Best Mexican Bakery 2002 | Panadería & Pastelería Santa Fe | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
The sign behind the counter of colorful goodies at Panadería & Pastelería Santa Fe reads "Bienvenido a su panadería," and patrons are made to feel welcome, indeed. Baker/owner Juan Acuña always has an extra minute to explain his intricate pastries -- sugar-coated conchas, ear-shaped orejas, lemon-flavored flautas, empanadas, cream-stuffed horns -- or discuss in depth the spices he carries, many of which have medicinal properties. A refrigerator case holds other Mexican specialties, including crema and homemade chorizo. And for a really sweet deal, pick up one of Acuña's tres leches cakes, the most toothsome in town.

For nearly twenty years, Tajmahal Imports has been one-stop shopping for Aurora's large population of Indian and Pakistani natives. Don't expect a re-creation of the famous palace, though: This jam-packed store is a tidy dive offering a mix of commercial, bulk and pre-packaged, ready-to-eat foods. You can create an entire Indian meal from these goods: dozens of types of dal, refrigerated chapati and naan, imported whole and ground spices and special flours, chutneys and snacks. Tajmahal also sells fascinating homemade desserts, and its extensive Indian tea selection is priced much better than the same leaves at specialty shops.

Have a hankering to imitate some of Café Brazil's dishes in your own kitchen? You'll quickly realize that many of the required ingredients -- from the elusive dendê, the lighthearted palm oil that lends its warm orange color and irreplaceable zesty tropical flavor to Brazilian seafood dishes, to farinha de manioca, the ground manioc meal that, toasted, becomes the essential table condiment farofa -- are harder to find than a table at the restaurant on a Saturday night. Thanks to Emporio Minas, though, there's no reason to cut your samba short. This hole-in-the-wall market, three little rooms with metal shelving that could well be found in a São Paulo garage, has all that stuff and more: coconut milk, sticky-sweet dulce de leche; the Portuguese sausages, salt-cured beef and carioca beans called for in classic feijoada; guava paste and pickled malagueta peppers, not to mention maté drinks, olives, cookies, chocolate and even nail polish. Oh, yeah, there's something else you can count on finding: every homesick Brazilian east of the Continental Divide.
Shopping at Arash Supermarket is like going on a treasure hunt: You never know what you'll find tucked away in some corner. The bustling store is bursting with Middle Eastern items, from locally baked pitas the size of pizzas to imported and domestic feta to many types of tahini to real basmati rice. Produce here is much cheaper than at the big chain grocery stores -- lemons and limes, lettuce and tomatoes are noteworthy bargains -- as are kalamatas, yogurt drinks, pickles and olive oil. A few non-Middle Eastern ingredients, including Mexican crema and Italian lunchmeats, are also on hand. Check out the unique, commercially baked goods on the shelves near the cashiers: The exotic little cookies and unusual sweets are special treats for kids.

If you can't find an Asian ingredient at the Asian Supermarket, that ingredient simply doesn't exist. This vast warehouse of a grocery store stocks forty kinds of rice noodles alone, all haphazardly jammed into one aisle. Unfamiliar cans of squishy-looking ingredients share space with forty-pound bags of rice and twenty brands of coconut milk. Several aisles are devoted to plastic and ceramic dishes, woks, utensils, chopsticks and steamers, all at bargain prices. The produce is well-priced, too, especially limes, Asian basil, daikon and ginger, and the dried-mushroom section is a delight for fungi fans. Don't forget to stop by the meat counter, which displays an impressive selection of fresh fish and meats.

Walking into Vinnola's Market is like traveling back in time to an East Coast-style deli of decades past. Everyone's friendly and yelling and laughing; deli workers are passing slices of cheese and salami over the counter for inspection by little old blue-haired Italian ladies. Those goods always pass muster: The smallish market carries all of the important imported meats and cheeses -- Asiago and mortadella, mozzarella and prosciutto -- as well as olive oil and balsamico, fresh-baked Italian bread and cookies, and fresh and dried pasta. Stop by at lunchtime, and one of Vinnola's overstuffed sandwiches will see you through the rest of your shopping.
Good things come in small packages, and European Mart proves it. This tiny store is crammed with smoked fish and sauerkraut, kasha and Danish cheeses, even Swiss specialties and Hungarian tidbits tracked down by owner Dmitry Gershengorin -- and the deli case is full of imported meats, pretty cakes and other baked items. Because Glendale boasts a sizable Russian population, the Mart also stocks Moscow's newspapers and Russian dolls. Caviar fans should ask if there's any on hand: Gershengorin often has the best price on fish eggs in town.

Fred Deligio is the quintessential neighborhood butcher, a guy who really cares about his customers, always remembering how you like your steaks cut and when you need pork butt instead of loin. At Fred's Fine Meats, he brings in Choice-grade meat and ages it for three weeks himself; he also makes his own Italian and German sausages and bratwurst. Need a specialty sausage? Give Fred the recipe and he'll custom-stuff it to your specs -- and it will taste just like what your Polish grandma used to turn out. Fred's chickens come from Red Bird Farms (he'll cook them rotisserie-style for you), and he also offers only American lamb -- none of that frozen stuff from New Zealand -- and Boar's Head deli meats. Need elk, buffalo or duck liver? He can get it. And at the end of every transaction, Fred always says, "You take care." We will, because he does.

Want a guy who knows his pesto from his prosciutto? Need a vegetarian woman? Head straight to Tony's, the best meat/meet market in town, a mecca for the lonely looking for a date (or at least dinner). Every weekend, singles converge around the ready-made soups and pasta sauces in the frozen-foods section of this massive gourmet grocery store, checking out both the culinary and cuddling options. At Tony's, it's much easier to narrow down your choices than it is in a bar: You know he likes to cook if his cart is full of spices from the extensive selection here, and you know she's a morning person if hers has plenty of upscale jams and fresh-baked pastries. Sidle up to a cutie by the free samples and ask for her number; if it's a go, you can always pick out dinner together.

Best Meat Market for Knees and Necks


Midopa is an excellent Asian market specializing in Korean and Japanese ingredients, with a killer housemade kim chee and inexpensive, fresh sushi sitting in a case near the front counter. But Midopa also stocks the best selection of hard-to-find animal parts we've ever seen. Necks, backs, feet, knees and other odds and ends from a variety of critters are available at all times, just begging to be plopped into a stock for Vietnamese pho or wrapped in rice paper and fried. No one at Midopa speaks much English, so it pays to know your parts -- because when it comes to cooking, parts isn't parts.

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