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Best Of 2012

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Best Of :: People & Places

Best Performance by an Actor Depicting a Differently Abled Person with Compassion

Martin McDonagh's notorious The Pillowman, about a writer of fables whose stories typically involve the sadistic murder of children, is a tough play to sell. The story, about the ways in which art informs our lives, focuses on a pair of brothers, one of them demented because he was tortured by his parents as a child. Listening to Michal recount that torture requires a performer both willing and able to play idiocy and rage with compassion and light humor. Travis Russell, who played Michal in Desert Stages Theatre's production, whipped in and out of dark comedy and frank tragedy with impressive ease.

Equally striking this season was young Will Hightower's performance as an autistic teen in Actors Theatre's burnished production of Body Image in April. Hightower went for comedy in his depiction of a disabled youth without ever tipping over into caricature or disrespect for the troubled teenager he portrayed.
Best Urban Legend

We'll admit to being influenced by repeated viewings of Wes Anderson's The Fantastic Mr. Fox on Blu-Ray, but still, we swear we've seen the mythic "Tempe Fox" prancing around the Broadmor neighborhood. He's usually spotted just out of the corner of our eye, always leading to the distinct possibility that we're imagining him completely. But forget reason — of all Arizona's fabled creatures (chupacabra, hoof-man, the Bigfoot in the Apache/Sitgreaves Forest), the fox seems the friendliest (not to mention most plausible). His bushy tail catches the eye, but he's quickly gone before you can whip out your camera phone. It sounds crazy, but we've even heard of one intrepid photographer who snapped off a couple shots, only to have the mysterious fox not show up in the pictures at all. A spirit vision, perhaps? The best part of this "legend," of course, is that it's absolutely true. The old neighborhoods near the ASU Tempe campus really have become home in recent years to several foxes. Residents theorize that they feed on roof rats and hang out near the George Ditch off College Avenue and 14th Street. Tempe officials confirm they're there, and no one knows how it happened. We're glad to know the Tempe Fox is real. (And that we're not crazy!)

Best Send-Up of Arizona State University

Know any good jokes about Arizona State University? The folks in Hollywood certainly do, as Tinsel Town has dispensed a few zingers at ASU's expense over the years, all of which have been dead-on and absolutely hilarious. After all, there's plenty about the school to poke fun at, including its oft-ridiculed status as one of America's top party schools and its student body's reputation for preferring slamming beers to hitting the books. For instance, 30 Rock's resident blowhard Jack Donaghy (played by Alec Baldwin) stated in a 2010 episode that "a parent is the one person who thinks their [kids are] smart, even when they go to Arizona State." Zing. Such a diss was child's play to the sort of lampooning that took place last fall when Daniel Tosh filmed an entire episode of his popular Comedy Central show at ASU.

It was part of his Tosh.0 College Campus Invasion and featured segments in which the acerbic comedian satirized frat boys and their tendency to hit on drunk girls (at Casey Moore's, no less), encouraged Sun Devil hotties to consume peppers and other spicy substances, and got naked in front of a biology class. Probably the most hilarious (or embarrassing) bit for ASU students was a highlight reel of a "Tweet and Greet," in which an endless stream of student traded insults with the Tosh, who got a choice quip about how "There's a lot of chlamydia here, apparently." At least he didn't refer to the university as "the Harvard of date rape," like those rascals over at The Daily Show.
Best Mention of Arizona in a Pop Song

In 2012, Frank Ocean made waves by coming out on his Tumblr page, gently shattering the glass ceiling in the notoriously homophobic circles of hip-hop and R&B. But he did more than that with the song "Thinking Bout You." He finally let the rest of the country know that it doesn't rain much here. "It usually doesn't rain in Southern California / Much like Arizona / My eyes don't shed tears/ But, boy, they bawl when I'm thinking 'bout you," Ocean sings with achingly gorgeous tone. In all seriousness, Channel Orange, Ocean's full-length, major label debut is one of the year's finest, and "Thinking Bout You," which effortlessly recalls the perfection of Prince and D'Angelo, is one of the record's most affecting moments. With a cracked falsetto, Ocean croons, "Do you think about me still? Or do you not think so far ahead? 'Cause I've been thinking about forever." It's crushing, a moment of pure soul-rending, and even if Arizona feels like a default rhyme, it's nice to be a part of such an astonishing pop song.

Best Un-Google-able Band Name

Coming up with a decent band name has never required particular brilliance. Just ask the "greats" — The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Smashing Pumpkins. But in the Internet age, there seems to be some sort of "WTF band name" arms race, with bands like fun., oOoOO, Snake! Snake! Snakes!, and Friends all competing to cram in enough punctuation and inscrutable capitalization to make it impossible to find the band in any given search engine. North Dakota — the Tempe-based trio of Michelle Blades, Mo Neuharth, and Emily Hobeheidar — don't have a hard moniker to spell, but it's still tough to find their web presence without a little Facebooking first. The geographical connections to the Midwest aren't made explicit on the trio's debut (there's a song called "Fargo," but also one called "China/Japan") but like their namesake state — so close to Canada that it's almost there — they blur the lines between borders and sounds, toeing the line between righteous indie rock and riot grrl screeds.

