly unimpressed by the ambiance at my local un-renovated Fry’s, but I do like the employees there.  Albertsons is my second choice store for basic groceries.Trader Joe’s has great, wonderfully priced items I can’t get elsewhere, but I find I can’t get everything I need there. COSTCO has items I want in bulk. (Sunflower is on my way home which is a plus, but I find the layout too confusing and generally don’t go in.) 17th Street Market has a great selection of Ginger Beer and its always an adventure to shop there. India Dukaan on Campbell is a my pick for Indian food supplies.  Grocery Outlet is great for an adventure.  I’ve never lived anywhere where I have as many favorite grocery stores as Tucson — part of what I love about Tucson!

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