European vacations used to haunt us in the worst possible way. You know how you get hungry for something you've had somewhere far away, and can't satisfy your craving until you go back? That was us, with the amazing artisan bread we'd find at traditional bakeries in Paris. The crisp, golden crust, the remarkably sweet flavor, the moist, delectable crumb — it all seemed so unobtainable, so distant, until we discovered Simply Bread. Nowadays, we can get our bread fix anytime, thanks to this year-and-a-half-old local bakery that prides itself on primo ingredients and the long, slow fermentation process that makes European bread the envy of the world. Even better, head baker Jeffrey Yankellow beat the French at their own game back in 2005, when he was on the USA team that won the gold medal at the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie. One taste of Simply Bread's outstanding baguette or, perhaps, a bite of the delicate rosemary and sea salt-flavored focaccia is all it takes to fall in love with this place. Not to mention, you'll be in good company — the top chefs in town buy their loaves here.
In theory, the humble bagel should be an easy thing to make. After all, it's just a big ol' roll with a hole, right? Wrong. For anybody who's ever gotten a taste of real-deal New York bagels, there's just no tolerating the bready rounds that some stores try to pass off as authentic. In truth, good bagels are hard to come by, because so few places make them the old-fashioned way: by boiling the dough before baking it, which results in a distinctively thick, sturdy crust and a dense, doughy middle. That's exactly how New York Bagels 'N Bialys makes 'em. Take one bite of their classic version — preferably toasted, with a schmear — and you'll understand why this deli cranks out bagels that could fool any die-hard Manhattanite in a blindfolded taste test. New York Bagels 'N Bialys does the Big Apple proud.
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.

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, 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.

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.



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.
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.
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.

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