Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Parlor
Jamie Peachey

We've been hanging around Scottsdale so long that we remember when Fashion Square was an open-air mall. We shopped at the Wigwam, ate at China Lil's, endured countless Parada del Sol parades. So imagine our dismay when two Scottsdale old-timers — Pink Pony and Quilted Bear — bit the dust this year. We knew just what to do. We dusted off our Saba's cowboy boots and headed straight for the Sugar Bowl to drown our sorrows in a banana split. Since 1958, the Pepto-Bismol pink-and-white ice cream parlor has served up frozen treats (oh, yeah, it has regular diner fare, too) to Scottsdalians young and old. Not much has changed about the Sugar Bowl; good thing "shabby chic" is in style. We don't care — give us Bil Keane's old Family Circus cartoons on the walls and the crunchy old linoleum alongside two scoops of chocolate mint, and we're content to relive our childhood.

Apricot Glazed Chicken from Liberty Market
Heather Hoch
Apricot Glazed Chicken from Liberty Market

Gilbert's Liberty Market is the talk of the town. A complete renovation of the circa-1935 market and its 1959 addition has resulted in a buzz-worthy hangout that combines contemporary cool with vintage Americana. It's part cafeteria, part coffee bar, and part gourmet boutique, the kind of place where you could theoretically eat three times a day. Chef David Traina's tasty menu includes griddled bread pudding with espresso syrup for breakfast, thin-crust, wood-fired pizzas for lunch and dinner, and homemade brownies and cookies for anytime. And for a pleasant caffeine kick, grab a latte at the E-61 Bar, the in-house coffee counter named after Liberty's restored vintage espresso machine. Do you need any more reasons to stop by this quirky place? Because really, we could go on . . .

Roka Akor
Nicole Hoffman

Need proof that Scottsdale is on the international jet-setter map? Consider Roka Akor, an offshoot of London's chic Roka restaurant, which also has outposts in Macau and Hong Kong. Exotic company, don't you think? The "Akor" in the name here is actually "Roka" backwards, since it's supposed to be a reflection of the original eatery — both have high-style dining rooms designed by the same cutting-edge Japanese design firm, and both specialize in robatayaki, Japanese grilled dishes that include skewered vegetables, miso-marinated black cod, prime beef filet, and more. Roka Akor's raw selections are also exquisite, from toro sashimi to wagyu sushi with wasabi, ponzu, and ginger. Earlier this year, the place was named among Bon Appetit's best new sushi spots in the country. So who needs a trip abroad for sophisticated Japanese cuisine? They're bringing it to us instead.

Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix/Ro Ho En

At the Japanese Friendship Garden, as you pass through a gate on your way toward an authentic Japanese teahouse, you are supposed to shed a little more of your worldly cares in favor of a more serene, calm self.

The ancient art of Chanoyu, or Japanese tea ceremony, is performed on the second Saturday of each month at the Japanese Friendship Garden. Five tea presentations are performed each day, with eight to nine guests per ceremony, so reservations are required. The cost is $20 per person and includes admission to the garden. During the ceremony, in which each moment is choreographed with moves that date back to the 11th century, a tea master will serve to you a cup of matcha green tea. Think of it as time travel for the Zen master in you.

The Ritz-Carlton, Phoenix
Courtesy of Bistro 24

We've had tea all over town, but no place spoils us like the Ritz. From the sweet valets to the tart lemon curd, every detail of the experience is spot-on, which is what you'd expect when you're paying big bucks for a sip of English Breakfast. It's worth every penny, as far as we're concerned, to perch on the edges of fancy furniture, pinky crooked just so, nibbling on scones and cucumber finger sandwiches — the main character in our own fairy tale. Until The Plaza opens a Phoenix branch and we can slurp with Eloise, we'll be taking our afternoon tea here, dahling, thank you very much.

Best Bite Before (or After) Visiting SMoCA

The Orange Table

Orange Table
Jamie Peachey

Even if the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art weren't right next door, The Orange Table would still be Old Town Scottsdale's best neighborhood cafe. But the proximity to SMoCA creates a great synergy — you can fuel up before checking out the latest exhibition, or swing by afterward to discuss the art over a meal. Earlier in the day, the breakfast menu is one of the tastiest in the Valley, with huge, fluffy pancakes, incredible corned beef hash, and eye-opening coffee concoctions. Later on, lunch and dinner bring great sandwiches and burgers (we're suckers for the Arrogant Bastard Rustler cheeseburger). And then there's the beer list, full of noteworthy craft brews that lure us into The Orange Table late into the evening. The museum might give you food for thought, but this hip little joint feeds your more urgent cravings.

Udder Delights
Jackie Mercandetti

Step through the door of this Gilbert ice cream shop and you know you are in for a treat. We are here to recommend the chocolate milkshake, but frankly, the shop's case of homemade ice cream is so wowing that you may fill your stomach just by tasting samples. Save some room for a milkshake, which hits every mark — chocolate taste, creaminess, and richness — on our checklist. You can have the best of both worlds: Pop in for your milkshake and take home a couple of Udder Delights' $1 pre-filled cups from the self-serve freezer.

Last year saw the closing of not a few chocolate shops in Phoenix, which meant we had to cast the net a bit wider for this year's winner. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because we might not otherwise have made the trek to the Northwest Valley and found Chocolate Surprise, a delightful gem on Bell Road. Out front, hand-drawn pastel-colored cocoa beans chalked on the sidewalk prepare you for the thick chocolaty smell that hits when you walk through the door. The chocolatiers behind Chocolate Surprise were trained at the prestigious École Chocolat, a school for "chocolate arts" in Vancouver. They're professionals, and it shows. Chocolate Surprise sells dozens of artisanal truffles in fun flavors such as orange Dreamsicle, rose, sea salt caramel, and crème brûlée, in addition to safe classics like caramel squares and chocolate turtles. And at only $1.60 apiece, you can nibble on several different kinds if you have a long drive home.

Avalon

Sometimes we don't mind skipping the sweet stuff at the end of the meal, because plenty of restaurants treat dessert like a sugary afterthought. But not Avalon. After a lavish feast of executive chef Travis Watson's "contemporary coastal cuisine" — California-meets-Mediterranean fare with an emphasis on seafood — we'll always make room for a little extra somethin' somethin'. That's because Watson used to be the corporate pastry chef for Fox Restaurant Concepts, and his desserts are as playfully creative as they are yummy. From a modern twist on strawberry shortcake and a festive brownie sundae with toffee popcorn, to Avalon's hauntingly decadent roasted banana bread pudding, these confections are pure pleasure from the first bite to the final plate licking.

Let Them Eat Cake

When we heard there was a bakery in town serving up a cupcake dedicated to Michael Jackson, we knew we had to check it out. When we heard that the cupcake in question was made of vanilla cake with a fudge center, we were on our way in a matter of minutes (with much snickering and several inappropriate jokes). But it seems we are the ones with the politically incorrect minds.

It became apparent when we arrived at Let Them Eat Cake that Barbara Gardner, the owner of the bakery, had no intention of making any sort of commentary about the late star's mid-life change-of-shade. But we still thought it was funny to share — and tasty enough to recommend. Gardner designed the cupcake with a sparkling glove on top, in honor of MJ's favorite accessory (aside from the face mask). And, completely inappropriate or not, the cupcake was delicious.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of