Best Of 2011 | Phoenix | Phoenix New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Phoenix, Arizona
Here's the dirt: The soil in Phoenix is made mostly of minerals.

That's a no-brainer, to be sure. But consider this. In an era when levels of hazardous pollutants are rising alarmingly worldwide, our Arizona soil continues to maintain a shockingly healthy profile.

It must be all that dry heat. Or the fact that the soil in Phoenix is composed mainly of clay, with large deposits of calcium carbonate, which makes it highly alkaline and, therefore, generally great for planting. That's the good news; the bad news is that calcium carbonate also forms layers of rock-hard caliche, making it impossible to dig a hole in many parts of town. (Ever wonder why there's so little underground parking here? Or why so few houses are built atop basements?)

Plants don't care about parking, though; what they really want is water. Because our lower desert soil is often high in iron (a chemical typically unavailable to plants, which like a drink that's lower in alkalinity), and our water is fairly alkaline and salty, it's not a bad idea to mulch the heck out of your topsoil before planting a temperamental tiger lily (or whatever), to create a better-balanced soil that quenches a plant's thirst for lower-pH water.

Because Phoenix's dense clay soil packs together tightly, becoming like soup when it's wet and preventing proper soil aeration, green thumb gardeners recommend making the soil around a plant more permeable to air with a bagful of large-grained sand to improve aeration. Ironic, isn't it? Adding sand to the soil of the desert. But there you go — another thing about Phoenix that doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense.

To see an illustrated infographic of caliche, visit

Four Peaks Amethyst Mine holds the distinction of being both the last commercial amethyst mine in North America and one of the most inaccessible. Surrounded by the Tonto National Forest, this mine sits on the southernmost peak of Four Peaks in the rugged Mazatzal Mountains, at an elevation of 7,200 feet. There are only two ways to get there: by helicopter or a two-hour drive with an all-terrain vehicle to a place 5,000 feet up called "The Saddle," followed by a 41/2-mile, two-hour hike across all four peaks. Because of its high, remote location, the amethyst mine can be worked only by hand


Miner Mike Blank makes the hike once a month, a trek that mine owner Kurt Cavano describes as "calf-burning" but which Blank says "isn't so bad. I'm pretty used to it." Until she got pregnant late last year, Blank's wife used to make the hike with him. They would dig rocks out of the mountainside with picks and chisels for two to three weeks, accumulating layers of dirt under their fingernails and in the cracks on their hands. (The Blanks' baby girl, whom they named Amethyst Jewel, was born this past spring.)

There's no running water at the mine. There's nothing outside except a small wooden, white tool shed and an outhouse. "But you don't want to use the outhouse," Blank says with a wry smile. "It's pretty scary in there."

Blank camps on the mountainside at night or sleeps inside the mine, where it's generally about 10 degrees cooler. The mine entrance looks like a cave in the side of the peak, and the main area is only about 18 foot by 6 foot. But after more than 12 years of digging the same vein, the mine itself extends more than 90 feet underground. There's an emergency exit tunnel about 15 feet long dug through the middle of the mine's west wall, its entrance marked by a couple two-by-fours nailed into a makeshift doorframe. "So we don't get stuck like those poor guys in Chile," Blank says. The only light comes from three dusty mining lamps hanging from cables in the upper corners of the cave, powered by the generator outside. On the sides of the mine, thick veins of tiny purple amethyst crystals sparkle in the light.

Four Peaks Amethyst Mine was discovered in 1925 by Jim McDaniels, who reportedly thought it was a letdown because he was looking for gold. Commercial amethyst mining didn't begin there until 1942. The current owners, East Coast businessman Cavano and his London-based partner, Jim MacLachtan, purchased the mine in 1997. A couple thousand pounds of ore are shipped out every year via a helicopter, which also shuttles supplies in every month. The stones mined here are diverse, ranging from pale pink, translucent crystals to deep purple gems with red hues, like the amethyst found in the Ural Mountains of Siberia (which does not mine its amethyst). Gems are tumbled and cleaned in Scottsdale, sent to Thailand for cutting, and shipped back to Arizona, where they're set in rings, necklaces, and bracelets at Sami Fine Jewelry in Fountain Hills. Some of the mine history and gems are on display nearby at the River of Time Museum at 12901 East La Montana.

