The House of Rice Store
Heather Hoch
We ambled up to the counter at the House of Rice, tossed our Dutch cookies and "grow a Buddha" toy on the counter and asked a question that poor clerk must get asked a hundred times a day."Why Dutch and Asian products?"The one-word answer: "Indonesia." Oh. Indonesia was at one point a Dutch colony, which made Dutch food popular in Indonesia, so of course an Asian market in Scottsdale would include Dutch products.No matter — we're just happy it happened. And what success The House of Rice has had, this year celebrating its 33rd anniversary in the same spot. You can't say that about many Phoenicians.We could spend all day in this cramped store, exploring Japanese products (everything from tissue-paper beach balls to sake to sushi-making ingredients), Dutch jams and licorice and little clog magnets, and . . . really, we could go on (and on and on), but you have to experience this place for yourself. We were tempted to buy a bumper sticker that read, "It's Hard to Be Humble When You're Dutch." But we're not Dutch. Instead, we think someone should make a bumper sticker that says, "It's Hard to Be Humble When You're the House of Rice." That, we'd stick to our car.
New Tokyo Food Market
If you're looking for panko to bread your tonkatsu or masago to top your sashimi, you'll find it at New Tokyo. This mom-and-pop Japanese market has a wide selection of goods from household wares to wasabi paste.New Tokyo has storefront parking, chilled drinks, and munchies to grab on the go — all the features of a convenience store — but it surpasses expectations. Indeed, the inviting storefront is jam-packed with just about anything you need to prepare traditional Japanese cuisine. Cookbooks to get you started? Check. Udon noodles? Frozen fish? Sauces? All there. Dinnerware on which to serve your homemade Japanese meal? They have that, too.Serving the Valley for more than two decades, the store boasts a friendly staff that will gladly help you navigate the rows of neatly lined products and translate the Japanese packaging on grocery items.This shop also rents Japanese movies on DVD, but don't look for English subtitles on these popular Asian films.
Queen Creek Olive Mill
Jackie Mercandetti
It's no surprise that the state's only working olive mill nabbed top honors in this category. The startling revelation is just how many gorgeous combos of flavored oil and vinegar you can put together in the Mill's expansive store. All of the oils taste incredibly light and clean, in part because the Mill doesn't use any pesticides in its olive groves. So far, we've paired the Meyer lemon oil and strawberry balsamic for a refreshing summer salad dressing and used the chocolate olive oil together with a splash of aged balsamic as a unique waffle topping at the suggestion of QCOM's staff. If you need additional ideas, pop over to the on-site restaurant, del Piero at the Mill, for lunch, where the chefs have hundreds of suggested recipes that incorporate Queen Creek's olive oils and vinegars.
Sahuaro Spice Company
When it comes to spices, we're all about ingredients — not fancy packaging. That's exactly why Sahuaro Spice Co. is one of our favorite culinary supply destinations, despite its inconvenient location in a shady industrial district in west Phoenix. You won't pay 10 bucks for frilly bows and decorative glass containers here. At Sahuaro, the spices are packaged in bulk plastic bags and sold in one-pound or larger increments. They've got an extensive selection at reasonable prices, from dried culinary spices like cardamom, oregano, and rosemary, at about $3.50 to $11 a pound, to barbecue and pumpkin-pie seasoning blends. With a 70-pound purchase — though we doubt you'll need 70 pounds of any spice, unless you're in the culinary biz — Sahuaro will design a custom spice blend you can name after yourself. Wedding favors, anyone?
SW Herb Shop and Gathering Place
If you're trying to track down comfrey to soothe a bruise or valerian and dandelion root to combat an attack of the PMS Avenger, SW Herb Shop in Mesa has the herb you need. No, not that herb — SW's are strictly legal. Rows and rows of dried plants are stacked alphabetically in old-school glass apothecary jars on shelves throughout the historic house. Want strong hair and nails? Try nettle. Feeling weak? Steep some echinacea. Allergies making you look like streaky-eyed Courtney Love in her grunge phase? Move out of state. Or talk to trained herbalist and resident mother hen Kathleen Gould, who'll help you clear up your breathing troubles with the shop's minty Breathin' Easy tea or an elderflower, goldenrod, and orange peel blend. Whether you're at SW Herb to buy or just say "hi," grab a cozy seat by the brick fireplace and Gould will pour you a free cup of whatever herbal remedy is on tap that day.
