Best Place to Buy E-85 (Ethanol) for Your Flex-Fuel Vehicle

Western States Petroleum

Western States Petroleum

We sometimes refer to ethanol as the conservative's alternative fuel. It's not a whole lot better for the environment, but buying it helps Midwest corn farmers and reduces the amount of oil needed from the Saudis and Hugo Chávez. Trouble is, we learned after purchasing a flex-fuel vehicle (one that runs on either gasoline or ethanol) that there are probably more Al-Qaeda sleeper agents in the Valley than there are ethanol filling stations. Fortunately, Western States Petroleum stocks the stuff at its main plant near downtown Phoenix. The plant, with its tall, metal tanks, looks more like a set from The Road Warrior than a gas station, but the workers there are certainly our heroes. We'd be ridin' dirty — as in, burning up sooty, old gasoline — if not for them. Okay, it's not all about trying to be that kind of "green": Ethanol has been about 50 cents cheaper than gas lately.

We may not be afraid of writing about Sheriff Joe, but when it comes to drunk driving, we'll admit that we're terrified of the consequences. Forty-five days in jail for an extreme DUI? Yikes. Of course, that doesn't mean we've cut back on our drinking — but we have found ourselves getting downright anal about calling a cab. And for that all-important ride home, we've never found a cab company we like more than Yellow Cab. It's one of the few local cab companies where the drivers know the city (for the most part), show up promptly, and — shocker of shockers — can actually speak English. After seven martinis, that's good enough for us.

Melrose Liquors

In other parts of the world, the concept of a drive-thru liquor store is probably illegal, let alone indulgent and mostly unnecessary. Here, it's one of the perks of living in the desert. Phoenicians know that turning off the air conditioner for even a second is unthinkable, even if it's to stop off for a cold one. Why would you get out of your chilly respite from the heat to load up on beer if you don't have to? At Melrose Liquors, you don't. Pull up under the shade of a charmingly battered 1950s building, done up in bubblegum pink and seafoam green, and a cheery attendant will help you. Ice-cold beer in every flavor? They've got that. Budget smokes? Piece of cake. Tequila, vodka, or Red Bull? It's all here. The best part? There's nary a premium charge for the privilege, unlike lesser drive-thrus in town, and it's not just cash and carry. (Debit card users, beware — that will cost you 50 cents.) Staying cool in the summer on a beer run? Thanks to the good folks at Melrose Liquors, that's priceless.

Top's Liquor

We love a wide selection — particularly when it's of booze — but the last time we called one of those liquor mega-stores, looking for a particular brand, the guy on the phone sneered, "Look on our Web site," and practically hung up. We'd like our vodka tonic with a twist of customer service, please, so we vowed to stick with an old favorite — Tops. No, the place doesn't gleam, and we don't see coupons for it in the Sunday paper, but the last time we walked into Tops, a sweet young guy with onion on his breath put down his submarine sandwich and took the time to walk us to the vodka aisle and recommend his new favorite. He even searched the shelves 'til he found it and put it in our hands. Our friend was delighted with the gift of potato vodka, and we decided then and there that superstores just aren't all they're cracked up to be. For us, Tops is, well, tops.

Chandler Liquors

From the funky vintage sign to its dusty catacombs of shelving, we dig the vibe at this downtown Chandler liquor store. But it's the vast selection of airplane-sized liquor bottles lining the wall behind the cashier's booth that caught our eye. The answer was a curt "no" when we asked to go back and peruse the hundreds of colorful mini-bottles ourselves, but quickly followed up with "everything you see on the shelves is back here." You want a tiny bottle of Hypnotic for 3 bucks? You got it. 10 mini Chivas Regals to hand out to the men at your bachelor party? Check. While you're there, if so inclined, you might want to wander down one of those gritty liquor-lined aisles to see the pockets of porn strategically placed throughout the store. Or not. Yeah, this place drips unapologetic charm.

Habanos Torres Cigar Factory

Though he recently moved to classier digs in downtown Mesa (estimated square footage of the old store: 10), there are still much fancier cigar shops than Habanos Torres Cigar Factory. But how many other shops have a torcedore working on your smokes while you peruse the humidor? Timothy Torres, a fifth-generation Cuban cigar maker, knows how to roll, and he uses tobacco aged up to 30 years in his blends. If you don't like what he's got on the shelves, he'll also roll you a custom blend totalmente a mano on the spot. Businessmen, be warned: There are no gold-embossed bands on these bad boys. It's all about the smoke, so don't expect to impress anyone on the golf course. If you want a taste of Cuba, though, this is the place.

Paraphernalia Boutique

Dude, where's the best place in Phoenix to pick up a hookah (besides Van Buren)? Paraphernalia Boutique, a charming little store with burglar bars on the windows and every possible accessory to help you get your smoke on. In addition to the expected stash of incense and shisha, Paraphernalia stocks measuring scales, rolling papers, vials, art-glass water pipes — even a Mr. Potato Head bong, if you've got an extra eight hundred bucks lying around. And should you feel the need for detox after using your "tobacco smoking paraphernalia," there's a range of fast-cleanse products to clear your system. Really, the only things missing here are bags of Cheetos and a copy of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle; but we're pretty sure if you're headed to Paraphernalia in the first place, you've already got those at home.

Best Place to Stop and Smell the Patchouli

Hippie Gypsy

Hippie Gypsy

If you're looking for hard-to-find incense, follow your nose to Hippie Gypsy. The hookah and head shop carries a huge variety of smelly sticks, cones, and oil for your olfactory pleasure — or obfuscation. The store carries traditional scents like sandalwood, strawberry, jasmine, and vanilla, along with perpetually potent incense, like Nag Champa and patchouli. The latter scent is a hippie favorite and fills the air inside the store. The smell also wafts onto Mill Avenue, so if you miss Hippie Gypsy's psychedelic orange signs, just follow your nose toward that big whiff of earthy spice.

Harper's Nursery

If you don't know your asarina from your elephant's foot, the über-friendly staff at Harper's Nursery is happy to help out. This family-owned nursery's been around since the victory gardens of WWII, and it's got it all: a garden club, discount days, landscape design services, garden accessories and gifts, an antique shop, open air markets with live music, and a monthly newsletter with seasonal information, garden tips, news, and events. The Scottsdale location even has a coffee bar! Who knew a nursery could be about so much more than plants?

We've heard of people growing fruit in the desert — yeah, like prickly pear. But bananas? Mangos? No way. Yes way, say the folks at Tropica Mango, a perennial favorite of Sunset magazine as well as local gardeners in the know. Located in the stretch of south Phoenix once reserved for flower and fruit farms and now replaced with cookie-cutter condominiums, Tropica Manga is a tropical paradise — or at least, the promise of one. Along with the advice to make your banana dreams come true.

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