Food shopping is a chore to some, and an adventure to others. Browsing through a farmers’ market, picking produce at your favorite grocery store, ordering a whole-roasted-chicken from a top-notch carniceria — it all sounds like heaven.
The Valley has some choice choices in food shopping. Here are our Best of Phoenix 2020 winners from that category.
Best Farmers' MarketUptown Farmers' Market
5757 North Central Avenue
Many local farmers' markets have similar amenities and vendors, but what sets apart the Uptown Farmers' Market from other such gathering spots is vital in these socially distant times: space. There's ample parking at its home at North Phoenix Baptist Church, so you don't have to walk for blocks carrying your farm-fresh haul to your car. (And during summers when the pandemic isn't keeping us separated from one another, it's nice to grab a savory breakfast burrito in the air-conditioned comfort of the church's Family Life Center.) The vendors can spread out nicely, so we're able to socially distance while we buy gorgeous loaves from Proof Bread, award-winning tamales from The Tamale Store, sweet treats from The Bakery PHX, and organic produce from local favorite McClendon's Select. There are plenty of sanitation stations around the premises to keep those hands clean, too. Uptown Farmers' Market allows us to shop beloved metro Phoenix businesses and still feel safe in these times.
Best Boutique GroceryTempe Farmers Market
805 South Farmer Avenue, Tempe
Tempe Farmers Market stands proudly across the street from a brand-new Whole Foods and just down aways from a brand-new Trader Joe's. Proud because it's jam packed with made-in-Arizona products. Marked by its bright red T for the town it serves, this small grocer has been open since 2009 in downtown Tempe. On its shelves, you'll find local produce, cheeses, meats, and liquids from creamer to beer. The locally owned market is also something of a bodega, with a vegan deli known for its excellent vegetarian and/or gluten-free wraps, as well as colorful, organic smoothies (we recommend the Desert Palm). Another perk of the Tempe Farmers Market? The east end is where you'll find cocktails and live music at The Dark Side bar.
Best Mexican Grocery StoreLos Altos Ranch Market
One pandemic habit we'll stick with long after this plague has left us? Avoiding the grocery store. What an incredible convenience it's been to order produce, dairy, and frozen pizzas with a laptop click. Truly, we're living in the future. We'll make an exception for Los Altos, though, which answers the question: What if the oppressive lighting, dull brands, and sunken-eyed cart-pushers at your local grocery chain were replaced by something a little more Technicolor and full of life? Los Altos is like a Walmart-sized bodega; curiosities abound alongside the essentials. Do you need a Spongebob pinata? Several dangle from light fixtures. A tiny yellow lawn chair for a child? A few are hoisted up above the frozen section. An entire third of an aisle is dedicated to seeds. There are two women stacking and packing fresh corn tortillas that ride down a conveyor belt, one after another. A vendor near the entrance sells steel-toed boots. Another buys gold. There's a salsa bar. There's a juice bar. There are bright, beautiful, elaborate quinceanera cakes. You can order a torta or chicharrones or menudo for lunch and eat it at the indoor picnic tables. "We are here to serve and enrich the lives of others," reads the wallpaper above the checkout, painted in both Spanish and English. Mission accomplished.
Best Asian MarketH Mart
1919 West Main Street, Mesa
When H Mart, the popular Korean supermarket chain, opened its first Arizona location in Mesa this summer, we waited outside, in the sun, in a face mask, to get in. And it was worth it. H Mart blends contemporary grocery store aesthetics like dark wood and clever graphic signage with a dizzying array of Asian food products. However deeply you want to dive into Korean cuisine, you can do it at H Mart, whether with marinated galbi ready to cook up (delicious) or frozen durian (hard pass). The fish department is huge and packed with seafood both familiar and not-so-familiar, and there's a whole side of one aisle devoted to ramen. The store also carries a pretty decent selection of Western food items you'd find in any regular supermarket, so you can get your gojuchang and fresh udon noodles along with your Pop-Tarts and orange juice. The adjoining food hall boasts even more culinary delights to explore. It would take a very long time for anyone to discover everything H Mart has to offer, which is why we keep returning, again and again.
Best ButcherArcadia Meat Market
3950 East Indian School Road, #130
Cattle, one of Arizona's 5 Cs, is the star of this polished neighborhood meat shop — and not just because its grass-fed beef comes from some of our finest ranches. The array of cuts at Arcadia Meat Market is majestic: tomahawk ribeye, bavette, short ribs, tri-tip, tongue, heart, brisket, and so on. Nick Addante, owner and shop fixture, also sources Arizona chicken, regional pork, and grass-fed lamb. You can watch animals being broken down in the back room, where dry-aging cuts hang, building flavor almost like fine wine (but in far funkier directions). As a bonus, AMM stocks products by a slew of local food and beverage artisans. And they shuffled supplies in the early days of the pandemic to accommodate not only these producers, but customers struggling with grocery store shortages. Like any truly great butcher, this shop has proven to be a neighborhood cornerstone.
Best CarniceriaMercado Y Carniceria Cuernavaca
2931 North 68th Street, Scottsdale
Mexican food in Scottsdale? Not your best bet. One of the exceptions is this little carniceria, bodega, and lunch counter, operated without fanfare by the Santana family. Behind its long glass case, you can find just about any cut of pork or beef you please. Regulars flock to the few tables at Mercado Y Carniceria Cuernavaca for prepared food. The whole-roasted-chicken special packs deep flavor and brings incredible value. The creamy, dark orange salsa filled with seeds is hauntingly good, easily one of the most memorable in the Valley. If you're looking for a few meaty sopes for lunch, longaniza and pork chops to grill, and tortillas and hot sauce for your fridge, this carniceria is a blessing.
Best BakeryLa Belle Vie
A croissant from the hands and oven of Nathas Kraus of La Belle Vie isn't a pastry. It's toasty wheat and rich butter expressed in one of their highest forms — not a mere breakfast, but a portal to grain fields, dairies, and the land. This is his artistry: Targeting French baked goods, especially viennoiseries, and making them so good that they seem to transcend what they are. That croissant? It has such an intricate, calculated shatter. You can feel the care he puts into the shape, into the laminations. This is just one of Kraus' baked goods, and one of his most basic. Everything from his chestnut-hued caneles to cream-stuffed "rhino" croissants to his simple French loaf is mesmerizing.
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Best PanaderiaLa Purisima Bakery
4533 West Glendale Avenue, Glendale
Now in its fifth decade, west Valley panaderia La Purisima is still our best and most beloved. Conchas are soft, fragrant, and touched with just enough sugar. Puffy, pig-shaped marrinatos are simple beauties with ample chew and notes of molasses that roll and roll. Flaky baked empanadas filled with sweet pumpkin drop in the fall. Regulars flow in for quick to-go orders of sugar-encrusted pan dulce like clockwork. What many also grab is an underrated aspect of this longtime standby: savory food. Next time you stop in for cookies or sweet yeasted breads, grab a burrito or tamale for the road.
Best Gluten-Free BakeryGluten-Free Creations
As Arizona's first dedicated and certified gluten-free bakery, Gluten-Free Creations has a reputation to live up to. The two locations in Phoenix and Scottsdale certainly rise (heh) to the challenge. We dream about these delectable, all-homemade, and freshly baked goodies — the cinnamon rolls and everything bagels in particular. As an added bonus, many of the options, like the marshmallow treats and the berry Champagne cupcakes, are vegan. There's also a selection of sugar-free items, like coconut bread and vegan super seed bread. We recommend it all.