Twice a year, Sami Fine Jewelry and Cavano give a handful of helicopter tours of the mine (480-837-8168, The next tours are scheduled for October 15 and 16.

For Sami Fine vice president Stephenie Bjorkman, getting first pick of high-quality gems from Four Peaks Amethyst Mine is only part of the fun. "It is the only commercially run amethyst mine in the United States," she says. "And it is right here in our very own backyard."To see more photos of the amethyst mine, visit

Best Hidden Reminder That Borders Don't Last

Monument Hill

A hard-to-find monument on top of a hill in the Southwest Valley stands as a reminder that massive swaths of Arizona and the Southwest region of this country once belonged to Mexico. But it was all lost during the Mexican War, fought from 1846 to 1848.

The site, known as Monument Hill, is just east of the Phoenix International Raceway track in Avondale, at the top of a fairly easy hike that starts near Avondale Boulevard and Baseline Road.

A concrete "X" marks the spot on the hill where surveying began in 1851 by Andrew B. Gray and Lt. A. W. Whipple, American surveyors. The land survey was part of the deal struck with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed in 1848, to resolve disputes over the new U.S.-Mexico boundaries.

With much debate over ownership of the land, the U.S. government ended up purchasing about 32,000 square miles of land from Mexico as part of the Gadsden Purchase. The Estrella Mountains that run through Goodyear, once part of Mexico, were enveloped into American soil and later became Maricopa County's first regional park.

From Avondale, a book by Jerry Squire and the City of Avondale: "The job was finished after much government red tape, Native American uprisings, long bouts of boredom because of the terrains and weather conditions, and even episodes of drunkenness. It is rumored that the crew became weary and wanted to return home so they cut the survey short, and Arizona never got its ocean port off the Sea of Cortez."

There were more complicated political decisions that ultimately denied Arizona beachfront property, but we won't bore you with those. Drunk and weary surveyors make for a much better story.

While the original monument was built on the initial point in 1851, the giant "X" was dedicated in April 1984. A press release announcing that ceremony noted that "a low, inconspicuous knoll 15 miles southwest of Phoenix takes on celebrity status . . . as the most important hill in Arizona."

Tirion Boan
Don't let the name and the address fool you. Citizen Public House, from former Cowboy Ciao culinary master chef Bernie Kantak, may sound pretentious, but its stylish yet relaxed atmosphere and offerings of classic American fare with a delicious kick in the ass are nothing short of modest classiness. From picture-perfect scallops and standout starters like the luscious pork belly pastrami to the Original Chopped Salad (so popular it has its own Facebook page) and dreamy desserts courtesy of Tracy Dempsey — at Citizen Public House, deliciousness is in every detail. Partner and mixologist Richie Moe (also a Cowboy Ciao alum) devotes as much attention to the libations as Kantak does to the food. So whether it's an evening out, a pairing dinner, happy hour fun, or late-night noshing all with the added enjoyment of a team that's as comfortable to be around as your dining companions Citizen Public House deserves to be in heavy rotation on your restaurant playlist.
Phoenix, we barely scratched the surface.

Who knew? When we embarked on our journey to share with you what goes on underground in this metropolis — both literally and figuratively — we thought we had a finite task. After all, everyone knows the ground here is rock-solid. Imagine our surprise when we learned what's been going on under our feet.

