Noble Eatery
Noble Eatery

Look closely at the menu the next time you're offered bread service at a high-end restaurant in town. You're likely to notice that the bread comes from Noble Bread — that is, unless the restaurant's making it in-house. There's a good reason Valley chefs and restaurant owners are so fond of the bakery's product. Bakers Jason Raducha and Claudio Urciuoli use old-school techniques to produce consistently excellent loaves of bread. The Country Loaf is the bakery's signature offering, and it's great. But if you're a real fan, then you also hunt down specialty creations like the sesame loaf, which Raducha bakes just once a week. With subtle nutty flavors and a slightly denser crumb, this bread tastes just as excellent alone as when smothered with Nutella or butter. This year, Noble began milling its own grain in-house (locally grown heritage varieties, of course), bringing it one step closer to the true traditions of Old World baking.

Lauren Saria

Phoenix may not be a bagel town, but New York City sure is. That's why Nocawich owner Eliot Wexler isn't even bothering to make his own bagels at the newly opened Nocawich in Tempe. Instead, he went straight to New York's H&H Midtown Bagels and convinced the Big Apple bagel bakery to ship frozen, half-baked beauties nearly all the way across the country. For those who know a real East Coast bagel when they taste one, there's simply no comparison. Crunchy on the outside and dense and chewy on the inside, these bagels only get better when topped with lox from another New York City favorite tapped by Wexler, Russ & Daughters.

Welcome Chicken + Donuts head baker Casey Hopkins-Johnson works hard while we're still sleeping to make sure the restaurant's pastry case is stocked with more than a dozen kinds of doughnuts every single day. That's quite a feat considering it requires making at least three to five kinds of dough and who knows how much ingredient prep for flavors such as maple bacon and rose pistachio. At Welcome, the proof is in the doughnut.

Urban Cookies and Bakeshop
Judy Nichols

It's confusing, we know, but you'll actually find the best cupcakes in town at a cookie store — Urban Cookies, to be exact. This name situation so confounded TV producers that in 2011, when Urban Cookies baker Brady Breese competed on the Food Network's Cupcake Wars (and by the way, he won), he did so with the business name of OllieCake. But really, what's in a name as long as we can have our cupcake and eat it, too — which is just what you can do at Urban Cookies on Seventh Street. You'll find classics like vanilla and chocolate, but the flavor variety is far wider and more satisfying than just that — orange olive oil and rosewater, anyone. The flavors are always changing, so stop in to see (and taste) what this award-winning bake team is up to.

Essence Bakery Cafe
Courtesy of Essence

Every time we go to Essence Bakery, we swear we're not going to go crazy with the pastries — and then we do. It's not that we have no self-control; it's just that the buttery French croissants and delicate macarons are seriously impossible to resist. Chef and owner Eugenia Theodosopolous trained at the Ecole Lenotre in Paris and even was inducted into the Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame as Pastry Chef Extraordinaire, so, really, it's no big shock that she knows how to make some of the very best French pastries anywhere in town. In addition to the near-perfect croissants and the rainbow of macarons (try the pumpkin spice and salted caramel), there also are almond croissants, cheese croissants, and delicately layered mille feuille.

Zak's Chocolate
Chris Malloy

We consider ourselves lucky to have Zak's Chocolate, a chocolate micro-factory, right in our backyard. Owners Jim and Maureen Elitzak opened Zak's in a Scottsdale strip mall earlier this year. From the modest storefront they produce single-origin organic chocolate bars and confections. They do the entire process, from bean to bar, themselves — everything from roasting raw cacao beans to hand-wrapping each chocolate bar in decorative paper. The Elitzaks opt to include a small amount of cocoa butter in each bar, giving their high-quality creations a creaminess that's rare in the artisan chocolate game. Plus, the single-origin bars showcase the different flavor profiles of each variety of cacao, bringing local chocolate to a truly artisan level.

Karl's Kronuts

There aren't many places in town where you can find staples like freshly baked bread and bran muffins as well as specialty goods like fruit tarts and the "kronuts" a version of Dominique Ansel's famous dessert. But you can at Karl's Quality Bakery. This decades-old bakery and chocolate shop relocated in 2014, but you still can find the same quality and friendly service that kept the place in business for so long. Some of the most popular offerings include the apple fritter, a near-perfect doughnut that's almost always sold out if you don't get there early enough, and the coconut raspberry brownie that's topped with a thick layer of toasted coconut. Father-and-daughter pastry chef team Karl and Christine Boerner keep the cases stuffed with all sorts of good things to eat and even offer seasonal treats such as American-flag topped pies for the Fourth of July and bunny-topped cupcakes at Easter time.

Readers Choice: Noble Bread

Cowboy Ciao Wine Bar & Grill
Heather Hoch

You definitely should make time to enjoy a meal at Cowboy Ciao. But we also wouldn't blame you for just stopping in for dessert. Pastry chef Country Velador makes the best part of the meal, dessert, even more fun than it already is, with playfully named creations that take inspiration from, well, just about everything. On the restaurant's most recent dessert menu, you'll find options including Japanese-style "Cotton" Cheesecake, made with mango gelée and sesame tuile, and the Cereal Killer! cookie, featuring Frosted Flake ice cream and brittle. Mainstays of the menu include an ice cream flight that includes three flavors of Velador's creation. We're partial to the O Canada Peanut Butter Bar, inspired by the Canadian staple that originated in Nanaimo, British Columbia.

There's no shortage of places to get ice cream and other frozen treats in this town. But when it comes to finding top-quality Italian gelato, the options are limited. One of the very best places to indulge your sweet tooth is definitely Gelato Dolce Vita, an east Mesa gelato shop and grocery owned by Walter and Marti Bergamaschi. Both attended Gelato University near Bologna and apprenticed at two different shops before opening Gelato Dolce Vita in the Valley, and their dedication to serving true Italian gelato shows in the quality of the shop's product. The flavors range from classics such as vanilla and stracciatella to more unique offerings including mascarpone and rice pudding. You can even taste the couple's gelato at other dining spots, including Peixoto Coffee in Chandler and Paris Gourmet in North Phoenix.
Sweet Republic
Courtesy of Sweet Republic

Seven years after opening its doors in North Scottsdale, Sweet Republic continues to wow us with one-of-a-kind flavors of gourmet ice cream. This year, owners Jan Wichayanuparp and Helen Yung made us swoon with doughnut ice cream made with Welcome Chicken + Donuts ring cakes. The culinary mash-up between two well-loved eateries featured locally made doughnuts swirled right into Sweet Republic's signature ice cream base while doughnut "croutons" added more flavor and crunch. Of course, we'll always love the ice cream shop's signature flavors, which include unexpected combinations such as seasonal Sichuan Chocolate, Hop Knot IPA ice cream made with local Four Peaks beer, and Meyer Lemon Olive Oil. And with new locations in Phoenix and at Sky Harbor Airport, it's never been easier to get your Sweet Republic fix.

Readers Choice: Sweet Republic

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