Lee Lee Oriental Supermarket
After a trip to Lee Lee, your neighborhood grocery store will be a bore. At most supermarkets, the "Asian" ingredients get meager shelf space, taking up a fraction of an aisle.

That's pretty poor representation for the culinary traditions of an entire continent, dontcha think? Yeah, we do, too. Which is why we head to Lee Lee when we're in the mood to cook something more exotic than a no-brainer stir-fry.

Who knew there were so many kinds of tofu, so many varieties of noodles? And better yet, a seafood department that looks like an aquarium, with fish so fresh they're still swimming? We're not sure what's more appealing about Lee Lee — the novelty (quirky candies, snacks, and drinks), or the sheer variety of goods from Vietnam, China, Japan, Korea, India, and beyond. The à la carte foods aisle is a feast of sights and smells, while the produce section is a gorgeous sea of green, with heaps of leafy greens, sprouts, peppers, and unusual vegetables that you definitely won't find at your corner market.

Baiz Market
It's hard to shop for groceries on an empty stomach, so we're glad we can fill up on tabbouleh, kebabs and shish taook (grilled chicken) before hitting the aisles at Baiz Market. Once you've found the place (off the beaten path, just north of Van Buren), it's hard to miss the in-house restaurant, tucked into a corner near the front of the store, with a wood-fired oven, counter service, and a scattering of tables for eat-in customers. From there, we like to relax and nibble on hummus and fresh pita while we jot down a lengthy shopping list of ingredients for an authentic Middle Eastern feast.

Baiz has everything we need — aisle after aisle of grains, nuts, exotic spices, and an incredible selection of imported olive oil that fills a section from floor to ceiling. In the back, there's a small produce section, an impressive deli featuring halal meats and a variety of cheeses and olives, and a dazzling case full of cookies, pastries, and an assortment of goods from the in-house bakery.

By the time we circle around to the housewares and cooking utensil aisles on the far side of the room, our cart is overflowing and we're ready to empty our wallets. But if we'll make room for anything, it'll be one of the fancy-schmancy hookahs on display.

We happen to love the Downtown Phoenix Public Market. We also happen to live in downtown Phoenix, which, we admit, probably has a lot to do with it. No one wants to get up on a Saturday morning and drive 45 minutes for a bag of apples, even if they are organic. The idea behind the farmers market — indeed, the whole "locavore" movement — is that you should buy your food as close to home as possible. That's why we're so glad we stumbled on foodconnect.org, which links to details about the Phoenix market, but also includes a long list of farmers markets all over the state.

Surprise! There's a weekly farmers market in Surprise. And one in Florence. And several across the East Valley, including three in Mesa. Talk about acting locally.

Baker's Nursery and Gift Shop
We love a hometown success story, and that's what Baker's is. Jim Baker started the nursery almost four decades ago, and he's still poking around in the soil, though three of his six daughters assumed day-to-day duties from their octogenarian dad last year. Though it's a bit pricier than, say, Home Depot or Wal-Mart, Baker has something the megastores don't have — a big heart and a ton of knowledge. An expert gardener and longtime employee named Julie Moody will be happy to walk ya through the myriad selections, which include desert plants, succulents, and cacti galore. We favor the flowering wisteria, big Johnny (yup, that's the official name) and the giant fuyu persimmon (can't go wrong), and a bunch of pretty little things with Latin names we can't pronounce but promise to water.

