The Torch Theatre

Ever wanted to study the art of improv? You totally can at the Torch Theatre, where a dedicated cast of improvisers will walk you through the ins and outs of live, spontaneous comedy. Director of education Jacque Arend leads open classes on the art of taking an audience suggestion and building on it for hilarious results. The crew at Torch help make sense of the character building and dialogue required to construct comedy gold in front of a live audience, absent the safety net of a script. Class sizes are small and intimate (and we highly recommend the kids' program), but the potential for yucks is great.


If you've ever wanted to feel like you were walking into a Lisa Frank print, try La Moda just north of 16th Street and McDowell Road. Around since 2007, La Moda specializes in dresses ideal for weddings — offering bridal gowns, bridesmaids' dresses, and flower girl getups — plus proms, baptisms, holiday parties, and of course, quinceañeras. Think ruffles, beads, and skirts in every cut and color of the rainbow. La Moda is an authorized dealer for formal quinceañera vendors like Vizcaya by Mori Lee, Bella Sera, Diana Ponce Boutique, and the Quinceañera Collection by House of Wu. Accessories must accompany a dazzling new quinceañera dress, and they've got sparkling shoes, tiaras, scepters, masks, and more. And just so you know, tuxedos are also available here, provided by Jim's Formalwear and Formal Knight Tuxedos.

Mexican Arts-Imports

Need a cool gift for that person who has everything? Love browsing a store where you will always find something new and different, even if you were just there a week ago? Mexican Arts Imports is the place. The cool (and very funky) store at the southeast corner of 24th and Polk streets, across from the Arizona State Hospital, is definitely a destination even if you didn't know you needed a cool bronze sun with a mirror in it. Or a small statue of a lucha libre star from years gone by. Talavera, Day of the Dead, religious items ... it's all there in the jam-packed store. Warning: You can easily get lost here. But what a way to go. Viva la Mexican Arts Imports.

Don't be fooled by the sparse exterior of the building; La Nueva Piñata has the best hand-made piñatas around — and for totally reasonable prices. Need a three-foot-tall Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle piñata or one that looks like a Bud Light bottle? This place has you covered. It sells Disney characters, unicorns, the Cardinals mascot, SpongeBob SquarePants, and traditional giant stars. The owners make everything on-site, and if you bring along a photograph of what you want, they'll make it for you. So next time you throw a party, whether your guests are children or a bunch of bridesmaids, consider adding a piñata to the mix because, let's be honest, who doesn't like a game that ends with a shower of candy?

Where do you go for that hard-to-find bergamot hair tonic designed to imbue your hair with luster? Or nutritional supplements to tame your hot flashes? Or a St. Jude candle, so that you can build your own altar to the lost cause looming in your life? Yerberia Santa Fe is a beloved neighborhood yerberia on the east side specializing in natural Mexican and Latin American health products. Come here for the best and latest selection of health supplements, specialty teas, candles, plus a smattering of Spanish-language books covering everything from introductory tarot reading to dream interpretation. We can't promise you that a visit will deliver newfound health or a rejuvenated spirit, but it will definitely offer an interesting shopping experience.

When we hear someone has chosen to style their home with a "Mexican" or "Southwestern" twist, we can't help but cringe a little. It's not that we don't like and appreciate this kind of decor. When it's done well, the style can be gorgeous and almost transport your home to another place. But all too often, "Mexican" basically means sombreros tipped over the face of slouching figurines. If you want to do it right (and for a great price), check out Casa Decor in Tempe (and now in Cave Creek). Take your pick from rich, sturdy wooden cabinets, high-backed carved dining chairs, wardrobes with iron flourishes, and more. Trust us. There won't be a sombrero in sight.

About 20 percent of the Valley's population speaks Spanish, per 2010 census data. And that is why it's mind-blowing that until pretty recently, there was a dire lack of Spanish-language bookstores. But Palabras is changing that. Inside the seafoam green and bright yellow Easter egg of the La Melgosa building on Grand Avenue, the downtown librería will sell and lend books to its lit-loving patrons. As of this writing, it's only open on weekends, with plans to launch a full schedule this fall. Until then, keep an eye out for Scrabble game nights and chances to contribute your gently used reads to the growing collection.

Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center

Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) might roll around only once a year, but the skulls, monarch butterflies, and other motifs meant to celebrate ancestors who've died are a part of everyday life in Mexican culture. And quite a few Phoenicians have embraced them, too, sporting iconic sugar-skull images on everything from bolo ties to hipster socks. Walls, bins, and shelves at La Tiendita (meaning "the little shop") inside the Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center are filled year-round with jewelry, magnets, masks, home decor, fashion accessories, and crafts channeling Day of the Dead and other Mexican traditions. Many are made by local artists, and there's a good chance you'll get to meet and talk with at least one local artist while you're there. Pieces of colorful tissue paper called papel picado, perforated to create Day of the Dead designs, hang suspended from the ceiling — proving that shopping, as you've long insisted, is actually an essential life-affirming act. Go ahead, get that fancy skull-print handbag or wallet. Your abuela (grandmother) would have wanted you to go for it.

This place is off the beaten path, for sure, but we think you'd be hard-pressed to find such a varied and creative selection of tile north of the border, so never mind if you have to head to an all-but-deserted swath north of the airport. The gregarious staff will shove, er, nudge you toward just the right choice, whether it's large and plain or tiny and ornate. Accent your new floor with a hand-painted chair or an armoire; they've got that, too.

When you were a kid, did you ever dream of hiding in a clothing rack and getting locked in a mall overnight? Being able to explore every part of every store, make whatever you wanted for yourself in the food court, and shop at your leisure with no one else around? Well, if we could get trapped in any mall, it would be Desert Sky Mall. We are not exaggerating when we say this mall not only has just about everything you could need, but more importantly, everything you could want. In one visit, you could buy a bike, see a movie, plan a quinceañera, snack on delicious tosti elotes, be entertained by student folklorico dancers, make funeral arrangements, and get your sewing machine repaired. See what we mean? Desert Sky Mall has it all.

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