DJ's Bagel Cafe
We searched far and wide, and finally found the best bagels in the northeast. No, not New York Fountain Hills. D.J.'s bagels are big, hard on the outside, and soft but not fluffy on the inside. We'd swear they come from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, they're that good. Certainly worth the drive; and just think, at least it's not a plane ride cross-country.
La Grande Orange Grocery
Courtesy of La Grande Orange
So much is made these days of comfort food but really, all that steak and mashed potatoes (and don't get us started on the fried stuff) just gets us too full. And too guilty. For us, true comfort is found in the perfect English muffin, a simple creation made incredibly delicious by the talented folks at La Grande Orange, the I-wish-they-had-one-on-my-corner neighborhood market and restaurant at the far western tip of the Arcadia neighborhood. Yes, you can buy Tammie and MJ Coe's cakes, cookies and breads at La Grande Orange; however, the English muffins are made not by the Coes, but on site at the Big O. The key is that each is cooked on the stovetop, giving the thick bread a crispy, buttery outside that perfectly complements the doughy innards. You can order them toasted alongside a full breakfast, but we prefer to sneak off with a whole box and eat them plain. They're that good.
If chocolate truly is the Food of the Gods and you won't find anyone arguing that around these parts then this little shop at the Hilton Village offers manna from heaven. The enthusiastic owner, Chatham, will chat about and sample! all things chocolate. His idea of a good time is to walk a novice around his store and tell tales of artisan chocolatiers around the globe and how he came upon them. Chatham's has 240 individual pieces of chocolate to choose from none Hershey's and none cheap but each a uniquely scrumptious experience. And if you have the hots for some of the best hot chocolate you'll ever make, Chatham's got it.
For years, Colin Redding and his family have molded big names onto chocolates, making a business out of helping companies promote the good name of Neiman Marcus or America West Airlines. But recently, Colin has branched out, molding some rather interesting confections for galleries on Roosevelt Row. He made bugs for MADE Art Boutique's Roots show, and motorcycles for someone at five15. We even saw a box of boobs (the kind that come in pairs) for another show. Colin will make what you want, at a reasonable price, at his factory in Gilbert. And he doesn't even have Oompa Loompas helping him.
We love the latest trend in dessert: gelato. Not long ago, we had just one or two spots to hit for the dense, allegedly healthier-than-ice cream treat. Now there are many choices, but the decision is not hard at all. We pick Arlecchino Gelateria, sample spoons down. Marina and Moreno Spangaro, who hail from Trieste, Italy, landed in the Arcadia neighborhood in the La Grande Orange complex, and we can't think of a better location for them. We haven't tried a flavor we don't like, but we're particularly fond of the peanut butter, which somehow manages to be peanuttier than eating the stuff straight from the jar. The nocciatella hazelnut with layers of Nutella is divine, and the cortina is unusual, with sweet almond mingling with lingonberries. Our absolute favorite is the mistico light vanilla cream mixed with cookies dipped in Kahlúa and coffee. Thank you, Spangaros, for bringing a little bit of Italy to Phoenix.
Though it's lip-smackingly delicious, our liquid refreshment of choice is probably a bit conservative given the wildly inventive menu at this fun little drinkery near ASU, which features a line of creative concoctions that includes Asian smoothies, ice crushes, snow bubbles, yogurt coolers, Italian crème sodas, and iced watermelon teas. But what makes our black-tea delight so appealing are the tapioca boba balls that slingshot up the throat with every sip from the oversize straw. Boba can be added to any drink on E!ba's menu, as can jellies (lychee, mango, green apple, pineapple) and/or pudding (almond, coffee, coconut, strawberry). Boba originated in Taiwan, but we're glad to find it closer to home!
Baristas and bad attitudes go together like coffee and cream. So familiar are we to having our morning java jump-start served up with a side of surliness that when first encountering Dan Bacon, the super-friendly Joe-slinger at Seattle Espresso in Tempe, we thought we must've caught him on an off day. Turns out he's just extremely good at what he does and is well-known for it. Bacon who's been working the morning shift on Mondays and Wednesdays at the strip-mall coffee house for most of the past three years not only knows most of his caffeine-craving customers by name, but also by what they drink. He'll quickly whip up a double-shot espresso or mocha latte for his regulars while eagerly discussing how their day is going. He's also earned the nickname "Harry Potter," mostly because of his youthful countenance, square-framed black glasses, and a shock of brown hair, but also because of his affable nature. "People don't just want a cup of coffee," Bacon says. We can't resist we'll say it for him. They want their cup of coffee with a side of Bacon.
Gold Bar Espresso
Longtime Tempe residents still lament the "old Gold Bar," a bigger incarnation of this hidden East Valley gem that was shut down years ago. But these complainers are missing the point it wasn't the building that made Gold Bar the most comfortable coffee joint in Tempe, it's the atmosphere created by the mismatched furniture, the fiercely loyal regulars and the baristas who actually remember your name and your drink after only a few visits. At all hours of the day and night, almost every table is occupied by laptop computers (wireless Internet is free), and though busy, the shop is never distracting. This at-home vibe (not to mention the seriously strong coffee) makes this our favorite place to set up shop on days when we just have to play hooky from the office.
Nestled in a charming group of new businesses in Seventh Street's Sheridan Square including the Belgian bistro Trente-Cinq 35 and the Lisa G salad-sandwich lunch spot is the irresistible Drip Coffee Lounge, owned by Vin Saccento and ex-Lux Coffeebar barista Gina Bell Madrid. There's a vintage elegance about the place, with stained concrete floors, chic '70s-style furniture, and a back room with art and design mags. A full menu of americanos, espressos, lattes, and a four-shot iced mocha complement the $5.50 all-organic breakfast, made with bread from Simply Bread and produce from Boxed Greens. The breakfast portions (served until noon) are small, so order two; we recommend the unbeatable cinnamon walnut French toast and the egg scrambled, a delectable creation of cream cheese, zucchini, onions, and scrambled eggs served with toast or as a sandwich. Drip offers complimentary wireless Internet, and it's open seven days a week and until 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Nothing drippy about that!

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD COFFEE HOUSE, NORTH PHOENIX

Soma

We're especially keen on this perfectly located, locally owned place because it really does encourage folks to mingle and hang around as long as they wish on the comfy sofas and chairs or out on the large patio. It's a terrific place to write, as long as you can find a nook somewhere and don't mind one of the friendly staffers a sweetheart named Katie comes to mind looking over your shoulder every now and then, and then reading your gibberish aloud to whomever's nearby. The food is good, plentiful and healthful, ranging from baked sweet potato fries to protein-packed smoothies, and a granola/oatmeal combo topped with fresh fruit. And don't fret, burger lovers. Soma charbroils a nice one if you insist. But we'd love this place even if the food was just serviceable, because it feels like home.

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