Best Russian Market 2009 | Yasha from Russia | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Heather Hoch
Freshly baked rugalah

We're in love with Yasha from Russia and his lovely wife, Tanya. Who wouldn't be? These charming hosts have stocked their store with wares to satisfy a growing — and hungry — community of Eastern European transplants for several years now. In the process, they've made believers, and fans, of just about every visitor.

Like caviar? We do, too. With an impressive collection that's wallet-friendly as well as wide, it's not difficult to savor the flavor. If you think Russian cuisine is all borscht and pickles, you'd be wrong. Not that there's anything wrong with that, since we love the spicy snap of Yasha's dill pickles (which by the way, pair nicely with salami). With more than 30 kinds of salami and cured meats, there's enough selection to keep you guessing for weeks to come. Blinis, bagels, and bread are here, too, as are a dizzying array of teas, in pretty boxes emblazoned with images of Czar Nicholas. Snap up some luscious caramels, and a tea set, and you're ready for a proper Russian tea.

We'd come back just for a hug from Yasha or Tanya — and their cheese, crackers, wine selection, and a CD or two from what appears to be a Russian Idol recording artist. It's all from Yasha and Tanya, with love.

Best Market We Wish Would Come to Our Neighborhood

La Grande Orange

Courtesy of La Grande Orange

There's not a thing we can say we really need La Grande Orange, yet there's a lot we want — a fine selection of wine, homemade English muffins, fresh salads, a coffee bar, cute gifts, baked goods. So we couldn't help but be jealous when we heard that our favorite gourmet grocery had opened another location — in Los Angeles. For years, we've whined at Craig and Kris DeMarco to open a La Grande Orange in another part of our town. Say, Tempe. No doing. Not so far, anyway. But we can't knock the DeMarcos' business model, which has seen a tiny grocery store plant the seeds for cool retail that has literally grown for blocks from its epicenter on the western edge of the Arcadia neighborhood. Can't blame us for wanting an LGO of our own.

In less than a year, the Old Town Farmers Market has emerged as a major player in the "eat local" scene. Where once you'd expect to find tourists, Western memorabilia, and the occasional wrought-iron howling coyote, you'll now find organic vegetables, local crafts, and ready-made noshes for home (assuming you don't devour them during the car ride, that is). It's hard to believe that a stone's throw from the Scottsdale bar scene you'll find crowds of people up at 8:30 on a Saturday morning, when "fashionably late" means missing out on chocolate cherry sourdough bread from The Phoenician, fresh hand-pulled mozzarella from Digestif, pulled-pork sandwiches from Rancho Pinot, or whatever indulgent dessert pastry chef Tracy Dempsey dreamt up this week.

During summer, the market moves underground, beneath the parking lot. It's a nice touch, really, because the heat can be a killer on things like Bob McClendon's legendary heirloom tomatoes or freshly picked greens from Maya's Farm. Find fresh olive oil, tamales, tortillas, and handcrafted soaps and lotions, too. And, of course, there will be music. At this hour, you can be sure it'll be live. We don't think DJs get up that early, even for fresh food and produce this good.

Lauren Saria
The ratatouille omelette at Vincent's Market Bistro.

While some folks may be surprised that they have a choice of farmers markets in the Valley, we're sure no one is surprised that the best farmers market for the gourmet comes with a French accent. From October to May, this market, now in its 19th year, isn't your typical farmers market. Sure, you'll find swoon-worthy produce from Duncan Family Farms, but you'll also find a dizzying array of gourmet goodies to go. Vendors are on hand with mustards, olives, pastas, and spices ready to snatch up and take home. So are Vincent's award-winning creations like croissants, pastries, soups, and cheeses in his market bistro.

Don't feel like cooking? No problem. Freshly cooked-to-order wood-fired pizzas are cooked by the man himself, as are samples of his ratatouille, leek tart, and signature chocolate cake. It's a family affair, since the Guerithault boys are on hand to whip up crèpes and panini, too. We're in love with the roasted pork and whole chickens, served atop any number of side dishes, ready to be spirited away. If you're lucky enough to find a chair, make a friend at one of the shared tables that line the market and enjoy the ambiance. We're pretty sure it's the only farmers market in town that serves wine and mimosas with freshly squeezed orange juice. Ah, jolie; it's like Paris in spring.

Frankly, if you drag yourself out at the crack of 8 or 9 on a Sunday morning to scope out what's in season from local produce growers, you deserve all the snacks you can find. Ahwatukee Farmers Market is a low-key place where you'll find a little bit of everything you need, from rare veggies to fine art, and while you're finding, you can enjoy a multi-course meal that spans the world o' food, from carnival treats to über-local-handmade-organic stuff.

Start with bite-size samples from Raimondo's Italian Catering, The Tamale Store, or Dr. Hummus, and try locally roasted joe from Bean There Roast That. If you still have room, tuck in to filled crèpes and French pastries, fry bread — topped with just about anything — plus scones, more tamales, and Raimondo's overwhelming mini-cakes and macaroons, with an official large coffee. Then spring for some more of your faves to take home and warm up later, and Monday will start to look a little brighter.

The Valley's many, many farmers markets employ a canny scheduling strategy to attract scarce growers and busy customers: They're not all held at the same day and time. Saturday mornings are particularly competitive, all the same, and the Paradise Valley area is blessed with a venerable institution that presents a plethora of produce from fertile fields scattered all around town.

