In the past several years, we've noticed several strips of Phoenix that have seemingly sprouted all kinds of cool, overnight. Just add water, and up pops the complex housing Pane Bianco, Lux Coffeebar and Passage. Prune a bit, and you have Roosevelt Row. We know the truth these "instant" meccas of merch and coffee don't happen by accident, not without a ton of work. But we want to give props to the smart entrepreneurs who notice it pays to group the groovy stuff together. That's why we want to mention the strip along Seventh Street that, all of a sudden, held a fabulous Belgian restaurant (Trente-Cinq 35); an amazing wine bar (Lisa G); and a hip coffee house (Drip). Boutiques are slated to open, there's at least one hair salon we're in heaven. No, wait. We're in Phoenix. Same diff?

BEST WAY TO COOK DINNER FOR TWO WEEKS IN TWO HOURS

Entrees Made Easy

Friends keep inviting us out to dinner well, not out to dinner, exactly. More like out to cook. We took one up on the offer, and luckily landed at Entrees Made Easy, a place that lives up to its name. In just an evening's time and with no small amount of assistance we pulled together a dozen tasty meals, ready to freeze. Meals were varied, including chicken, beef, pork and pasta, and each meat dish came with a starch and a vegetable side. We were a little worried we weren't up to the culinary task, but really, anyone could do this: They provide all of the ingredients, chopped and sliced for you, and you just measure everything and combine it in its own takeaway container, which you simply pop into your freezer once you get home. Not only did we enjoy it, but our significant other was happy for days to come, and the kids were surprised that chicken can be served in a form other than the nugget.
Downtown Phoenix Public Market
We were thrilled when this outdoor public market opened last year at the intersection of Central Avenue and McKinley Street. We're even happier that the market is still going strong and the number of vendors has doubled. Among our favorite new booths are Dave The Egg Man's assorted selection of chicken, goose, and duck eggs; Bread Basket Bakery's natural bread, pudding, muffins, and granola; and the best sarsaparilla in the Old West from Sonoran Brewing Company. You can still enjoy fresh-picked veggies ranging from bok choy, Swiss chards, and sunflower sprouts to topiary beans, spinach, and golden beets, all grown locally by organic farmers Blue Sky Organics and Maya's Farms. More artists and crafters have set up shop as well, including Oliverio Balcells' original travel photography prints, and Alan Jones' handcrafted ceramics. All vendors now accept credit cards (yet another improvement), and the market is open year-round each Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., rain or shine.
Baiz Market
Thank goodness for word of mouth, because Baiz Market discreetly nestled between the I-10 and a housing complex is not the kind of place we'd likely stumble upon. Even at that, it's not too far off the beaten path, and it's certainly worth a visit on those days when only a piping hot platter of chicken shawarma or shish kebab will satisfy our rumbling bellies. Along with speedy counter service for lunch and dinner, Baiz packs in every conceivable necessity for cooking Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food at home. Thanks to an in-house bakery, pita and pastries here are as fresh as can be. The meat and produce selection rivals that of larger grocery stores, and when it comes to pantry basics like olive oil and olives, cheese, pickles, and nuts, well, we never knew there could be so many choices. It's also fun to browse the cooking utensil and housewares aisles, where we spotted shiny teapots, the cutest espresso cup-and-saucer sets, and quite the glitzy assortment of hookahs (right next to myriad flavored tobaccos). We'll stop here next time we need to pick up a gift, and probably treat ourselves, too.
Lee Lee Oriental Supermarket
Whether you're a world traveler, a cook, or just a curious soul, head to this enormous international grocery store for an in-town adventure filled with new sights and smells. Anchoring the northeast corner of the Valley's most bustling intersection of Asian culture (Dobson and Warner roads in Chandler), Lee Lee could almost be mistaken for a Safeway from the outside. Inside, it's a different story. Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cuisines loom large in the incredible array of ethnic offerings, along with far-flung flavors from the Caribbean, India, Africa, and South America. Who cares if you can't read all of the labels? The exotic packaging is pure eye candy. You'll find entire aisles devoted to noodles and tea, drinks and cooking utensils. Seafood here is the freshest, most unusual selection around. Pick up some barracuda or blue-lipped parrot fish, or head to the tanks, where live tilapia peer back at you, their tiny mouths opening and closing in a silent chorus. With bunches of bok choy, bins of tiny Indian eggplant, and piles of sprouts and mint leaves, the produce department is a wonderland of veggies that's sure to inspire inventive cooking. But then again, displays of freshly prepared, ready-to-eat foods from colorful desserts to whole roasted duck might tempt you to abandon the kitchen and dig right in.
