Best Cultural Market 2004 | Osage Mercado | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
After years of deferred dreams and delayed plans, the Osage Mercado debuted last summer as a kind of test, sponsored by the Baker, La Alma/Lincoln Park and Sun Valley neighborhood groups. Apparently, it passed, because the Mercado is here to stay -- at least for one long season. Beginning on Mother's Day, it will continue on the first Sunday of the month through October. Designed to be part farmers' market and part craft fair, it's something like a mini People's Fair, with community-based music and dance, kids' activities and art projects planned each month. So come visit the 'hood. You'll never look at it quite the same again.

First there were health-food stores and co-ops -- little eclectic-eccentric, tie-dyed, bring-your-own-bag places where hippies shopped for goat yogurt, yams and fresh tofu. But somewhere along the line, the stores got bigger. They supplied bags (even plastic ones), widened the aisles and branched into the gourmet-foods market. Hippies? Even if any were still around, they couldn't afford to shop at these places now. Isn't it time something gave? Enter Sunflower Market. The brainchild of former Wild Oats mastermind Mike Gilliland and his brother, Pat, the new store is a delightful setback in whole-foods merchandising, with lower prices, a less outrageous scope and an element of surprise: The get-it-while-you-can aisle features a changing stock of odd-lot grocery buys. In the garden of overblown health-food shopping, little Sunflower towers above the rest.

Don't know a pho bo from a tom ka? Don't fret. Even though Asian cuisines such as Vietnamese and Thai are now in full fashion, the ingredients lists for many dishes still scare off even the most globally minded gourmet. Fortunately, Asian Supermarket demystifies the herbs, spices and vegetables called for in many Eastern-inspired dishes. Worldly botanicals like galangal, Thai basil, lemongrass, star anise and lotus root are displayed in clear bags with English descriptions; you'll also find your jellyfish, your fish balls, your fungus. The supermarket stocks run-of-the-mill goods like cookies, crackers and cleaning products, too. Unlike many of the items, the prices don't need translation: The stuff is cheap. Last but not least, the spacious store carries noodles, fresh produce and rice, rice, rice. Forget high-dollar boutique grocers: Asian Supermarket is an adventure, and a steal, every time.
The scent is the first thing to hit when you walk into Indus Imports, a nondescript market just off the multicultural South Federal strip. The odors of pungent masalas bouncing off a frenzy of saffron, fenugreek, cayenne, mustard, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, turmeric, amchoor powder and asafoetida make you want to lie down on the floor like Gandhi and never leave. But you will, eventually, loaded down with ghee, basmati rice, dal and dozens of mysterious spices all begging to jump together in a pot. There's a gastronomic world of discovery to be found once you get your groceries home.

Sticker shock is common at Sav-A-Lot Foods, a minimalist supermarket where generic and name-brand goods go for pennies. The chain store isn't fancy: There are no free samples, seasonal displays or credit cards accepted. But it's always well stocked with staples, and usually with fine, fresh produce, too. How about ten limes, two pounds of pasta or a boatload of white rice for a buck? A gift to frugal shoppers everywhere, Sav-A-Lot makes it easy to shop and eat well, even when you're busted.

Nearly a year ago, wine retailer Dave Moore opened his South Broadway house of spirits along a rapidly changing Antique Row. Like the other stores on the stretch, the place is a real browser's paradise: Dog-friendly and neat as a pin, Divino features tall, stacked shelves of great little wines, domestic and imported, inexpensive and spendy; each variety is handsomely marked with a round, stamped-metal price tag. Moore left the restaurant industry to try his hand at selling wine, and he's never looked back. "Here," he says, "I get to be surrounded by something I love, and that's booze." A world of it.

One of northeast Denver's most closely guarded secrets, Western Beverage is home to truckloads of beers, malted beverages and wine coolers handled by the Miller Brewing Company, including imports, microbrews and premium domestics. Every Saturday, the surplus is offered to the public at bargain-basement rates, usually as much as 50 percent off retail. A dolly-wielding public shows up at the crack of dawn, and the scene always has a sporting air, with elbows flying and tempers flaring over primo cases of Tecate and Sam Adams. So just where is this nirvana of the hops? We took a blood vow we would reveal it only in riddle form, so here goes: If you were a train following tracks into the industrial district near 50th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard, you would ramble past a complex of warehouses to the east. Therein lurks beer, delicious beer. Good luck.

Jubilation and joy spread through Glendale last fall when a Super Target finally opened on Colorado Boulevard and Alameda Avenue, at a site that had formerly held a plain old Target. But this wasn't just any superstore. In addition to the usual Super Target merch, like appliances (love that Michael Graves stuff), clothing, housewares and groceries, the vast retail outlet sells beer, liquor and 248 types of wine six days a week -- and it's the real stuff, not 3.2 grocery-store swill. State law allows the super chain to operate one liquor-selling establishment within the state, thanks to a loophole related to a pharmacy license. The Glendale store is the only Super Target in Colorado to offer boozy goods. So when the spirit moves you -- or you want to be moved by spirits while picking up detergent and new sheets -- head to Super Target.

Who moved the cheese? Blame Rich Priest, who a few months ago took over the Cheese Company, a little neighborhood cheese shop, and decided it could be moving a lot more. Not just more cheese -- the store stocks about seventy kinds -- but also gourmet to-go items, including prepared entrees, salads and soups from a menu that changes daily. Although the to-go concept has killed off bigger outfits, Priest has managed to make a go of it. Change is good. Deliciously good.

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