Turns out, the dirt here in the Valley of the Sun is some of the best anywhere for planting, you can find a house with a basement, and there's practically another world under downtown Phoenix. Of course, some of our favorite leads turned out to be nothing more than underground urban legend. Maybe. We're pretty convinced that Al Capone did not have a tunnel dug from Tovrea Castle to the state Capitol — but we're not ready to stop believing that his cars are smashed beneath the Westward Ho, a story we heard again and again, as we researched just what's under this place. And we'll always be disappointed that we didn't get a peek in the tunnels under ASU — or at President Michael Crow's top-secret emergency escape plan.

We did find an abandoned bus terminal, a bowling alley, and the remnants of opium dens, and we'll tell you all about that — and much more — in this, the 33rd annual edition of Best of Phoenix®. As always, we've unearthed the best the city has to offer, from politicians to pop-ups to pool halls. From the earliest archeological finds to the latest street art, we know where the bodies are buried — and we're willing to share. Be sure to check us out online; we've mapped our underground finds (see our interactive map here), and there's buried treasure waiting for you.

Strap on your headlamp, grab this copy of Best of Phoenix — and go underground. You dig?

There's no glowing neon sign marking the South Phoenix location of the Inner City Youth Center. Nor are there glossy advertisements, slick radio spots, or other primo promotional tactics trumpeting the underground all-ages gigs held at this under-the-radar music venue. Hell, it barely even has an online presence, as its proprietors maintain a cluttered-looking blog announcing upcoming shows. Even then, it takes some hunting to find the joint, as fliers list only a nearby intersection and the instructions to "enter from [the] back alley." The funky directions lead patrons to an even funkier scene inside ICYC, as the warehouse-like venue is a messy milieu of secondhand furniture, empty beer cans, and spray-painted murals covering cinder block walls. Its messy stage regularly hosts punk and hardcore bands, including performances by some internationally notorious acts. (For instance, infamous grindcore band Anal Cunt staged what likely will be its final Phoenix show ever at ICYC in April, a few months before singer Seth Putnam passed away.) Similar in most respects to the iconic NYC punk venue ABC No Rio, ICYC is more than just a music venue, as it's also hosted art shows, fundraisers, and even the occasional community fundraiser. It's a pretty punk rock place, to say the least.
Residents of the 40-plus houses in the square formed at Weldon Avenue and Fairmount between 11th and 12th streets in Phoenix are hiding a secret. The subdivision, which opened in 1928, includes a three-acre private park in the square of land concealed by properties. The park originally housed a golf course, artisan well, tennis court, fireplaces, and a swimming pool made from native stone. The pool may be all that's left of the original plan, but the fact that most of Phoenix remains unaware of this hidden gem proves that the garden is still a safe, quiet, and secret place to play.

Best Sports Bar, Downtown Phoenix: Alice Cooper's Town

Best Gay Bar: Amsterdam

Best Lesbian Bar: Amsterdam

Best Martini: AZ 88

Best Bookstore: Barnes & Noble

Best TV Newscaster: Beverly Kidd

Best Pop-Up Restaurant: Black Chile Mexican Grill

Best Downtown Lunch: Black Chile Mexican Grill

Best Take a Foodie: Black Chile Mexican Grill

Best Happy Hour, Central Phoenix: Black Chile Mexican Grill

Best Happy Hour, Downtown Phoenix: Black Chile Mexican Grill

Best Neighborhood Bar, Central Phoenix: Black Chile Mexican Grill

Best Neighborhood Bar, Downtown Phoenix: Black Chile Mexican Grill

Best Upscale Mexican Restaurant: Black Chile Mexican Grill

Best Margarita: Black Chile Mexican Grill

Best Vintage Clothing: Buffalo Exchange

Best Spa: Camelback Inn

Best Hiking Trail: Camelback Mountain

Best Independent Film Theater: Camelview 5

Best Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant, South Phoenix: Carolina's

