As a Pitt student who's always lived off-campus, there are a few experiences I have never shared with most of my classmates. One such experience is eating in the Pitt dining halls—I've never sat down for a meal in a single one. Rather, I've been buying my own groceries and cooking for myself since I moved to the 'burgh.
This experience has given me the insight and authority necessary to compile this comprehensive off-campus Pitt student's guide to groceries based on price, quality and convenience. All listed locations are easily accessible from campus on foot or one quick bus ride away.
Aldi is possibly the ultimate grocery store for broke, hungry college students. The prices are kept very low. Being small, it doesn't have a huge selection but is still a great place to buy staple items (peanut butter, almond milk, brown rice/normal pasta, onions, etc).
Be careful though, the quality of the produce is not always the best. There's also an Aldi in the Southside, which tends to have more organic products.
Market District is open 24/7 and occasionally sells ripe bananas at reduced prices ($1 for a bag containing about 10. They're great for freezing and using in smoothies). This is where the positives stop.
Generally speaking, Market District is expensive and crowded. The lines to check out are always long and they use way too many bags to pack up your groceries.
Whole Foods has quality products which tend to run on the expensive side. My strategy is to purchase specialty products (like organic kimchi, real sourdough, good lemons, fresh hummus) at Whole Foods, and purchase the rest of my groceries elsewhere.
I don't shop at Trader Joe's due to the off-putting Hawaiian shirts, cartoonish logo, and tacky product labels. These are slightly ridiculous reasons to avoid a grocery store, so don't let my personal taste deter you.
In reality, Trader Joe's is a very nice place for college students to shop. They have a wide selection of fun products which vary according to season, and are of decent quality at decent prices.
The East End Food Co-op is a treasure trove of local, organic, and specialty foods. Many products are outside of the college budget, but there is a fantastic bulk foods section where I buy my dry staples—literally pennies for organic oatmeal, beans, rice, etc. Tucked away in East Liberty, it's a bit of a journey, but sometimes the trip is worth it.
Next time you want a jar of raw living tahini that literally has a photo of the farmer's face on the jar or you need to stock up on bulk dried goods, you know where to go.
Pittsburgh is home to multiple farmers markets which run on various days throughout the week from late spring to late fall. An important thing to note is that all are not necessarily equal—some markets are way better than others.
If you're into the Farmers Market scene like I am, you'll want to hit up the Farmers at Phipps market on Wednesdays from 2:30-6:30 pm. It's easily within walking distance from campus, so you can drop by after class, and the selection is good.
The ultimate Pittsburgh Farmers Market is downtown in Market Square, Thursdays from 10-2 pm. This is where you'll find the largest amount of vendors, which means the widest selection of products. Grab some friends, some cash, and a reusable bag or two and make the trip at least once a season.
International Food Markets
Pittsburgh, and Oakland specifically, is home to many small international food markets. These corner stores often have some standard American grocery items along with specialty ethnic foods and ingredients that you will not find elsewhere. Prices tend to be low.
Some notable mentions are: Groceria Merante (Italian) and Las Palmas Mexican Grocery in South O, Seoul Mart (Korean) just down the street from campus on Fifth, and Bombay Food Market (Indian) on Center Ave in North Oakland.