Everyone loves a good comeback story, and Nino McCurley's tale is as good as it gets. In 2010, the Valley resident broke his back while working as a local firefighter and lost his job. Four years later, a distracted driver plowed into his motorcycle, landing him in a wheelchair for 28 weeks and requiring him to learn how to walk again. Frustrated and destitute, McCurley started hustling to survive, first by selling his paintings at local art shows. Then, his cousin showed him "crazy-ass YouTube videos" of rolled ice cream being made by street-food carts in Thailand, which inspired McCurley. "I was like, 'I don't know what the fuck that is, but I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna be the best at it and bring it to Phoenix,'" McCurley says. He did just that. He bought the equipment, taught himself how to make the Thai-style frozen dessert, and debuted his food cart, Nomadic Ice Cream Rolls, in 2015. It was a big hit, leading McCurley to open a brick-and-mortar location in downtown Glendale in 2017. In July 2018, he transformed the spot next door into Lemoncade, a combination lemonade stand, art space, and retro arcade. Because that's just how he rolls.

Nathas Kraus, a baker without a bakery, sells a dazzling array of classically French pastries a few days a week at farmers markets such as Gilbert and Uptown. Though his cream-flavored "rhino" croissants and butter-saturated kouign-amann are showstopping, his simple breads are quietly excellent. If you get to his stand before everything sells out (hint: get there early and prepare to wait in line even then), be sure to walk away with La Parisienne. This long, lancing loaf is naturally leavened. It cuts into rounds or larger swaths (perfect for cheese) with a compact, crackly, almost hard shell and a light interior. This is Old World bread baked with skill and sweat, the kind of loaf that inspires trans-Atlantic trips.

Look hard enough, and a good bagel will turn up — even in Arizona, the land of bad water. Bagel-making is an art form and a really good spot comes along rarely, but Bagel Man is that spot. Found in the center of Ahwatukee near the Warner-Elliot circle, Bagel Man truly must have something in the water for its dough to turn out as tasty as it does. Plain, everything, salt — Bagel Man has it all. Order with cream cheese, and it's generously spread edge to edge. Order with nova lox, and each bite will taste of fresh smoked salmon on a pillowy piece of dough that doesn't need to be toasted; it's always ready to eat. Be prepared to wait in line on the weekends and maybe even on a random morning midweek, but you won't find anything better for miles and miles.

The Village Coffee and Creperie
New Times Archives

Almost good as this place itself was discovering it. What began as a Sunday lark for a short road trip in the northern reaches of the Valley turned into a treasure hunt we didn't realize we were on. There we were, a carful of hungry travelers, cruising through the boulders and nice homes of Carefree and Cave Creek, when we pulled into a town square-style shopping center off Cave Creek Road for an early lunch and found the Village Coffee and Crêperie. We could tell the place was special right off from the large menu of crepes written on a blackboard. We ordered the pesto crepe, a fruit bowl, the "original" breakfast crepe (scrambled eggs, red peppers, and other good stuff), and a Bumble Bee crepe with bananas and Nutella to share, plus a couple of espresso drinks. Russian immigrant Marina Matatov runs the place, and her grandmother shared some of the crepe recipes now served at the shop. We may not try all of them, but sampling more of these crepes is well worth the travel time.

Doughnut shops are, by definition, a simple place for a simple food. That's why it's so exciting when a doughnut-specializing spot turns up the dial and delivers something upscale. Cue the fanciful options from The Local Donut in Scottsdale. For instance, the creme brulee doughnut: Take deep-fried dough and add a pudding-like filling, then glop on the glaze and give the whole thing a little bit of heat. The scorched top layer of this creation is dotted gently with a burnt-pink raspberry. The Local Donut also offers Nutella-flavored croissant doughnuts on the weekends, other fancy doughnuts like the peach pie or s'mores, and straight-up sprinkles.

Ingo's Tasty Food
Jackie Mercandetti

The saying "you want what you can't have" was created by someone who wanted to eat these tasty cinnamon delights during the week. Only sold on the weekend, these six-minute cinnamon rolls from Ingo's Tasty Food in Arcadia "will make a nice man out of the meanest," to quote The Lonely Island. The rolls are made to order and sell out fast, so arriving early is the best decision. The rolls are small, so don't feel bad about eating as many as humanly possible. It's unlikely anybody could regret the cinnamon smell mixed with the oozing frosting mashing together to make one scrumptious combination.

Sweet Republic
Evie Carpenter

Ice cream is the perfect respite for Arizona's relentless summer heat, and there's no better place to cool off than Sweet Republic, owned by Helen Yung and Jan Wichayanuparp. Sweet Republic's rotating array of unique ice cream flavors will keep you coming back to try as many as you can. There are top-quality takes on classic flavors, like Madagascar vanilla, salted butter caramel, and apple pie, but the menu has also featured more exotic choices, like blue-cheese ice cream with Medjool dates. There are even vegan and gluten-free options for those who really can't resist the siren call of sweet ice cream, even when your diet would rather you did.

You can (and should) find Denae Hostetler's bean-to-bar chocolates at places like Moon Dust Farms in Mesa and Highland Yard Vintage in Chandler. Hostetler sources only Criollo beans for the arduous process of turning them to high-end chocolate. She winnows using a machine that her dad built, grinds using stone, and roasts in a common kitchen oven. The love and intention are there, rippling through a final product that makes big-name chocolate taste like birthday candle wax. Hostetler sells truffles and cacao discs for mixing and forming into the Mexican chocolate drink with ancient Aztec roots. If you consider yourself a more-than-casual chocolate fan, tracking down these bars is a must.

Songbird Coffee & Tea House

Songbird Coffee & Tea House is the kind of coffee stand that turns heads. Meaning, if you're unfamiliar, you'll spot Songbird while driving on Third Street in downtown Phoenix and wonder what it possibly could be. The inviting yard party-style tables, the welcoming front porch, and within, the cozy coffee shop, all make this place really ... sing. The historic house, built in 1904, offers classic coffee and tea choices on its tight menu. And that Espresso Spritzer will make you practically dance off the front steps. There are also house-made pastries, and breakfast sandwiches, and a staff that will learn your order, and probably your name, after a visit or two. To further solidify the community feel, coffee-lovers can also expect live music, storytelling, craft nights, and a number of other occasions happening at Songbird.

Iced coffee is a necessity in Phoenix, and its potential goes far beyond the ozone-murdering hellscape of EDM and teenage hypoglycemia that is the Dutch Bros. drive-thru. Finding your iced-coffee spot is a rite of passage, and you shouldn't settle for a commodified mixture of machine-pulled espresso and sugar that comes with questions like (gag) "How many pumps?" Then, there's the real grail quest: go-to cold brew. The balance between elements in a good cold brew is almost unattainable. (Think about how much money you've wasted on cold brew from concentrate at the grocery store, only to end up with chalky imitation mocha taste stuck to the roof of your mouth.) But where so many have tried and failed, beCoffee on Roosevelt shines with untouchable grace. Four words: spiced habanero cold brew. This stuff is incredible — all the flavor and intensity of habanero with the smoothest spiced roast you've ever imagined. This is the best treat in the dead of summer, especially when you think about how you never have to sit in a scorching chain coffee drive-thru again.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of