Best of Phoenix

Best of Phoenix 2019 in Drinks: Top Bars, Breweries, Booze, and Cafes

Best Coffeehouse: Songbird Coffee & Tea House
Best Coffeehouse: Songbird Coffee & Tea House Jacob Tyler Dunn
Any time you roll into a new city, or have visitors in town looking for recommendations, the information you need is this: Where is the best margarita? A close second: Where is a good place to get coffee? It goes on.

With such a sprawling city, intelligence on the best bars, breweries, bars, coffeeshops, brunch cocktails, and bar is crucial. We hope we can help with this guide to our Best of Phoenix 2019 winners for all things drink — cold brew to beer, Bloody Marys to Arnold Palmers, and wine to mezcal. We even mention a good spot for drinking after — or during — a bike ride.

Time to get thirsty.

Best Coffeehouse

Songbird Coffee & Tea House
812 North Third Street

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.

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Best Cold Brew Coffee: beCoffee
Lauren Cusimano

Best Cold Brew Coffee

214 East Roosevelt Street

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 Third Place for Everyone

Jobot Coffee & Bar
333 East Roosevelt Street

Jobot is why God created coffee shops. It makes the Friends gang's episodic hangouts at Central Perk look juvenile and tame. The long-standing Roosevelt Row establishment has grown into its new location at Third Street, and has beat all the odds to maintain the inclusive and unpretentious vibe of its old bungalow setting on the Row (perhaps accomplished by simply not turning half of the lights on). With excellent espresso alongside great craft beer selections, a full bar, a gated patio, an ice cream stand, and a full kitchen with vegan options, even the pickiest of your friends will find something to love here. Especially if it's bingo night. Or karaoke night. Or open mic night. Or, it's First Friday and the place is packed full of happy people watching the teenage nu-metal cover band across the street. Jobot is the place to take anyone and everyone.

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Best Hangout: El Charro Hipster Bar & Cafe.
Lynn Trimble

Best Hangout

El Charro Hipster Bar Café
1325 Northwest Grand Avenue

El Charro is more than a coffee shop experience. Husband-and-wife owners Francisco and Azul Peralta, former workers in STEM fields, have drawn from their world travels and aimed for more of a salon vibe. They hit that target. Sit at the bar, and unbidden, Francisco may pour you high-end mezcals, just so you can taste. This friendly duo source coffee blends from Mexico and mix some fascinating brews with them, including horchata-coffee hybrids and lattes fortified with marigold liqueur from Guadalajara. There is food (though there's no kitchen). There are folks hanging out, typing, reading, or talking under a mural of Frida Kahlo painted by the couple's daughter, Geraldine. There are group painting sessions, open mics, and musical artists. This could easily be your office. This could easily be your playground.

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Best Mexican Coffeehouse: Azukar Coffee
Patricia Escarcega

Best Mexican Coffeehouse

Azukar Coffee
7246 South Central Avenue

Spread comfortably through a simple, house-like structure on South Central Avenue, Azukar Coffee has every element of a superlative coffee shop. There is natural light, color from turquoise tabletops and florid paintings, and a deep sense of warmth that flows from more than simply the rush of hot caffeine to your head. Owner-operators Sandra and Norberto Flores greet you warmly when you step in — and then patiently guide you through the unconventional offerings if you please. Cajeta coffee beverages. Iced lattes with piloncillo. Pastries like pan dulce to go with your drink. Regulars post up at tables, break out laptops, and get to work. It’s easy to lose yourself and kick back with a mesquite-syrup latte, life’s bummers dissipating like steam from your cup. If you haven’t made it out to this 2-year-old spot yet, get going.

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Best Happy Hour: Lovecraft / Ale House. Bottle Shop. Smoke Kitchen
Chris Malloy

Best Happy Hour

3128 East Cactus Road

Is there anything better than knocking off work early to get cheap drinks and eats? (Answer: no.) Lovecraft in north central Phoenix is our favorite place to observe happy hour, which runs from 3 to 6 p.m. every day. The "ale house, bottle shop, and smoke kitchen" does a progressive happy hour; the closer to 3 you get there, the cheaper things are. We like the broken chip queso dip and the smoked jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped with bacon, and it's always fun to pick out a can of beer from the fridge (there's a great selection). Of course, we like to visit Lovecraft any time the doors are open for the green chile pork burrito, the beers on tap, the cool decor, and the friendly atmosphere.