Best Coffee House, Tempe: Cartel Coffee Lab

Best Neighborhood Bar, Tempe: Casey Moore's Oyster House

Best Venue to See National Acts: Celebrity Theatre

Best Ice Cream: Cold Stone Creamery

Best Dive Bar: The Coach House

Best Music Festival: Country Thunder

Best Vietnamese Restaurant: Cyclo

Best Italian Deli: DeFalco's Italian Eatery

Best Indian Restaurant: Delhi Palace

Best Latin DJ: DJ Kyko

Best Hip-Hop DJ: DJ Madd Rich

Best Steak House Durant's

Best Place for a Twilight Drink: Elements at Sanctuary

Best First Friday Hangout: Firehouse

Best New Restaurant: Firehouse

Best Happy Hour, Scottsdale: Firehouse

Best Sports Bar, Scottsdale: Firehouse

Best New Nightclub: Firehouse

Best Dance Floor: Firehouse

Best Weekly Dance Night: Firehouse

Best Neighborhood Bar, Scottsdale: Firehouse

Best Place to Find a One-Night Stand: Firehouse

Best After-Hours Scottsdale: Firehouse

Best Place to Be Seen: Firehouse

Best Arts Festival: First Friday

Best Gastropub: Four Peaks Brewing Company

Best Happy Hour, Tempe: Four Peaks Brewing Company

Best Sports Bar, Tempe: Four Peaks Brewing Company

Best Brewery: Four Peaks Brewing Company

Best Local Beer: Four Peaks Brewing Company

Best Politician: Gabrielle Giffords

Best Sports Bar, South Phoenix: Gallagher's

Best English Pub: George & Dragon

Best Sunday Brunch: The Good Egg

Best Antiques on a Budget: Goodwill

Best Comic Book Shop: Gotham City Comics

Best Happy Hour, North Phoenix: Half Moon Sports Grill

Best German Restaurant: Haus Murphy's

Best Art Supply Store: Hobby Lobby

Best Barbecue Restaurant: Honey Bear's

Best Morning Radio Show: JohnJay & Rick KISS 104.7

Best Alternative/Rock Radio Station: KEXX 103.9

Best Hip-Hop Radio Station: KISS 104.7 FM

Best Country Radio Station: KMLE 107.9

Best Happy Hour, Southeast Phoenix: Kona Grill

Best News Radio Station: KTAR 92.3

Best Jazz & Blues Band: KYOT 95.5 FM

Best Sangria: La Grande Orange

Best Graffiti Artist: Lindsay Monti

Best Neighborhood, Mexican Restaurant,Scottsdale: Los Olivos

Best Vegan Restaurant: Loving Hut

Best Coffee House, Downtown Phoenix: Lux

Best Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant,Tempe: Macayo's

Best Venue for Local Acts: Marquee Theatre

Best Hangover Breakfast: Matt's Big Breakfast

Best Pool Hall: Mill Cue Club

Best Wings: Native New Yorker

Best Sports Bar, Southeast Valley: Native New Yorker

Best Slice of Pizza: NYPD Pizza

Best Italian Restaurant: Oregano's

Best Mural: Oregano's

Best Chinese Restaurant: P.F. Chang's

Best Restaurant for Kids: Peter Piper's Pizza

Best Pet Groomer: PetSmart

Best Hotel Pool: The Phoenician

Best Way to be Gluten-Free: Picazzo's Organic Italian Kitchen

Best Vegetarian Restaurant: Pita Jungle

Best Mediterranean Restaurant: Pita Jungle

Best Gourmet Pizza: Pizzeria Bianco

Best Place for a First Date: Postino Winecafe

Best Wine Bar: Postino Winecafe

Best Japanese Restaurant: RA Sushi

Best Blues Club: The Rhythm Room

Best Irish Pub: Rosie McCaffney's

Best View: Rustler's Rooste

Best Seafood: The Salt Cellar

Best Neighborhood Bar, Southeast Valley: SanTan Brewing Company

Best Sports Bar, North Phoenix: Santisi Brothers

Best Sports Bar, West Valley: Santisi Brothers

Best Specialty Cocktail: Santisi Brothers

Best Neighborhood Bar, North Phoenix: Santisi Brothers

Best Neighborhood Bar, West Valley: Santisi Brothers

Best Culinary Festival: Scottsdale Culinary Festival

Best Mall: Scottsdale Fashion Square

Best Latin Night: Sky Lounge

Best Hamburger: Smashburger

Best French Restaurant: Sophie's Bistro

Best Cupcakes: Sprinkles

Best Health Food Store: Sprouts

Best Coffee House, South Phoenix: Starbucks

Best Coffee House, North Phoenix: Starbucks

