Phoenix Essentials

Discover the best this southwestern city has to offer in food, outdoor fun, shopping and more.
By: Amy Silverman
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Food and Drink Essentials: Best Places to...


5017 N. Central Ave.
With 13 metro Phoenix locations and counting, this gourmet grocery chain will turn up in your neighborhood soon if it hasn’t already. From the flowers to the fruit, every item is remarkably fresh. The store carries local products like huge iced cookies from Barb’s Bakery as well as its own products. The takeout counter is so good you could serve Thanksgiving from it and call it homemade.


Downtown Phoenix Public Market
721 N. Central Ave.
For a long time, Phoenicians complained about the lack of a regular farmers market. This one has been so successful, there are now plans for a permanent building. For now, on Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons, year-round, you can find farm-fresh greens, homemade pickles and Mediterranean goods from area vendors like the guy who calls himself Dr. Hummus.


Vincent’s Saturday Camelback Market
3930 E. Camelback Road
Vincent Guerithault’s namesake restaurant is one of the finest in town, featuring his signature southwestern take on French cuisine. The chef's Saturday market, which runs October to May, is tiny but packed with people and vendors. Find locally roasted coffee and honey imported from the south of France. Breakfast and lunch are served outdoors.


606 N. Fourth Ave.
Particularly in nice weather, when you can relax on the big brick patio or the porch, Palatte is one of the nicest spots in town. The decor in this old house is shabby chic and the food is rich, like thick, creamy porridge with vanilla sauce and bananas. Lighten up with fluffy eggs and seasonal fruit; locals live for peach season.


Pizzeria Bianco
623 E. Adams St.
Debate rages over the best pizza in Phoenix but James Beard award-winning chef Chris Bianco is at the top of many lists. If you like your pizza wood-fired, this is the place. The Wise Guy, a pizza with wood-roasted onion, fresh mozzarella and fennel sausage, is a local treasure. The wait is sure to be ridiculously long, but Bianco will take reservations for six or more.


Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles
10 W. Yuma St.
The signature dish at this tiny dive is fried chicken served alongside a big waffle. It's delicious, particularly slathered in syrup. If you have room, try the red velvet cake for dessert.


2240 N. Scottsdale Road
Yes, there’s such a thing as vegan comfort food. This bohemian little restaurant proves that vegetables can taste good without milk or eggs as long as they’re deep-fried. The hot wings (which are actually mushrooms) are a house specialty. You won’t cut calories at Green, but it all tastes so good you won’t care.


3146 E. Camelback Road
The Delux burger is best served with a teeny-tiny metal shopping cart packed with a mix of regular and sweet potato fries.


LUX Coffee Bar
4404 N. Central Ave.
The coffee is roasted on site at this coffee shop and the vibe is urban, from the white leather furniture inside to the light rail line just outside the door. LUX is next door to the best sandwich shop in town, Pane Bianco, and it’s a good place to bump into artists and downtown movers and shakers.


Phoenix Ranch Market
1602 E. Roosevelt St.
This place has every Mexican ingredient you can imagine and some you’ve never encountered, from teeny tiny limes to queso fundido to tres leches cake at the in-store bakery. Watch tortillas come off the factory line and grab a glass of fresh hibiscus juice. The best part: You can even grab your Diet Coke and toilet paper at the same time, since this location of Phoenix Ranch Market, the flagship of a local chain, is a fully stocked grocery store.


1602 E. Roosevelt St.
Conveniently located adjacent to Phoenix Ranch Market, this enormous restaurant stocks the classics (chimichangas, burritos, tacos) as well as grilled meats, homemade ice cream and a delicious mango margarita. More often than not, you’ll encounter a gaggle of mariachis.


Barrio Cafe
2814 N. 16th St.
Silvana Salcido Esparza creates a unique experience in a city crammed with Mexican restaurants. Most serve Sonoran-style food, but Esparaza reaches farther south to Mexico City for her menu, which features tableside guacamole, grilled fish and less traditional sauces like the chocolate-tinged mole. The tequila selection is top-notch.


Los Dos Molinos
8646 S. Central Ave.
This longtime Phoenix staple has several locations -- including one in New York -- but the hands-down favorite is the Los Dos located in a crumbling old white adobe, at the south edge of town. Inside, chile pepper lights hint at the house specialty: the insanely hot food, from the salsa to the chiles rellenos.

Entertainment and Nightlife Essentials: Best Places to...


Roosevelt Row's First Friday
Central Avenue to Seventh Street, on Roosevelt Street
More sideshow than art show, the First Friday art walk on Roosevelt Street in downtown Phoenix offers an evening tour of several contemporary galleries, with bands playing in empty lots, vendors hawking their wares and street performers.


SMOCA Nights
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
7374 E. Second St., Scottsdale
Several times a year, Scottsdale’s contemporary art museum stays open late on a Thursday night and sticks a catwalk in the middle of its main gallery space. Local designers show their latest fashions while DJs spin and cocktails flow.


