Pizzeria Bianco

Everyone from the New York Times and Bon Appetít to Oprah and Martha has shown mad love for the pizza at Chris Bianco's Pizzeria Bianco. And in addition to Bianco's winning the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest in 2003, the restaurant's been nominated for the foundation's Outstanding Restaurant award several times. It might seem like a lot of fuss for a simple pizza spot. But with one visit, it's easy to understand the buzz. The restaurant's concise menu showcases six pizzas, each of which features Bianco's heavenly crust. Blistered and bubbled and a true thing of beauty, it's tinged with smoke and just the right amount of char. From the simple Marinara pizza to the bright and peppery Biancoverde, made with ricotta and arugula, Pizzeria Bianco continues to live up to its reputation as a don't-miss destination for pizza enthusiasts.

Readers Choice: Pizzeria Bianco

Grand Avenue Pizza Company
Lauren Cusimano

Grand Avenue Pizza's tiny dining room is jammed full of excellent and affordable by-the-slice Italian lunches. Owner and pizza chef Carson Wheeler, a native of Virginia, opened his pie shop about a year and a half ago in a long-vacant corner store at Grand and Fillmore, and set about pushing a menu designed after an old-school East Coast neighborhood slice shop, like the ones he knew from every corner of every borough in New York. Wheeler blasts his pies in a pair of standard gas pizza ovens, and his crusts are made using an old family recipe and topped with locally grown ingredients. What he does with flour and tomatoes and olive oil is worth checking out. Grand Avenue pies are wonderful straight from the oven and still tasty 20 minutes later — slices we've dragged home even passed the next-day, cold-slice-for-breakfast, eaten-over-the-sink-while-standing test: The refrigerated cheese and zippy red sauce hadn't soaked the crust, which retained the pliancy and flavor of bread, not cardboard. Another slice, please!

Jobot Coffee
Heather Hoch

Jobot has come a long way from its humble beginnings. The coffee shop is still as cozy as ever, but these days, the space has been opened up to create a brightly lit room full of tables, couches, and a comfortable chairs. You'll often find downtown residents hanging out and letting their creative juices flow, and when it comes time for a bite, they turn to Jobot's menu of classic, sweet, and savory crepes. Made in-house from scratch, these crepes can satisfy just about any craving. A simple one with fresh-squeezed lemon pairs excellently with coffee, while heartier options such as the Number 6 — made with garlic roasted turkey, mozzarella, spinach, and pesto — makes a filling lunch or dinner.

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.

Nocawich
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

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