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Best Stop After Your Morning Bike Ride: O.H.S.O. Brewery + Distillery
O.H.S.O. Brewery + Distillery

Best Stop After Your Morning Bike Ride

O.H.S.O. Brewery + Distillery
4900 East Indian School Road

The ride was supposed to be a preconditioning workout to get us primed for a planned 40-mile ride around South Mountain. We got an early start with our riding partner, who would lead the morning's trek. But after only about seven or eight miles of pedaling through local neighborhoods and canal paths on a perfect early-spring morning, we landed at O.H.S.O. for its "beer brunch." From there, any thought of improving our fitness level was pure fantasy. O.H.S.O., which has four Valley locations, touts its Arcadia pub as bike- and dog-friendly, with a patio facing the nearby well-used Arizona Canal trail that, at that point, is just north of Indian School Road. We ordered avocado toast, which with the beer was $13. The price was good enough to justify a second beer. Yes, the bike ride home seemed very long indeed. We've been back to O.H.S.O. on two wheels a couple of times since then, but planned it better — this is best done after, not during, the ride.

Best Arnold Palmer

Urban Beans
3508 North Seventh Street, #100

You're probably used to the most ubiquitous Arnold Palmer, a.k.a. the one at Starbucks. It's fine; it does the job. It only tastes terrible sometimes (all shade, all tea intended). You could do better though, and that's where Urban Beans' Arnold Palmer comes into play. There's a lot more about Urban Beans that we could gush about, but the Arnold Palmer is a refreshing start. Here's how you have to order it: 24 ounces, black tea, and don't mess with the sweetener (the baristas have that under control). When you get it, make sure it's well-mixed before you take a sip; once that's confirmed, you're good to go. That first sip is going to be the perfect balance of lemon and sweetness with the black tea peeking through. Keep in mind, we don't know any of the ratios the baristas at Urban Beans use; we just know it results in magic — absolute magic. We can taste it now. Are you on your way yet? Freshness is waiting.

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Best British-Style Tea Shop: English Rose Tea Room
Rudri Bhatt Patel

Best British-Style Tea Shop

English Rose Tea Room
201 Easy Street, Carefree

There's an unexpected British surprise in Carefree — a chance to enjoy fancy English tea time at English Rose Tea Room. As you walk into the small British-style tea shop, it's an explosion of everything English: hand-painted teacups, over 50 types of tea, merchandise commemorating the royal family, and of course, pictures of Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana, and Diana's sons, William and Harry. Owner Jo Gemmill is a native Englander and knows how tea is served in Britain. It isn't just about the tea. There are scones with Devon cream and strawberry preserves, crumpets, and quiches, and to slide into Downton Abbey mode, you can wear hats during your proper tea time. Cheerio!

Best Alternative Afternoon Tea

Tipsy Tea
2401 East Camelback Road

At a typical afternoon tea, you might nibble on some pastries, enjoy some scones with jam and clotted cream, and eat dainty cucumber sandwiches. At Tipsy Tea in the The Bees Knees dark-paneled bar inside The Camby, you still get the tiny crustless sandwiches, but with a bit more variety. Think a mango crab avocado slider or an Amarillo tater tot with caviar. Dessert is delivered in a cookie tin filled with colorful sprinkles and consists of delectables like pistachio cream pie and French macarons. And of course, there's the alcohol — it is named Tipsy Tea, after all. Tea is served hot or cold infused with liquor. Each spiked pot of tea is equivalent to throwing back a few cocktails, so they're perfect to split with a friend. If you're not feeling the tea concoctions, a glass of Champagne will do.

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Best Place to Drink a Cup of Authentic Chai: Om Bistro
Rudri Bhatt Patel

Best Place to Drink a Cup of Authentic Chai

Om Bistro
18631 North 19th Avenue, #150

Skip the line at Starbucks and head to Om Bistro for authentic chai. Don't let the white Styrofoam cup fool you — the no-frills presentation is the only way chai should be served. The warm waft of spices somersaulting in the air indicate this chai hasn't been rushed, but was made just as the street vendors in India do it. One drink of this deep mocha blend of ginger, cardamom, black peppercorn, sugar, and real Indian tea grounds (not a liquid squirt of processed ingredients you cannot pronounce) will transport you to Bombay. As Bollywood videos flash on the screen and you listen to the sounds of Hindi, you'll understand why true chai-drinking isn't meant to be rushed. Grab a table, call some friends, and explore India's version of tea time in a strip mall in the middle of Phoenix.

