Good food, just like llama used to make. That's the inspiration behind Peruanitos, owned by the de Arriola family, a group of talented chefs relocated from Peru. The charm is visible in the decor, bright and cheerful, and yes, decorated with giant stuffed toy llamas. It's even more apparent in the food, a celebration of one of the world's oldest, most sophisticated cuisines.

Peru is about potatoes, and Peruanitos showcases the spuds. We adore papas a la huancaina, layering thick slabs of boiled potato and onion strips with a neon-yellow, creamy cheese sauce, topped with sliced hard-boiled egg, black olives and a whole lot of heat from fiery rocoto or aji amarillo chile sauce dashed in. It's the perfect appetizer to lead us into carapulera, a classic Incan dish of papseca (freeze-dried potatoes) with large chunks of pork in velvety, mildly spiced, orange-colored sauce with nuts. And we lust after adobo de chancho, a succulent concoction of marinated, slow-cooked pork with an electric, spicy undercut of serious chile heat. It's moist and meaty, and cools down a touch with fluffy rice and chilled sweet potatoes.

Pop rocks!

And nowhere in town will you find a wider selection of the bottled bubbly (non-alcoholic variety) than at this fizz fanatic's paradise, a soda supermarket that stocks hundreds of hard-to-find carbonated potables.

Specializing in regional and imported sweetened swills you either haven't tasted in years or never knew existed, the inventory (some 300 brands) includes such arcane quaffs as Mexican Coca-Cola (despite Coke's official company line, it's far zingier than its domestic cousin), Dr Pepper from a maverick Texas bottler that still uses pure cane sugar, and Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray, which tastes a lot better than it sounds. In short, enough effervescent nectars to finance your dentist's Malibu beach house.

Burp!

Maybe your house was filled with the smell of fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies every week when you were a kid. Or maybe your mom's idea of making cookies was opening a package of Chips Ahoy!. Whether you're reliving your childhood or compensating for it, you'll want to drop in on Fat Cat Cookies. Every morning finds owner Linda Schneider up to her elbows in delicious cookie dough. She and hubby Kem make 18 varieties, from basic chocolate chip, peanut butter and sugar cookies to whisker-lickin'-good specialties such as "cat's meow" (white chocolate and macadamia nut), "purr-fect pineapple" (crushed, unsweetened pineapple in a soft, cakelike cookie), "cat's whiskers" (white chocolate chips, pecans and a touch of rum flavoring) and the "original fat cat" (chocolate, walnuts and peanut butter chips). If you're lucky, you might even get to meet Boston, the "boss cat" of the operation.
Jamba Juice
How can something so simple go so wrong so often? Phoenix is a veritable citrus mecca, yet drinks bearing no trace of lemon get passed off as lemonade here every day. And don't get us started on how people have served us Crystal Light with a straight face, as if we wouldn't know the difference. Lemonade is simple; there's no need for creativity, tricks or gimmicks. Or artificial sweeteners. If you like your lemonade tart and straightforward, Jamba Juice does it just right. Buried amidst a lengthy menu of smoothie combinations, it's easy to overlook the almost quaint listing of lemonade. But it's there -- so satisfyingly sour, with just a little sweetness, and chilled with plenty of slushy ice. Pucker up.

Guido's Chicago Meat & Deli
Molly Smith
It's not often that we break into tears at the sight of food. But as soon as we walk into Guido's, our hearts swell, and our eyes well up at what must be the closest thing to heaven on Earth for real (or wanna-be) Italians.

How could we not grow misty over San Marzano tomatoes? Overwhelmed by olive oil, bread and imported pasta? Smitten with sauces, marinated olives, cookies, pastries and even imported antacids? And that's just the stuff on the shelves. Mascarpone cheese, handmade mozzarella, carved capocollo, hard salami and more than a dozen from-scratch salads fill the cooler cases (the tomato and garlic salad is outstanding). If we don't feel like cooking our own, Guido's caters with its take-home lasagna, cheese tortellini, potato dumplings and ravioli. Whatever you do, take time to smell the sausage. It, too, is made by hand, gloriously juicy and bursting with fennel.

