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.

Restaurant Oceana prides itself on serving just-caught seafood on a daily changing menu. For us, this means sparkling ahi, Maine day boat scallops, Atlantic salmon, Hog Island oysters, Dungeness crab, Alaskan halibut and more. And though such seafood is available at many other places around town, Oceana gets highest marks not only for its unparalleled freshness, but also for creative preparation.

Billed as American cuisine with Asian and French overtones, the menu boasts dynamite dishes like miso-marinated Chilean sea bass with bok choy, shiitake, and jasmine rice, plus our absolute favorite: mustard crusted trout with leek whipped potatoes, snap peas and grilled red onion pan sauce.

We're especially hooked on Oceana's tasting menus, bringing us four-, five- or six-course feasts, paired with wines if we like. The experience makes relaxing in this elegant place easy, lounging under portraits painted by such greats as local artist Frank Ybarra, fiddling with the colorful fish figurines decorating our table, and watching what's up in the exposed kitchen.

There's always another fish in the sea, so the saying goes. We're happy enough with what we've found at Oceana.

Readers' Choice: Red Lobster

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.

Lulu's Taco Shop
Should soup be served in a wine goblet? Only if it's as special as the cocido crafted by Israel and Lourdes Aviles, owners of Lulu's. For more than a decade now, the Avileses have been tempting us with their authentic, Guadalajara-style cooking, including dreamy cocido, a traditional beef stew.

Thinking Dinty Moore? Don't. Cocido is more like soup -- but soup with an attitude. The clean broth boasts flavor much too intense for its light character. It looks like pale bouillon laced ever so slightly with orange oil, but explodes in beefy force, underpinned with cilantro and just enough salt to tingle our taste buds.

Its body makes it more like stew. Certainly it's as full-figured as the voluptuous seorita mural on Lulu's wall, the broth gorged with soft zucchini, celery, green pepper, fall-apart-tender beef, onion, and corn-on-the-cob halves.

This soup makes a meal. Served with soft, corn-studded rice, smoky refried beans and a tortilla, Lulu's cocido is one awesome comida.

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!

In Season Deli
We were good kids and always ate our vegetables. We'll never refuse a radish, sneer at a squash or thumb our noses at a tomato.

Particularly not when they're crafted into such decadent creations such as the blue corn tamales served at In Season Deli. Seven different garden-fresh veggies are blended with three kinds of ground corn and spices, formed by hand and steamed to a mellow finish. Paired with a side of pinto or black beans, they're as nutritional as they are delicious.

The veggie sandwich, too, reminds us why we had no problem growing up big and strong. We like stuffing our toasted pita with hummus, tomato pesto, cucumber, tomato, bell pepper, sprouts, lettuce, red onions and carrots.

And for those who think a salad isn't substantial, we suggest In Season's five-salad sampler, with different choices prepared daily. We're particularly smitten by Caroline's Tomato Pasta, the arroz ole and the garden rotelli.

Vegetarian food can be sinfully tasty, too -- as one bite of the deli's homemade rice pudding proves.

We're believers. It's always the right time for In Season.

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.

Chef Vincent Guerithault long has reigned supreme as master of high-end Southwestern cuisine. When he first introduced the concept in the mid-'80s, he was considered radical for his innovative combination of classic French cooking and flavors of Mexico and the American Southwest.

A decade and a half later, little has changed about his menu, cooking philosophy, or his well-deserved status as one of the Valley's most recognized chefs.

As always, the Southwestern influence takes center stage at Vincent's, showcasing chiles, native corn, and flurries of fresh herbs. Time-tested favorites include a rapturous salmon quesadilla, duck tamale with Anaheim chile, lobster chimichanga with basil pesto, and house-smoked fish, laid over a thin, phyllo-like crust dabbed with dill and horseradish cream.

Under Vincent's inspired direction, it's Southwestern with style, a region to believe.

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