Shar's Kitchen
We never knew there were such things as corn zippers and frosting pens — or that we needed them — until we stumbled on Shar's. The store carries full-size Bosch appliances, as well as food processors, blenders, cookware, and myriad kitchen gadgets, all at bargain prices. Our favorite finds include an adorable insulated lunch bag that looks like a purse and the Butter Bell, a handy ceramic crock that lets you safely keep butter unrefrigerated. They also have cheap ceramic discs that claim to prevent water from boiling over. Who knew? Unlike other kitchen supply stores that sell you a food processor and then kick you out the door with a chance of blending up watery tomato sauce instead of the salsa you intend to make, Shar's offers free (or super-cheap) weekly classes that incorporate various kitchen tools and techniques. No wonder the shop has lasted in the Valley for more than 20 years.
ABC Cake Decorating Supplies
Shows like Cake Boss and Food Network's Challenge have gotten average folks off the couch and into the kitchen to bake creative cakes. It's not as easy as it looks on the small screen, but with ABC's help you can definitely pull off a bargain wedding cake or an edible SpongeBob SquarePants for your 5-year-old niece's birthday party. The shop is a mecca for professional pastry chefs and home cooks, with rows upon rows of cake toppers, cupcake liners, shaped pans, chocolate molds, and anything else your pastry-loving heart desires. To give you an idea how extensive their selection is, they have an entire endcap of nothing but cake servers and a case of plastic bride and groom toppers in all shades of the rainbow. If you want to personalize a cake without doing any dirty work, they offer a service that transforms a favorite photo into a cake topper. ABC also hosts classes on working with fondant and making gumpaste flowers, so you can be certain your cake won't end up looking like a grade-schooler's home-ec project.
Smeeks
Ted Roundy
Yes, it's a candy store, but the goodies aren't all that's sweet about Smeeks. We've fallen hard for this little store — from the free gumballs on the front counter to the $5 photo booth in the back. The place is chock-full of guilty pleasures you never knew you needed, like squirrel underpants, bacon Band-Aids, and sparklers that burn so bright atop a birthday cake they even scare the grownups. This is a place for kids of all ages, and old-school candy rules. Owner Georganne Bryant (of Frances fame and — full disclosure — co-sponsor of Chow Bella's Caramelpalooza caramel tasting, soon to be a regular annual event) even keeps a list where customers can request childhood favorites. If they still make it, Georganne will stock it, so make sure your dental insurance is current, because that taffy really sticks to the teeth — and the fillings. Oh, but it's worth it.
Desert at Lux
Dominique Chatterjee
Desert at Lux
Coffee houses come and go, and we're glad Lux stayed. Even with a change of ownership a few years ago, this packed-to-the-gills coffee bar earns its reputation as the place to see and be seen — and to sip — in Central Phoenix. No one minds if you bring over your Pane Bianco sandwich from next door on a hot day, as long as you buy a beverage — and we're more than happy to oblige, since Lux brews some of our favorite coffee drinks in town. On a nice day, sit outside on the beautiful hand-carved picnic tables and watch the light rail whiz by. Nice, indeed.
Lola Coffee
It's easy to see why there are now two Lola Coffee locations on the planet. This new hang is a spin-off from Lola's original location, and, much like the spot on North Central Avenue, the downtown coffee shop is an intimate place to share designer coffee that's roasted in-house, home-baked goods, and herbal teas. It's also the perfect venue for busy bodies to knock out work stuff or homework. And you can look all stylish doing so, thanks to the polished concrete floors and tables. By the way, each location is steps away from the light rail, so feel free to partake in a Lola Coffee crawl almost anytime.

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