It seems like people are content to buy their musical instruments with their groceries and electronics these days. With mega-stores now selling cheapie beginner packages for the Valley's dilettante musicians, indiscriminate shoppers spend their hard-earned cash for inferior product without thinking about warranties or a guarantee of service. For the rest of us who think it's important that the people selling the instruments actually know what they're talking about (or at the very least know the difference between a tenor and an alto sax), there's Metro Music Center, the longest-standing single location instrument store in Glendale. Metro services a diverse clientele everyone from the guitar-slinging emo kids to accordion-happy mariachis. A plus Metro Music features a staff of talented instructors who offer private lessons on every instrument from oboe and violin to guitar and piano let's see Costco try giving flute lessons!
Looking to take a pretty little filly back to the farm? Then gallop down to Gilbert's safe haven for neglected horses and feral cats. Founded in 1995 by animal activist Kimberly Meagher, whose board of directors includes ex-Monkees dreamboat Davy Jones, the ranch works year-round to prevent horse slaughter by saving hundreds of animals from neglect and premature death. If you don't have the space for a horse, but still want to help a frisky four-legged creature, consider making a donation to sponsor the ranch's Kitty City colony, where spayed and neutered feral cats live out their lives in safety. (Occasionally, a Kitty Citizen becomes rehabilitated enough to go home with a loving family.) Purchase horse- and feline-themed art at the Mudpony Art Gallerie, where 20 percent of the gallery's proceeds are donated to help the ranch. Horse sponsorship and the "bale a horse out" feeding program are also available to animal-loving urbanites.
Arizona Humane Society
If you've got a fervor for felines or want to get into some heavy petting, peep the plethora of pussycats available at either of the Arizona Humane Society's two Valley shelters and help satisfy your particular cat fancy. For anywhere from $35 to $75 (based on the kitty's age and the length of time it's stayed at the facility), you'll get your paws on a Felis catus that's been spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and tested for feline leukemia. The pussy package also includes a free collar, ID tag, and follow-up examination, and is a better deal than you'd get from any of Maricopa County's animal shelters. The nonprofit organization even has a better selection to boot, offering up hundreds of kitties for adoption each week, with breeds ranging from plain old tabbies and tortoiseshells to exotics like Persian and Himalayan. Basically, the Arizona Humane Society is the cat's meow.
It's Friday evening and you've got a paycheck burning a hole in your pocket. Since you wanna hit some bars tonight, you're gonna need some cash in a flash, pal. Too bad all the banks closed hours ago, leaving the option of either sitting at home watching South Park reruns, or hitting up one of the countless check-cashing stores dotting nearly every street corner. Instead of dealing with sky-high fees and long lines with these neon-lighted moneychangers, head for the neighborhood store run by Todd and Bassam Radai. There's a greenback shack inside the shop where the brothers will gladly turn your check, be it personal, payroll, or tax-related, into a stack of simoleons for a 1 percent fee. The pair will even let you cash your weekly wage slip as late as 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. If you become a regular and your check's less than a C-note, they might even pay you out of their own wallets. Now that's service.
Okay, it's in Snottsdale (as compared with Allwhitetookee), but for those of us who like a good bookstore (Barnes & Noble, in this case), a good restaurant or two (Zinc, and North, among others), plenty of comfortable places to sit outside, and absolutely fabulous people-watching, this is a cool spot. The centerpiece of this 38-acre development is a quasi-Main Street and a beautifully landscaped Central Plaza, the latter of which features a fountain that sporadically spews thin jets of water from several spouts. The little kids love Kierland, and so do the parents, who sit blissfully beneath the large gazebo and gab by the hour with their lattes. And that ice cream joint adjacent to the plaza (Cold Stone Creamery) just may have nailed itself the best location in town.
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.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of