Best Of Tucson®

Best Specialty Shop

Trader Joe's

1101 N. Wilmot Road

7912 N. Oracle Road

4766 E. Grant Road

READERS' PICK: Eavesdrop outside any health club, or sports bar for that matter, and odds are the hot topic will be the latest find at Trader Joe's. With the recent opening of a third location, there is even more to talk about. TJ's has goodies to satisfy every taste--from the most extreme of "healthy heart" sorts, to those who view chocolate as a basic food group. Not to mention fresh flowers, wines, vitamin supplements, pet potpourri, and even environmentally sound laundry detergent. You'll find kim chee right there next to the kosher pickles. Don't forget to check the chalkboard and head over to the "new items" section; you never know what you might find. They keep their freezer stocked with spur-of-the-moment meals; among our all-time favorites: black bean and tofu potstickers, roasted vegetable enchiladas, and that 98 percent Fat Free Vegetarian Pizza with broccoli, red onions and red and yellow peppers. Eye the endless assortments of salads or grab some stuffed grape leaves, sushi rolls, bento boxes, or any number of concoctions in containers--just waiting to be spread on a cracker or stuffed into a pita. And then there are the desserts. Aside from the aisle piled high with buckets o' cookies and enticing chocolate morsels, you'll find everything from frozen fat-free juice bars and soy ice creams to tiramisu and three-layer mocha java torte with chocolate crust.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Rum Runner Wine and Cheese Co., 3200 E. Speedway Blvd. When, oh when will this chard'n'cab craze end? Too many Americans drink only wine that tastes like it's been tapped from an oak tree. The Rum Runner, of course, is happy to profit from this lingering fad, but it also markets goods to more discriminating consumers. Not only does it purvey a tremendous array of domestic and foreign wines and spirits, but the shop maintains a well-stocked gourmet cheese case (for those times when nothing but a slab of Stilton will do), an array of elegant noshes and prized ingredients (truffles just around the corner), and premium pasta. All that, plus a staff that happily steers you toward what you need, not just what they want to sell. And trust us--you need a break from chards and cabs.

LOOSE CHANGE: Roma Imports, 627 S. Vine Ave. It's appropriate that Roma Imports,Tucson's best loved Italian grocery and deli, should be hidden back behind the statue of Father Kino. The Roma kitchen goes into full sausage mode every Monday and if you call ahead they'll have fresh homemade sausage waiting for you. There's a freezerful of homemade gnocchi, tortellini and ravioli. They also make fresh pizza dough and treats like crostata, a butter crust filled with apricots or raspberries, and something simply called "fig cookies," which are the sophisticated Italian cousin to fig newtons: a flaky crust around a filling of figs, dates and melon. Roma also sells all kinds of goodies from Italy: 34 different kinds of pasta at last count, cheeses you've never even heard of but want to try, sea salt from the sunny Adriatic, and really good coffee. Once you've eaten it all you'll want some Brioschi, special antacid imported from Italy.

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