Sportsman's Fine Wines & Spirits
In the local wine community, Sportsman's is a big deal. The biggest deal in the state, actually, boasting more than 3,000 bottles. It's a jet-setting collection of vintages from wineries across the globe, with boutiquey gems for bargain hunters and extravagant, obscure selections to please the pickiest connoisseurs around. But while size does matter, there's another detail we appreciate beyond raw numbers: service. After all, what good is such overwhelming variety if nobody's there to help you navigate the terroir? At Sportsman's, the friendly employees will field questions from wine geeks and novices alike, find a perfect pairing for your dinner menu, or just help you pick a nice bottle for your budget. Their unpretentious enthusiasm for wine is so infectious, you might be tempted to hang out and socialize all afternoon. (And lucky you: There's an in-house wine bar for exactly that purpose.)
Cheuvront Wine & Cheese Cafe
Most of the time, we're at the mercy of the kitchen when it comes to ordering a cheese plate. The selection can be a total gustatory grab bag, and sometimes that stinks more than a plateful of Limburger. But at Cheuvront, nothing's left up to chance. Pick a familiar fromage, like powerful Parmigiano Reggiano or creamy Camembert, or go with something exotic perhaps a smoky Idiazabal from Spain, or a smooth Pierre Robert from France. In all, the impressive menu lists 49 offerings from all around the world, and a mouthwatering description of each variety (complete with a handy suggested wine pairing) allows even clueless cheese lovers to order fearlessly and experiment with new flavors. And while cheese has lately edged out dessert as the final course at a number of trendy restaurants, at Cheuvront, they'll still let you start with it. Sounds cheesy, and that's just how we like it!
In most cities, you'll stumble on the best bakery in town just walking down the street. In Phoenix, you probably won't find it unless you've just gotten out of the nearby county jail or gone to visit someone there. We're pretty sure the kind folks at the Sweet Pea won't bake a file into one of their dense chocolate cakes, but they will distract you from the troubles of your day with rosemary shortbread or mojito cookies. We really love the peanut butter and jelly cookie "sandwich" in fact, we love it all, right down to the Pepto pink walls and the owner's collection of vintage cake plates. The Sweet Pea also caters, and there's a promise of lunch service in the future, as well as a coffee shop opening soon next door. Jackson Street might just be happenin' yet.
Milk 'n' More Store
This is as close to the cow's teat as you can get (or want to get, for that matter). The Milk n More Store is on the same property as those giant industrial vats filled with creamy milk that you might have passed on Hardy Drive and Broadway Road in Tempe. The kind United Dairymen of Arizona decided to let the public tap into the freshness by opening a small store. Located on the south side of Broadway and with plenty of parking, it's easy to swing right in. With its low markup, the little retailer is used most by the employees but is also open to anyone else who misses the tastes (and somehow the smell that still lingers) of a real dairy.
Bashas'
Those of us who love doughnuts went into panic mode recently when all the Valley locations of Krispy Kreme closed suddenly. Where, oh where, will we go now to get our doughnuts? Fortunately, there is an alternative for all of you pastry junkies out there. For the best doughnut deal in town, go to Bashas' grocery stores. The trick is, you have to know when to go. During the bakery's regular business hours, you can get a dozen doughnuts for $4.99, which is not bad. However, when the bakery closes at 8 p.m., all of the leftover doughnuts and rolls are boxed up and sold for $1.99 per dozen. That's a smokin' deal cheaper than those boxes of run-of-the-mill Dolly Madison doughnuts, in fact. And the pastries themselves are pretty good, too. The best part is, the people who box up the doughnuts do an excellent job of creating a good variety, so you don't have to be stuck with a dozen of the same thing. Each box has a wide range of goodies cream-filled, crullers, maple-glazed, chocolate frosted, some with nuts, some without. You can usually find something to satisfy the tastes of everyone in the family. The downside? After the bakery closes, these doughnuts go pretty quickly. If you get to the store after 9 p.m., you may be left empty-handed.

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