Altitude Coffee Lab
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

In just a year, Altitude Coffee Lab has become known for its roasts, but this cafe is more than that. The low-key interior is homey and relaxed, the perfect spot to spend an afternoon getting work done on the ivy-covered patio. Should you get hungry, Altitude offers full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus that include dishes from all over Europe like Spanish frittata, Danish smørrebrod, and more. For aspiring musicians and poets, weekly open mic nights on the high-end shop sound system will present your work well. Should you need liquid courage before you perform, the coffee house also offers beer, wine, and a small selection of spirits. However, you shouldn't leave without trying the Gibraltar, which mixes espresso and foamed milk at temperatures lower than a cappuccino's so you can taste the amaretto and raisin notes of Altitude's espresso blend.

The Local
Lauren Saria

We had some doubts about the young chef who told us he "just wanted to have fun," and yet every time we eat a meal at The Local, Chris McKinley proves he truly knows his way around the kitchen. The chef's unique style of modern American cuisine pulls influences from around the world. He's won us over with his Pig Ear Pad Thai — an offal-y dish that blends toasted peanuts, bean sprouts, pickled Fresno chiles, and XO sauce to make a crunchy starter that's big on flavor — as well as with excellent handmade pastas, grilled vegetables, and sweet desserts.

The concise menu seems to offer something for everyone, but if it doesn't, there's always the chalkboard of daily specials, which have ranged from a killer bowl of ramen to fried green tomatoes and a lobster roll. The hot new dining spot also benefits from the talents of co-owner/general manager/barman Adam Hargett, who mixes top-notch cocktails using housemade, barrel-aged, and local ingredients.

Once upon a time, there was a city.

It was not the largest city or the smallest. It was not the richest or the poorest. But this city had a reputation, nonetheless. It was known throughout the land as dry and inhospitable — heated to unimaginable temperatures for several months of the year, ruled by a witch of a governor and a cruel sheriff, a cultural wasteland.

The people of this city knew the truth. Yes, upper management could be rough, and at first, the landscape wasn't easy on the eyes, but past the strip malls and the cookie-cutter subdivisions, a wonderful metropolis burgeoned: Bartenders poured the craftiest of cocktails, world-class chefs cooked, there were teams to cheer for, boutiques to shop at, and clubs where you could dance the night away.

Once a year, the kindhearted souls at the city's alternative newsweekly gathered the finest of what the place had to offer, presenting it in the hallowed pages of a book called the "Best of Phoenix."

Enjoy this year's 36th edition of Best of Phoenix. Enjoy your city. And may you all live happily ever after.


Visit our special feature page, featuring essays by some of Phoenix's best writers.

Best of Phoenix 2014: Legend City / DeGrazia After Dark

They're still there, under wraps in greenHAUS Boutique and Gallery, the former home of the infamous 307 drag bar, and the onetime re-election campaign headquarters of former Mayor Phil Gordon: a pair of murals by the late Ted DeGrazia, one of Arizona's highest-profile exports to the world at large.

Best known for the paintings of big-eyed, primitive Native American tykes popularized in the '60s in a greeting card line launched by UNICEF, DeGrazia reportedly painted the long-covered-up, giant murals in the 1950s to pay off his drinks tabs when this building housed a series of fly-by-night cocktail lounges.

Both of the untitled murals, which are painted on plywood across the full length of 40-foot walls in browns and yellows on a field of deep khaki, depict the history of grain alcohol production, beginning with cavemen fermenting roots and ending with farmers bootlegging the stuff while prairie-skirted angels fly from the sun, clutching martini glasses and a pair of showgirls do high kicks of vodka-inspired joy.

So, why haven't the murals been rescued, restored, and moved to Tucson's DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun? Some say it's because the murals are painted directly on the space's interior walls, and removing them would destroy the ancient building. Others say it's because decades of cigarette smoke and cheesy repairs to the murals' peeling paint have rendered them valueless.

Our favorite story is this one: The murals are haunted by the ghost of DeGrazia himself, and every time someone begins poking around his old wall paintings, his ghost turns up and starts wagging his finger at anyone with big ideas of moving them.

Whether you're out for a friendly stroll or training for a half-marathon, this in-town trail is the perfect place to get off the pavement for a change. You'll find families riding bikes, friends out for a power walk, cheerful joggers, and athletes prepping for the next big race. Right in the middle of Phoenix, this great-for-all-ages path accommodates bikers and hikers alike, and what's more, shade from olive and mesquite trees makes this stretch about 10 degrees cooler than the rest of town, even on the hottest day. Running from just south of Dunlap Road to well past Bethany Home Road, this popular city trail backs onto cozy residential neighborhoods and often intersects with the canal. Cool!

Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North

Looking to impress a visiting tourist or just yearning for a great place to kick up your feet after work? Head to the patio at the Four Seasons resort, where a tangy Copper City Mule awaits you — not to mention some of the most stunning, sweeping views of the desert to be had. Those vistas, combined with a daily happy hour from 3 to 5:30 p.m., make for an unbeatable twilight drink. A killer list of tap wine, tap beer, and by-the-bottle vino choices will have you staying well past sunset (and what a sunset it is!), then heading into the Four Seasons' Proof, an upscale, homestyle diner where you can add a little dinner to the perfect dusk-hour cocktail.

Restaurant Atoyac Estilo Oaxaca
Lauren Saria

For years, Tacos Atoyac was the bar against which we judged all other street-style Mexican eats. The no-frills restaurant served everything we could have asked for from a taco: affordability, simplicity, and lots of flavor. That's why we were devastated to hear the restaurant had closed suddenly and indefinitely in March. Taco enthusiasts wondered whether we'd ever find an acceptable replacement for the restaurant's near-perfect beer-battered fish taco. Thankfully, the drought didn't last long. In May, we were thrilled to hear that co-owner Pablo Lopez had reincarnated the beloved spot under a new name, Restaurant Atoyac Estilo Oaxaca — same location, same menu. If we close our eyes while biting into one of the carne asada burros, it's almost as if nothing changed.

There's an old joke: What's the difference between Phoenix and yogurt? Yogurt has culture. No more, friends. No more. Old is the operative word here, because in the past decade this city has turned a well-earned reputation on its ear. Don't believe us? Flip through the pages of this year's issue of Best of Phoenix — the pages are exploding with art, music, food, shopping, sports and, yes, culture.

You, the reader, have spoken. Thousands of you voted in our Readers Poll and chose your favorite places to eat, drink, dance, hike, shop, and generally recreate. Here it is, Phoenix, your choices in the 2014 Best of Phoenix Readers Poll. Let the discussions begin:

MEGALOPOLITAN LIFE

Best Urban Legend | Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine

Best Arts Festival | First Friday

Best Music Festival | McDowell Mountain Music Fest

Best Culinary Festival | Scottsdale Culinary Festival

Best Beer Festival | Oktoberfest (Tempe)

