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).
Espresso Garden
This quaint coffee commissary located in downtown Glendale wants a piece of the caffeinated action. Steel your wiry nerves, business-minded baristas, 'cause instead of wi-fi access or Joni Mitchell CDs, the smallish Espresso Garden offers a kinder, gentler java junction built into the converted garage of a Victorian-era home and teahouse. Within the country-store-like setting -- complete with checkerboards painted onto tabletops, and abundant antiques -- traditional coffee-house fare is served up to commuters bound for downtown Phoenix and pedestrians strolling among the doll shops and other kitsch klatsches of the Caitlin Court Historic District. Get your drink on with an assortment of steaming cappuccinos, iced lattes, aromatic teas, spiced ciders, and refreshing Italian sodas. If the hunger bug is biting, try a fresh deli sandwich (such as the veggie bagel with cream cheese, carrots, tomatoes and avocado) or choose from a selection of homemade biscotti, muffins, turnovers and other baked goods. It might seem too homespun for the hipsters, but a greeting card taped to the front counter sums up this demitasse domain's contribution to Glendale's cultural landscape: "She ain't much, but she's all we've got."

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD COFFEE HOUSE, NORTH PHOENIX

Soma Cafe

This spacious, welcoming room is a regular hangout for all manner of North Tatum habitués, from tat-covered crypto-hipsters to moms, business types and retirees just passing the time. Creature comforts predominate, including soft couches and chairs, a big flat-screen television, computer hookups, and a staff of kind young women (and an obligatory man or two) who try to remember everyone's name and what they like in the way of food and drink. The coffee is fine, and the eats are even finer, the latter with a distinct accent on the healthful stuff. We especially love the oatmeal/granola mix with the sugar glaze, topped by fresh fruit. A wall with news of local goings-on adds to the community feel of the joint. We could use Soma-More.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD COFFEE HOUSE, SOUTHEAST VALLEY

Coffee Rush

We get a rush from anything open past 10 that doesn't serve fries. How about some homemade baklava instead? Lakefront property, a nearby Pita Jungle and wireless Internet access means Coffee Rush is always packed. Sans laptop? There's even a computer for customers, gratis. Pick up a giant iced mocha and make everyone jealous because you have the stamina to be "chatting online with babes all day." Last call's at 11:30 p.m. -- plenty of time to slurp the rest of the mocha and go.

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