La Grande Orange Grocery
Courtesy of La Grande Orange

What's better than a giant chocolate chip cookie with a slightly under-cooked center and tons of big chocolate chips? That same cookie with salt crystals the size of small diamonds sprinkled on top. LGO's massive half-pound cookies are baked in-house using only the best ingredients. The fat cookies are best eaten with a friend or three or in small bites over the course of a week. It's tempting to eat the whole thing in one sitting because they are that good, but you must resist! Devouring the entire cookie will only lead to regret and a possible chocolate overdose. Plus, the cookie will stay good for almost a week in your pantry, so you're in no hurry to rush through the thing.

Kreative Kupcakes

What separates a good cupcake from a great cupcake? It's the actual cake. Anybody can make a good frosting, but it takes real skill to make a flavorful cake. Our taste buds have fallen head over heels in love with Kreative Kupcakes' tangy Blue Moon cupcakes. And, yes, that's Blue Moon, as in the beer. The perfectly moist cake practically explodes with hints of vanilla and orange flavors. The light citrus glaze that coats the top of the cake actually complements the cake instead of masking it like most of the other shops around town. The Blue Moon cupcake may not be as pretty as some of its rivals, but we couldn't care less. We see this tiny cake for what it has on the inside.

New York West Pastry & Bake Shop

It doesn't get more old school in Arizona than Sun City. Maybe that's why Hugh and Pat McGurgan, who owned a bakery in Chester, New York, for over 10 years, opened their shop on the border of Glendale and Sun City in 2000. Since then, folks from all over the state have made the journey to this family-owned tradition for an amazing assortment of pastries and baked goods, from just-made rolls and bread, including rye, Italian, French, and a heavenly pumpernickel, to cakes and pies, seasonal specialties, giant cream puffs, and piles of cookies. Must-tries like the lightly sweet handmade Danishes and the mighty Devil Dog cake — a two-layer chocolate cake with a cream filling and covered in chocolate ganache — make the trip that much sweeter.

Cool Gelato Italiano

We'll admit we didn't think much about the difference between ice cream and its Italian cousin, gelato. That is, until we tasted the gelato made by Alberto Della Casa and Letizia de Lucia. Trained abroad by Italy's champion gelato artisan, the husband and wife pair creates 20 flavors of gelato made fresh daily that perfectly exhibit gelato's intense flavor profile. Though you can't go wrong with usual flavors such as stracciatella and hazelnut crunch, we have to recommend more unique offerings like biscotto, Greek yogurt, and tiramisu. Cool Gelato may be a little ways off your well-traveled path, but it's more than worth the trip.

Pizzeria Bianco

It's almost a shame that people tend to get so stuffed on the crusty, homemade bread and handmade pastas at Italian Restaurant that they can't spare a bite or two for dessert. Because if they did, they might get to taste the work of Francesca Bianco, mother of pizza maven Chris and his baker brother Marco. Each week on Thursday, Mama Bianco comes into Italian Restaurant to bake, well, whatever dessert she feels like, from torta di carnarale to Arizona crème pie. She leaves her decadent desserts (like Tuscan lemon cream cake or biscotti di sposa) and their precious recipes for diners to enjoy. And even after the cakes and cookies have been devoured, you can admire Francesca's beautiful, hand-drawn recipes, which you'll find taped to the table at the front of the restaurant. Be sure to check the chalkboard at Pane Bianco for dessert, too — we hear they use Mama's recipes.

Churn
David B. Moore

Ice cream makes everything better and a trip to Churn makes the indulgence even sweeter. Inside, the shop oozes charm that will have your nose pressed up against the glass like a 5-year-old. Classic flavors like peanut butter and butter pecan deliver with decadent and creamy flavor, but it's Churn's unique, seasonal offerings that make us worry about our waistline. Really, though, what takes things over the top at Churn are the ice cream vessels. On top of the usual cups and bowls, Churn will build you an ice cream sandwich on homemade cookies or let you enjoy your scoops in a pretzel cone. Endless possibilities abound when you can pick both your cookie and ice cream varieties.

Best Vegan Coffee and Dessert Shop

Nami

Nami

Soy? What soy? Nami owner Damon Brasch opened this cool little vegan ice cream, coffee, and pastry shop in a renovated house in downtown Phoenix right next door to the second location of his vegan bistro, Green. With a solid offering of caffeine and sugar treats, vegans and meat-eaters alike can enjoy a decadent affogato (a scoop of organic, soy-based ice cream and chocolate syrup drowned in espresso) paired with any number of outstanding vegan goodies from cupcakes to cookies to daily specials. And for something truly unique, try the Tsoynami, Brasch's vegan version of the Blizzard, available in more than 20 flavors.

Gluten Free Creations

Being gluten-free is no fun. You can't eat the birthday cake at your friend's party; you have to pass on big plates of tasty pancakes; even a soft brioche hamburger bun is your enemy — which is why Gluten Free Creations is a gluten-phobe's version of heaven. This bakery is strictly 100 percent gluten-free and makes cakes, cookies, bagels, burger buns, and anything else you might be missing now that wheat is off your menu. Indulge in a GF burger with a slice of pie or a cupcake at the Scottsdale location or grab a bag of bagels and a couple loaves of fresh cinnamon raisin or herb bread to take home for all your breakfast and sandwich needs.

24 Carrots
24 Carrots

Adding fresh vegetable and fruit juice to your diet is one of the best things you can do for your health (next to quitting smoking, putting down the whiskey bottle, and jumping on a treadmill). Make the choice to add a little bit of healthy into your life with a trip to this juice-bar-raw-food café, smoothie-makin', vegan-cupcake-bakin' eatery in Chandler. (The owners say the restaurant will move to Tempe in the first half of 2013.) The 24 Carrots folks will juice you up a beautiful healthy blend with fresh beets, cucumbers, carrots, ginger, pineapple, strawberries, and much more. Our fave is the antioxidant-filled Blue Pom Bomb with pomegranate, blueberries, grapes, and strawberries. It's not too sweet, not too tangy, and full of healthy free-radical-killing goodness.

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A whiskey drink and some stellar bar bites? Where do we sign up? Celebrity chef Jose Garces' upscale saloon inside The Saguaro hotel in Old Town Scottsdale is a perfect pairing of hard pours and satisfying tavern fare. Diners can lounge cozy-like in a dim, wood-covered interior on caramel-colored leather couches and under glass jar lights while perusing a small but tight menu of upscale munchies like pillowy cheese puffs, Tater Tots in a dreamy dipping sauce of onion aioli, tiny mason jars containing pickled delights of seasonal vegetables, and blocky eight-ounce burgers. What to pair the eats with? Why, whiskey, of course. With more than 100 varieties to choose from, finding a favorite's just part of the fun.

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