Being stuck in Phoenix, sans vehicle, sucks. That goes double if your ride is in the shop and you're relying on your folks, who live in east Mesa, to drive you around. Ugh. Where to go? Hightail it (rather, get them to hightail you) to Ground Central, an indie coffee shop tucked away in one of those corporate shopping centers that so often begets pleasant surprises in this city. After we ordered a tasty caffeinated beverage and a fine pastry, plopped down at one of the spacious tables, and busted out our laptop to work on the free Wi-Fi, we wanted Mommy and Daddy to leave us there all day. Even if you're computer-less, there's plenty of eye candy at Ground Central, where you can watch national news on the TV and folks from the neighboring health club ruining their workout by ordering gut-busting sweets. The hang is open seven days a week.

Orange Table
Jamie Peachey

The Orange Table is almost invisible compared to high-profile neighbors like SMoCA and AZ88, but we kind of love that about it. You can stick with coffee — the menu's complete in that arena, and no one will mind if you hang around all day, on the patio or inside. But trust us, you'll want a nosh. Everything here is tasty in a made-from-scratch way, and it's a real toss-up as to which meal of the day is best — breakfast, lunch, or dinner — so our advice is, stay for 'em all.

Cartel Coffee Lab

Looking for coffee in all the wrong Tempe places? Get your bean-loving butt to Cartel. Walk through its cheerful black-and-white tiled foyer into the mellow-but-hip high-ceilinged space, and you will swear you've died and gone to coffee heaven. And that's before you taste the espresso, which, in our humble opinion, is among the best in the Valley. Want a cup of regular coffee? They'll make it for you on the Clover 1S machine, which has five customizable options and brews one cup of coffee at a time.

Open since January and tucked into the same complex on University that houses several other local independent businesses, including Wet Paint, this gem of a shop is owned and run by husband-and-wife team Jason and Amy Silberschlag. The Silberschlags are both native Arizonans — he's from Tucson, she hails from Wickenburg — and both coffee freaks with a conscience. Their business model was coffee roaster with espresso bar, which still applies; they roast small "hand-crafted" batches of beans purchased from just two places in South America, including a family-run farm in Guatemala, and distribute them wholesale around the Valley. But the espresso bar has taken on a life of its own. There's a steady stream of customers, changing art on the walls and a regular event on Final Friday — usually live music. "It's become the neighborhood living room," Amy says.

Just like our living room — if it were way cooler and served coffee so good you wake up the next morning craving it.

Best Neighborhood Coffee House, Southeast Valley

The Coffee Shop

A cupcake from The Coffee Shop
Shannon Armour
A cupcake from The Coffee Shop

This upscale espresso emporium, located next door to the bucolic Joe's Farm Grill, offers the same variety of caffeinated beverages you'd find at any other coffee house around the Valley (lattes, blended drinks, iced mochas). But that's where the similarities end, as The Coffee Shop is far superior to your corner java joint. It's overflowing with high-styled décor and aesthetic touches with nary any shabby-chic furnishings, with (gasp) friendly baristas, who almost look like models instead of starving artists and who warmly greet patrons as they enter, pouring quality gourmet coffees with a smile instead of a sneer. The pastries available for purchase aren't just ordinary muffins or scones. They are made-from-scratch chic treats such as lemon glam cupcakes with flower-like swirls of frosting. A full menu of epicurean breakfast and lunch selections will also please your gourmand tastes. Surrounding the outdoor patio is a lush nursery of plants and flowers for sale, offering shade to suburbanites thumbing through copies of Vogue, GQ, and House Beautiful, looking for their own 'topia.

Souvia Tea Room

Tea is cool. Or hot. This cute little shop will lure you with delicious aromas that permeate the neighborhood. Perhaps that's because the stewards of this one-of-a-kind establishment have collected about 120 varieties from the world's greatest tea estates. The selection includes white, green, black, and oolong teas. Don't expect to get right in and out of Souvia. Lingering, tasting, smelling, chatting, thinking (and not thinking) are the order of the day. These teas are no tease. If tea isn't a religion to these folks, it's the next thing to it for us. Join the cult — that is, the club.

Graffiti Shop

Graffiti Shop, often referred to as "Graffiti Underground" because it's downstairs from Gordon Biersch, has been around since 1987, making it one of the longest-running, independent business left on Mill Avenue. True to its name, the walls (and ceiling) of the shop are covered with graffiti, but the main attractions are the racks and display cases, which house a variety of high-quality bongs, pipes, hookahs, and various other smoking paraphernalia.

