Best Neighborhood Coffee House, North Phoenix

Fiddler's Dream

Fiddler's Dream Coffee House
Courtesy of Fiddler's Dream Coffee House

If coffee shops were people, Fiddler's Dream would be an aging hippie who just wants, like, music, freedom and peace, man. Despite its weekend-only hours and Quaker meeting-hall digs, we love Fidd's because it's a true community in a city of 5 million-plus people. The $1 brew's pretty solid — not complicated by a dozen chocolate, caramel, or seasonal-flavor extras — or you can opt for equally cheap tea, juice, or soda. The nonprofit volunteer organization hosts live acoustic music on Fridays and Saturdays. And by acoustic, we mean kickin' it old school. No speakers. No mics. Just regular folks, chatting about life and love over a cuppa joe while a guitar plays in the background. Exactly what a neighborhood coffee shop should be.

Mighty Cup & Spoon Coffee House & Gallery

Mighty Cup is housed in an awesome vintage home with funky furnishings, serving up a mean cup of joe (along with teas, espressos, and other high-octane drinkage) with a groovy, laid-back vibe. But there's more than just beverage action to be had, as the works of local artists adorn the walls, and the place packs in the patrons on different nights of the week with spoken word on Thursday, as well as a variety night (featuring a mix of open mic, karaoke, and comedy) on Fridays. Local musicians such as singer/songwriter Steve Bailey performs at Mighty Cup on Saturdays.

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

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.

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