When my husband and I moved to south Westminster in 2019, it was Valente’s Deli Bakery & Italian Market that made our new neighborhood feel like home—and not just because of the sandwiches on pillowy house-baked bread that fueled us on moving day. Maybe it was the smell of simmering marinara sauce lingering in the air or the banter of the regulars as Dino Valente (grandson of founder Fred Valente) sliced their mortadella. Either way, we’ve relished the soothing ritual of the short stroll to the family-owned market, which is celebrating 70 years in 2023, ever since.

Whereas schlepping to a big-box store feels like an errand, visits to Valente’s and other small, community-centric food shops dotted across the metro area are events worth anchoring an afternoon around. In addition to culturally specific groceries, many of the markets we’ve detailed here also have restaurants where you can enjoy the sort of neighborly nourishment that only a true local’s haunt can provide.

Valente’s Deli Bakery & Italian Market, Westminster

Must-buys at 69-year-old Valente’s include the house-made Italian sausage, 18-month-aged prosciutto di parma, smoky scamorza affumicate cheese, Pastene brand dried mafaldine pasta, and lobster-stuffed frozen ravioli. Stroll through the compact, checker-floored shop and load up on canned San Marzano tomatoes for making Bolognese (may we suggest the late Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan’s recipe?) and Dell Alpe’s extra-hot, oil-packed giardiniera relish to upgrade everyday sandwiches. Pull up a chair at a one of the four granite tables near the front windows to devour a savory north Denver-style canoli dunked in marinara: The warm rectangle of yeasted dough is stuffed with a mini brick of hot Italian sausage and a strip of roasted green pepper.

European Gusto Market & Café, Virginia Village

Peruse the well-organized aisles at this nearly 20-year-old Bosnian grocer and fill your basket with lokum (butter tea cookies), roasted and pickled heirloom shipka peppers, and fresh-baked burek (flaky spiral pies stuffed with feta or beef). In addition to Bosnian relishes, meats, desserts, and frozen foods, you’ll also find treats from across Europe, including crunchy Hungarian Chio potato crackers, juniper-inflected Polish hunter’s sausage, the Croatian herbal soda Cockta, and creamy Danish white feta cheese. Wander over to the sunny, plant-bedecked three-year-old cafe at the east end of the space, grab a seat on one of the lounge-y low-slung black couches, and enjoy a hearty plate of sudjuk—spicy sausage links served with airy flatbread, onions, kajmak (a mild, spreadable cheese), and ajvar (a roasted red pepper condiment)—from the Balkan Grill section of the menu.

India’s Harvest, Aurora

Whether you’re interested in crafting regional Indian dishes from scratch or taking a shortcut to the subcontinent’s vibrant flavors, the friendly cashiers at this Aurora market will help you find what you need. Stock up on tangy amchoor powder (made with unripe green mango) for enlivening soups and stews, protein-rich besan (chickpea flour) for pakora, golden ghee, chewy paneer cheese, and massive sacks of aromatic basmati rice. Or keep it simple with ready-made curry simmer sauces, a rainbow of jarred chutneys, and frozen puri and paratha breads.

India’s Harvest’s Chaat Corner menu also offers one of the best selections of chaat (a vast category of snacky-crunchy street foods) in the metro area. Try the alloo tikki chat: pan-fried mashed potato patties drizzled with yogurt and tamarind chutney and topped with crisp noodle bits. There is just a singular folding table next to the kitchen, so we recommend taking your food to-go and enjoying at one of the many picnic areas at nearby Cherry Creek State Park.

Fuel up with alloo tikki chat (pan-fried mashed potato patties drizzled with yogurt and tamarind chutney) before or after shopping at India’s Harvest in Harvey Park. Photo by Sarah Banks

Super Carniceria Compare, Harvey Park

From sliced beef ribs to pork adovada to al pastor marinated beef to head-on shrimp, the meat counter at this 13-year-old butcher shop (which also has an Aurora location) will have you itching to throw a barbecue. Once you acquire your proteins, check the produce section for super-sweet baby mangos, guavas, and prickly pears. And don’t even think about leaving without Tortilleria Cuauhtemoc’s fresh flour tortillas, made just a few blocks north on Federal Boulevard. Place your order for pupusas (we like the cheesy refried bean Salvadoran specialties) before you shop; they’re made to order and take at least 20 minutes. Then come back to the sectioned-off dining space, slide into one of the plastic booths, and enjoy your pupusas alongside the families sharing Salvadoran-style chicken tamales and massive smothered burritos.

