Believe it or not, there's more to Mill Avenue than the main drag you just have to know where to look. Half a block south, nestled into the Maple/Ash neighborhood, is one of our favorite Tempe joints, Three Roots Cafe. Hanging out in the tiny java house is like chillin' in your best friend's living room, and chances are, if you hang out often enough, the people there will become your best friends. This is the kind of place where the girl behind the counter lives around the corner and the regulars have been friends and neighbors for years. Kinda like Cheers, but with caffeine and vegan food instead of booze and peanuts. Don't let the insider atmosphere make you feel like an outsider. The staff couldn't be friendlier, and the overstuffed chairs and couches beg you to sit and enjoy a latte. Three Roots also regularly hosts community art and music events, proving there's hope for culture in Tempe yet.
Village Coffee Roastery
This joint is fresh. The coffee beans are roasted on-site, producing an intense, rich flavor that makes chain-store lattes look (and taste) like instant. There's a large selection of flavors, including macadamia nut and chocolate raspberry, a popular mocha java and a dark roast that's ideal for espresso. Somehow The Village manages to put as much effort into its sandwich menu as it does its coffee. Our top pick is the to-die-for tuna salad, a creamy blend of albacore with roasted pistachios and mango chutney. Back to the bean. The secret to the velvety texture of the coffee is that it's brewed the Italian way, producing a stronger cup with a smoother flavor. Just ask the baristas and they'll explain the process to you faster than they can whip up a caramel macchiato.

