When it comes to Houston grocery stores, I am loyal to NO ONE. Depending on what I am cooking or craving, you can find me at just about any grocery store in town. Plus, I grew up here so I’ve had almost 30 years of experience getting to know the grocery store chains here. From posting my grocery store hauls on my feed I realized that a lot of you stick to one store and do not realize what you are missing. So for this post, I am sharing the stores I visit and what I get from them. Before we dive in, let me acknowledge that I want to do better about frequenting some of the Asian grocery stores in town and others that really cater to diverse communities. For now, here is my Guide to Houston Grocery Stores.
Let me start where it all began, Kroger! As a kid, Kroger was our go to grocery store. For this reason, I can pretty much maneuver through any Kroger and know exactly where everything is. This is part of the reason why I still frequent Kroger. If I am making something that requires national brands, Kroger is where I go. I know I can find the brands I grew up with like ALL the Campbell’s soups, Pillsbury and others.
Tip: Never go there without using your Kroger Card. Not only does it it save you money in store, but you can also save money on gas at Kroger Gas Stations. If you are in a hurry and don’t have a Kroger Card, just pick a popular phone number from a song and plug it in. I guarantee you someone has registered a Kroger Card account under Mike Jones’ phone number for example. Put the number in as an alternate ID and you are good to go. I am currently using the home phone number from my childhood home. We haven’t had that number in over 10 years, but it still works at all the Houston grocery stores!
Any other Houstonians amazed at how much HEB has grown over the years? I remember going on a field trip to an old timey HEB store in like the first grade. It was their way of introducing HEB to the city of Houston and since then it has taken over. They are constantly upping the ante and building brand new stores across the city. As such, it has become quite popular. It’s also the store that seems to have the most loyal customers. I know SO many people who shop exclusively at HEB. That results in some of those long lines we saw around the beginning of quarantine.
Reasons I Go:
If I am doing for real grocery shopping, I am heading to HEB. Their stores tend to be the newest and nicest. In my experience HEB is also are the cheapest. I always feel like I can get food for the week for under $50. Other huge plus, they dedicate quite a bit of shelf space to local businesses which also helps minority owned businesses get some shine.
All of their pluses come with a few minuses though. Since it is everyone’s favorite, it tends to be the most crowded. I prefer to grocery shop without crowds. So if I am going to HEB it definitely will not be on a Saturday afternoon. The other thing is if you are looking for a super specific item from a national brand i.e. a certain Campbell’s soup, HEB may not have it because they are giving space to local brands. I keep that in mind when I am making old family recipes that call for a specific brand.
Also, HEB has the best kitchen supplies section of all grocery stores. I’ve picked up so many great items from there all priced well from a waffle iron, to a dutch oven, and a Texas shaped cast-iron skillet. You are guaranteed to find some things that you have not seen before.
I keep going back to the Houston of yesteryear, so forgive me while I reminisce! Based on my memory there was a time when Randalls was pretty competitive in Houston! If you found a Kroger, Randalls wasn’t too far down the road. Over the years, they’ve closed stores and their market share in Houston has dwindled. More recent transplants I talk to seem to dismiss Randalls as a grocery option and I am here to combat that!
In my experience Randalls stores tend to be less crowded and a breeze to get through even during a holiday rush or on a weekend. They often have some of the “bougie” brands that I need for recipes, like a certain type of flour (White Lily) for homemade biscuits or a variety of European butter. I also usually can find a staff person on the floor if I need some assistance. It is my go to for a super quick grocery store trip.
What I Get: One Thanksgiving I went to Randall’s because the one near my house was not as crowded. I grabbed some sweet potatoes/yams for the occasion. I am not sure who their supplier is, but they are hands down the best sweet potatoes I’ve gotten in Houston. I’ll go out of my way JUST to get their sweet potatoes. They are larger than most and cook really well making them perfect for recipes.
Okay do not judge me, but I just went to Sprouts for the first time this summer. I always heard great things about it, but there was not one close to me. I had to go pick up an item only that only Sprouts carried and fell in love! Many will compare it to Trader Joe’s, but I think there are some noticeable differences. One, they have a full butcher counter there which I appreciate. They also have the largest vitamin section I’ve seen outside of a GNC. Finally, if you are a vegan, vegetarian, non-dairy, paleo etc, they have the best selection of items that comply with these various diets. For example, the meat alternatives had a decent sized section.
What I Get There: I liked everything I picked up from Sprouts! In the butcher section there is a chimichurri steak that is AMAZING. I put in my air fryer for about 10 minutes and it was perfection. I also love their chicken salad snack packs and was inspired to recreate my own at home. Their produce was pretty good too and they have an impressive cheese selection as well.
Whole Foods is probably my favorite grocery store. Something about the style of the store and the bright color of their produce just makes me want to go in and spend all my money! Whole Foods is without a doubt pricier than some of the other grocery stores so that limits me from doing all of my grocery shopping there, but I do go pick up some of my favorite things!
What I Get “All the things” may be an easier answer. But truly, there really isn’t much I do not get there. I go there specifically for their Brioche bread which apparently is imported from France. They also sell it has hamburger and hot dog buns. While other grocery stores sell Brioche loaves now, Whole Foods is still my favorite. Their hot food bar is also excellent. Trust me when I say they got somebody’s auntie working back there and serving up actual BAKED mac and cheese! I enjoy most of their prepared foods and typically will grab dinner (chicken, barbecue, pasta salad, pizza, empanadas, dessert) when I stop there.
