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.

Zulu Caffe

As pleasant a surprise as any new restaurant in the Valley this year, this casual bistro situated in the quiet Scottsdale Airport hits all the right notes: affordability, comfortable atmosphere, friendly, low-key service, and, most important, really good grub. Chef Brian Ford, who worked for years at South Phoenix's fine-dining establishment Quiessence before running his own place, the ill-fated Madelyn's in Anthem, for a couple of years, has returned to the Valley after a three-year stint in Colorado. His small but uniformly excellent breakfast and lunch menu is tasteful and tasty, using seasonal, hand-selected ingredients. Nothing is too flashy (omelets, sandwiches, salads), but all of it is well executed in manageable portion sizes and prices (most items are under $10). We love the crispy, housemade potato chips with blue cheese and scallions, an outstanding frittata with a tangy garlic tomato sauce, a shockingly good BLT with guacamole, and top-flight French toast with bananas. Most of us likely will never have reason to fly in and out of Scottsdale's tiny municipal airport, but that doesn't mean you won't find us there, watching the corporate jets and single-props take off and land as we dine on simple but truly satisfying American classics.

Baratin

One snack, salad, pâté, veggie, sandwich, and dessert are all you'll find on the daily-changing menu at this small contemporary restaurant in Scottsdale. But before you freeze up with a case of restricted-offering-itis, know that these eats come from noteworthy Valley chef Charleen Badman, who co-owns the place (and FnB) with Pavle Milic. Part of a three-concept endeavor under one roof that includes Bodega Market and AZ Wine Merchants, this comfy casual eatery boasts a small selection of eats that go big on flavor thanks to Badman's stellar locally focused and seasonal fare. No matter if it's a wonderfully rustic salad, delectable Jidori chicken sandwich, or a jar of Badman's dreamy and rich butterscotch pudding – the best thing about this restaurant's limited menu is that you can eat everything on it and not find a clunker in the bunch.

Crudo
Crudo

From making its home on the patio and in-house café at a hair salon in Scottsdale to opening up in a remodeled space this April in Central Phoenix, chef Cullen Campbell's restaurant has stepped it up proper in the real estate department. Now, Campbell's menu of inventive raw seafood dishes, handmade pasta dishes, signature mozzarellas, and wood-grilled items can be enjoyed in a warm and intimate setting with flickering candles and bay-window nooks. And (bonus) diners in the new space can enjoy their food along with a cocktail or glass of wine from Crudo bar owner, cocktail artist, and sommelier Micah Olson, formerly of Merc Bar. The new hidden-away location, in the back of the Gaslight Square Plaza, feels like a delicious secret — but not really, because we keep telling everyone about it.

Ranch House Grille
Jackie Mercandetti

After a fire closed down this popular, small-town-feel chow house in East Phoenix in 2010, we had to wait nearly a year and a half before the rebuilt restaurant opened its doors again in April. Thankfully, our favorite all-day breakfast grub is just as tasty as ever. Like heapin' helpin's of Southwestern country fried steak smothered in a dreamy spicy pork chili verde, huevos rancheros, and giant biscuits with sausage gravy. Plus, along with the restaurant's more spacious interior, the menu now includes chicken and waffles — which makes its transformation all the more sugary-sweet.

China Magic Noodle House
Lauren Saria

If you're looking for dinner and a show — both fit for the tiniest king — look no further than China Magic Noodle House. From the name (magic!) to the menu (a pile of plain noodles for Junior, something hot and spicy for you) to the price (very affordable) to the ambiance (not much — it's noisy and the furnishings are spare), this is the perfect place for your pint-size foodie. The dishes are delicious; and where else in town can you watch your noodles being made on the spot? The kids will crowd around a tiny window to watch an expert turn a pile of dough into the tastiest noodles they've ever slurped. And no one will mind if you do a little slurping (and gawking) yourself. Like we said, magic.

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