MMart Korean Market, Aurora

MMart has been Colorado’s only independent Korean market for almost four decades. This family-owned shop on Havana Street is considerably smaller than nearby H-Mart, but owner Augustine Lee’s curated shelves offer many items not seen at the chain. Go for staples including seaweed, dried mushrooms, kimchi, tofu, and gochugaru (chile powder) plus fiery instant ramen and snacks like super-thin Vanilla Mousse Korean Oreos and cheesy O!Tube chips. A true one-stop-shop, MMart also houses Honey Bakery and its heavenly sweet potato cake, a takeaway counter serving gimbap (Korean rice rolls), and, tucked into the back corner, Korean Food To-Go restaurant, from which you’ll want to procure an order of the kimchi fried rice and spicy, potato-laden pork bone soup. The dine-in tables are even more tucked away, making you feel as though you’ve stepped away from a busy Seoul market to dine in a secluded alley.

Stock up on snacks, kimchi, and other amazing finds at MMart Korean Market in Aurora. Photo by Sarah Banks

Nana African Market, Aurora

We’re partial to Nana African Market for its warm customer service and well-curated selection of goods from West Africa. Bridget Ofori, who is also studying for the bar exam and works nonprofit the Underdog Family, stocks the shelves with products from her native Ghana, from Geisha canned mackerel in tomato sauce to Bambara groundnuts to rich red palm oil to colorful wax print fabrics. Don’t miss the fridge and freezer section for peeled cassava, goat meat, Ting grapefruit soda, and ultra-spicy, clove-scented Le Ginger juice.

Jasmine Market, Lakewood

When Jasmine Market opened two years ago, residents on the west side of the city could finally obtain pomegranate molasses, labneh, couscous, and other Middle Eastern ingredients without a drive to Aurora. This small strip-market shop sells Halal lamb, beef, and chicken at incredibly affordable prices, plus Ziyad- and Sadaf-brand spices, including tangy ground sumac, za’aatar, and beef shawarma blend. Whatever you do, don’t leave without pantry staples like freekeh (roasted green whole wheat), date syrup, spreadable Kiri cheese, and cracked olives with lemon. Add toum garlic dip, falafel, baklava-esque kataifi dessert, and a package of frozen flatbread to your basket and you’ve got the makings of an easy mezze-style dinner.

Krung Thai Grocery, Aurora

This bustling market stocks many Thai ingredients that are tough to find at other area Asian grocers. Grab sweet chile sauce, rice noodles, dried shrimp and lotus seeds, palm sugar, and tamarind pulp to stock your pantry, and don’t miss snacks like sweet-basil-flavored Lay’s potato chips, cigar-shaped rolled pandan coconut cookies, and durian-flavored mini-wafer bites. The produce section includes diminutive Thai eggplants, aromatic galangal, and herbs, plus green bamboo shoots, jackfruit, and, when in season, fresh durian. For a special treat, look for quarts of co’m ru’o’u (a lightly sweet, yeasted Vietnamese rice wine dessert) in the fridge.

Padoca Gourmet, Mayfair

The brainchild of Paula and Chase Lowrey, Padoca got its start in 2018 as a small home bakery delivering pastries to Denver’s Brazilian community. Since opening the cafe and retail outfit in the Mayfair neighborhood a year ago, Paula still bakes and fries all the heavenly pastries from scratch, and the couple has expanded the menu to include açaí bowls, quiche, espresso drinks, and a small retail selection. Padoca’s top sellers include the tapioca cheese bread called pao de queijo, fried chicken croquettes (coxinha), and brigadeiros (fudgy chocolate treats). Enjoy a cup of coffee and a snack in the cafe area while you’re there, and bring home Brazilian coffee roasted in Boulder by Bona Coffee, tapioca and farofa (toasted cassava) flour, goiabada guava paste, Guaraná soda, and frozen bags of Padoca’s own bite-size pastries.

Read More

What to Buy at Bombay Bazaar, According to a Local Indian Chef
17 of Denver’s Best Coffee Shops
Ruby’s Market is on a Mission to Support Immigrant and Refugee Communities

This article was originally published in 5280 October 2022.
Callie Sumlin
Callie Sumlin
Callie Sumlin is a writer living in Westminster, and has been covering food and sustainability in the Centennial State for more than five years.