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Best Agua Fresca: The Rez, an Urban Eatery
Charles Barth

Best Agua Fresca

The Rez, an Urban Eatery
Multiple Locations

This food cart spotted in downtown Phoenix and Roosevelt Row is known for late-night Native American cuisine at various locales. The Rez, an Urban Eatery also can be seen at farmers markets and food festivals serving up frybread — even vegan and gluten-free varieties — plus Navajo burgers, blue-corn nachos, tamales, tacos, crepes, stew, and the menu item we're here for, its signature aguas frescas. Friday and Saturday nights mean aguas frescas till 4 a.m. — more or less. If you see a green jug, spring for the iced cups of the fresh lime-green concoction (though flavors do vary). It's a fun, complex mix of honeydew, basil, pineapple, jalapeño, and some other flavor that's just ... green.

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Best Place to Drink Like a Hippie: Lacuna Kava Bar
Lacuna Kava Bar

Best Place to Drink Like a Hippie

Lacuna Kava Bar
821 North Third Street

Kava, a plant known in the South Pacific for its soothing qualities, caught on with New Age spiritualists many years ago, as did kratom, a stimulant native to Southeast Asia. Recently, both plants have found a new consumer base. The legal drugs are experiencing a boom among fitness junkies and young urban professionals. Enter Lacuna Kava Bar, a relatively new downtown drinking establishment where hippie-plant evangelists congregate day and night. Stop by for an afternoon study session propelled by a cool kratom prickly pear lemonade. Or, skip the bars on a Friday evening and enjoy a hangover-free "kava colada."

Best Distillery

Arizona Distilling Company
601 West University Drive, Tempe

Though the craft food and beverage movement has made giant leaps this century, small-scale distilling has lagged behind the pack. Not Arizona Distilling Company. This is one of the local providers of gin, vodka, and whiskey that you'll want to seek out. To some degree, all vodkas are the same. Hit the whiskeys. With a core roster of four, some of which use grains from elite local providers, this Tempe distillery has options to go with the medals it has scored over a few years of competition. Grab a tour of the distillery. Grab a classic cocktail in the Old Walrus cocktail lounge. Kick it and sip made-right-there bourbon with enough sweetness and depth to make you think you're in Kentucky.

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Best Margarita: Taco Chelo
Taco Chelo

Best Margarita

Taco Chelo
501 East Roosevelt Street
If you'd like to have a seat and watch the denizens of Roosevelt Row walk by, one of the best spots is the patio wrapped around Taco Chelo. Picnic table-style seating allows you to focus on the main drag or quiet neighborhood (depending on which side of the table you occupy) while enjoying tacos, chips, and something to drink. That drink? It'll have to be the frozen house margarita — or Consuelo's Margarita. It's a simple mix of Jose Cuervo Tradicional, meaning 100 percent blue agave-rested tequila, plus triple sec, lime, and agave. You can add flavor, but original is best. It's blended with ice to create what we like to call the adult squishee. It's tart, it's sweet, and it melts fast, so anticipating a second round is not all that uncommon.

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Best Bloody: Mary Hash Kitchen
Hash Kitchen

Best Bloody Mary

Hash Kitchen

Multiple Locations

Hash Kitchen had a good year, and that's because it finally saw the opening of its fourth location in the Arcadia neighborhood. And what that new location has, as do the other Hash Kitchen spots, is a 60-item, build-your-own Bloody Mary bar. It's a like a Golden Corral, but for your one drink. It goes like this: Pick your own house-infused vodka flavor, then your scratch-made Bloody Mary mix, then your salt. Then, things get weird. Toppings include everything from pickles, olives, bacon, and vegetables to beef jerky and fried ravioli. Therefore, the best Bloody Mary in town is the one of your own making. A trip to the Bloody Mary bar is $13, or you can spring for the 32-ounce Big Hash Bloody Mary for $34.