Elements
It's easy to become bored by same-old, same-old classic American food. Yet we've become overwhelmed by chefs conjuring up crazy concoctions like wasabi-glazed truffles in caramelized cognac with anchovy chutney. That's why we're so taken with the Asian-influenced American cuisine served at Elements. Rather than shtick, Chef Chuck Wiley wisely keeps Asia to an accent, focusing on the beauty of fresh ingredients and carefully honed flavors. Wiley changes the menu monthly, and offers unusual delicacies such as devil-fried oysters, breaded panko-style and served on the half shell atop a massive bowl of rock salt with tangy baby spinach and cucumber slaw. He wakes up sleepy salmon, crisp-edged from the grill, salt-and-peppery skinned, lounging on a nest of tangy braised greens, snow peas, sesame, ginger and somen noodles. Even traditional favorites have energy, such as the hefty filet mignon, paired with garlic mashed potatoes topped with melted bleu cheese and sweet soft onion strips. With its plush Camelback Mountain address and fabulous views of Paradise Valley below, Elements has everything it needs to be a special experience.

The name is deceptive: This is a shop with regular hours, not a weekend event. For cooks who despair of finding exotica like in-season cherries for less than $7 a pound, or for those who have heard tell of mythical eggplants that come in colors other than purple but have never actually witnessed such sights, the Guadalupe market is a mecca. It's not a tiresome gourmet shop with the precious-gem prices we've come to expect for things that should be everyday items, like ripe tomatoes or local grapefruit. This is a straightforward produce market, run by people who understand that they're selling vegetables, for goodness sake, not Russian caviar. Guadalupe Farmer's Market's plentiful produce is fairly priced, always fresh, and local whenever possible. Better yet, its fruits and vegetables taste like foodstuffs you've only heard about from elderly relatives who swear no one sells produce like they did "way back when." Guadalupe does.
Short of manning your own farm, you won't find a better, more reliable way to get organics than with the home delivery service of Boxed Greens. This company cuts out the middleman, so the just-picked treasures come right to our door, guaranteed by 7 a.m.

This certified organic produce is grown mostly right here in Arizona, without pesticides. It's all the best the season has to offer, with pick-of-the-week freshness and boutique varieties that can't be found anywhere else. Working exclusively with small farms (500 acres or less), Boxed Greens snags such delectables as heirloom tomatoes, unusual herbs or fruits, all picked to order. Sure, these precious pleasures cost more -- purple beans for $7.95 a pound, plus $9.95 for delivery -- but aren't your taste buds worth it? We know ours are.

Gourmet grub doesn't have to be expensive. This we learned at Trader Joe's, an amazing emporium of more than 800 upscale items for remarkably palatable prices. We love the freshness, and the variety of product, too. TJ's shelves -- and now ours, too -- are stocked with delicious things like sweet garlic sauce, artichoke lemon pesto, Satsuma mandarin oranges in syrup, Super Colossal Sevillano olives, Manchego cheese and Bluefort Aged Sheep's Milk Blue Cheese. TJ's has wines from around the world, organic cereals, mozzarella and tomato salad, poultry sausages, low-fat curried turkey burgers, ready-to-eat meats, Spaten Beers from Germany, Fiji Water, designer jerky, and even gourmet goodies for our pets.

We wouldn't trade Joe's for anything.

Saturdays, fall through spring, take on special meaning for gourmets who are looking to score some extra-special treasures for just a few shekels. Perhaps it's a bottle of little-known boutique wine, an obscure blue-veined cheese, artisan breads or organic produce. We find them here, all crafted or grown by independent vendors, and at factory-to-us pricing. Fair-weather Saturdays are when Guerithault operates his farmer's market, set up in the parking lot of his restaurant from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The market opens for the new season on October 13.

If all this shopping makes us hungry, we can pause to snack on some of chef Guerithault's mouth-watering creations. Made-to-order crepes always make their way to our mouths, the whisper-thin pancakes filled with any number of delectables, savory or sweet. Duck tamales delight our taste buds, and soufflés satisfy even our most formidable stomach rumblings.

Hey, we may be cheap, but with Vincent's market, we can still be classy, too.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of