Man does not live by bread alone. He needs a good bagel, too.

For more than two decades now, Chompie's has been surpassing our bagel expectations with always -- always -- the best bagels we've ever found in this town.

Chompie's was king of the bagels before the doughy works of art were cool (remember the bagel explosion in the '80s?). While many of the wanna-be bagel bakers in the Valley have gone extinct, Chompie's is still going strong.

Why? It's got 35 varieties of New York-style bagels, in our favorite flavors like salt, poppy, sesame and sourdough. But it's also got designer choices, like zucchini, Cheddar, banana nut, jalapeño and chocolate chip bagels. Most important, all bagels are handmade, baked fresh and smothered on both sides with their toppings.

You can't build a better bagel than that.

Tired of cheese choices at your local grocery store being limited to Cheez Whiz, Velveeta and boursin-in-a-box? Cheeselike food substances are conspicuously absent at Duck & Decanter, whose long list of not-for-the-lactose-intolerant dairy specialties would turn the head of even a hardened Wisconsin Cheesehead.

This place is the only one we've found around town that seems to always stock manchego and mahon, two nutty, semi-hard Spanish cheeses craved by hard-core cheesephiles. They've also laid in a good store of Old Brugge, chevegne and Père Joseph, all made by Belgian Trappist monks -- and don't pass up the double-crème Brie layered with pesto and toasted pine nuts. Duck & Decanter's helpful cheese-department head, Christopher LaFollette, is known to pass out samples, so there's no question as to what you're buying. The only thing Duck & Decanter doesn't stock is Metamucil, which you will certainly need if you shop here on a regular basis.

K-Rico Cafe & Bakery is tiny, but those with a nose for things sweet should keep sniffing 'til they find this tropically appointed strip-mall storefront. Owner Elsie Lara, a native of Puerto Rico, packs a lot of fabulous Caribbean-style pastries into her shop. It's worth a cross-town trek to bite into one of K-Rico's flaky quesitos, made of buttery puff pastry and stuffed with sweetened cream cheese; or a tembleque, a cinnamony Puerto Rican coconut pudding that's a Caribbean classic.

Most people go to Wild Oats for the organic fruits and vegetables. We go for the potato chip samples.

During a recent visit, five different flavors were presented for our gustatory inspection: sweet potato chips, cheese puff chips, garlic-flavored chips, blue chips and corn tortilla chips, all proffered with a generous helping of sample salsa. Which should we buy? Hmmm, better have another chip.

But if there's really a judgment day, rest assured the honor system gang upstairs will know when you've made unnecessary third and fourth visits to the vinegar-flavored chip bowl in aisle two and they have the incriminating store video footage to prove it.

Betcha can't eat just 27!

When the dinner hour is approaching and we have to stop off at a grocery store to pick up a few things anyway, we welcome the grab-and-go meal ideas designed to make our hectic lives easier. But since discovering that some AJ's feature hand-tossed cooked-to-order pizzas, we have taken those other plastic-wrapped pizzas off our in-a-pinch menu list.

At AJ's you'll pay more, but those hot, gourmet-style pies are well worth it. For the traditionalists, the stores offer tasty pepperoni, sausage and the like. Those with more discriminating palates (why else would you be shopping at such a chichi store?) will love the delectable specialty pies, like spinach feta, garlic chicken and the Monte Carlo, featuring artichokes, goat cheese, red onions and fresh basil.

Another plus? Call your order in ahead of time, and your pizza will be ready when you're finished shopping.

Fish don't get much fresher than when they're flopping around in a tank of water, like they do at 99 Ranch Market. This upscale Asian supermarket's large aquarium tanks virtually teem with live catfish, tilapia, freshwater blue eel and Dungeness crab.

And if you just can't bear the thought of ending one of our piscine pal's lives prematurely, there's always the option of choosing something already caught and packed in ice, like red snapper, robalo, carp and sheephead. But no matter what creature from the deep you end up selecting, 99 Ranch Market's experienced fishmongers will clean and prepare (and even execute) your finny favorite with samurai-like skill -- all at no additional cost.

Go, fish!

You're planning on throwing an important dinner party for a bunch of fussy gourmets. They're snobs -- you know the type. "Oh, grilled swordfish and Gulf prawns over smoked mussel fried rice and mango papaya relish again?" they sniff.

An order from Gourmet Imports will shut their mouths -- at least until it's time to chew. But you have to pick up the phone to buy anything here; the enterprise doesn't take walk-in trade.

Gourmet Imports brings virtually any exotic meat you can imagine, often within a day or two of placing an order. Camel meat? Giraffe? Hippopotamus? Alligator? Kangaroo?

Gourmet Imports has it all -- zebra, beaver, llama, caribou, goat, Scottish hare, African lion, musk ox, raccoon, Rocky Mountain oysters, turtle and emu (all farm raised, of course.) This purveyor serves many of Arizona's finest resorts and restaurants, and can cater to your kitchen, too.

It's food that will drive even the most jaded gourmet completely wild.

The first time we heard about "the jerk in the restaurant" 10 years ago, we thought we were being told about some lout on a cell phone. But it was a dish new to the Valley, Jamaican jerked rabbit, served at RoxSand.

Today, jerk is available on many menus, usually involving chicken. Basically, it involves rubbing meat, fish or vegetables with a spicy marinade, then grilling or roasting it. But jerk is nothing without the jerk sauce. It's got to be torridly hot, enough so our eyes water, and we'll lick carpet if we have to, just for relief.

There's no better jerk sauce we've found than the infernal number sold at Kim Bong. It's called Walkerswood Traditional Jamaican Jerk Seasoning, and the colorful, reggae-themed bottle warns us it's "hot and spicy."

We say ya, mon, and how. This is the real thing, packed with scallions, black pepper, salt, allspice, nutmeg, citrus, sugar and thyme. The active ingredient? Scotch Bonnet peppers, a vegetable so evil that cooks are advised to wear gloves when cleaning them.

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