The shop also carries nitrous oxide cartridges and dispensers, hand-dipped incense, and a variety of T-shirts, vinyl, and fetish wear (including some killer, Romper Stomper-ish boots). The owner of the shop, Lawrence (he'll probably want you to call him "Larry") is an affable guy with a goatee and ponytail who can answer any questions you may have about his shop's merchandise — and he's not above giving spur-of-the-moment discounts to cool people who're willing to drop some dough in his establishment. And since Larry recently purchased the Zong Company, which produces some of the most innovative, artful, high-quality bongs on Earth, money spent at the Graffiti Shop is well-spent (and well-smoked).

Churchill's Fine Cigars

The first time we set foot in Churchill's, we were smoking novices. Sure, there'd been a few cigarettes here and there, but nothing serious. The guy behind the counter gave us a big smile, as though he could sense how green we were, and asked what we'd like and what we'd smoked before.

Lesson one, he said, is to always keep the bands from your cigars. Keep track of them so it's easier to tell where you've already been as you continue your tobacco-fueled journey into fine smoking products.

Speaking of which, you'll find no shortage of choices at Churchill's. The cigar stock is so exhaustive that you could spend a day checking each one before you find the one that fits you. Our advice? Ask the rep to set you straight.

V.A. Market Liquors

Hobo wine is shockingly hard to come by these days. In search of the perfect gag gift, we scoured the landscape for the self-proclaimed "American Classic," but were running on fumes 'til we stumbled on a Web site called bumwine.com. In addition to profiles of the tramp-booze clan (T-Bird relations include Night Train, Cisco, Wild Irish Rose, Buckfast Tonic, and Boone's Farm) and little-known facts (Ripple is defunct!), the site directed us to two locations in Phoenix where Thunderbird is shelved. The second is DD Liquors at 50th Street and Van Buren, but V.A. gets the nod based on the following factors: 1) It rests within easy shambling distance of the Van Buren/Hobo Land strip. 2) It's a ramshackle-shack kinda place with an utter lack of charm (see the photo at www.bumwine.com/buy.html). 3) The dude behind the counter at V.A. wrapped up our bottle real chaste-like in a brown paper bag. The DD guy didn't even offer. That's the last $3.56 we spend there. Huff.

Total Wine & More

We thought we knew the meaning of "jaw-dropping" until we set foot inside Total Wine, the sprawling Dionysian temple whose name pretty much says it all. In the past year, the national retailer has opened two locations in the Valley, and both have become to wine lovers what IKEA is to compulsive home decorators: destination shopping. Total Wine is gargantuan, to be sure, but it's got a comfortable layout that feels less like a warehouse and more like a high-end grocery store, with displays arranged by region and varietal, and wines displayed alphabetically, along with tasting notes and Wine Spectator ratings. For as much inventory as they have — around 8,000 different wines at every store, along with an amazing variety of beers, spirits, and drink-centric accessories — bottles are so easy to track down that you may as well bring along a checklist. (Actually, it would be easier to bring a highlighter marker to mark up a copy of the store's free shopping guide.) Not to mention, there are plenty of employees roaming the aisles, ready to help you in your search. Weekdays are good for unhindered leisurely browsing, but it's even more fun to stop by on a weekend afternoon for one of the regularly scheduled wine tastings. You'll never have to twist our arm to sample these goods.

Sun Devil Liquors

If you live near downtown Mesa, you have no idea how much we envy you. Because Sun Devil Liquors, that unassuming, ordinary-looking little joint on Country Club happens to be one of our favorite haunts — and we don't even live in the neighborhood. Yes, we're shamelessly devoted to this den of delicious drinks, especially for its outstanding selection of suds. Sure, there's plenty of wine and liquor, but have you seen the shelves at the far end of the store? Packed from floor to ceiling with so many beers we've never even heard of, and definitely can't wait to try. They have all of our favorite microbrews here, as well as imports from around the world. Clearly, somebody at Sun Devil is a big fan of Belgian and Belgian-style beers, as the shop happens to be a treasure trove for fans of those bold, distinctive Lambics and Trappist ales. Cooler still is the tiny in-house bar, where you never know what kind of brew they might introduce you to. Who knew that the Valley's best place to buy beer would also be one of its coolest hidden watering holes?

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