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Best Mojito: Carly's Bistro
Lauren Cusimano

Best Mojito

Carly's Bistro
128 East Roosevelt Street

Touting itself as Roosevelt Row's favorite bistro, Carly's has a list of rotating draft and bottled craft beer, wine, and signature cocktails. But the best cure for that midsummer, right-out-of-the-car feeling is the classic mojito, a mix of rum, mint, muddled lime, simple syrup, and soda water. The mint and lime hit simultaneously, making it entirely refreshing. You may also add fruit, like watermelon, strawberry, or blueberry, which is pureed and strained fresh every day. With local artwork, performers, and views of Roosevelt Street, consider it your go-to cocktail lounge as well as bistro.

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Best Martini: AZ/88
Patricia Escarcega

Best Martini

7353 East Scottsdale Mall, Scottsdale

There is nothing more satisfying than a perfectly chilled, filled-to-the-brim martini. Here's a rule to remember: If the first couple of sips from your martini aren't taken by craning your neck to the glass and sipping it, hands free, to avoid spillage, it doesn't belong in the best-of conversation. When your martini is delivered at AZ/88, it is chilled, garnished abundantly, and brimming like an infinity pool. This is one of those places where if you don't know to order a martini, you will be forever grateful when you find out. You will find yourself back at AZ/88, time and time again, craving what is simply one of the best classic martinis you will ever have.

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Best Wine Bar: The Whining Pig
Lauren Cusimano

Best Wine Bar

The Whining Pig
Multiple Locations

Since its inception in 2013, the Whining Pig has become synonymous with "Phoenix wine bar." That's because there are now several locations throughout the Valley, like Arcadia, Gilbert, Ahwatukee, Desert Ridge, and downtown. But the wine is what makes customers knock off a little early to come in and hit the glass, meet friends, and maybe participate in some trivia. The Whining Pig's signature massive chalkboard menu offers an ever-changing selection of local and international wines and craft beers. For a quick snack, grilled cheese sandwiches and a pretty impressive meat and cheese plate are at the ready. Happy hour is 1 to 8 p.m. on the daily, which includes wine by the glass and all craft beers. But Whining Pig isn't just for post-work warriors, as every location is open late.

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Best Arizona White Wine: 2015 WildChild White from Pillsbury Wine Company
Alexandra Gaspar

Best Arizona White Wine

2015 WildChild White
6450 South Bennett Place, Willcox

We've changed our standards for judging the state's best wines this year. The winners have to be available at retail outlets in the Phoenix area. Arizona's wine industry is still relatively small, and most labels are only available in tasting rooms or from the wine clubs of the vintners. Case in point: The most honored white wine in the state this year was Pillsbury Wine Company's 2015 Bonnie Lee malvasia, which was the only Arizona wine to win a Best in Class at the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in January. But we couldn't find the malvasia at any local outlets. That's why we selected Pillsbury's 2015 WildChild White, which we found for around $20 at Total Wine and AJ's Fine Foods. The WildChild from film director Sam Pillsbury's vineyard always has been a favorite, and it was awarded two gold medals in San Francisco. The dry varietal is a blend of chenin blanc, riesling, and viognier grapes. It paired perfectly with walleye served hot off the grill.

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Best Arizona Red Wine: 2015 Aguileon from Dos Cabezas WineWorks
Cal Faber

Best Arizona Red Wine

2015 Aguileon
3248 Highway 82, Sonoita

In this category, the judgment of the experts worked beautifully with the availability of the wine. The 2015 Aguileon from Dos Cabezas totally dominated the 2018 AZCentral Arizona Wine Competition, winning both Best in Show and Best Red Wine for winemakers Todd and Kelly Bostock. It's another blend, primarily of Spanish tempranillo and graciano grapes with a taste of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and petite syrah tossed into the vat. We found the wine, priced around $30, at both Total Wine and AJ's Fine Foods. We took it home and immediately tried it with a seared porterhouse, medium rare, and the bottle was empty just like that. It's well worth the price and the accolades.