BEST PLACE TO BUY A GIFT FOR AN OUTDOORSY TYPE

Cabela's

Cabela's
If you've got rugged guys and gals to buy for — people who fish, hunt, camp, or generally stomp around in the dirt — be glad Cabela's has a huge, theme-park-like retail store. Why be a gift-giving martyr when you can enjoy yourself? These genius outfitters offer something for everyone. Things like candles, jewelry, fresh fudge, toys, books, baby clothes, and home décor (okay, as long as you favor bears and moose). Check out genuine trout, bass, bluegills, and catfish cavorting in a 40,000-gallon walk-through aquarium. Visit the cafeteria and enjoy a wild boar deli sandwich, venison bratwurst, or bison burger — or watch in horror as others do, depending what floats your boat. (Boat sold separately.) Kids, by the way, love it here, so strap 'em into the cart, get a slice of pizza, and just stay away from the bin full of cuddly, colorful stuffed... ammunition. Unless that's your thing.
Phoenix Art Museum
We love how the PAM Museum Store doesn't sell hiking boots. Or backpacks. Or bicycle helmets. In fact, nowhere in its newly remodeled 2,700 square feet of unique shopping space is there a single item that says "outdoors," unless it's that coffee table book of Monet landscapes over by the entrance. We're glad that the first leg of Phoenix Art Museum's $41 million expansion project to be completed was this, our favorite place to shop for others. Because as much as we love art, what we really love is buying handcrafted jewelry, fancy art books, posters, cards, mobiles, and Yixing teapots for our friends who don't like to venture much past their own front doors. Fans of the out-of-doors might also like PAM's wide selection of unusual children's toys and activity sets, and its many exhibition-related items, but we know for a fact that our shut-in pals love this shop's assortment of Rosenthal china giftware and special-edition postage stamps, neither of which you'll find on a hiking trail anywhere near you.
Last December, we became enamored of the little wire Christmas trees we spotted at our favorite eatery, but our waiter didn't know where the little guys came from. We set out in search of them, and wouldn't you know it? We found them at Crown Import, our favorite place to shop for interior home décor year-round. During that pre-holiday trip, we found not only our fave wire trees (in three different sizes!) but some super-snazzy, all-wood nutcracker soldiers, as well. Those guys marched around under our tree and past all the other great stuff we bought at Crown, like the blown-glass Russian ornaments (one of them a tiny purple fig!) and a felt tree skirt hand-stitched with little partridges in pear trees. Crown is the one place we know of where we don't have to count the days 'til we can start shopping for Christmas stuff, because they sell most of their holiday items year-round. We're ho-ho-hoing a full three months before Christmas, and it's all because of Crown.
Arizona Knitting and Needlepoint
Like a favorite sweater, we can't resist this cozy, comfortable Scottsdale shop for all of our hand-knit needs. Sure, all knit shops have yarn, needles, and resources for various types of projects. But unravel these common threads and you'll find Arizona Knitting's true talents: customer service and knowledge woven into an environment that stresses community and comfort. Staffed by needle-wielding pros, and packed to the rafters with display pieces, this shop guarantees that you will find the perfect yarn for the perfect project. Weave in an abundant selection of commercial, imported, and handmade yarns, beautiful needles in every shape and size, and an up-to-date, complete book and pattern selection, and you've got an easy winner. Year after year, like a pattern repeat, Arizona Knitting and Needlepoint casts off any doubts that there is a finer knit shop in town.
Scottsdale Bead Supply
Beading is often shoved in the category of trite hodgepodge hobbies like needlepointing or quilting. But if you check out Scottsdale Bead Supply, the swankiest bead-pushing venue in the Valley, you may see the activity in a different light. The store takes beading out of Grandma's gnarled paws and elevates the hobby to a high-class and glamorous profession. With a newly remodeled building, the gorgeous space holds endless bins and walls covered with hanging beads that gleam in the window's natural light. Everything from glass to fine stones and etched metals can be picked through here. And if you don't know the difference between thread nippers and bead reamers, the store offers classes to get you up to speed. With an in-house gallery displaying beautifully crafted jewelry and a resident kitty napping amongst baskets of beads, the place can be a nice weekend pit stop for anyone — not just bead junkies.
Lonnie's Inc.
So, we were looking for some "stuff" to make some "art," but we knew exactly nada about jewelry-making. Just for the heck of it, we waded into the Phoenix branch of this family-owned and operated store and tried to look pathetic.

It worked! A very friendly and knowledgeable lady sidled up to us, grilled us about what we had in mind, and then took over, telling us exactly what we could do for as little as $100. Sure enough, we walked out with all kinds of cool, mixed-media materials, and were even able to use them. The store also offers gift boxes, traveling cases and a variety of silver and gold chains, fairly priced. But what delighted us most was the service, which was worth its weight in gold.

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