Doc's Artisan Ice Creams
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.

Cool Gelato Italiano

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.

Le Napoleon Pastries and Cafe
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.

Clever Koi
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.

The House Brasserie

First impressions are lasting, and when it comes to impressing your food-loving date, there's no better place to go than The House Brasserie. The restaurant's covered outdoor patio features strings of twinkling lights, while the interior boasts luxe patterned wallpaper and a collection of elegant but weathered mirrors. With all the charm from the surroundings it's impossible not to fall in love — with the food, at least. Chef Matt Carter's menu includes memorable plates with international inspiration such as the seared diver scallops with popcorn purée, bacon XO sauce, and cantaloupe. All the entrées are delicious, but suave daters will order a selection of Carter's small plates and appetizers. There's nothing more romantic than splitting a plate of Berkshire pork belly with kimchee and udon noodles or a dish of Arizona-made ricotta cheese with Sicilian pistachio toast.

Cafe Monarch
Cafe Monarch

There's no place quite like Cafe Monarch in Scottsdale, which is what makes the restaurant so alluring. The candlelit patio with rustic metal chandeliers hanging from the branches of lush greenery and quietly bubbling fountains will have you feeling as if you've stepped into a fairy tale in which Cupid himself arrives at your table with dessert. Inside, the restaurant's dining room offers white table cloths, wood-paneled walls, and charming wall sconces. Plus, the fact that the restaurant serves a preset four-course menu that changes from week to week means you don't have to worry about dining decisions, leaving you free to focus on charming the pants off your date.

St. Francis
Evie Carpenter

Dining with the kids isn't always pretty, and we're not just talking about their behavior. Kid-friendly restaurants tend to make us want to stick forks in our eyes. But now you can ditch Red Robin, Applebee's, and any place with a sneeze guard over the salad bar in favor of St. Francis. Kids under 10 dine free at Aaron Chamberlin's charming reclaimed building, but even if they didn't, we'd be happy to pay for pearl pasta with tomato sauce and mozzarella, wood-fired pizza, or chicken with hummus. Best of all, the service is always friendly. We recall one specific dinner around the holidays, when five particularly rowdy kids ranging from 6 to 12 were treated like little kings and queens while the moms and dads sipped craft cocktails and dined on roasted meats and seasonal vegetables. Those people at St. Francis are saints, indeed.

O.H.S.O. Eatery & NanoBrewery
Heather Hoch

When it comes to dog-friendly restaurants, O.H.S.O. takes the phrase to a new level. Lots of places will tolerate your four-legged friend, but few (if any) make your pooch feel as welcome as this Arcadia spot, the original O.H.S.O. location. Dog owners and their canines are openly encouraged to dine and drink on the restaurant's spacious back patio, which even features booths equipped with carabiners for your pet's leash. The décor also shows how much this place loves your pet, with framed photos of smiling pups covering much of the outdoor wall space. What's more, every four-legged guest gets a bowl of water and a free dog treat, which are made with spent grain from the brewing process. We particularly love bringing our furry children to hang out during Sunday brunch, when we've seen as many as a dozen dogs of all sizes enjoying the scene.

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