Best Cupcake 2014 | Urban Cookies | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Judy Nichols

In the world of baked goods, one thing is certain: Not all cupcakes are created equal. From fancy chains to casual supermarkets, it seems everyone's offering cupcakes. And often you take a bite at your own risk. Not so at Urban Cookies, where award-winning baker Brady Breese offers an eclectic, creative assortment of cupcakes with one thing in common: They are all delicious. Whether you go for classic chocolate topped with a dark ganache or the out-of-the-box Arnold Palmer (lemon cake with tea-infused icing), you can't go wrong. Waffles and doughnuts may be the new flavors on the block, but we hope Urban Cookies never stops making cupcakes.

Natalie Miranda

Since opening late last year, Super Chunk Sweets and Treats has wasted no time winning us — and our sweet tooth — over with its ever-growing selection of handmade candies and desserts. Owner and confectionary mastermind Country Velador brings sophistication to the idea of a classic candy store by offering one-of-a-kind flavors that appeal to the taste buds of grownups and little ones alike. We love the rich, savory flavor of Velador's blue cheese and fig caramels, as well as the botanical aromas of her black licorice chews. For lighter, sweeter options, try the lemon verbena hard candies or a hand-pulled taffy, which come in a rainbow of flavors and colors that change from week to week. On any given visit, you might catch Velador in the middle of breaking up sheets of delicate honeycomb candy or mixing batches of her signature caramel popcorns. And if you're lucky, she might even give you a sneak peek of what she's working on next.

Lauren Saria

As shaved ice replaces frozen yogurt as the de rigueur cold treat, we are on the hunt for creative ways to eat it. If you can dream it, chances are RaspadoRico can make it. The bright shop stocks a rainbow of fresh fruits, chili powders, sweet condensed milk, and ice cream. There are raspados, or Mexican shaved ice (topped with fresh fruits, of course) and even milkshakes, but the bigger draw is the exotic drinks. Think Diablito, or shaved ice with bright red chili powder and chunks of pineapple. We like topping a typical fruity raspado with a scoop of creamy ice cream.

Evie Carpenter

There aren't many decisions to make when you're dining at The Stand, the Arcadia burger and taco joint. The menu keeps it short and sweet, just a small selection of tacos and a burger you can customize with toppings. The only real choice you're going to have to make is whether or not to add one of the spot's milkshakes to your order — and if you're as weak-willed as us, the answer is almost always, "Yes." The Stand's salted dulce de leche milkshake is a particular favorite. The über-thick treat is rich with caramel flavor and spiked with pieces of salt. Best of all, it comes with a double-wide straw to maximize your slurping experience.

Lauren Saria

Usually, we're too busy stuffing our faces with ice cream to stop and wonder what's actually in a pint of mint chocolate chip. Fortunately, one chat with Doc Brown of Doc's Artisan Ice Cream changed all that. Brown, a former police officer with a serious love for all things frozen and sweet, started Doc's Artisan Ice Cream with the intention of going big or going home. To Brown, that meant investing the time and money in becoming the state's first small-batch ice creamery, so rather than sourcing his dairy ice cream base from someone else, Brown's able to pasteurize it himself. It gives the ice cream chef total control over every single ingredient that goes into his ice creams, which often also include locally sourced ingredients such as Arizona peaches. The end result is a product that's as transparent as they come. Still don't believe it? Swing by his Tempe space, where he can show you just how the complex machinery works.

You might not expect to find top-quality Italian gelato in Old Town. But that's where artisans Alberto Della Casa and Letizia de Lucia decided to open their one-of-a-kind shop in 2012. The husband-and-wife team were born and raised in Italy and trained with the nation's champion gelato artisan, as recognized by the Italian Academy of Gelato. In short, they're the real deal. At any given time, you can find more than two dozen flavors, ranging from decadent stracciatella to lighter but still original options such as Greek yogurt.

Evie Carpenter

These days, it's easy to find a bakery that specializes in the pastry trend of the week. Cupcakes? Yup. Macarons? You bet. But what about a place with an array of sweet delights ranging from hard-to-find European pastries to handmade chocolates. For that, you'll want Le Napeleon bakery in West Phoenix. It's there that Swiss-born pastry chef Gerald Cretton crafts delicate eclairs, picture-perfect fruit tarts, and light-as-air cream puffs on a day-to-day basis. The bakery doesn't offer much in the way of charm, but that's only because Cretton lets his food do the talking. When you visit, don't miss the bakery's namesake pastry, the Mille-feuille, or Napoleon. It features layers of fluffy pastry cream between two sheets of pastry dough. Cretton also bakes made-to-order cakes with a binder full of past creations to serve as inspiration.

Malls are upping the ante on refreshments these days — there's a Pita Jungle at Scottsdale Fashion Square, and some of the most authentic Mexican street snacks in town are at Arizona Mills. But our favorite mall food takes the cake — or, rather, delivers it. And on fine china. Julia Baker made a name for herself with Sweet Julia on the Cooking Channel, so we stopped by to try a piece or two of her chocolate to discover a full-on sit-down cafe — all chocolate-themed and including a lovely selection of wine! We rested our tired feet and fortified ourselves with chocolate lava cake paired with rich vanilla ice cream and wondered why no one thought to do this sooner.

Metro Phoenix doesn't really have "littles," per se — no Little Italy (unless you count the proliferation of Domino's outlets near ASU), no Chinatown, not even a Little Mexico in a city so close to the border. But if you are looking for Asian food in the Valley, you'd do well to begin at the intersection of Warner and Dobson roads. From Lee Lee's International Supermarket (where you can find everything from Hawaiian to Dutch to Japanese foods and sundries) to Lee's Sandwiches (best bánh mì around), it's all here: handmade noodles at China Magic Noodle House, an amazing selection of boba and other specialty drinks at Boba Tea House, and two spots (Phoenix Palace and C-Fu Gourmet) for Chinese food, including dim sum. Oh, and a gelato shop for dessert — and we're just getting started. We may not have "littles" in Phoenix, but in the case of the big assortment at this intersection, that's okay by us.

Heather Hoch

It seems nearly every restaurant in town has its own beer or wine dinner series and/or chef collaboration — otherwise known as a good excuse for chefs to hang out while working. Still, no one has done it quite as well as Clever Koi. This summer, the restaurant hosted a series of Day Off Dinners, Sunday night events during which chefs from all over town came to strut their stuff in the Clever Koi kitchen. The lineup featured some pretty impressive chefs and mixologists from top restaurants offering their time to the culinary cause. Enthusiastic participants included Michael Babcock of Welcome Diner, Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar, and Cullen Campbell of Crudo. What's best about the series is that each chef pulled out all the stops, giving the lucky diners who snagged seats at the sold-out events a truly memorable meal.

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