Best Coffee House, Central Phoenix: Starbucks

Best Coffee House, West Valley: Starbucks

Best Coffee House, Southeast Valley: Starbucks

Best Coffee House, Scottsdale: Starbucks

Best Sushi: Stingray Sushi

Best Casino: Talking Stick Resort

Best Bakery: Tammie Coe Cakes

Best Hot Dog: Ted's Hot Dogs

Best Place to See a Comedy Show: Tempe Improv

Best Country and Western Nightspot: Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill

Best Place to Buy Wine by the Bottle: Total Wine & More

Best Golf Course: Troon North

Best Neighborhood, Mexican Restaurant, North Phoenix: Valle Luna

Best Neighborhood, Mexican Restaurant, West Valley: Valle Luna

Best Neighborhood, Mexican Restaurant, Southeast Valley: Valle Luna

Best Place to take a Scenester: The Vig

Best Place to Be Seen: W Hotel Scottsdale

Best Local Band: Whiskey Six

Best Thai Restaurant: Wild Thaiger

Best CD Store: Zia Record Exchange

Best Happy Hour, South Phoenix: Zipps Sports Grill

Best Happy Hour, West Valley: Zipps Sports Grill

Best Sports Bar, Central Phoenix: Zipps Sports Grill

Best Neighborhood Bar, South Phoenix: Zipps Sports Grill

Gringos around here think they know the score when it comes to our neighbors' rituals. We're all about Dia de los Muertos, the November 1 celebration of the dearly departed. Even if you've never been south of the border, chances are good that you have some Day of the Dead tchotchkes around the house, even made sugar skulls with the kids.

At least you've seen pictures. But you've never seen pictures of the Deer Dance, a sacred celebration held around Easter each year in Guadalupe, the beleaguered strip of a tiny town bordered by big city Phoenix and its 'burbs. You're welcome to attend the festivities, though (as long as you're not one of Joe Arpaio's deputies), and if you find yourself on the streets of Guadalupe in the weeks leading up to Easter (especially on Good Friday), you may be privy to a fascinating ritual.

Approaching the small white church at the center of town, you will see black robed figures with masks and red-tipped swords rushing at the building as a cacophony of bells and drums fill the air. Suddenly, out of the church a flurry of children in white burst forth to chase back the masked figures and assail them with flowers. On one side of the angels, men wearing streamers on their heads and bells on their ankles shake a gourd in one hand and wave a feathered bamboo wand in the other. On the other side of the angels, masked dancers wrapped in blankets from the waist down are led by the most fascinating figure of all: a man with a deer hoof belt and bare torso, shaking gourds in both hands and rattlers tied around his ankles. On his head an ornate headdress is crowned by the stuffed head and antlers of a deer. We know about this only because we asked. In a time when digital technologies and instant communication have exposed the whole world for our viewing through YouTube, Flickr, and Facebook, it is hard to imagine much that hasn't been recorded and posted. But, when it comes to its unique religious rituals, Guadalupe, a community of about 5,500, has managed so far.

Driving over the town line from Tempe, you may notice a sign prohibiting photography, video recording, and even note-taking during religious ceremonies. The Pascua Yaqui Indian community guards the mystery of its rituals scrupulously, inviting outsiders to watch yet guarding themselves against an onslaught of tourism. "It's a place where we come together, eat together, pray together, and everybody's welcome, it doesn't matter as long as you have respect for the ceremony," says Rafael Armenta, cultural adviser at the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and a lifelong resident of Guadalupe).

