Boba Tree
Boba Tree

The unfortunately named "cheese tea" sounds pretty gnarly, invoking images of Cheddar melting into a cup of Lipton, but these whipped-cream-cheese-topped teas are all the rage in Singapore and China — and now, in Mesa. The cheese topping is a whipped combination of milk and cream cheese, sprinkled with matcha (green tea powder). It's lighter than whipped cream, with a slight saltiness balanced by a subtle sweetness. The tea upon which the cheese floats is not the syrupy peach tea you might expect, but an unsweetened green tea that has all the grassy, herbaceous qualities you'd want in a good one. Unapologetic in highlighting the complex savory-sweet line that cheese can walk — as well as the almost bitter flavor of a good green tea, the tannins balanced by the unexpected foil of creamy, whipped cheese and milk — it's a good drink. And the combination of the creamy, luscious whip playing against the earthy, icy green tea is unlike any beverage flavor-texture combination you've had before.

Taqueria Los Yaquis
Katie Johnson

We live in a town where horchata, a seemingly ubiquitous, one-note drink, lives out many lives. Let's cross out stuff made from powder mix and focus on the real deal: Some are creamy and some are lean and refreshing. Some are sweeter than others. Some are rice-ier and some are very almond-heavy. Some are loaded with spices, chiefly Mexican cinnamon, although any warming spices are welcome. Some are made with barley instead of rice (technically, this is called cebada), while some come topped with espresso. At a few places, you can even get horchata with full chunks of melon and walnut floating around in it, which, while difficult to consume, isn't half-bad. But we'll throw our lot in with the classic, balanced, and milky style at Taquería Los Yaquis, parked outside Charlie's Phoenix every Thursday through Sunday and open very, very late. It's nowhere near too sweet, but it is just a touch on that end, and that's because the default salsa at Los Yaquis — the only salsa — is unapologetically, deliciously spicy and bitter. This is what horchata was made for.

If you don't like chocolate, skip ahead to the next category. (Also, what's wrong with you?) If you do like chocolate, you are in luck. The folks from Zak's and the folks from Super Chunk — two sweet shops (literally) in Scottsdale — have teamed up to make the richest, creamiest, most decadent dark chocolate ice cream we've ever tasted. You can get it at either shop, and we recommend you venture out to both — you know, purely as an experiment. So what if you have to eat twice as much ice cream? Maybe also sample the roasted strawberry ice cream at Super Chunk and stock up on chocolate bars at Zak's. You're conducting research — and supporting local businesses at the same time. Sweet!

Creamistry
Creamistry

We'll admit that the whole liquid nitrogen ice cream thing is probably a gimmick. If so, count us in on all the gimmicks, because Creamistry ice cream tastes fresh, sweet, and rich. There are many flavor options and mix-ins, and you can even get it dairy-free. This is something we can get used to, so we hope ice cream "created" with liquid nitrogen isn't just a fad that goes the way of fro-yo and (we're guessing) boba. We'd like to keep visiting Creamistry for a long time to come.

Sweet and fresh, light and delicious: That's what we look for in a doughnut. Something simple, something to pair perfectly with a cup of coffee to start the day off right. That's why we like Sweet Cream Donuts, located in southwest Phoenix. There are plenty of varieties available, from long johns, old-fashioneds, glazed, frosted with and without sprinkles, cinnamon rolls, cream- and jelly-filled, and more. All are great, but our favorite is the excellent apple fritter, the crispy, knobby, glazed exterior giving way to the light, moist insides. If you're not in the mood for something sweet, there's a fantastic croissant filled with ham and cheese. Sweet Cream does a little bit of everything, including sandwiches, boba teas, and Thrifty brand ice cream, but it's the doughnuts that keep us coming back for more.

Arizona Donut Co.
Lauren Cusimano

Eating late is something you're supposed to avoid. But what if you're like, really hungry? What if you've spent the night dancing or bar-hopping or hauling yourself out of Lyft cars? If that's the case, the glowing sign of Arizona Donut Co. is like a beacon in the night, and the lobby — staying well-lit at all hours of the night — seems like it's too good to be true. The 24-hour Tempe doughnut shop has a colorful array behind the glass, allowing you to look and choose your own toasted coconut, apple crumb, blueberry powder, raspberry cream, or double chocolate — among others — to take home or eat on the spot. Arizona Donut Co. also features boba drinks, coffee, anytime sandwich and breakfast items — and 24-hour delivery. Customers get a free doughnut on National Doughnut Day, because of course.

Desert at Lux
Dominique Chatterjee
Desert at Lux

You know what we look for in a coffee shop? A bar. Which is why we can never resist Lux, the (sometimes tragically) hip coffee bar hidden in plain sight off Central Avenue in the heart of Phoenix. From dawn past dusk, you can plug in your laptop, gather your friends, or both. There's art on the walls (our favorite pieces are by painter Randy Slack, a regular contributor) and music on the speakers (everything from classical to indie to Motown). Most of the chairs are comfy. No one will nudge you away, but you might feel compelled to order breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a few between-meal pastries. And did we mention there's a full bar?

Cartel Coffee Lab

One coffee shop (now with several locations) showed up in the earliest days of Phoenix's coffee scene and offers far more than a hip setting for your laptop. Cartel sets a high bar for sourcing and purchasing high-quality green coffee beans. No roaster in town is perfect, but we feel Cartel is equipping itself with the tools to last as a roaster for home brewers, wholesale clients, and in-shop sippers alike.

Five years ago, cold-brew coffee was the exception, less common than hot-drip coffee and espresso poured over ice. Now it's the rule, both at indie coffee shops and at Starbucks alike. Lower temperatures don't extract the acids that give hot coffee floral and acidic fruit-forward flavors, so you'll end up with something smoother, with notes that are more chocolate-like and nutty — when done well, at least. Year after year, be Coffee, using beans that could be described as well-developed, though certainly far from roasty, burnt, or smoky, seems to have figured out an equation that leads to the nearly perfect cup (at least, in our opinion). Best of all, they are consistent, unlike their competitors, which seem to treat iced coffee as an afterthought. Even better, the cold brew is strong. This is very important in Phoenix, where the sun shines hot, and a perfect-strength iced coffee becomes watery and weak, if not the moment you step outside, then the moment after. be Coffee's cold brew gives you some wiggle room. Extra credit for be Coffee.

The House Brasserie

Before Alec Baldwin's best line was probably something delivered as Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock, the blue-eyed scene stealer was well-known for the heatedly delivered, "Coffee's for closers only," from an early scene in 1992's Glengarry Glen Ross. As scary as he seemed in the role of Blake the big shot, that's not half as scary as a gnarly hangover. Allow us to present a local cure: the Coffee is For Closers cocktail from House Brasserie in Scottsdale. The drink consists of Press cold brew coffee, Tia Maria dark liqueur, demerara (a type of sugar), and lemon peel. The concoction runs you $12, but it will give you that boost of caffeine along with a little morning-after swill needed to make up for the night before. Nothing like drinking spiked, Baldwin-inspired coffee in a lovely Old Town Scottsdale environment.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of