Best Coffee House, Tempe 2012 | Cartel Coffee Lab | Shopping & Services | Phoenix

When Cartel Coffee Lab opened its doors in 2007, it changed the game for coffee shops across the state. In Arizona, roasting beans was unheard of, and unless they'd visited Portland or Seattle, most Arizonans didn't really have a clue that coffee could be so good. With its über-hip industrial space and walls adorned with artwork from the Tempe community, Cartel is still top dog in this 'hood. A couple of other shops have tried, but not a single one can come close to the quality beverages made by the expertly trained staff. You may have to wait a minute or two longer for your cup of joe, but you can't rush the best.

The first thing that you'll notice when you walk in the doors of this sleek coffee shop is the giant bean roaster on the south side of the room, and most of our afternoon visits have been accompanied by the aroma of fresh-roasted coffee. The shop's small-batch roasted beans have an exotic flavor achieved by using a patented scientific method employed by only a handful of roasters in the world. The result is a smooth, balanced blend that doesn't need even a dash of cream or sugar. The only thing that rivals the shop's coffee is its handmade fresh-out-of-the-oven pastries and Danishes. Stop by for a delicious afternoon pick-me-up.

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Four Peaks seems to have winning down to a science. At the 2011 Great American Beer Festival, the brewery's American IPA, Hop Knot, took home the bronze; at the 2012 World Beer Cup, it claimed the gold, along with its Kolsch, SunBru. Four Peaks was the only Arizona brewery honored in the World Beer Cup's judging competition — actually coming within half a medal of winning Champion Mid-size Brewery and Brewmaster — and was ranked among the top 50 craft brewers in terms of sales volume for 2011. With a new production facility set to open this year, an impending partnership with a nearby distillery, great beer, and the hardware to prove it, Four Peaks' success should only continue.

Beer geeks, craft brew nerds, and classy alcoholics rejoiced this year when the Arizona Liquor Board changed its rules and began allowing bars and restaurants with certain liquor licenses to fill 64-ounce glass jugs — a.k.a. growlers — with draft beer from their favorite breweries. And when we feel the need to get our trusty growlers filled to go, we head over to South Tempe's Flanny's Bar & Grill. Not only will they fill any clean growler for $12 (and up, depending on the beer), but they have one of the best rotations of draft selections in town. Mark your calendars for the third Thursday of each month, when Flanny's hosts a different brewery for their monthly tap takeovers. We can't promise everything will be available for your growler, but there's a 100 percent chance you'll be able to fill up with something awesome.

The choice of beer at most grocery stores comes down to color — would you like the boring, mass-produced lager that comes in a blue box or the boring, mass-produced lager that comes in a silver box? Not so at this Whole Foods location, where scores of bottles from Belgium, Germany, Canada, and every state in the union stand in refrigerated, fluorescent-lit glory. Beer nerd James Swann not only keeps the shelves stocked with some of the best craft brews around, but also holds weekly classes at the Watering Hole — the in-store beer bar — to educate and inebriate the masses.

Where else in the East Valley can you grab a bottle of Arizona Stronghold's Mandala Red, a six-pack of Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, and a bottle of Crystal Head vodka, all without leaving the comfort of your vehicle? Sun Devil Liquors has one of the biggest selections of craft beer and an extensive selection of locally made wines and unique spirits. The staff knows more about booze than anyone we've ever meet and has awesome suggestions if you're into trying new things. The drive-thru is great for those lazy beer runs, but we find it hard to resist getting out of the car to peruse the packed shelves inside.

Getting out of the car to pick up a 12-pack of Coors sucks. You have to turn the car off and then walk into the store and, well, it's just a big pain in the behind (that we'd rather be sitting on while drinking). Luckily, someone had the genius idea to sell booze from the window of his store. Family-owned and -operated Henry's Liquor has been around for more than a decade, selling spirits, beer, and wine for much cheaper prices than their drive-thru competitors. The store itself is a little rough around the edges, but the staff is extremely friendly. If you choose to get out of your car, you'll find the the store's interior to be kempt and organized. Henry's has a decent selection of wine, but you're better off sticking to booze.

Ted Roundy

Much like the wide-eyed crew of kiddos who won golden tickets into Willy Wonka's colorful world, shoppers' jaws drop (and there might be some incidental drool) when they walk into Smeeks. And that's for good reason. To the very likely chagrin of Valley dentists, the small Medlock Plaza candy shop offers crave-worthy goodies including lollipops nearly the size of dinner plates, vegan chocolate bars, and such handmade treats as campfire marshmallows and salted caramels. Those really looking to recapture their childhood also can indulge in the novelty toy selection of yo-yos, Shrinky Dinks, and bouncy balls. Document your sugar rush with the old-fashioned photo booth in the shop's back corner — it's owner Georganne Bryant's favorite part of the store.

Magnum's may not be in the classiest part of town, but what the Valley's premier cigar lounge lacks in location, it makes up for in selection. The upscale shop carries more than 1,000 different varieties of imported cigars in its 450-square-foot walk-in humidor. Don't know anything about cigars? That's okay. Magnum's has cigar aficionados on staff who will walk you through the mind-numbingly huge menu to help you choose the perfect stogie. And Magnum's doesn't stop at cigars — the lounge stocks 350 different kinds of single malt scotch, hundreds of different beers, an extensive selection of wine by the bottle and by the glass, and even has a mixologist on hand creating classic and unique cocktails. The atmosphere is modeled after speakeasies of the 1930s, with a true lounge ambiance and relaxed vibe. Suit and tie are optional, but try not to look like you just came from the Goodwill next door.

When The Headquarters first expanded into the longtime location of neighboring Eastside Records, we instantly had pangs of nostalgia for the independent music store. But the expansion has only made the head shop bigger and better for locals looking to light up their lives. And now that the "records" portion of the sign that read "smokeshop records" is removed, that yearning for the past is cleared too quickly. That's because the store's selection of glass gear and rolling papers will satisfy serious and silly smokers alike — with well-versed staffers all too eager to assist them in their inhaling endeavors.

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