• Best Of
  • Shops: Fine Foods, Spirits & Specialties
Best Bakery
Paradise Bakery
several Valley locations
Whoever coined the phrase "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" never considered the sinful creations that Candy's turns out. Candy's starts with immense, hand-selected Granny Smith apples of unparalleled crunch and flavor. Then it mounds this gift of nature with various combinations of ingredients, ranging from traditional caramel to peanut butter, macadamia nuts and Heath Bar pieces, completely obliterating any nutritional value that might have originally existed. It's a challenge to figure out how best to eat one of these delectable monsters (we used a knife and fork), but it's a challenge well worth meeting.
If Yusef's doesn't have it, you don't need it. That's our thought, anyway, after browsing through hundreds of Middle Eastern and North African items stocked on the shelves of this delightful shop.

All the basics are covered: powdered sumac, Turkish coffee, teas, zaatar (thyme and sesame seeds to be blended with olive oil and dipped with pita), and kadaifi (phyllo dough). The store's got the fancy stuff, too, like Israeli olives, Lebanese green beans, Bulgarian eggplant dip and a tasty variety of feta cheeses. And Yusef's has got novelties, like a must-have tobacco water pipe called a hubba-bubba.

Yusef's? You said it.

Pop rocks!

And nowhere in town will you find a wider selection of the bottled bubbly (non-alcoholic variety) than at this fizz fanatic's paradise, a soda supermarket that stocks hundreds of hard-to-find carbonated potables.

Specializing in regional and imported sweetened swills you either haven't tasted in years or never knew existed, the inventory (some 300 brands) includes such arcane quaffs as Mexican Coca-Cola (despite Coke's official company line, it's far zingier than its domestic cousin), Dr Pepper from a maverick Texas bottler that still uses pure cane sugar, and Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray, which tastes a lot better than it sounds. In short, enough effervescent nectars to finance your dentist's Malibu beach house.

Burp!

The coffee at Lux is superb, but that's not what keeps the place packed. Instead, it's the super-cool vibe you find in the patrons and the decor. Both are downtown chic, looking straight out of New York or San Francisco, rather than central Phoenix. But no, here they are, the intelligentsia of Phoenix -- city council people canoodling with artists, architects hanging with academics -- thinking big thoughts and making big plans on the hip, low white vinyl chairs. There are some out there who have started boycotting Lux, saying the snooty staff is a buzz kill. It's true, we've felt the chill from behind the counter. But we figure it's just cuz the folks at Lux are so much cooler than we are. And we're willing to live with that, in exchange for a really good latte.

Readers' Choice: Starbucks

Sportsman's is the largest volume, single location, independent wine retailer in the state's history, which doesn't begin to tell the story. The 20 staff people have a combined 250 years' experience with the sauce, and that includes two certified wine specialists and three certified sommeliers. This might explain why Bon Appètit magazine selected Sportsman's as one of the top 50 wine shops in America. Michael Fine added Arizona's first wine bar to the retail operation in 1993, which became a runaway hit with everyone from Tesseract moms to singles looking to avoid the obviousness of the meet market. This winter Michael will open up a second shop on the west side at Arrowhead Ranch.

We can't pronounce most of the names on the shelves of this little central Phoenix market, but we know it's the place we go when we want the most delicious lemon soup we've ever had. Or the freshest pita, or tastiest kebabs and tandoori chicken salad. The Middle Eastern Bakery, which has been around for years and, lucky for us, has endured recent face-lifts, has a wide selection of spices and hard-to-find items like Turkish coffee. We keep coming back for the rice pudding -- and vowing that one of these days, we'll pick up one of the cookbooks for sale and put all those items on the shelves to good use. Until then, we'll take home some hummus.
As that sage philosopher Butt-head once remarked to his pal Beavis, "Variety is the spice of life, dillweed!" We couldn't agree more. Maybe that's why we think Lee Lee Oriental Supermarket is one of the coolest places on Earth. The 52,000-square-foot bazaar includes delicacies from all over the planet, and you could literally spend a lifetime just checking out all the funky items offered. There are beers from Thailand, China, Singapore and Japan; a selection of ice creams you'll never find in Fry's, such as Chinese-style, lychee-nut flavored, and taro (purple yam) ice cream from the Philippines; a butcher's section featuring oxtail and pork uterus; a fish department that offers live catfish and golden carp, as well as fresh skate wings and baby octopus; and a produce aisle with tamarind from Thailand, tiny Indian eggplants, and Korean melons, to name but a few. Beavis and Butt-head, however, would probably enjoy the hot deer jerky and the prepared squid balls best. "Heh-heh, he said balls . . ."

Maybe your house was filled with the smell of fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies every week when you were a kid. Or maybe your mom's idea of making cookies was opening a package of Chips Ahoy!. Whether you're reliving your childhood or compensating for it, you'll want to drop in on Fat Cat Cookies. Every morning finds owner Linda Schneider up to her elbows in delicious cookie dough. She and hubby Kem make 18 varieties, from basic chocolate chip, peanut butter and sugar cookies to whisker-lickin'-good specialties such as "cat's meow" (white chocolate and macadamia nut), "purr-fect pineapple" (crushed, unsweetened pineapple in a soft, cakelike cookie), "cat's whiskers" (white chocolate chips, pecans and a touch of rum flavoring) and the "original fat cat" (chocolate, walnuts and peanut butter chips). If you're lucky, you might even get to meet Boston, the "boss cat" of the operation.
Here's a little-known fact: Japan has the coolest convenience stores in the world. Shelves brimming with colorful goods in irresistible packaging -- whimsical bags of candy in flavors like peach, yogurt and soda pop, a mind-boggling array of canned iced teas and energy drinks, fancy bottles of sake, pastel bottles of shampoo, and all the ingredients you'd need to make comfort foods like yakisoba (noodles) or tonkatsu (pork cutlet) -- they make shopping for necessities into a full-blown adventure.

Although we'll probably never stop wishing that Phoenix 7-Elevens were more like their Japanese counterparts, we're quite satisfied with Fujiya's Tokyo oasis in Tempe. It's not just the place to get our fix of ultra-minty, caffeinated Black Black chewing gum, squishy white bread in rectangular loaves, or mochi-covered ice cream. Around noontime, it's also a pit stop for freshly made -- and affordable -- sushi and boxed lunches. To scary mini-market nachos and withered hot dogs, we say, "Never again!"

Best Of Phoenix®