Best Pancakes 2023 | Otro Cafe | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Jacob Tyler Dunn

Remember that saying about eating dessert first? Well, the pancakes at Otro Cafe make a strong argument for eating dessert for breakfast. These flapjacks come single or in a short stack and topped with fresh berries or chocolate chips. But the real winner is the Cajeta Flapjacks. This decadent breakfast starts with fluffy pancakes topped with fresh sliced bananas and creme fraiche. The whole thing is then drizzled with a dizzying, salty-sweet cajeta caramel and sprinkled with candied peanuts. It's rich, sweet, salty and over the top in the best way possible. Otro starts service at 8 a.m., meaning this dessert can be a very good way to start your day.

In our current age of wild, over-the-top doughnuts laden with toppings, there's something to be said for a doughnut shop that keeps it simple. At Dutch Donut Factory in east Mesa, some of the doughnuts have sprinkles. That's about it as far as bells and whistles go, but when the basic element is this good, you don't have to slap a bunch of stuff on it. All the classic varieties of doughnuts are represented here — plain, glazed, frosted — as well as other mainstays like cinnamon rolls, bear claws and apple fritters. They're excellent warm if you get there in early in the morning or later in the day, with just the right texture and sweetness.

Evie Carpenter

There's no shortage of ice cream shops in a place that sees more than 100 days over 100 degrees, but Sweet Republic's three shops continue to be where we love to cool off and indulge in inventive, sometimes surprising and savory flavors. Founded 15 years ago by Helen Yung and Jan Wichayanuparp, the ice creamery endures as a favorite with items that delight, from its Campfire S'mores Sundae to root beer floats. At the center of it all is hand-spun ice creams and sorbets. We're partial to salted caramel swirl and bananas Foster, but find ourselves coming back to try rotating seasonal flavors like sweet corn and dill pickle.

If you're fortunate enough to try authentic gelato in Italy, you'll probably spend the rest of your life looking for a similar version in your hometown. Phoenicians can stop searching, because Cool Gelato Italiano is in their backyard. Owners Alberto Della Casa and Leticia de Lucia, native Italians, began their foray into the food industry by working as consultants for various groups. They traded their desk jobs to make gelato and haven't looked back. They bring their knowledge of gelato and make it on-site. Some favorites include raspberry and Meyer lemon flavors; the sweetness isn't overpowering and the texture of the gelato is light and airy. But the fruit varieties aren't the only offering. There are choices like chocolate and hazelnut as well. The owners feature 20 varieties daily, and customers will feel like they're eating flavored clouds while sitting inside or on the outdoor patio. Try it once, and Cool Gelato Italiano will quickly become your go-to gelato spot.

From Airheads to Zotz, if you want to find candy from the current times or decades past, Sweeties probably stocks it. The size of a small supermarket at 13,000 square feet, it's a sweets superstore in which customers can find everything from elusive black licorice brands to an impressive selection of Jelly Bellys and so much more. Whether you thrill to find Necco wafers and Moon Pies or tins of Hello Kitty candies, it's all here. And if you want to make sure, you can search the website before you go and even order online. It has a robust selection of Mexican and sugar-free candy, too, and a mind-boggling lineup of sodas. In the back corner, there's an area of nostalgic toys and games that includes dozens of Pez dispensers — but don't dawdle too long there because there's so much to see in the candy aisles. Pro tip: Sweeties puts holiday-themed goods on clearance once the season has passed; check the shelves at the back.

Chris Malloy

Jim and Maureen Elitzak, owners of Zak's Chocolate, know how to turn a hobby into a successful business. Since 2015, they've been making and selling made-to-order chocolate bars, truffles, bonbons, peanut butter cups and caramel turtles. The chocolates are made with locally sourced ingredients and ethically sourced beans. Everything is done by hand, from sorting through the cacao beans to the packaging, which adds that special element to any chocolate that you choose. The products taste distinctly different from each other because the beans come from different regions, but everything is exquisitely delicious. The product line also includes items like drinking chocolate, chocolate whipped honey and cacao nibs. Zak's ships their goodies nationwide, but if you're a local customer, you'll need to put in your order online or over the phone before arriving at the shop; they're currently only open for pickup.

This artisan pasta maker uses high-quality local ingredients to craft its fresh noodles and sauces. The pastas are made from freshly milled heritage grains, imparting a bit of nuttiness and toothsome bite. They come in a variety of shapes not regularly found on grocery store shelves, from seashell-shaped gnocchi sardi to twisty gemelli. And for those who can't eat gluten, but still want a comforting carby dish, Sonoran Pasta Co. has it covered with chickpea pastas. Pick up a pasta at a farmers or specialty market to make at home — or have a local restaurant do the work. Chefs at spots such as First and Last use Sonoran Pasta noodles for dishes like cacio e pepe.

The Valley is no slouch when it comes to fresh produce, as anyone who's ever shopped at a farmers market can attest to. However, only a few purveyors provide decent peaches, and Amadio Ranch has the sweetest, juiciest fruits in town. These are the kind of peaches that drip down your chin when you bite into them and taste like candy. They seriously make you second-guess what you thought peaches tasted like before this. The donut peaches alone are life-changing, but Amadio also offers yellow, white, semi-cling and cling-free. Once you try them, you'll dream about these precious little bundles — which are usually sold in May and June — all year. Thankfully, they can be ordered in advance to pick up at the ranch or at local farmers markets (or in the case of Ahwatukee, at Amadio's own weekly farm stand). And if you want a reminder of the ambrosia they provide when they're not in season, Amadio Ranch owners Eric and Christina Amadio also run a cafe on-site at the farm called Peach Pit Bistro where you can get peach smoothies, shakes and pie, including peach pie in a jar.

We've loved Cutino Sauce Co. since it debuted as Homeboy's Hot Sauce in 2015, and we're not alone. From celebrity chefs like J. Kenji Lopez-Alt to late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, the fans of Jacob Cutino's hot sauces are found across the country. And the line of Cutino sauces has grown to include habanero sauces infused with strawberries and blueberries or earthy miso. Each tiny bottle packs a punch of spice that offers a satisfying burn but isn't tipping so far on the Scoville scale that it's scorching. For any avid cook or eater, these sauces make the perfect gift, available individually or in customizable four- or six-bottle sampler packs.

The lovely, quirky, laid-back Trans Am Cafe, tucked in the intersection of Roosevelt Street, 15th Avenue and Grand Avenue, has everything you could want in a coffeehouse. Big windows. Mismatched vintage tables of various sizes. Art covering the walls from floor to ceiling. A chess set. Kind staff. Soft-spoken patrons lounging and doodling in sketchbooks. Craft beer at night. And of course, good, strong coffee. That part is key. Not only does Trans Am Cafe provide Phoenix artists a gallery space and support other local creative endeavors, it also provides us the ideal space in which to drink a nice espresso, have a bagel sandwich and stare wistfully out a big window. What more can we ask for from a coffeehouse?

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