Best Chocolate 2015 | Zak's Chocolate | Food & Drink | Phoenix
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.

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

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.
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

Imagine a brightly lit, cool warehouse stuffed with sweets: a dentist's dream, a parent's nightmare, and nirvana for the seeker of kitschy and obscure candy brands. Looking to color-code your kid's birthday candy bar? Sweeties has every hue of saltwater taffy and coated chocolate candy. What else? All shapes and sizes of lollipops, swirled in colors, stuffed with gum, ready for licking: every candy bar brand we could come up with and a few we'd never heard of; and all kids of gummis, including some shaped like chicken feet! Even if you don't have a particular event or craving, you've got to check out this place.

Look, we love that Phoenix continues to up its culinary game. But every once in a while, our digestive system needs a detox. Whether you're looking to recover from a night of hard drinking or a month of heavy eating, Juby True is all about giving you the juice to justify your past (or future) bad decisions. Edible repentance comes in the form of cold-pressed juices, smoothies, and a selection of chewable nourishment like salads and parfaits. Unlike your Big Mac and fries, most of Juby's menu offerings come with their own explanation of benefits: glowing skin, anti-inflammation, immunity boosting — even a healthy libido. Regardless of whether it's a healthy one-off pick-me-up or a structured three-day cleanse you're looking for, all Juby products deliver one thing in common: a guilt-free conscience.

It didn't take long for us to fall in love with Uptown Farmers Market. Between the ever-changing but always excellent selection of vendors and the fun, family-friendly atmosphere, this bi-weekly farmers market has something for everyone. During the cooler months, the Wednesday morning market is a don't-miss event; it's anchored by well-loved farmer Bob McClendon and his McClendon's Select produce and supplemented by top-notch vendors such as Noble Bread, Homeboy's Hot Sauce, and Mama's Cold Brew. Saturday morning markets are all about the community, with a bounce house for kids and the Veggie Valet, a program that let's culinary school students practice their knife skills on your produce. Shopping local has never been so easy.

Readers Choice: Phoenix Public Market

Whether you're looking for a giant tin of olive oil and freshly baked pita bread or Roma tomatoes and Italian eggplant, you can pretty much always find what you need to cook dinner at this Central Phoenix market. Baiz specializes in international foods — in particular, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern ingredients — but you can get most of the staples here, in addition to harder-to-find products such as puck cheese and Turkish coffee. The building doesn't look large from the outside, but step in and you'll find wide aisles full of dry goods and spices, a large produce section, a butcher counter, a deli, and a bakery. At the butcher, you can buy fresh halal meats including beef, lamb, and goat, while the bakery tempts with fragrant whole wheat and white pita bread, naan, and fresh baklava.

If you've eaten an organic salad during the winter in snowbound cities such as New York or Chicago, then there's a good chance you've eaten lettuce grown by none other than Arizona's own Duncan Family Farms. With more than 8,000 acres of organic farmland in Arizona and California, this giant farm produces massive amounts of lettuce and greens to processors who sell the produce as bagged salads. And Valley residents have probably seen some of the greens as they're growing; head west on the I-10 and you'll drive right by the farm's headquarters in Buckeye, where Arnott Duncan, a fourth-generation farmer, and wife Kathleen head up operations for one of the leading organic farms in the country. Duncan Family Farms grows everything from romaine to tatsoi, as well as beets and herbs — a fact that's sure to impress those who thought Arizona offered only drought-resistant plants.

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