BEST CUP OF COFFEE AND LOAF OF BREAD ON ROOSEVELT

Tammie Coe Cakes

Tammie Coe Cakes
We've loved Tammie Coe's oversize cookies and fruity tarts forever, it seems, but we're not here to talk sugar at the moment just good, old-fashioned artisan breads and steaming java. Finally, a storefront bakery in downtown Phoenix that we can really sink our teeth into. Tammie's husband and business partner, Michael, takes care of the pan component, preparing a variety of delicious loaves from scratch (you'll come back for the batard just for the crust alone). Topped with freshly roasted tomatoes and garlic, the focaccia also will send you into carbo-happy orbit. From what we hear, the Coes live in a cool loft directly over their little shop in the Roosevelt Arts District just west of Seventh Street. How they manage not to turn into walking blimps is beyond us.
The Trunk Space
There's something about JRC and Stephanie's little red espresso cart at the Trunk Space that's just so personal and accessible. It's like a car full of clowns, except the clowns are coffee, prepared with mad skills right in front of you. They also serve tea, snacks, fancy sodas, and even boba. Most things on the menu run $3 or less, and that's a conscious choice by your gracious hosts. Between sips, absorb a live performance, shop for art, apparel, books and gifts, and marvel further at how this much fun and coffee! can fit into this skinny julienne-fry of a gallery.
The vintage boutique in the back of Red Door is like three dozen estate sales on LSD, and we're drawn like magpies to the shiny, colorful objects on display. Artist Indigo Verton collects and prices the merchandise (mostly women's clothing and accessories) with a canny eye. If you want a little something for five or six bucks, it's here, but if you crave the pale blue Hello Kitty flight bag, it'll cost you. Last year, we admired gloriously hideous housewares from the mid-20th century, but those items seem to have moved over to .anti_space with designer Lisa Jacobs. There's still style aplenty at Red Door, though, and the selection of elaborate old hats, hostess aprons, and Sally Bowles-esque lingerie is a special treat. Devious Wigs and Things rounds out the offerings with fake hair and lashes in rainbow hues. The boutique's not open every day, but you can call Verton to check on the hours.
The name JC Penney doesn't usually conjure visions of shabby-chic treasures and super-cute baby clothes, but we make an exception for the shell of the former department store, at the intersection of Main Street and Robson in historic downtown Mesa. The original brickwork remains, but the rest of this building has been transformed into a two-story, high-end boutique mall housing Domestic Bliss, Baby Bliss and Bella Fine downstairs, and Green B clothing boutique upstairs. High ceilings and hardwood floors are the backdrop, and onstage, vintage meets new fashion. Domestic Bliss offers fine linens, bedroom accessories and custom design with an emphasis on shabby-chic flair. Find a white cottage play area for the kids as you shop for baby couture and high-dollar accessories such as nursery chandeliers in Baby Bliss. Bella Fine offers Tuscany-inspired home accessories and specializes in oversize mirrors, wall clocks, and custom floral designs. Upstairs, pass through Green B's pink and pressed glass antique door to indulge your inner diva with some serious bling. Embellished tee shirts, crystal studded belts, purses and slippers dot the dark green and black backdrop reminiscent of a Paris boutique. Be prepared to drop some of your own green: We found fabulous hand-stitched tee shirts for (gulp) $137. But just think the eye candy is free.
Frances
We thought we had original taste, until we walked into Frances. Then the mixed emotions started. On one hand, we were delighted to see vintage cowboy boots alongside oilcloth, rhinestoned belt buckles next to the cutest lines of greeting cards we'd seen in a long time. On the other hand, we had to realize that not only is our taste unoriginal, it's not nearly as good as the taste of the owner, Georganne Bryant, who named this adorable shop after her grandmother and filled it with the most imaginative, whimsical, must-have stuff in town. There's a vintage section with carefully chosen dresses, purses and tees. A baby section, with only the best for the newest. Orchid-scented candles, polka-dotted flip-flops, jewelry, garden supplies. We're in love. We've always wanted to open our own boutique, but now there's no reason. Thank you, Frances!
The Purple Lizard
We were bummed when The Gap on Mill Avenue went belly up, but it always makes us even sadder to see a small, independent business go under. That's why we're so happy to report that after many years in business, Purple Lizard is still going strong, tucked into a small, packed space at the intersection of 15th Avenue and Thomas Road. We almost always run into someone we know at Marguerite's cozy shop, stocked with Flax, CP Shades, Dansko and other favorite, often hard-to-find brands, as well as original jewelry that puts any schlocky arts festival to shame. Our favorite is the line with bright blue and pink beads and other items strung and knotted with orange thread, adorned with clasps the artist commissions in New Mexico. Every item in the shop is a treasure, treated as such with great care as it's wrapped and presented, either as a gift or just for you.
We've gotten to the point where we dread hearing the word "birthday." And "Christmas"? Don't get us started. In our overstocked, overstimulated, overdone world, the "perfect gift" just doesn't exist anymore particularly when you're trying to buy for the type who thinks the word "shop" is the worst kind of four-letter word. That's why we're so happy we found Sportsman's, particularly the gift bar, where we can make one stop and pick up something for every outdoorsman on the list from a GPS to a flashlight to binoculars, Sportsman's stocks a wide variety of camping toys. Does your loved one prefer the outdoors from afar? Buy a cute woodsy frame and put a picture of yourself in it, sitting by the campfire and cross another name off your list.

BEST PLACE TO BUY A GIFT FOR AN INDOORSY TYPE

Lush

We love Lush so much, we gave this creative bath and body store a Best of Phoenix last year, even before the first Valley location opened. In the past year, we haven't been disappointed! In fact, we've gone back several times, to stock up on charcoal face soap, lemony flutter cuticle butter, and our favorite, bubbling bath bars with a unique smell we can't get enough of. We love that Lush puts out cookies and lemonade on a Sunday afternoon, and always labels its products with a cute drawing of the person who actually made the item. Best of all, we love buying Lush products as gifts it mitigates our guilt, because we have to admit that the prices are a little steep. But really, what price can you put on the head of your child, we think to ourselves, as we buy our daughter's teacher the "Happy Gift" a box filled with six Lush products, scented with orange, jasmine, ginger and rose, for $45? And what the heck, we'll buy ourselves a "Desperate Housewife," too (including a Two Timing Tart bath bomb and Smitten Hand Cream, $22.50). We deserve it.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of