Being a cook and cooking teacher, people often ask where I like to shop. While there are hundreds of good natural, ethnic and produce markets in the Bay Area, for me one stands out far above the others, and that is the Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco. Although it has great organic produce, cheeses, and natural health and beauty products, I love Rainbow most for it’s phenomenal bulk foods department.
Rainbow claims they offer over 800 food items in bulk, and I can well believe it. They make the selection offered in even the largest and best-stocked Whole Foods Market look puny in comparison. You will find sea vegetables, dozens of kinds of beans, thirty kinds of flour, not only brown quinoa, but black and red as well–all in bulk–even esoteric items such as brown rice syrup, Lima sea salt, umeboshi plums, kuzu and twig tea. I find the herb and spice area especially useful because you can buy only what you need and at fair prices.
Rainbow was born in 1975 as part of the “People’s Food System” cooperative movement, and is still collectively owned by the now more than 200 workers. As such it’s a uniquely San Francisco kind of place and may not be to everyone’s taste, although I appreciate it’s colorful workers and quirky politics (they’re open on the Fourth of July, but close for Gay Pride Sunday). A few of the 771 Yelp reviews complain that the worker-owners are less than friendly and helpful, however in 23 years of shopping there I’ve found that only rarely to be true. If you live outside San Francisco I’m not suggesting you drive into the City solely to shop at Rainbow, but if you’re coming in anyway, you foodies will find Rainbow to be a stimulating stop.
The details: Rainbow is located at 1745 Folsom Street (at 13th Street), at the border of the South of Market and Mission Districts and is open daily 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Somewhat tight on-site parking. Seniors 60 and over receive a 10% discount. (415) 863-0620.