I also really like the 365 products or other products made in house. For example, there are some marshmallows that Whole Foods makes that are good. Their bakeries also make some great items too.
Tip: If you are an Amazon Prime member, be sure to use the in store barcode on the Amazon app to access discounts and deals in store. You can also get Whole Foods delivered via Amazon too.
Can I be honest and say that I struggle with Central Market for one very important reason. The place is a dog-on maze. Setup like Ikea with “shortcuts” throughout, I always get lost. Everyone assures me that you learn the store after several trips, but for me I always like to position myself on the main aisle look down and determine which aisles I need to go on. You cannot do that at Central Market! I was honestly prepared to give this spot two thumbs down on this post, but I made one more stop there just for research before drafting this post. Despite fighting my way through the maze, I DID find the biggest draws of Central Market.
Why You Should Go
HEB’s bougie cousin has a few things that that HEB does not. For one, it has the biggest butcher counter and cheese counter I have ever seen. How they fit this in the maze I do not know, but trust me it’s HUGE with a lot of variety. If you are looking for some rare meat or cheese especially for a party, I would recommend going there. They also had an olive oil counter with way more olive oils than any other grocery store. Their hot food/prepared food section is also great. It is more like Whole Foods than HEB so I appreciate it.
Ice Cream also brings me to Central Market For whatever reason they tend to carry some brands that you cannot find anywhere else like Coolhaus and Jeni’s. Yes, I have travesered that maze just for ice cream and you will not judge me!
The Aldi rebrand from the midwest to the south has tickled me. Here in Houston, Aldi can be found in the ‘burbs and is marketed as the friend of budget conscious suburban mom. In the midwest, Aldi is the only option in many urban food deserts. If you watch enough politics you know know how terms like “suburban” and “urban” are played against each other. If you are a midwest transplant to Houston, rid yourself of the negative connotations you may have and get in to these deals!
There is some connection between the Aldi and Trader Joe’s companies. When you enter the stores you will see the similar setup. With Aldi, you also will not see many of the national brands you are accustomed to, but do not take the lack of name recognition to mean that they are inferior. It is the exact opposite. There are many great brands at Aldi! In college, I preferred the Aldi version of Carpi Suns and boxed mac and cheese. Thankfully my taste buds have matured since then! Now, I go to Aldi for their Burlwood Sparkling Wine. It is the best sparkling wine (aka champagne) at that price point and does not give me a headache so it’s a win. Other bloggers I know stock up on their produce and meats at Aldi because their price point and quality are unmatched.
Also! Remember that you need a quarter to use a basket at Aldi. You will get it back when you put your basket back! They also do not give bags. You can bring your own or reuse the produce/product boxes they have. If you are big on lowering your use of single-use plastic then you will appreciate Aldi for this setup. Note that they’ve had this for a LONG time.
I’ve walked out of Trader Joe’s feeling like I stole something. Bags stuffed with so many great items that are priced SO well. One thing to note about Trader Joe’s is they pretty much only sell their own brand and products plus their stores are smaller. For these reasons, they are not really a one stop shop. Some items I need for baking like yeast or marshmallows are seasonal. They also do not carry my preferred butter, Land O’Lakes (although their butters are pretty good too).
Still, the great products that are exclusive to Trader Joe’s keep me coming back. They have a knack for creating things that other brands aren’t or things that other grocery stores will not give shelf space too. For example, during the fall they fill to the brim with Pumpkin Spice EVERYTHING. Now Pumpkin Spice ain’t my jam, but if that is your ministry, Trader Joe’s is the place to be.
Things I Get
Whewwww where do I begin! They do not have a butcher counter there which is typically a requirement for me buying meats at a store, but I do get a few things from Trader Joe’s. Specifically their chicken thighs which are often under $5. Next, I also grab the Trader Joe’s yukon gold potatoes (they are THE BEST for mashed potatoes and potatoes and onions). Their salads are great too from the pre packaged Champs Elysees in the yellow bag, to the ready to eat caesar salads.
In the frozen section, I stock up on the Indian food and the $2 pasta frozen meals (farfalle in the green container) for lunch. From the seasonings section I grab just about everything, black pepper, everything elote and salt. I also love their black summer truffle ketchup (get two jars), Kansas City style bbq sauce, and the Brown Sugar BBQ sauce as a marinade. Trader Joe’s is also famous for their $5 bottles of wine. I opt for the Trader Joe’s Bellini which tastes like koolaid but will sneak up on you! Their flower section is also great if you want to spruce up a gathering a bit.
I also weaned myself off of cookie butter some years ago, but if you have self control I recommend giving it a try! It is probably the most famous item sold exclusively at Trader Joe’s.
Quick note, I will also pick up items from Target! The bigger Targets of carry more in the grocery section. With grocery stores in high demand due to the quarantine, Target has come in handy many times. For example, many grocery stores were out of pasta while Target had tons available. Their seasoning section is also pretty good. In short, if you are in Target to pick up homegoods and need an item or two it wouldn’t hurt to swing by.
As you probably have guessed, my grocery shopping trips involve quite a few trips. Thankfully these grocery stores love to post up near their competition making it convenient for me to swing by several at a time.
Be sure to share in the comments, your favorite grocery store and some of the items you get from there! Happy shopping!