Food nerds, listen up. If you think something has to be artisanal, handmade, or just really expensive to be great, then you obviously haven't tried the canned biscuit doughnut at Okra Cookhouse & Cocktails in central Phoenix. After your meal of excellent Southern fare like Tennessee hot fried chicken or a smoked ham hock with black-eyed peas and greens, it may be hard to find room for dessert, but do it. You'll be rewarded with a fluffy, deep-fried doughnut with a thin, crisp exterior that's coated in salty-sweet caramel that sticks to your fingers, lips, and just about anything else it touches. It may be made with simple canned biscuit dough, but a few seconds in a deep fryer turns the mundane into something magical. And to truly up your experience, order it topped with a couple of Okra's fried chicken skins. The combo of salt, fat, and sugar is the perfect note on which to close out your dinner.

Tracy Dempsey Originals
Jim Louvau

If there was a crown for being the dessert queen of the Valley of the Sun, it'd be sitting prettily atop Tracy Dempsey's head. Not only has she been one of the Valley's top pastry chefs for more than two decades, but she also continues to create fun, creative dessert menus for some of the city's top restaurants. Ever wrapped up a meal at Citizen Public House or Crudo with a delectable dessert? Thank Dempsey, whose specialities include playful mashups like s'mores bread pudding or an elevated brownie sundae made with strawberry ice cream, fleur de sel caramel, and banana-peanut caramel corn. This year, Dempsey opened up her commercial bakery in Tempe to retail customers, meaning you can pick up some of her best-loved confections when you need to have a serious "treat yo self" moment. Our go-to is Dempsey's pecan bacon brittle, a candy so light and buttery you'll never be able to have just one piece.

Doc's Artisan Ice Creams
Lauren Saria

Discriminating gelato lovers know where to find the best, creamiest stuff in town: Doc's Artisan, where the Italian-style ice cream is made in small batches using quality ingredients, many of which are locally sourced. The flavor selections are regularly updated at this friendly ice cream shop, but it's pretty easy to find at least one flavor to fall in love with on any given visit. The pistachio-almond is superb, smooth, and delightfully nutty, and sophisticated flavors like chicory coffee and Grand Marnier make regular appearances on the shop's chalkboard menu. The gelato here is creamier and often less sugary than others, which adds to the simple pleasure of indulging in a cup of ice cream. The shop also makes short batches of tasty gelato ice cream pops. 

Sweet Republic
Courtesy of Sweet Republic

We don't need goggles and a lab coat to enjoy our ice cream. You can have all that silly novelty science experiment business. We'll take our ice cream handcrafted and rich, built from local ingredients like peaches or rhubarb, and even the occasional baked good from Welcome Chicken + Donuts across town. Helen Yung and Jan Wichayanuparp take ice cream seriously, and it shows.

Super Chunk Sweets and Treats
Natalie Miranda

Country and Sergio Velador are the sweetest couple we know, so it only makes sense that the two run a candy shop that would make Willy Wonka jealous. There's definitely a scientific method to their madness, which includes odd but delicious gummies and other candies; the best sweet/salty popcorn combos we've ever sampled; ice creams and ices; and sprinkle-covered cakes. Super Chunk also retails an assortment of high-end, exotic chocolates, including one of our favorites, Zak's. Country doubles as the pastry chef at next-door Cowboy Ciao, so you can try her wares there or stop by the super-cute shop for a sweet and even a sandwich, one of the couple's latest menu additions.

If your childhood fantasy is an entire grocery aisle full of candies from all over the world, then you need to make a trip out to Mesa's AZ International Marketplace, where all your sugary dreams can come true. This gargantuan market is a sort of international Wal-Mart, with everything from dozens of varieties of soy sauce to binders, backpacks, and dog toys on its shelves. The selection of international foods is the biggest draw, with shelves stocked with everything you could need to whip up a recipe from any corner of the globe. There are giant jackfruits in the large produce section and any piece of a cow you could want to eat, packaged up in plastic wrap over in the meat cases. In bulk, you can buy more than a half-dozen varieties of dried chilis, and in the frozen-food case, you'll find everything from spicy Chinese sausage to more flavors of mochi ice cream than you could ever have dreamed up as a kid. You want it? They got it. And if they don't, just ask. The staff is always willing to help hunt down items you can't find.

With nearly 100 vendors during the fall and winter seasons, it's not hard to understand why the Gilbert Farmers Market is one of the best places to get your shopping done on a Saturday morning. But the appeal goes beyond the numbers. Gilbert Farmers Market is also a year-round operation, meaning you can count on being able to find local produce and Arizona-made products any week of the year — and that's in addition to food trucks, games, and family-friendly entertainment. We love that some of our favorite food artisans — including Homeboy's Hot Sauce, Mama's Cold Brew, Proper Beast Charcuterie, and AZ Food Crafters — make regular appearances, along with food trucks such as Mustache Pretzels, Waffle Crush, and United Lunchadores.

The Maine Lobster Lady
Melissa Fossum

You'll know you've found the Maine Lobster Lady food truck by the sprawling line of "lobster stalkers" queued up alongside the mobile eatery; it seems no matter where or when the Maine Lobster Lady makes a stop, she always draws a horde of hungry fans. Every fall, owner Diana Santospago loads up her blue and green food truck to hit the metro Phoenix streets, serving freshly trapped Maine lobster in a variety of preparations. There's a classic Maine lobster roll, of course, loaded with hunks of sweet lobster meat and served on a buttered grilled roll, but also lobster bisque, lobster mac 'n' cheese, lobster salad, and even not-lobster dishes including clam rolls and fried fish. No matter what you order, you're guaranteed to get fresh, responsibly harvested seafood that's well worth the wait. Just make sure you catch Santospago before she packs up and heads back east for the summer.

Much like the fine wines being poured at this annual event, the Devoured Culinary Classic just keeps getting better with age. What started as a two-day blowout bringing together some of the biggest names in the metro Phoenix food scene has now grown into a weeklong schedule of events featuring top chefs, restaurants, winemakers, mixologists, and more. Of course, the weekend's Culinary Classic remains the premier event, and chefs don't seem to be reining in their Devoured offerings any time soon. Restaurants including Hana Japanese Eatery and Kai continue to raise the bar with multi-course tastings that make your typical food fest look like a $10 buffet line. As any true Valley food lover knows, there's a good reason these tickets sell out almost as soon as you can say, "More please!"

A well-stocked Mexican candy shop is a thing of beauty: tight rows of industrial shelving, stocked with brightly colored boxes of everything from yellow boxes of marzipan to sugary guava rolls to crinkly plastic bags erupting with tamarind-and-chili lollipops. This is the bounty you'll find at Dulceria La Flor, a small shop with a nicely curated selection of imported Mexican candies, all impeccably organized so that your eyes can easily make sense out of the sugary abundance. The shop also carries a good selection of the season's most popular piñatas, balloons, and salty Mexican snacks, so that it's nearly impossible to leave the store empty-handed.

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