Lee Lee Oriental Supermarket
Why do we like Lee Lee so much? Well, let's just say there's another ethnic market somewhere in the Valley that we've visited and sometimes found dead fish floating in the fish tank. We've never seen that at Lee Lee. Rather, each section is well-kept and unusually clean considering the sheer volume of people who shop at Lee Lee on any given day. Moreover, the produce, no matter how exotic, looks fresh, and there's a variety of dry goods from so many different Asian countries, including India, Thailand, China, Japan and Singapore. You name it and Lee Lee probably has it -- if it comes from that part of the world. Why, Lee Lee is so cosmopolitan, so filled with shoppers of so many ethnicities, that we only wish they'd open up a branch nearer to central Phoenix.
There is one place in the Valley you can score authentic Chinese baked goods. 99 Ranch Market in the Chinese Cultural Center is the best alternative to laying your hands on a slice of Asian goodness short of driving hundreds of miles to the nearest Chinatown. Behind the glass cases, Taiwanese cakes, complete with light cream (instead of spackle-like butter-cream) frosting, shine as fresh fruit piled on the tops glistens under the lights. After tossing the cake into your cart, throw in some baos (buns of golden goodness) packed with exotic fillings like taro root, lotus seed and red bean paste. With the bakery at 99 Ranch, you have to wonder why so many settle for a fortune cookie when they can tuck into the real Asian deal for dessert.
New Tokyo Food Market
The Japanese have got tons of wacky snacks, and no place in town offers better evidence of this benign cultural stereotype than the west-side Japanese grocery store New Tokyo Food Market, which has the best selection we've seen in town. At New Tokyo, you'll find dried squid snacks like "Let's Party Squid," dried sea eel that looks like pork rinds, "WasabaBeef" potato chips that -- you guessed it -- combine the flavors of wasabi and beef, crackers flavored with sea urchin and shrimp, as well as myriad snacks made with seaweed and/or sesame. The sweet side of the equation includes green-tea-flavored candies, assorted rice cookies, sweet potato cookies, white kiku anuchi confections with red bean on the inside, and a dozen different kinds of Pocky, or cookie sticks, including choco-banana and lemon cheesecake. Wash it all down with a melon cream soda or a Pokka milk coffee, and then get the rest of your shopping done before you blow up like Shamu, dood.
Pop: The Soda Shop
Despite our love of new technology, we sometimes need a little blast from the past. Although soda shops were filled on weekend date nights back in the 1950s, after they vanished, flavored sodas mostly went with them. If you're hunting for the memory of sarsaparilla or just a swell swig of one of the several Jones Soda flavors not found at your local 7-Eleven, it's time to meet Pop: The Soda Shop. This tiny Scottsdale store carries a variety of exotic, alternative, gourmet and all-around-delicious carbonated beverages. Hell, they'll even order special sodas for you. It doesn't matter if you call it soda, pop or cola -- Pop: The Soda Shop stocks it, along with friendly service and usually a soda fanatic or two who wants to chat about the price of Nehi in Nebraska. Get popping.
Angel Sweet
Technically, at least, Italian gelato is better for you than regular ol' American ice cream. Like they used to say of Miller Lite back in the day (and may still do, as far as we know), it tastes great and is less filling. Indeed, gelato uses less milk fat during its production (the FDA mandates at least 10 percent milk fat for ice cream), and it doesn't pump as much air into the frozen treat, leaving gelato with a far smoother consistency. Of course, you're not supposed to eat gelato by the bucketful, either, which is what we do whenever we're in Chandler, stopping by the best gelato shop in the Valley, for as much of its pistachio flavor as we can eat. The quality of Angel Sweet's product is very high, due in no small part to the fact that the investors behind this gelato reputedly own the U.S. license for Mondogelato, a famous gelato maker whose product they fell in love with during a fact-finding mission to Italy. Of Angel Sweet's 20-some flavors, we adore the coconut, the peanut butter, the hazelnut, the zuppa inglese (which tastes like eggnog), and the berry explosion of frutti di bosco (fruits of the forest), tangy from the seeds of a half-dozen berries. Talk about la dolce vita, this is it! But, alas, we haven't noticed any dramatic weight loss since we've begun stopping by for our weekly gorges. Can't figure out why.
