2751 S. Parker Rd.
Aurora, Colorado 80014
Why we love it: Arguably one of the nation’s most spectacular Asian markets with aisles and aisles of rice cookers and rice crackers, kimchi and Vietnamese basil, seaweed and purple yam ice cream, rice noodles and udon noodles and aloe drinks and blue crabs. It’s no surprise that H-Mart’s feverish base of fans can’t stop ogling over the sheer volume of endless foodstuffs. Fair warning: It’s complete pandemonium on the weekends, so if crowds derail you, bring valium (or shop during the week).
Market notes: In addition to a mega-size supermarket, there are in-store vendors hawking their wares, non-stop food samples on the weekends and a bustling Korean cafeteria turning out oodles of noodles.
Marczyk Find Foods (and Wines)
770 E. 17th Ave.
Denver, Colorado 80203
Why we love it: Marczyk’s is the Gucci of gourmet markets. Niman Ranch meats, artisan cheeses, lovely local produce, smashing sandwiches, must-have kitchen gadgets, shellfish and fin fish, stocks and sauces and a fantastic prepared foods section are on display in all their sigh-inducing glory. A hybrid between a market, butcher shop, cheesery, deli, wine shop and supermarket, there’s not much you can’t find here – at least from a foodnik’s perspective – and if owners Pete Marczyk and his wife Barbara Macfarlane don’t carry your poison (or passion), they’ll do whatever they can to track it down.
What to buy: Niman Ranch beef and pork, chickens from Northern Colorado Poultry, Pete’s potato salad, boutique wines and any of the sandwiches.
Market notes: Because this is a market that also sees the value in general debauchery, there are numerous events each month, from wine tastings to raucous burger nights and pig roasts on the patio.
10400 E. Colfax Ave.
Aurora, Colorado 80010
(additional locations in Commerce City, Thornton, Colorado Springs and Westminster)
Why we love it: Steer clear of the gringo aisles pimping Captain Crunch, brush off the antiquated King Soopers facade, sidestep the dude in the parking lot that starts washing your car windows before you’ve had a chance to blink and prepare yourself for a parking lot that’s murderous on the weekends with careening carts threatening to jab every corner of your bumper. Do all that, and then hone in on the fascinating foodstuffs that fill this truly sensational Mexican market teeming with dried and fresh chiles, spices, cheeses, fresh tortillas, salsas, pastries, produce, pigs’ feet and prepared foods, including tamales, pupusas and ceviches.
What to buy: Fresh corn and flour tortillas, Mexican cheeses and the ridiculously inexpensive fruit and produce. Where else can you buy four avocados for a clam?
Market notes: There’s a café area, complete with beautifully tiled Mexican tables, which is where the locals camp after ordering enough food from the tortilleria, carniceria, cocina and aguas frescas bar to feed a football team.
Savory Spice Shop
1537 Platte St.
Denver, Colorado 80202
(additional locations in Littleton, Boulder and Lowry)
Why we love it: Independently owned, unlike Penzey’s, which is a national chain, the Savory Spice Shop is a cook’s Shangri La for sniffing out exotic, freshly ground spices and spice blends. With a mind-blowing, A to Z selection of herbs, chiles, sugars, peppercorns, salts, extracts and flavorings and even sauces, it’s a slightly overwhelming undertaking to have to pick and choose from among the hundreds of intoxicants, but the remarkably friendly spice pros that work here couldn’t be more helpful.
What to buy: Ground chiles, salts, lavender sugar, any of the meat rubs and gift boxes for all your friends.
Market notes: There’s virtually nothing that the staff won’t let you taste before buying, and if you’re unsure what to do with a spice or a rub, they’ll happily arm you with plenty of recipe cards.
The Truffle Cheese Shop
2906 E. Sixth Ave.
Denver, Colorado 80202
Why we love it: More than just a cheese shop (although the cheeses alone are worth their weight in goats, cow – whatever), The Truffle is a bona fide culinary pantheon, a one-stop thrill ride for gastronaugts who want foie gras and salumi, olive oils and vinegars, pate and jellies, truffles and truffled chocolates. And, yes, cheeses from around the globe, all of which are crazy good, because owners and cheese freaks Karen and Robert Lawler get that life without cheese is no life at all. You’ll often have to wait in line during peak times or during holiday rushes, but the staff hands out samples to ward off starvation.
What to buy: Cheese (obviously), but don’t pass up the pates or cured meats, all of which are terrific crowd-pleasers.
Market notes: The shop holds cheese classes on a regular basis, and, every so often, the Lawlers host local farm or dairy tours, which are as entertaining as they are informative.
Lori Midson, restaurant critic for Colorado Avid Golfer (coloradoavidgolfer.com), lives in Denver and writes for a variety of publications.