Europa Pastry Cafe
There's plenty to love about this super-authentic bakery/cafe, which specializes in Polish and Eastern European delicacies, baked fresh every day and displayed in vintage-looking, glass-fronted cases. We're crazy about their fruit-filled doughnuts, the pierogi, and the hot, black, chicory-flavored coffee they serve here. We're nuts about the little grocery section stocked with non-perishables like we've only ever seen in little Polish villages. But the single item that keeps us coming back, time and again, is Europa's tasty, flaky prune Danish. Baked in-house every day, it's a sweet-glazed, tangy, prune-filled marvel that nearly floats from our plate into our now-happy mouth. Yum.
Jonathan Robins Bakery
Katie Walter
What's soft, inviting, and vaguely exotic? Get your head out of the gutter and into an oven. We're talking about bread — the most wonderful bread we've laid teeth on. Jonathan Robins' kalamata olive bread came into our life via the Tempe Farmers Market, the only place in town to purchase it. It's packed full of olives, making it so delicious that spreads, butters, and other toppings only distract from the deliciousness. One day we may try one of the bakery's other breads. One day.
Ranch House Grille
Jackie Mercandetti
When Glenda Looney, a cook for the original Ranch House Grille in Page, brought a recipe for homemade pork chili verde to the restaurant nine years ago, owners Phil and Maryjane Kline knew they had struck green gold — passing on the spicy sauce made with tender chunks of pork shoulder to son Leland when he opened the Phoenix location in 2007. Diners wanting a delicious dose can have it served atop a crispy chicken fried steak or classic huevos rancheros, waiting inside a fluffy omelet, singled out in a cup or bowl, or take-home ready in $8 pints and $15 quarts.
Exotic. Tough to find. Fun to say. What better way to turn salads, pasta, beans and rice, even ice cream, into far-out fare than with the addition of yulu seeds? From the bonete, a wild tree native to Mexico, yulus are tiny, crunchy, fiber-packed orbs with a taste that's similar to sunflower seeds. To find yulus, you'll need to chance upon Constantino Aranda, purveyor and master roaster of the sensational seeds, at the Downtown Phoenix Public Market, as well as the Ahwatukee and Mesa farmers markets. Once each year, Aranda crosses the Arizona-Mexico border to bring back yulus harvested by a local tribe, selling them by the bagful until they're gone.
It is hard to imagine making butter any better, but Jennifer VanInwengen has managed to whip up several flavored varieties that raise the bar on the decadent creamy goodness our grandmothers swore by. Her compound butters aren't just for your morning toast (though we love the honey cinnamon butter on a crispy waffle); they can also be your secret shortcut to seasoning success. Spread the sun-dried tomato butter on your favorite crusty bread and sprinkle with a little Parmesan for instant bruschetta. Or sink your teeth into a steak slathered with the garlic herb butter. Whichever way, we can't think of a better way to butter up your fare.
Karl's Kronuts
Karl, who hails from Switzerland, loves his customers. If you're lucky enough to visit the ever-expanding and increasingly upscale counter when the baker himself is surveying his goods, he's sure to offer you one of his famous bran mini-muffins. He'll force it on you, really. And God forbid his baker elves under-fill an éclair. "Would you want to pay for this?" he'll demand.This is a full-service retail bakery where the idea of outsourcing is sacrilege. Everything's made on premises with fresh, seasonal ingredients. Berries are never dried or frozen. Flavoring? Uh, no. That mango mousse is made with mangoes. Must-tries? Alligator coffee cake, pumpkin doughnuts, bread pudding with whiskey sauce, quiche, pizza, said éclairs, and signature hand-dipped or -iced cookies. Do yourself a favor once in your life. Try the blueberry and cream cheese super-muffin. Trust us.
Copper Star Coffee
Lauren Cusimano
We started going to Copper Star because the iced coffee is second to none — and that's because owner Bill Sandweg is a connoisseur and, therefore, knows his way around a nice tidy glass of black java on the rocks. But we ended up addicted to Copper Star's Black and White Cupcakes, baked in-house by the cafe's manager and resident baker, Mindy Porter. Nearly all Porter's recipes were handed down from her grandmother, and these moist, tasty cupcakes — which started out as an occasional special but are now a daily staple at Copper Star, because customers kept asking for them — is among Grandma Porter's best. Moist, cake-like dark chocolate surrounds a cheesecake center that's super-creamy but not too sweet. And that's our excuse for always eating two of them when we're there.
Bertha's Cafe
Talk about unassuming. The cheesecakes at Bertha's Café may not make an appearance on the in-house menu, but their taste is anything but bashful. After years of supplying the delicious indulgence to family and friends, owner and chef Beth Goldwater ran with her reputation for cheesecakes and opened Bertha's Café as a breakfast, lunch, and dessert destination in 2005. From the standout s'mores and baklava flavors to the popular tiramisu and original flavors, Goldwater's daily-made cheesecake creations are creamy goodness cradled in a foundation of rich, brown, sweet crust. They are available as call-ahead orders or by the heavenly slice.
The name alone makes Sid's Viciously Good Cookies worthy of one of our annual awards, though the Sid in question is actually a former corporate executive named Sidney Miller who turned her back on the rat race in favor of the cookie press when she became a mom. We discovered Sid's cookies at a local AJ's Fine Foods and were wowed by the soft, gooey circles. The best way to get them hot and fresh is by calling Miller directly and placing an order. Currently, she offers four flavors that focus on classic ingredients. Our favorite is the Peanut Buttah: rich, doughy circles with chunks of peanut butter in the batter. It reminds us of licking spoonfuls of peanut butter at summer camp. Not that we'll pass up the double chocolate cookies or the white chocolate and almond "With Love . . . Annie V" variety. At the risk of sounding cliché, all of Sid's Viciously Good Cookies really rock.
We loved her for years as pastry chef at Cowboy Ciao, and since she's been on her own, we've only gotten sweeter on Tracy Dempsey, whose confections seem to pop up everywhere. We're fans of her homemade marshmallows, which you'll find at the Scottsdale Old Town Farmers Market in rotating flavors that include hot chocolate, vanilla bean, and rosebud. Who needs a campfire? Just give us a bag of Tracy's pillowy, perfectly sweet marshmallows and we'll melt. Visit her website for other locations where marshmallows and her other treats are sold. We also love Tracy for her marshmallow heart. In October, she's co-sponsoring Cupcake Love-In, a fundraiser benefiting Singleton Moms, a local nonprofit assisting single mothers battling cancer, and Safe Haven, a no-kill animal shelter. (More details at www.cupcakelovein.com.)

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