Best Mezcal: Mezcal Carreño
Chris Malloy

Best Mezcal

Mezcal Carreño
Multiple Locations

Two friends got together and decided to push a family booze recipe to make a living — that's the fascinating story behind Mezcal Carreño. The 90- to 92-proof mezcal originated in Oaxaca, Mexico, with the Carreño family, mezcal-makers since 1904. The mezcal recently began distribution in the United States, starting first in Phoenix. Overseers Ivan Carreño and Abel Arriaga of Mezcal Carreño are the friends behind the distinct, bubble-textured bottles, and if you happen to catch them at a food festival, they will gladly give you a quick history. Oh, and a sample of their mezcal, of course, if you're not already a convert.

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Best Brewery: Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
Lauren Cusimano

Best Brewery

Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
Multiple Locations

Arizona Wilderness fervently scratches a checkmark next to every imaginable item that might appear on a craft beer lover's list of prerequisites. First: the beer. Ingredients specific to Arizona's wild outdoors, and seasoned brewers with a penchant for creating trailblazing recipes, set this brewery head and shoulders above the rest. Many breweries, especially when they start out, defer the option of food and just focus on the concocting of the suds, so to speak. Fair enough, but that doesn't cut the mustard when looking for the absolute best. The grub options at Arizona Wilderness are as decadent and inventive as the award-winning beers it produces. The final check — and this is crucial — is the overall vibe. There is nothing contrived in the air when you walk into either the original Gilbert brewpub or the new wide-open beer garden that has added a fresh burst of integrity and grit to downtown's Roosevelt Row. There's a sense of trust and community that you immediately feel with both the staff and fellow imbibers. Craft beer lovers can sniff out a half-hearted attempt at a brewery, but Arizona Wilderness passes with flying colors.

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Best Local Beer: Wren House Brewing Company
Lauren Cusimano

Best Local Beer

Wren House Brewing Company
2125 North 24th Street

Stout? In Phoenix? Stouts have a reputation for being weighty beers — not the best desert drinking. But not all stouts are overly sweet, ABV bombs, bitter, or too sharp with oak from slumbering in the barrel. Wren House's Jomax Coffee Stout is a stout that doesn't punish you with alcohol, instead showcasing rare finesse. A coffee flavor built from Ethiopian beans roasted by Press Coffee comes in evenly, pleasantly, about on the same level as the rounded maltiness. The coffee and malt blend seamlessly, neither dominant. This stout has a luscious, creamy mouthfeel, swishing around almost like melted ice cream. Coffee is added as beans during brewing and as cold brew at the end, making the roasty notes mellow and multidimensional, even introducing a touch of stone fruit. Hell yes, stout in Phoenix!

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Best Cidery: Cider Corps
Cider Corps

Best Cidery

Cider Corps
31 South Robson, #103, Mesa

Josh and Jason Duren have created a cidery like no other. A communal vibe pervades the spacious tap room, which now spills out to a patio, the place having recently expanded (and added Myke's Pizza). The brothers think way beyond the apple. They pour hazy ciders. They pour blue ciders. They pour cider with black tea, with lemon, with the flavors of oak and vanilla slowly imbued during barrel-aging. Nowhere on the menu do things get as next-level as they do with Purple Heart, a cider with an earthy, mossy sweetness. It's made using butterfly pea flower and ingredients that emulate cascara, the typically discarded coffee cherry. When you sit down at Cider Corps, you sit down to an apple-driven adventure that takes you to new places, most of them brilliant.

Best Meadery: Superstition Meadery
Sara Palmer

Best Meadery

Superstition Meadery
120 West Gurley Street, Prescott

This Prescott-based meadery has a Phoenix location in the works and currently distributes to some of the better bars and bottle shops in town (and it's sold at AJ's Fine Foods). Jeff Herbert, head mead master, has brewed hundreds of kinds of honey wine under Superstition Meadery. And these aren't the sugar bombs that most meads are, the kinds of meads that give mead its questionable reputation. Herbert ferments bright, balanced honey wines that are as finessed and drinkable as a slow-sipping saison or your favorite poolside vino. And he uses Arizona honey. Look for short pours from great craft destinations like The Wandering Tortoise, and bask in Herbert's weirder creations. His smooth peanut-butter-and-jelly mead is a 13 percent ABV love song to your taste buds that will forever change how you think about the possibilities of fermentation.
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