Scratch Pastries
Courtesy of Scratch

Scratch is a bright and airy French cafe — in a strip mall. We promise you'll forget your proximity to Subway as soon as you're in the door. The menu is populated with croque madames and savory crèpes oozing Comte, goat, and Brie cheeses. But the pièce de resistance (sorry, we did mention it's a French cafe, right?) is the glass pastry counter filled with raspberry and lemon tartes, French meringues, and gorgeous pyramids and domes made of chocolate. Even if you're not a freak for sweets, the pastries are masterpieces, each a little work of art.

District American Kitchen and Wine Bar

Because District is situated inside the new downtown Sheraton, it's expected that hotel guests would eat here. But interestingly enough, the restaurant seems to be going after locals, too, with a comfort-food menu that name-drops plenty of local purveyors and gives creative twists to American standards. One such classic is something we just don't see on restaurant menus in the Southwest but wouldn't mind if we did: whoopie pies. These traditional Amish treats, with cream sandwiched between two moist round cakes, get a tasty update at District. They're pumpkin instead of the typical chocolate cake, teamed with a frothy bourbon malt milkshake that's as yummy as it sounds. Earlier this year, the New York Times published a story about how whoopie pies are suddenly in vogue. We knew it already.

Amarone Ristorante Italiano

It takes true discipline to behave ourselves at Amarone Ristorante Italiano, a north Scottsdale eatery where everything from the grilled calamari to the homemade gnocchi in vodka sauce is clean-your-plate good. Needless to say, we usually indulge ourselves here. Charming owner Maurizio Benforte (who also runs Pizza A Metro, in Phoenix) has a way of putting us in a festive mood, and before we know it, we're ordering tiramisu when we thought we'd already filled our bellies to capacity. But as with any amazing dessert, there's always room for Amarone's tiramisu — light, creamy mascarpone layered with booze-soaked ladyfingers, with a dusting of cocoa. It's la dolce vita in every bite.

Bertha's Cafe

In a sea of trendy cupcake shops, Bertha's Café rises modestly to the top. This casual and unassuming spot serves breakfast, lunch, and a variety of pastries, but the true-blue reason to go to Bertha's is to sample the adorable mini red velvet cupcakes. At 75 cents apiece, they're highly addictive; they're moist, with white frosting and red sprinkles — they're so cute you could pop. Beyond red velvet, other flavors include chocolate, carrot cake, and pumpkin, in the fall. You'll be back every season, regardless of what's in style.

Tammie Coe Cakes

We'll forgive you if you didn't know MJ Bread exists. It's like a cute toy hidden inside a cereal box, but in this case, the cereal box is Tammie Coe Cakes. You may walk into Tammie Coe's looking for a swirly cake, but you're just as likely to walk out with a crunchy baguette, some ciabatta bread, or a warm olive loaf. MJ Bread also sells to-go servings of garlic bread, as well as crispy baguettes, garlic herb focaccia, and blueberry banana bread. The pretzels are particularly yummy. They have a small menu with a few sandwiches, to boot. Try the tuna slider on a delicious roll that perfects the ideal bread-to-tuna-salad ratio. Anyway, as we were saying, you'd be forgiven for not having known about MJ, but now that you are in the know, you're on your own. No more clemency.

The Phoenician, Scottsdale

Master baker Ben Hershberger has created a monster. His chocolate cherry sourdough bread is a one-pound marvel that has a cult following. Found at The Phoenician and the Scottsdale Farmers Market, it's worth getting up early just to guarantee you'll be able to grab some. Did we mention getting up early? This sweet treat sells out every week faster than your 401(k) tumbles. And for good reason — the little loaves are loaded with three different kinds of chocolate, which is more than you'll find in most cakes in this town. Finally, a sweet treat that's as good as it is good for you. At least, that's how we justified scarfing a whole loaf in one sitting. Those cherries must count for a daily serving of fruit, right? It's the perfect excuse to knock back a slice or three after dinner as the perfect capper for any meal. Or lunch. Heck, even breakfast. Some people call it toast; we call it heaven.

Back East Bagel Co

We've gotta tell you, we've endured sub-par bagels all over the world, including our own East Coast. So the name alone wasn't enough to sell us on this place. But as soon as we bit into Back East's "everything" bagel — toasted, with tomato slices and cream cheese (the way God intended a bagel to be eaten — what's with this blueberry horse crap?) we knew we'd come home. So often these days, a deli or bakery (or, horrors, a chain bagel store) will try to sell you a puffy piece of bread masquerading as a bagel. But Back East knows the outside must be shiny-crisp, the inside not too puffy. These bagels are so good that we'll admit it — we can't resist even their blueberry.

Scott's Generations

Scott's Generations is a New York deli that keeps the classics coming, from bagels and lox to chopped liver. Scott's knishes are the size of softballs, and the corned beef hash is tender and, best of all, only delicately salted. They also serve fantastically juicy and lean beef brisket. The "James Cagney" sandwich is a favorite, served with crunchy, sweet coleslaw, pickle spears, and crinkle-cut fries the size of Duplo Legos. Scott's Generations is a "kosher-style" deli, but not strictly adherent, so if you're hankering for a Monte Cristo with imported ham and Swiss, served with powdered sugar and strawberry jam, you're in business. The deli opens at 6 a.m., seven mornings a week.

Defalco's Italian Deli and Grocery
Meagan Simmons

We grew up going to Italian-American delis with our Sicilian grandmother, so we recognize an authentic place like DeFalco's when we see it. The deli counter serves up delicious sausage sandwiches with heaps of pepper and onions. They also offer meatball subs and combo sandwiches stuffed with mortadella, salami, pepperoni, and provolone. Cold side dishes like marinated artichokes and penne salad round out the menu. But a good sandwich and pasta selection is only half of what makes an Italian deli stand out; the grocery side is vital, and that's where DeFalco's kicks it up a notch. They sell John's brand ravioli and tortellini, packages of biscotti and anisette toast, and, best of all, cans of San Marzano tomatoes, which are perfect for your homemade sauces.

Lee Lee Oriental Supermarket

We just can't sing Lee Lee's praises highly enough. It's not simply the best Asian market in the Valley; it's one of the Phoenix area's best grocery stores — bar none. The produce department is bountiful, with towering stacks of jackfruit, Korean daikon, bitter melon, lemongrass, and six different kinds of choy. The bakery offers puffy pineapple cream buns and coconut tarts, while whole roasted ducks hang in a glass case in the back. The store's aisles are each devoted to imports from a different part of the world: there's a Korean aisle, a Japanese aisle, and even subsets of aisles for non-Asian foods from the Caribbean, Africa, Colombia — it's the Putumayo of grocery stores. Don't forget to stroll through the frozen section in the far end where they sell dozens of kinds of steam buns, gyoza, and samosas. And just in case you're hankering for food from the good ol' U.S. of A., you can still find American staples like Froot Loops and Trix.

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