Best Music Festival

The Compound Grill — the music hall/eatery/bar launched by the people behind the annual The McDowell Mountain Music Festival (and the site of the festival since 2010) — may have closed, but there's good news: Its owners plan to continue the festival, which unites indie rockers, local bands, and some of the granola-crunchiest jam bands this side of Bonnaroo for three days of sun and noodling guitar solos. Bully for them — beyond the fact that the festival has hosted bands like Ozomatli, The Flaming Lips, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Fields, and The Carolina Chocolate Drops, it's maintained a spirit of community activism, donating to charities like Ear Candy and institutions like Phoenix Children's Hospital.

Best Culinary Festival
Devoured Culinary Festival, Phoenix Art Museum

Local First Arizona, R Entertainment, and the Phoenix Art Museum hit another hit run with this year's perfectly executed Devoured Culinary Classic. More than 40 of the Valley's best chefs and restaurants filled the museum's grassy courtyard with tiny plate after tiny plate of bite-size signature dishes, unique takes on classic morsels, and colorful exotic ingredients. St. Francis introduced us to velvety glacier lettuce in its unforgettable Farmers Market Salad, Beckett's Table scored major crowd points for its adorable cans of salty pork and beans, and The District Kitchen wowed us with its impressive display of pastel cotton candy, caramel cashews, and beautiful summer spinach salad. The event was packed full of foodies of all ages (including a few wee little foodies in giant strollers) and everyone left stuffed. This event quickly has become one of the most anticipated food events of the year.

1625 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 85004
MAP
602-257-1222
Best Cultural Festival

Whether you're looking for killer sushi, an eyeful of traditional artwork and ikebana floral arrangements, or a cold pint of Kirin, Matsuri has you covered.

Matsuri is Japanese for "festival" and universal for a showcase of Japan's cultural traditions and foods. The annual two-day downtown festival in late February celebrates everything Japanese from morning to night and draws thousands of attendees who, once they find a parking spot, are encouraged to soak in the live music, participate in traditional crafts, and, yes, even sing a few tunes in the name of Japan's national sport — karaoke.
Best Theater Festival

The fall of 2011 saw an explosion of Latino festivals, dances, dramas, comedies, and improv performances in Phoenix. And at a time when funding for the arts is declining and support for the local Latino community is hardly widespread, hundreds of artists came together to celebrate — and to fight.

The result of performances by Teatro Bravo and Israel Jimenez, Ernesto Moncada, Andrés Alcalá, New Carpa, James E. Garcia, Alberto Rios, Michele Ceballos, and Zarco Guerrero (to name a few), Phoenix-based Celebración Artística de las Américas (or CALA Alliance) may wind up a six-week biannual festival of Latino-focused arts programming. If so, it will be a loud celebration of Latino culture and a new branding for a community injured by Arizona Senate Bill 1070. Despite the legislation, the Valley's performing artists aren't going anywhere. And we're all the stronger for it.
Best Arts Festival

Each year during the past five years, more than 100 local artists line Sunnyslope's Central Avenue between Dunlap and the canal during a weekend in October and April for a change-of-pace art festival.

Here, you're not going to find a collection of "artisan" lawn decorations or tchotchkes made in foreign countries. Instead, the town that's home to the Sunnyslope Rock Garden and historic home tours encourages its own artists and members of surrounding creative communities to set up a booth, showcase their work, and engage with the neighborhood to the tune of live music, local food, and plenty of people watching to soak up an afternoon.
Best Craft Festival
Crafeteria at Medlock Plaza

More than 45 local crafters let their hands rest and machines cool down long enough to set up booths, talk shop, and sell their goods during the annual Crafeteria. The event, hosted by Frances, plays by one rule: Everything must be 100 percent handmade.

Crafeteria's an annual gathering for arts and crafty types and one of our favorite places to do some serious holiday shopping. Last December's lineup included paper goods, apparel, accessories, artwork, buttons, and everything else we have a soft spot for. Artists Keri Mosier, Annemarie Miskovic, Cyndi Coon, Maria Mueller, Megan Hull, Kelly Roach, Kathy Cano-Murillo, and more proved once again that it's never too late to start saving for Crafeteria, and it's never too early to call dibs on a parking spot.
W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 85013
MAP
Best Place to Let Your Maker Flag Fly

In October 2011, Maker Bench Tempe, Roosevelt Row, Make Magazine, and Craft magazine brought science, art, and engineering together on Roosevelt Row. Throughout the day, local and national crafters showcased their creations, demonstrated their skills, and celebrated all things DIY.

The event, which started in San Mateo, California, in 2006, is "the family-friendly Burning Man festival," with more than 100 exhibitors, including laser pumpkin carving, epic marshmallow launching, giant flaming robots, tiny finger puppets, and a maker market for attendees to try their hand at a few nerdy crafts to take home.Yes, it's a festival of geeks. And it's just the kind of celebration we could use a lot more of.
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Best Performance by an Actor Depicting a Differently Abled Person with Compassion: Tie: Will Hightower in Body Image and Travis Russell in The Pillowman

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