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The best health food stores in San Francisco

Organic, vegan, or gluten-free? These health food stores cater to every diet.

Photograph: Courtesy Urban Remedy
Urban Remedy

With its slew of farmer’s markets and foodies, San Francisco proves that eating healthy can also be delicious. Bay Area diets run the gamut from gluten-free and vegan to Paleo and sugar-free. But wherever you live, you’re never far from a local market selling organic, whole foods. Here are the best health food stores for fresh produce, nutrient-rich meals, and guilt-free snacks.

S.F.’s top health food stores

Berkeley Bowl

Berkeley Bowl is like four regular grocery stores under one roof. The indie market first opened in 1977 as a small neighborhood shop—now it sprawls across 40,000-square-feet (and has a second location across town). The expansive selection features organic dairy products, meat, seafood, flowers, baked goods and prepared foods. But it’s the produce section that makes the Bowl destination-worthy. The array of organic fresh fruits and vegetables, most of it sourced locally, is the largest in the Bay Area. On any given day, you’ll find 15 different kinds of apples, 10 varieties of pears, and half a dozen styles of artichokes. The bulk selection encompasses beans, lentils, nuts, pasta, rice, seeds, tea and spices, as well as bulk cooking mixes for dishes like hummus and chili. There’s a particular emphasis on rare Asian ingredients and gourmet items, as well.

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Berkeley

Rainbow Grocery

Rainbow began in the city’s hippie heyday, founded in 1975 by an ashram and staffed by volunteers. Today, the indie grocery store and co-op stays true to its GMO-free roots, buying most of its wares directly from local, organic farmers, bakers, and collectives. The bakery is a holy grail for vegan and gluten-free shoppers, and the fair-trade coffee and chocolate aisles alone make it worth the trip. But the real draw is the extensive bulk section, which includes herbs and spices, beans, grains, dried fruit, tea, cooking oils, nut butters, an astounding selection of tasty homemade pasta and much more. Each bin is labeled with its farm or supplier.

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Mission

Bi-Rite Market

Browsing Bi-Rite’s produce section is like  shopping a farmer’s market. The fruits, vegetables, and flowers come from over 50 farms throughout California, as well as Bi-Rite’s own growers. That produce is incorporated into all of the market’s preservative-free prepared foods, from salads and sandwiches to soups, stews, and dips. The meat is all pasture-raised and grass-fed—Bi-Rite’s butchers break down whole animals in-house. Yes, the prices are high and the aisles are crowded, but shoppers who care about high quality, local suppliers, and sustainable farming methods can shop guilt-free.

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Mission
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The Food Mill

This Upper Dimond grocer was established in 1933 by John Denis. For the past 25 years it’s been run by Kirk Watkins, who originally started working at the store at the age of 16. The store’s produce is 100 percent organic, most of it sourced from California farms. The bulk bins contain over 800 items, including flours, granolas and herbs. All the breads are baked on-site, and there’s an extensive gluten-free section to boot. In particular, the Mill has developed a cult following for its nut butters, each roasted and ground in-store (on Denis’s original equipment!) and available by the jar or in bulk.

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Oakland

San Francisco Herb Company

The simple name belies the sprawling assortment of gourmet goods at this well-appointed shop. It was opened by Neil Hanscomb in 1973 with the aim to sell high-quality products at reasonable prices. The wooden shelves lining the walls are packed with an endless array of organic herbs, cooking spices, dried peppers, specialty salts, dehydrated vegetables, flavoring, nuts, seeds, botanical roots and berries and more. It’s a great source for homeopathic remedies, including essential oils, botanicals and an endless supply of tea. Home cooks love it for the hard-to-find spices and blends. (The store gets particularly busy around the holidays, when customers stock up on seasonal ingredients like cinnamon sticks, fresh peppermint, star anise, and vanilla bean.) For the slightly less healthful, you’ll find high-end grains and distilling botanicals for at-home beer- and spirit-makers.

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Mission

Urban Remedy

Founded by acupuncturist and herbalist Neka Pasquale, this organic food company now has nine locations throughout the Bay Area, including three in S.F. proper. The shops dish out plant-based, certified organic foods and drinks. Though most know UR for its additive-free juices—which pack unusual ingredients like dandelion greens and burdock root—the prepared food selection is extensive. The daily assortment includes inventive salads (purple-ginger-beet, anyone?), macro bowls, wraps, and surprisingly tasty low-carb “pasta” dishes that sub zucchini for noodles. The vegan fare is hearty and filling, like the VLT, made with eggplant “bacon,” avocado, lettuce, tomato, vegan farmhouse cheese in a gluten-free coconut wrap. Stock up on snacks like kale chips, banana or cacao brittle, or beet apple granola.

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Marina
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Other Avenues Food Store Cooperative

Founded by acupuncturist and herbalist Neka Pasquale, this organic food company now has nine locations throughout the Bay Area, including three in S.F. proper. The shops dish out plant-based, certified organic foods and drinks. Though most know UR for its additive-free juices—which pack unusual ingredients like dandelion greens and burdock root—the prepared food selection is extensive. The daily assortment includes inventive salads (purple-ginger-beet, anyone?), macro bowls, wraps, and surprisingly tasty low-carb “pasta” dishes that sub zucchini for noodles. The vegan fare is hearty and filling, like the VLT, made with eggplant “bacon,” avocado, lettuce, tomato, vegan farmhouse cheese in a gluten-free coconut wrap. Stock up on snacks like kale chips, banana or cacao brittle, or beet apple granola.

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Sunset

Three Stone Hearth

This health-conscious kitchen is run by a cooperative of chef-owners who make weekly meals from scratch. Three Stone is known for hearty, nutrient-rich fare: bone broths, pastured meats, organic eggs, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. The weekly menu might include soups, burgers, pates, fermented veggies, ragouts, casseroles, dips and meat pies, much of it served in reusable glass jars. (They believe wholeheartedly in healthy fats.) Select dishes are gluten-free, dairy-free and Paleo-friendly. If you’d rather not buy into the weekly service, Three Stone foods are also available at El Cerrito Natural Foods and the Berkeley Natural Grocery Store.

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Berkeley

Green Earth Natural Foods

This inconspicuous neighborhood spot has been family-owned since 1992. And though it’s just down the street from Bi-Rite, the prices are surprisingly affordable. You’ll find mounds of organic produce and dairy products, cage-free eggs, fresh-baked bread, and grass-fed meats. Even the wine section is all organic. Prepared foods are made fresh daily, from curried vegetables and salads to sauces and dips. (In particular, check out the Middle Eastern specialties, like the spicy homemade hummus.) The bulk bins are rotated regularly and include an assortment of nuts, dried fruits, spices, granola, seeds, and grains.

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NoPa
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Elixiria

This narrow smoothie shop and eatery makes healthy, seriously tasty fare. In addition to cold-pressed juices, Elixiria serves grab-and-go meals for the downtown lunchtime rush. The rotating menu might include honey mustard Atlantic salmon, lemon-herb chicken, locally-sourced roasted vegetables, various veggie-stuffed wraps (including vegan options) and Paleo desserts. The raw smoothies are infused with essential oils and unusual ingredients, including Icelandic kelp, young coconut, chia seeds and wild yam.

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SoMa

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