La Grande Orange
4410 N. 40th St.
LGO, as it’s known, is a funky little gourmet market with homemade English muffins and freshly squeezed juice. It’s also the epicenter for a rehabbed strip mall that now includes a pizzeria, gelato shop and nearby, Postino, a wine bar housed in an old post office.


Children's Museum of Phoenix
1314 N. Third St.
Housed in a large old school, there’s plenty of learning going on at the city’s new children’s museum but don’t tell the kids. From the Ball Room to the well-stocked art studio, the brightly hued vibe is fun.


Enchanted Island Amusement Park
1202 W. Encanto Blvd.
This manageable little amusement park in the center of the city is a perfect half-day outing, with a 50-year-old restored carousel and old-school rides like bumper boats and kiddie cars.


The Roosevelt
816 N. 3rd St.
Matt Pool made his name with his diner Matt’s Big Breakfast, which has been featured on national TV food shows, but The Roosevelt is equally special. Pool spent years fighting for permits and rehabbing the now-lovely old house, which serves homemade soft pretzels and beer brewed by Four Peaks in Tempe.


7353 Scottsdale Mall, Scottsdale
Conveniently located in the same complex as the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, AZ88 is a good bet for a bite before or after the show, and a strong drink any time. The espresso martini, complete with a coffee bean topper, is better than any energy drink in a can. Don’t miss the rotating art installations.


Club Dwntwn
702 N. Central Ave.
The vibe is Latin, from the music to much of the clientele, but everyone bumps and grinds with abandon at this upscale (read: dress up) downtown nightclub.

Shopping Essentials: Best Places to...


Purple Lizard
2827 N. 15th Ave.
Marguerite Tram stocks her tiny shop with hard-to-find women's clothing lines like Flax and CP Shades, and some we’d never heard of, like Krista Larson’s incredible linen and satin creations. From oilcloth by the yard to Day of the Dead figurines, Tram offers the most creative selection of Latin goods, as well.

Bunky Boutique
812 N. Third St.
Local designers mix with national at this downtown boutique for men and women, and the best part is that everything is affordable. Owner Rachel Richards has a thing for Hobo leather products, and she always stocks the best assortment in town.

MADE art boutique
419 E. Roosevelt St.
Can’t afford a piece of art hanging in a downtown gallery? Chances are good that you’ll find that artist’s work for sale in a more affordable form at MADE. Artist-made T-shirts, greeting cards, ceramics and jewelry let you support the arts in style.

12 W. Camelback Road
This little boutique is a favorite among north central Phoenix moms and their daughters. Frances is THE place to buy a child's birthday gift. Or a present for yourself. Don’t miss the collection of vintage clothing in the back room and be sure to pick up a “Love Phoenix or Leave Phoenix” T-shirt.


12 W. Camelback Road
Longtime owner and arts booster Kimber Lanning has the best musical taste in town, and she’s happy to share. This is the place to learn about the next hot indie band and to buy their CD.


Changing Hands Bookstore
6428 S. McClintock Drive, Tempe
Changing Hands is the local alternative to chains, and a good alternative at that. The store hosts workshops and lectures and regular readings by touring authors, as well as more creative events, like a faux prom celebrating the release of one of local author Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books.


Melrose Shopping District
Between Indian School and Camelback Road, on Seventh Avenue
Since mid-century got cool and the hues of the 1970s became retro instead of hideous, Phoenix has emerged as a good place for vintage. A dozen or so shops along Seventh Avenue offer everything from low-end junk (Qcumberz) to high-end collectibles (Hollywood Regency). A local favorite: Rust and Roses, packed with well-worn wood furnishings up front and metal out back.


Tempe Marketplace
2000 E. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe
You’re in Phoenix, so there’s no escaping the mall. Might as well embrace it. Tempe Marketplace is the newest mega mall, featuring a ring of super stores, a Harkins movie theater and a mix of restaurants and stores. Yes, it’s chain heaven, but somewhere between the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and the California Pizza Kitchen, there’s something that feels like community; maybe it’s the gallery showing Arizona State University artists’ work, or the kid-friendly splash area. Or the enormous fireplaces that go year-round, with misters blasting enough water out to keep you cool even in July.

Outdoors Essentials: Best Places to...


Hike Camelback Mountain
Echo Canyon, Phoenix
Echo Canyon trail is not for the neophyte hiker. Bring water and experience. The rock is scrambly, and you’ll need to hold onto cables at one point, but the view of the city is worth it.


Walk the Desert Botanical Garden
1201 N. Galvin Parkway
The 50-acre botanical garden, home to 139 species of native plants, is a great place for a walk. Trail maps offer several routes, some harder than others but all paved or at least relatively smooth. Distract yourself from the workout with the various festivals held throughout the year. A highlight is the holiday luminaria display, a nighttime event featuring candlelit trails and live music.


North Mountain
Seventh Street and Peoria Avenue
North Mountain, part of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, offers a variety of hikes from easy to difficult and plenty of other butts to sniff as long as you keep Fido on a leash.


South Mountain
10919 S. Central Ave.
The summit lookout is just 2,300 feet, but you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world as you look down on the city from your parking spot atop South Mountain. The twists and turns up this paved road aren’t bad and the view, particularly at night, is the best.  

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