Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Past the pretty wooden façade and row of split rail fencing at Ranch Market sits the Valley's most exciting selection of Mexican staples, desserts, produce, meats, cheeses, seafood and more. The quality is supreme, even if sometimes shocking (a whole beef head, eyes still in, stares at us from the meat case, its open mouth stuffed with an ear of corn). Anything we could ever want is available in beautiful form: fresh coconut, mango, papaya, peppers of all kinds, fresh herbs, tamale husks, guava gel, carne seca, whole buffalo fish, beef lips, pork feet, and on and on.
But since cooking isn't our favorite thing, we're thrilled with the skills of the cooks at the take-away food court. The bakery churns out rainbows of pan dulce, postres, cakes, bread, rolls and cookies. The "Oasis" sells salads, fruit waters and salsas (wonderful shrimp cocktail, ceviche, pico de gallo, tropical frescas). And the busy restaurant next to it swarms with people scrambling for Styrofoam containers of first-class Mexican favorite dishes, immensely cheap at just $2 to $5 for a full meal.
You can take your pick at a long, enticing buffet line set up in front of the flaming gas grills where quick chefs cook everything from scratch: chile Colorado tacos, toothsome tortas, fat sandwiches and enormous burritos.
And for the ultimate, the Ranch prepares family and party packages serving six to 18. There's a choice of roasted chicken or carnitas, paired with rice, beans, salsas, macarron, tortillas, chips, ceballos, cilantro and Coca-Cola. Just know that this isn't gringo Mexican -- meats are drier, spices are hotter, every part of an animal often is used.
There's no question -- this takeout takes us away.
BEST BOOKSTORE -- NEW TITLES
Borders Books & Music
several Valley locations
BEST BOOKSTORE -- USED TITLES
Bookman's Used Books, Music and Software
1056 South Country Club Drive, Mesa
BEST SECONDHAND SHOP
227 West University, Tempe
730 East Missouri
BEST BIKE SHOP
330 West University, Tempe
BEST MOVIE THEATER
several Valley locations
BEST PLACE TO RENT A SUPERHERO COSTUME
Bert Easley's Fun Shop
509 West McDowell
Boojum is long known as a premier nursery for beautiful, exotic plants. Named after a tall, spiny tree known only to the Sonoran Desert and Baja, the gardening shop is evolving into a romantic escape for get-togethers. After 18 years, the family that owns the spot is transforming the five-acre property into lush gardens for special events. We love the mini Mexican village, resplendent with artifacts, fountains and greenery. We love the greenhouse, lush like a tropical island. We can't wait to see what's coming soon: a lake, an English garden and a Zen garden. We love knowing that once, Boojum was surrounded by raw desert, and now, as civilization grows, it will still proudly carry forth our Southwestern spirit, rich with indigenous plants and local charm. Boojum, you're beautiful.
If you're a book freak and you have some time left over after tucking into that brown-bag lunch, it's hard to find a brainier downtown work break than the Book Island. Nestled neatly at the foot of the Luhrs Building, the Island is a triple treat for any nerd with some spare time to kill. Not only is it a decently stocked secondhand book shop, but it's laced with some especially unique antique volumes. And to make the trifecta complete, if you look hard enough, you can sometimes find some jaw-dropping bargains.
Looking for a copy of Robert Payne's Life and Death of Lenin? Probably not, but they have it. Interested in an original edition of O. Henry's Roads of Destiny from 1922? It can be yours for eight bucks. And while most libraries may be complete without the first edition of Charles Knight's William Shakspere [sic]: A Biography -- circa 1880 -- it must be said that the Book Island not only has it, but it has it for a mere $25. Also keep your eyes open for its small stash of Little Leather Library books from the 1920s; tiny leather-bound classics, like Man Without a Country and Courtship of Miles Standish, each about the size of a cigarette pack, go for $10 apiece. Just the right size for you to devour during your next sack lunch.
If you like lowriders but the family car isn't ready for the change, how about just starting with a model? That way, you can get as elaborate as you like, as you customize your plastic dream, and not worry about how the family's going to get around in the meantime. Homies Hobbies is the perfect place for fulfilling your mini lowrider dreams.
When you're ready to work on a more human scale, Homies Hobbies can also help you build a lowrider bike. Custom seats, frames, springs, whitewall tires embossed with the word "lowrider" and a ton of chrome can be found here to help you make or customize your own low-to-the-ground bike.
And if playing with Barbie and Ken is becoming too boring for the kids, then Homies is still the way to go. It has a huge selection of the addictive and collectible "Homies" dolls. From Smiley to El Flaco, the complete collection of little homies is available, as well as the stickers, key chains and doll houses -- but we'd rather call them mini-cribs. And forget Barbie's Corvette -- you can lowride your Homie in your own customized minicoach!
In the bastion of beauty and newness that is far north Scottsdale, it's only fitting that the neighborhood's shiniest new resort, perched in the foothills of Pinnacle Peak, showcases the Valley's most stunning views.
Though it's unquestionably classy, this Four Seasons isn't your typical Scottsdale resort. Rather than rooted in glitz, its grandeur rises from nature. The patio adjacent to the Lobby Lounge and the elegant Acacia restaurant presents a postcard-perfect view of the High Sonoran Desert, which -- wonder of wonders -- still looks like a desert. The resort's construction emphasized efforts to preserve the land's natural beauty. (Natural beauty? In Scottsdale?) Even the few surrounding developments are earth-toned and modest, designed to complement the terrain.
Beyond the resort's lawn, the entire Valley stretches in the distance, framed by mountain ranges rising like fortress walls. On the right, the sun sinks behind Pinnacle Peak, painting the sky over the facing mountains. Order a fuchsia prickly pear margarita and watch the sky take on its color. Sit a bit longer and see that, in Scottsdale, even the stars show off.