Pizza Mart
The vintage storefront and prices are certainly evidence that not much has changed since 1982, when Pizza Mart began serving up cheap eats and a certain cold, sugary treat for people in search of an inexpensive meal. Opened in 1972 as a Village Inn Pizza joint, the oddly triangular-shaped red brick, wood, and corrugated sheet metal structure has been turned into a haven for fans of tasty, cheap ice cream. For exactly one quarter (no tax!), one can choose from one flavor (vanilla) and cone style (the light and fluffy cake cone) vended from a large soft-serve machine. The portions are definitely gracious, and the restaurant also offers an all-day $4.95 large pepperoni pizza special. Twenty-five cents will get you far at the Mart, where one can also play old-timey video arcade games including Ms. Pac Man and Excitebike, also for just a quarter a turn. Did somebody say "Awesome '80s"?
Kierland Commons
This place is so, so darling. Bright white walls, blond-wood everything, and a clean expanse of pale blue mosaic tile behind the namesake counter (which only seats a dozen) create a welcoming atmosphere for anyone who wants to enjoy a cup of dark roast coffee that's as tasty and cheap as they come. But be forewarned: One-half of the store showcases gourmet foods, including treats from Dean & Deluca and Vosges, ready-to-go sandwiches and salads (also available off the menu), and boutique-y booze like Chimay Ale, Sofia Mini, and Lindemans Framboise. The other half of The Counter peddles perfect little gifts to keep for yourself: jewelry, hip CDs and books, groovy Jonathan Adler ceramics and pillows, $50 tank tops, and Jack Spade tote bags. After lingering a while -- and getting as caffeinated as you please -- you're bound to spend more than a quarter.
E-Joy Cafe
Nicole Hoffman
It's three days until that thesis is due, and a virus from a pop-up promoting Lonely Housewives Begging for More has just eaten up the hard drive of an outdated computer you found on Craigslist. Access to the magic of the information superhighway has been lost, but luckily all the hours of work were saved on a faithful floppy. But how will this project make its deadline? Go where all the ASU students flock in search of an Internet fix. E-Joy Cafe, a 'Net cafe off ultra-hip Mill Avenue, offers Internet access for a mere 5 cents a minute, along with a variety of food and beverages priced between $3 and $5 to fit a college budget. Scan pictures, burn CDs, make copies, and print out that thesis, all while sucking down one of E-Joy's tasty smoothies. Whether work or pleasure draws you to the Web, EJ is open 'til 2 a.m. to cure that need for high-speed.
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
The Coffee Bean is to Southern California what Starbucks is to Seattle -- on every corner, ready to turn the unsuspecting into $4-a-day latte addicts. There are far fewer Coffee Beans than there are Starbucks, but chances are you've seen a Coffee Bean or two in your day -- in a sitcom or a reality show, or, even more likely, the background on a star shot in People magazine. It's always, "Jennifer forgets Brad over a non-fat, sugar-free Moroccan mint latte" or "Cameron beats the Santa Monica heat with a Malibu Dream Ice Blend."

We'll show you some heat, Cameron -- as well as several Coffee Beans popping up on the streets of Phoenix -- er, make that Scottsdale -- you see most of them in Scottsdale. That's not surprising; it's all about the lifestyle, baby. Our favorite Coffee Bean is a roomy affair with plenty of parking (take that, L.A.), right next door to the FORD/Robert Black Agency. So who knows, maybe we'll see a star or two ourselves, over our Iced Chai Tea Latte.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD COFFEE HOUSE, CENTRAL PHOENIX

Lux Coffeebar

Desert at Lux
Dominique Chatterjee
Desert at Lux
In a city where we have to drive everywhere anyway, we're happy to extend our definition of "neighborhood" by a few miles to include Lux in our locality. While plenty of folks really do come here on foot, many more are willing to cruise past their corner Starbucks -- or even a few of them -- just to lounge on Lux's comfy white seats with a magazine or a friend. Both the art (paintings and photography from local talent) and the regulars (a lively cross section of Phoenix artists, musicians, writers and architects) are fun to look at, but the real draw, of course, is the coffee. Roasted in-house and served up by expert baristas, it's a treat unto itself (although it goes down even better with a piece of Paloma's Pastries' fruit tart).

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