Who says kids get to have all the fun? The best merry-go-round in Phoenix just happens to be a grown-up playground, a place where you can eat an upscale dinner while watching the world go by. It's the Compass Restaurant, a revolving eatery at the top of downtown's Hyatt Regency. There are 360-degree views to go along with executive chef Troy Knapp's Southwestern-tinged contemporary menu. Highlights include grilled bison and garden gazpacho with cornbread croutons; smoked salmon "enchiladas" with Vidalia crema, savory lemon curd, and micro basil; and baked chilaquiles with grilled nopales, roasted peppers, and smoked tomato butter. We promise the Compass spins so slowly that you won't experience vertigo. Go crazy with the award-winning wine list, however, and all bets are off.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step right up to the main attraction on the midway, the 30th Annual Best of Phoenix®!
Feast your eyes on 535 of our favorite things — all the best this fair city has to offer. In your hands you hold admission to everything from the freaky (body modifications, anyone?) to the geeky (looking for a typewriter?) with a delectable assortment of refreshments (corn dog, candy apple, snow cone?) thrown in to keep up your energy.
And you will need some stamina to make it through this issue. We may be 30, but we refuse to grow up; so we're throwing a carnival to celebrate everything about our city that's wonderful, wacky, and whimsical. Trust us, that's a lot. In this year's "Best Of," you'll step back in time to revisit old favorites like long-gone amusement park Legend City (and did you know there was once a Valley restaurant that housed circus animals?!) and encounter new traditions like Noca, the super-swank new foodie destination that serves cotton candy with dessert.
Please, dear visitors, don't forget to visit our Sideshow. We've got a high-flying acrobat, a juggling restaurateur, the king of kitsch, and other frenetic Phoenicians here for your delight and amusement.
Welcome to Thrill City. Hold on tight for the ride of the year.
SIDESHOW:The Hyperactive Human Spider
We tried to resist our newest obsession, vintage carnival chalkware, but we failed. It certainly didn't help that while we were out looking for end tables, we stumbled on a treasure trove of this cool stuff, which used to be handed out as prizes at carnival dime pitches in the '30s and '40s. Our shelves were already stacked with tiny chalk Pinocchios and big, scary-eyed kewpies covered in chalk's trademark hyper-colorful, randomly spray-painted way, when we tripped into Historic District Antique Mall, which has the best selection of vintage chalkware we've seen anywhere, hands down.
We spied a pair of sleepy cherub bookends; a super-rare (and really gigantic — is there such a thing as "too big" when you're talking chalkware?) Porky Pig; and not one, but three, majorettes, which were popular figurines in chalkware during the '30s. We ended up buying a chalkware lamp shaped like a fawn and a pair of really ugly schooners, simply because they were so cheap and because we'd never seen chalkware that depicted a boat before. Looking for a new obsession? You, too, can become infatuated with the joys of vintage chalk — and if you do, we recommend nursing your chalkware jones at Historic District Antique Mall.
This party-supply store is located on the same block as some of our other south-of-the-border staples — across the street from Realeza Michoacana, a bakery and paleta (Mexican popsicle) shop; and Tortas El Güero, a torta shop; and next door to Llantera del Norte. But Dulcería Pico Rico can easily stand alone. It's pretty much a one-stop shop if you're throwing a kid's birthday party (they'll even rent you a jumping castle), but the real reason to go here is the candy. The sweet, tummy-ache-inducing candy. The back of the store is almost entirely devoted to it. Mexican candy has a certain something that makes us want to buy enough to fill several piñatas (also available in abundance here). We think it's probably the packaging — so bright and full of the promise of fun. This place makes it hard to narrow our selection down to a few packages. The candy is divided up into savory (churarzo, in tamarind flavor — a buck and some change will get you 20 pieces), sour, hot (and they carry about a million varieties of the Mexican staple pico), and sweet. We're partial to the sweet. De La Rosa's peanut confections melt in our mouths and remind us of childhood trips across the border, back before you needed a thousand kinds of security clearance to come home.
