Best Specialty Shop (TIE)

AJ's Fine Foods / Trader Joe's

Readers Pick

Step into AJ's, and it's like you are in several stores and restaurants rolled into one--each offering a wide range of food items and gourmet products. Your eyes will pop at the sight of delicious cakes and bread that rival those at any bakery. Walk a bit more, and you enter a wine cellar and cheese shop, each with a bevy of selections. A bistro area offers deli meats, salads and prepared foods to eat at home or on the covered patio. A sushi bar is tucked in the back and will tempt you to take a break from shopping. Beautiful flowers are to be found at the floral boutique. A delightful selection of kitchen items, candles and gourmet soaps will domesticate even the wildest of shoppers.

What was life like before Trader Joe's? Hawaiian shirts were unfashionable. Organic was a chemistry term, not an adjective for a preponderance of pesticide-free produce at affordable prices. Hummus came in one flavor, whereas now, there are six; our favorite commingles jalapeño and cilantro. Nobody knew what a peppadew was. Cheap wine tasted really bad. Vodka was usually served on the rocks, not added to marinara sauce. Chicken broth came solely in cans, not cartons. Hey, let's do lunch: Try a slice of manchego cheese between Indian naan, spread with wasabi mayonnaise and olive tapenade. Wash it down with iced bergamot orange tea. Yum!

Runner up:

3. 17th Street Market, 840 E. 17th St., 792-2588, www.treasureshidden.com

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