Best Casino | Talking Stick Resort

Best Independent Movie Theater | Harkins Camelview 5

Best Luxury Movie Theater | AMC Esplanade

Best Place to Be Seen |Crescent Ballroom

Best Art Gallery | Phoenix Art Museum

Best First Friday Hangout | Angels Trumpet Ale House

Best Graffiti Artist | Dumperfoo

Best Mural | Angels Trumpet Ale House

Best Phoenician to Follow on Instagram | Moon Mermaid

Best Phoenician to Follow on Twitter | Rustlers Rooste

Best Politician | Kyrsten Sinema

Best TV Newscaster | Lin Sue Cooney

Best News Radio Station | KTAR 92.3 FM

Best Spoken-Word Series | AZ Storytellers

Best Library | Burton Barr

FUN & GAMES

Best Hiking Trail | Camelback Mountain

Best Rock Climbing Gym | AZ on the Rocks

Best Go-Karts | K-1 Speed

Best Hotel Pool | The Clarendon Hotel

Best Water Park |Wet 'n' Wild

Best Golf Course | The Phoenician

GOODS & SERVICES

Best Coffee House | Lux

Best Coffee Roaster | Cartel Coffee Lab

Best Farmers Market | Downtown Phoenix Public Market

Best Place to Buy Wine | Total Wine

Best Liquor Store | Total Wine

Best Head Shop | Sky High Smoke Shop

Best Medical Marijuana Edibles | Giving Tree

Best Medical Marijuana Concentrates | Giving Tree

Best Customer Perks at a Medical Marijuana Dispensary | Giving Tree

Best Nursery | Moon Valley Nursery | Best Spa | Camelback Inn

Best Record Store for CDs | Zia Record Exchange

Best Record Store for Vinyl | Zia Record Exchange

Best Boutique | Frances

Best Place to Buy Vintage Clothing | Buffalo Exchange

Best Place to Buy High-End Antiques | Brass Armadillo

Best Place to Buy Antiques on a Budget | Brass Armadillo

Best Art Supply Store | Arizona Art Supply

Best Shopping on Mill Avenue | Hippie Gypsy

Best Shopping on Roosevelt Row | MADE

Best Shopping on Grand Avenue | 11th Monkey

Best Mall | Scottsdale Fashion Square

Best Bookstore | Changing Hands

Best Comic Book Shop | Gotham City Comics

Best Used Bookstore | Bookmans

LA VIDA

Best Upscale Mexican Restaurant | Barrio Cafe

Best Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant | Valle Luna

Best Burrito | Carolina's

Best Tacos | Valle Luna

Best Tortillas | Carolina's

Best Salsa | Valle Luna

Best Latin Club | Karamba

Best Margarita | Z'Tejas

FOOD

Best Chef | Silvana Salcido Esparza (Barrio Cafe)

Best Food Truck | Short Leash Hot Dogs

Best Place to Take a Foodie | Quiessence

Best Place to Take a Scenester | Crescent Ballroom

Best Place to Take an Out-of-Towner | The Farm at South Mountain

Best Authentic Arizona Restaurant | Los Dos Molinos

Best Downtown Lunch | Phoenix Public Market Cafe

Best Sunday Brunch | The Vig

Best Seafood | The Salt Cellar

Best BBQ | Honey Bear's BBQ

Best Steak House | Durant's

Best French Restaurant | Vincent on Camelback

Best Vietnamese Restaurant | Pho Thanh

Best Thai Restaurant | Thai Basil

Best Japanese Restaurant | RA Sushi

Best Chinese Restaurant | P.F. Chang's

Best Indian Restaurant | Tandoori Times

Best Mediterranean Restaurant | Pita Jungle

Best Jewish Deli | Chompie's

Best German Restaurant | Haus Murphy's

Best Italian Restaurant | Oregano's

Best Italian Deli | DeFalco's Italian Eatery

Best Gourmet Pizza | Pizzeria Bianco

Best Pizza Slice | NYPD Pizza

Best Wings | Long Wong's

Best Grilled Cheese| 2 Fat Guys Food Truck

Best Hot Dog | Ted's Hot Dogs

Best Hamburger | Smashburger

Best Sushi | RA Sushi

Best Crepes | Crepe Bar

Best Vegetarian Restaurant | Pita Jungle

Best Vegan Restaurant | Green

Best Gluten-Free Bakery | Jewel's Bakery and Cafe

Best Bakery | Chompie's

Best Cupcake | Sprinkles

Best Candy Store | See's

Best Ice Cream | Cold Stone Creamery

Best Place for a First Date | Postino

Best Restaurant for Kids | Sweet Tomatoes

Best Place to Dine with Your Dog | O.H.S.O.

Best View | Camelback Mountain

Best Patio Dining | The Vig

Best Place to Eat at the Bar| Valle Luna

Best Hangover Breakfast | Matt's Big Breakfast

NIGHTLIFE

Best Place for a Twilight Drink | Hanny's

Best Happy Hour | The Vig

Best Local Beer | Four Peaks' Kiltlifter

Best Seasonal Beer | Four Peaks' Pumpkin Porter

Best Brewery | Four Peaks

Best Wine Bar | Postino

Best Sangria | La Grande Orange

Best Bloody Mary | The Vig

Best Old School Cocktails | Durant's

Best Bartender | Samantha Young (Rosie McCaffrey's)

Best DJ | John Holmberg

Best Radio Morning Show | John Jay and Rich

Best Alternative/Rock Radio Station | KUPD 97.9 FM

Best R&B Radio Station | KZON 101.5 FM

Best Blues/Jazz Radio Station | KJZZ 91.5 FM

Best Country Radio Station | KMLE 107.9 FM

Best Venue for Local Acts | Crescent Ballroom

Best Venue for National Acts | Crescent Ballroom

Best Nightclub |Crescent Ballroom

Best Blues Club | Rhythm Room

Best Country and Western Nightspot | Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill

Best Weekly Dance Night | Obscura at Rips

Best Dance Floor | Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill

Best Gay Bar | Charlie's

Best Lesbian Bar | Bliss ReBar

Best Dive Bar| Bikini Lounge

Best English Pub | George & Dragon

Best Irish Pub | Rosie McCaffrey's

Best Sports Bar | Zipps Sports Grill

Best After-Hours | Welcome Diner

Best Bar for Day Drinking | The Vig

Best Of Phoenix®