Best Ice Cream 2016 | Sweet Republic | Food & Drink | Phoenix
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.

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.

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.

The original restaurant shuttered almost two years ago, but later this year, the rooster will rise again. We're talking, of course, about chef Doug Robson's Gallo Blanco, which was once located inside the Clarendon Hotel and will relocate in the coming months to the Garfield neighborhood. The restaurant's cheeky name translates literally to "white rooster," a Mexican slang term for "white guy" and a not-so-ironic reference to the chef himself. While Robson might look like your average gringo, he was born and raised outside of Mexico City, and brings plenty of street cred to both his Mexican restaurants, Otro Cafe and Gallo Blanco. Robson grew up cooking traditional mole and making tortillas with his adopted grandmother before moving to Texas and later attending Scottsdale Culinary Institute. He worked under James Beard Award-winning chef Robert McGrath, and opened La Grande Orange as executive chef before striking out on his own with Gallo Blanco in 2009. Otro Cafe opened its doors several years later, helping cement Robson's reputation as one of the best chefs in town at turning out authentic yet approachable regional Mexican cuisine.

Today, he oversees the dining outlets at one of the Valley's top resorts, Scottsdale's Four Seasons at Troon North, and two years ago, he traveled to New York to cook at the famed James Beard House. But before chef Meliton "Mel" Mecinas became one of the top chefs in metro Phoenix, he came from humble beginnings that take us all the way back to the southwestern Mexican state of Oaxaca, known as the "land of seven moles." The self-taught chef learned the basics of cooking with his family in Mexico, eventually coming to Los Angeles at 18, where he began his culinary career as a $4.50-an-hour dishwasher. He eventually earned a spot working under Michelin-starred chef and restaurateur Joachim Splichal, during which time Mecinas says his formal training really began. He's been with the Four Seasons for a decade now, offering a top-quality dining experience at the resort's Talavera restaurant.

If there is one thing the Valley knows, it's tortilla chips. Just travel to anywhere outside of the Southwest, really, and try to buy a good bag of tortilla chips. For those who live in the northern part of Phoenix on the west edge of Sunnyslope, though, they know where to find a great bag of chips for less than you would pay for a medium-size bag of Tostitos and their ilk. El Rancho Market IGA, at the southeast corner of Dunlap Road and 19th Avenue, has the best chips in the city. There is nothing fancy about the packaging — simple, clear plastic bags secured with a twist tie, containing what many would agree are God's gift to salsa, guacamole, or homemade nachos. The chips themselves are perfectly crisp corn chips with just the right amount of salt for almost any taste. In addition to the chips, El Rancho Market IGA has a wonderful salsa bar, a great little in-store cafe serving all your Mexican favorites, and everything else you would need to complement the four or five bags of chips you will probably buy every time you go.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of