If you've ever felt the overwhelming need to be the center of attention (and the gaping stares of other people don't bother you), then visit Easley's Fun Shop. The Valley's most renowned costume store is a veritable freak factory, with hundreds of crazy getups within its yellow walls, not to mention the wacky wigs, madcap masks, and other outrageous accessories. Want to shock your friends on Halloween? Rent the "evil clown" ensemble. Got a gonzo costume party to go to? Slip on a pimp costume and also grab a John F. Kennedy mask for some wry political satire. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination, bub, because sometimes it's more fun being a freak show than seeing a freak show.
We've got a passion for anything old school. Vinyl's way better than MP3, Grandmaster Flash will always trump Jay-Z, and the original Nintendo is far more fun than the Xbox 360. And when it comes to the game of darts, we prefer old-fashioned boards made from sisal fibers to them new-fangled electronic Galaxy machines. Call us crazy, but we prefer it when our darts actually stay sunken into the target after we throw them, instead of falling to the ground (which usually happens with plastic-tipped darts and worn-out machines). It's just one of the reasons why we've dug aiming our steel-tipped darts at bull's-eyes available at Clicks. While most Valley bars and clubs feature an array of the aforementioned electronic dart units, this east Phoenix pool hall follows the less-is-more philosophy, with three bristle boards available. Another plus is the place's pub-like atmosphere, which is somewhat fitting, as the sport originated in Britain. There's also a gigantic big-screen sitting close by, just in case you wanna catch a D-Backs or Suns game while beating your buddies at a game of "cricket" or "round the clock." Don't get too distracted, however, as the owners would prefer it if you didn't miss and accidentally put someone's eye out.
According to Kevin Smith's 1999 religious farce Dogma, the almighty God regularly descends from the heavens (taking on the corporeal form of Harold and Maude actor Bud Cort, of all people) to indulge in one of his few vices: Skee ball. No, seriously. And though we haven't been a regular visitor to church in decades, we can at least share in the heavenly father's (alleged) passion as we roll wooden balls up the ramps of the skee-ball machines and rack up high scores at GameWorks. The reason we're milking the tickets out of the four skee-ball machines here versus any of the other arcades in town is because of the primo redemption prizes available, including a portable DVD player (30,000 points), an Xbox 360 arcade pack (49,000 points), or a mini motorcycle (55,000 points). It's not the kind of gear you can get at the neighborhood Peter Piper Pizza, we assure you. Sure, it's probably gonna take us until the second coming to score enough tickets to land these big-ticket items (and it may be cheaper to just buy the stuff from the store), but, hey, we're scoring points with God, too.
There are lots of reasons to stop by this colorful Mexican sweet shop, from ice cream to fruit cocktails, paletas to pastries (the fruit-filled smiley-face cookies never fail to cheer us up). Even the atmosphere's a hoot, with bright murals of fruit and an eye-popping pink-and-yellow-checkered floor. But usually we just swing by for a refreshing raspado, Mexico's answer to the slushie. Practically overflowing from a tall Styrofoam cup, these babies are chock-full of shaved ice, fruit chunks, and flavored syrups. Order a Diablito, and you'll get a spicy-sweet drink jazzed up with chile powder and saladitos (salted plums) and a chewy candy swizzle stick made with chile and tamarind. Or get one straight up, in one of half a dozen flavors: mango, tamarind, plum, vanilla, strawberry, pineapple, or rompope, a milky-sweet flavor reminiscent of eggnog. In a city where the summer lasts half the year, a regular raspado pit stop makes it much easier to handle the heat.
Video games are an absolute religion for some people. Magazines like GamePro and Electronic Gaming Monthly, their bibles; digital heroes like Master Chief and Mario, their gods. And arcades like King Ben's Castle at Golfland SunSplash are virtual temples, where vidiots genuflect (so as to better insert tokens, natch) and become joystick Jesuits among the 200 different games available here. Even though home systems like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 dominate the gaming world, the arcade is still packed with teens and 20-somethings eager to show their stuff on such old-school units as Centipede or Street Fighter II, as well as rack up high scores on newer games like Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune and Aliens: Extermination. This palace of play also boasts numerous racing simulators, fighting titles, and beat-matching dance pad games (such as Dance Dance Revolution and its ilk). Plus, the snack bar offers pizza and other snacks for between-game cravings — but make sure to wipe your hands before heading back to the action.