To understand what makes the religious ceremonies in Guadalupe so special, go back about a hundred years. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Yaqui Indians were under great pressure from the political authorities in Mexico to give up their land in Sonora. Some Yaquis had always resided in the Southwestern United States, but many more came to Arizona as refugees when oppression under President Porforio Diaz escalated. Guadalupe was settled by Yaquis as early as the 1880s, but the town did not become legally recognized until 1914 and was incorporated in 1975.

The Yaquis were Christianized by Spanish Jesuit missionaries in the 16th century and have since been practicing a blend of their original polytheistic traditions and devotional Catholic spirituality. Stepping into Guadalupe during Holy Week or on December 12, the feast day of the town's patron saint, Our Lady of Guadalupe, one is instantly transported into a new world of colors, song, and dance. To an outside observer, the rituals may seem incomprehensible, but they are essentially a retelling of familiar stories, such as Christ's passion, through the symbols and traditions of the Yaqui people. The flower, or sewa, is ubiquitous. Whether hanging in garlands between the demure houses, offered to the shrine of the Virgin, embroidered into clothing, or spoken about in casual conversation, the flower is a symbol that harks back to ancient Yaqui beliefs. Flowers are the symbol of the triumph of good over evil. In pre-Christian cosmology, flowers represented one of the five parts of the natural and mystical world, but today, their importance references the crucifixion of Jesus.

The Yaquis hold that when Christ was on the cross, his dripping blood was transformed into flowers. Thus, the sewa is a symbol of salvation and redemption. The deer dancer is the personification of the flower and each member of the community has his or her own flower, or spiritual duty, to take care of. "The deer dancer is the one that represents our tribe . . . He dances with the music, like the water drum and the rasp, and they sing lyrics about the desert world. The deer dancer represents the flower and the flower represents grace. Before God we have to show that we have earned the flower," says Armenta. "They hang streamers of flowers all over. We always decorate with flowers when we're celebrating because we all work at the flower. Everyone has a flower to work at."

The ceremonies take place in a large open plaza in front of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church (5445 E. Calle San Angelo), where ramadas are set up to accommodate the dancers and musicians. On the streets surrounding the church, 14 crosses are set up to symbolize stages of Christ's journey. During Lent, the ceremonies take place each week from dusk on Friday until dusk on Sunday, totaling more than 50 hours and including more than 100 men. The ritual dances are performed in front of a crucifix and shrines are included in the procession.The participating groups, among which are the Fariseos (Pharisees), Pilatos, and Montachines, are made up of men who are confirmed into the duty of dance and song and perform in the name of God and as a tribute to the sacrifice of Jesus. The deer dancer is chosen from the community by the Moro, an elder who recognizes the gift for the dance and spiritual connectivity within a man young or old and confirms onto him the duty of the dance. While most societies are only active during the Lent season, the deer dancers in Guadalupe are present at other holidays throughout the year.

Armenta, whose father was a member of the Fariseos, goes to every festival ceremony every year. He underscores the importance of participation as a personal penance, a religious commitment, and a sort of insurance policy. "My dad always used to say, and I'll always remember those words, 'You don't know, God made us and he's the one that knows when he's going to invite us to heaven. So maybe this would be the last year that you're going to see the ceremonies, so it's always good to be there.'" To hear Armenta's deer dance story, go to bestof2011.

Sitting in a Valley watering hole sipping a few cold ones, it's hard to imagine that human beings not so different from us were here, doing things, hoping for things, dreaming of things long before we were ever around. Occasionally, we must stare history in the face to recognize how far we've come and, perhaps, realize how far we have to go. There's no better place to do this than the Holbert Trail at South Mountain Park. Here, petroglyphs inscribed in the living rock by Hohokam People centuries ago. See abstract depictions of animals and hunters. Many have attested to the petroglyphs' spiritual significance. We don't like to bring religion into things, but it's hard not to feel something (spiritual or otherwise) when one bears witness to evidence of those who came before us.

Best Of Phoenix®