Roadrunner Park Farmers Market is Phoenix's oldest (it celebrates 20 years in business this fall), and that's a good thing — it feels like a portable weekly neighborhood where everybody knows everybody. Under the park's tall pines, chugging Sonoran coffee and listening to live banjo music, you'll peep no fewer than eight hardworking farm stands — some expansive, some teensy, but all bringing a good variety of local, seasonal wares, including Hom's colorful Asian specialties, Pinnacle Gardens' pampered organics, and plump, spotless veg and eggs from Lewis' Hen House and Veggie Farm. One Windmill Farms, Big Happy Farms, and Crooked Sky Farms help round out the selection with everything from ancient indigenous bean species to famous Queen Creek peaches. Once you've chosen a favorite farm, find out about subscribing to their harvest as a CSA (community-supported agriculture) member.

Among the motley crowd at a farmers market, you'll find organic locavores, indie craft fanatics, and people who just want to get out of the house. Then there are those whose mission is to fondle underage livestock, and Kathryn Marshall is their go-to gal. When the high temp for the day is predicted under 100 degrees, Marshall brings a portable pen and frisky Alpine goat kids to the Mesa market along with her Double Blessing soaps, lotions, and other handmade luxuries ( The wee wethers are quite the conversation starters; as they try to chew your fingers off, Marshall will tell you that their mom's milk is higher in butterfat than any other mammal's moo (except reindeer — and, climate aside, it's way harder to get them in the car). The luxe cosmetics smell like a bajillion kinds of herbs, fruit, and flowers, and not even a tiny bit like goats.

If you're a big old dog slut — sorry, a dog aficionado — you're familiar with the challenges. First, you need the canine equivalent of a pick-up bar. Downtown Phoenix Community Market fills that bill, 'cause everybody who's anybody is there with their person on a leash. Then you want to make sure that your type of dog hangs out there, right? Well, check and mate, buddy, because you'll peep everything from crunchy hippie mongrels to boutique-bred, loft-dwelling yuppie puppies. (Maybe you'll even be tempted to step outside your comfort zone.) And no one will think you're a skeeve if you ask for some petting and kisses — it's going on all over, like it's a swingers club up in there. (But remember, arf means arf.) Finally, there's the DPCM vibe — so friendly and unpretentious, you might become a regular for the food, crafts, and entertainment, even after you've settled down with The One.

David Holden
Joe's Farm Grill's Fresh as Can Be Fontina Burger

Maybe it's the affordable housing prices or the constant sunshine that attracts transplants from all over the globe, but whatever the reason, Phoenix has become the melting pot of the Southwest. It's rare to find a native Phoenician and even rarer to find one like restaurateur Joe Johnston, who manages to make even the newest desert dweller feel at home in his trio of Gilbert restaurants: Joe's Real BBQ, Liberty Market, and Joe's Farm Grill.

Johnston grew up in the slump block ranch that now houses Joe's Farm Grill and never ventured far from home. In 1995, after stints as an engineer and co-founder of the original Coffee Plantation, he opened Joe's Real BBQ in a historic brick building in Gilbert's Heritage District. The restaurant became a mainstay with local families and his smoky-sweet meats have captured awards, including several New Times Best of Phoenix picks.

While Phoenix-area developers were busy demolishing older houses to build ivory towers for businessmen and yuppie couples, Johnston wanted something different for his family's original farmland. He imagined a quiet village where neighbors would get together for coffee and swap stories about their kids and grandkids — a community with heart. Builder Scott Homes shared a similar vision. Up sprang Agritopia, a master-planned community with 15 acres of working farmland and quaint bungalows with large sitting porches. How strong is his belief in the project? Johnston and his parents were among the first homebuyers at Agritopia, and Joe's Farm Grill uses fresh produce from the community's crops.

Furthering his commitment to preserving the Valley's past, Johnston and wife Cindy bought and repurposed the nearby 1935 Liberty Market grocery building into a retro-urban eatery last year, keeping the brick walls and the adorable pink and green vintage neon sign.

By now, Gilbert's "King of the Grill" could easily have retired to a tropical island, so we're glad his desert roots run deep. Johnston still eats family meals at his restaurants. He served free drinks to Liberty Market customers on the 45th anniversary of his prized antique Faema E61 espresso maker. And every spring, he hosts "Free Barbecue Day" at Joe's Real BBQ, where guests can chat with him and score a complimentary meal. Though he still has plenty of real relations here in town, Joe Johnston always manages to make the rest of us feel like family.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

Lauren Cusimano

We think Hanny's deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as ASU's downtown campus, Janet Echelman's mesmerizing mesh sculpture floating above the civic park, and the CityScape development. This restaurant really is a point of pride for the downtown renaissance, for multiple reasons. First off, owner Karl Kopp, known for his Scottsdale watering hole AZ88, invested millions to transform the circa-1947 building (originally a clothing store) from a vacant eyesore that the fire department used to torch for training sessions into a stunningly restored example of International Style architecture. Now it's on the Phoenix Historic Property Register. Hanny's also caters to hungry downtown denizens from lunchtime to late night; bruschetta, big salads, and crispy Roman pizzas are just a few of the tasty offerings. Beyond that, we're happy that Hanny's gives us a stylish place to relax over an after-work cocktail or an evening glass of wine. Any city would be lucky to have a place like Hanny's in the middle of its downtown, so we're thrilled to have it in ours.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

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