Best Bagels 2020 | Bongiorno Bagels | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Dillon Rosenblatt

Who do you want making your bagels? At 3-year-old Bongiorno, you get a Culinary Institute of America grad and a former FDNY lieutenant and firehouse chef, both New York natives adhering to New York style. It's as good a bagel pedigree as you'll find in Arizona. Using a system that emulates the enigmatic H20 of the Big Apple, John Bongiorno and Ed Cancro kettle-boil bagels and then finish them in an old-school deck oven. All the right touches are there: chew, a whisper of fluff, seeds not only on the tops of sesame and everything, but on their undersides. As in New York, these bagels, when freshly made, are good enough that they should never see the inside of a toaster.

We're proud to say we make pretty decent cookies. So if we're abandoning our oven to go buy cookies somewhere, they must be incredible. The offerings at Urban Cookies meet this standard. They're big. They manage to be soft all over without being underdone in the middle. These are cookies that will have you closing your eyes and saying "mmm" like you're in a cookie commercial. Our favorites are the snickerdoodle and the dark chocolate with sea salt, but there's only good stuff here, like the oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, and pineapple coconut. We can also say from experience that the other baked goods at Urban Cookies are just as crave-worthy, from the cupcakes to the doughnuts. The shop has a coffee and tea menu too; if you haven't had enough sweetness yet, the birthday cake latte is quite tasty. As of press time, Urban Cookies is doing curbside pickup only, so you can get your sugar rush that much faster.

There's a special part of Old Town Scottsdale where a gourmet doughnut shop has more or less invaded. Alien Donuts, a.k.a. the Mothership, landed on Fifth Avenue in 2018 and keeps its display case loaded with delicious space-themed treats. Divided into specialty and classic doughnuts, the menu lists fun orders like the Chocolate Spacecake, Red Planet, Cinnamon Vortex, and Alien Ice. Some treats get extra cheeky, like the Moon Rocks doughnut holes, the Alien Probe bar-shaped doughnut, and the Space Jam doughnut — which is just a traditional jelly doughnut with chocolate and sprinkles and has nothing to do with Michael Jordan or Bugs Bunny. The alien chefs here get crazy with Savory Sundays, topping their doughnuts with sausage and gravy, chicken and waffles, and pulled pork and spicy barbecue. Alien Donuts also offers coffee, ice cream, something called a Rocket Shake, and vegan options. They deliver, too.

Evie Carpenter

In this sweltering desert, it's always a good time for ice cream, and Sweet Republic is a constant, tempting, reminder of that fact. Don't let the unexpected flavors here intimidate you. Dive into cold delights like the kulfi, a traditional Indian ice cream that Sweet Republic blends with hints of saffron, pistachio, and cream. Or stick with the Belgian chocolate, a straightforward crowd favorite that comes with no preservatives, artificial sweeteners, or additives. Owners Jan Wichayanuparp and Helen Yung make everything in-house, including the marshmallows, waffle cones, and other toppings; it's one of the reasons why Sweet Republic keeps appearing on national and local lists as one of the best ice cream parlors in the state. This ice cream is the opposite of manufactured. It's the real deal. (Note: A third location of Sweet Republic, located at 410 North Scottsdale Road in Tempe, was not open at press time but is scheduled to open in late September.)

You needn't cross the pond to indulge in a bit of Italian splendor. There's a lovely, wildly talented couple from Italy who make gelato for their cozy shop near Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, and spend their days welcoming people who make time to enjoy it. Alberto Della Casa and Letizia de Lucia arrived in Arizona eager to share their passion for artisanal gelato after two decades at food-related desk jobs in Italy. Trained by a gelato master in Chieti, they've finessed the fine art of gelato, creating rich varieties with primarily organic and locally sourced ingredients. The selection changes from day to day, so you'll find a fresh flavor to explore each time you visit. The pistachio is a revelation: Cool Gelato Italiano is one of the few places in town that makes it with real Sicilian nuts. We suggest you return often to try the rich Italian custard, the sweet stracciatella, or one of the shop's vegan flavors like guava or pomegranate.

Lauren Cusimano

You've heard of burnt ends in the world of barbecue. But what if you took that same approach and applied it to dessert? You'd get something like the burnt cheesecake at St. Amand Kitchen & Cocktails, which opened last spring in Chandler's Ocotillo neighborhood. It's the type of dish that would have all four Golden Girls gabbing till sunrise. This is a thick and heavy, crustless cheesecake — each bite is all cake. Its shiny black surface is topped with mandarins, a sweet goo for extra moisture, and a mint garnish. It also comes with a fun story: Its creator misread a recipe, creating a seemingly seared cheesecake sans the usual grainy (though usually delicious) crust, resulting in what turned out to be a literally perfect dessert. Pair it with the house-selected sherry and you'll have trouble deciding when to — or if you even should — leave. One catch: It's not on the permanent menu at St. Amand. It's on the list of specials, so if you spot it, be sure to flag down one of the extremely friendly servers and get that order in.

Absolutely Delightful, owned by Eleanor Dziuk and operated by Dziuk and her family, buys raw honey from Arizona's beekeepers and sells this sweetness on its website and at farmers' markets around town. A wide range of honeys are available — desert wildflower, mesquite, orange blossom — as well as beeswax candles, bee pollen, and even flavored whipped honey. Our favorite by far, though, is camelthorn honey. It's typically harvested from camelthorn plants in Winslow, Arizona, around July. In Arizona, it's classified as a noxious weed. But its honey is light and thick with a bright, floral scent that's irresistible.

When we crave boba, we head to Tea Stop, where the boba has just the right combination of chewy and melty. We're partial to the Mango Sunrise smoothie (fresh mango bits and boba) and the Purple Rain, a concoction with taro and the honey version of boba; you'll feel impossibly refreshed as you slurp down the last bits of its tapioca goodness. If you're looking for a little something extra, try the pandan waffle, a Vietnamese version of the breakfast favorite loaded with coconut and vanilla. You should explore the entire boba menu, though: You can't go wrong at Tea Stop.

A female-owned vegan cafe, 24 Carrots is as veggie-focused as its name suggests. Here, you'll find a substantial selection of 100 percent vegan and gluten-free items for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but 24 Carrots originated as a juice bar in 2008 and has stayed true to those roots. The juice options at the cafe, which is tucked away at the adobe-style Tempe Square Shopping Center, include some house concoctions like the Apple Zinger, Beet It, and the Carrots Over Easy, as well as some daily specials. These are often scrawled on the charming (colorful with chalk and doodles) blackboard behind the register (which is also often posted on Instagram in case you'd like to check ahead). The knowledgeable staff is there to guide you in the right direction if you have any questions, such as if ginger would taste good with carrots, or what would be the best order if you feel a cold coming on. And the dining room is as appealing as the juice in your hand, so feel free to stick around for a sipping session.

In the midst of a global pandemic, English Rose Tearoom was there, packaging up to-go containers of sandwiches, petit fours, and scones with all the fixings as part of its curbside offerings. That was hardly a surprise. All year long — during regular years, at least — owner Jo Gemmill goes above and beyond, wowing adult and child guests alike with events like an afternoon with Edgar Allan Poe and a visit with Santa in July. Along with multiple variations of afternoon tea, menu items like the green apple, chicken, and Stilton salad; cottage pie; and mini teacups of the soup of the day make this place truly stand out. Bonus: There's a lifesize cutout of Queen Elizabeth herself you can pose with as you walk in. Do it for the 'gram.

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