Monday, September 22, 2014



Best Way to Drink Like a Bond Villain
XXIV Karat
Founded by ASU grads Nicholas Cowherd and Kegan Klein, this Valley-based bubbly bills itself as one of the first champagnes infused with 24 carat gold leaf. Believe it. The suckers swirl around in your flute like little gold angels, telling the world - or, at least, everybody else at the pool party - that you're the most decadent son of a gun around. Which leaves the question: Is it safe to drink gold? According to company literature, yes. And it might even help your arthritis. xxivkarat.com 
 
BEST BURGER TRIO
The Porkster at Rehab Burger Therapy
We're not sure if the creation of this monster burger was a Frankenstein-esque mating experiment or a happy accident. Either way, the villagers are getting out their pitchforks to dig into 10 ounces of grilled Angus beef piled high with mellow cheddar and moist, tangy peach-habanero pulled pork. Meaty and mouthwatering, this is one diet-buster worth the shame. 7210 E. Second St., Scottsdale, 480-621-5358, rehabburgertherapy.com

Bacon Burger at Cafe Bink
Bacon cheeseburgers are so 1990. That's why two-time James Beard Award-nominated chef Kevin Binkley gives his patties a modern twist by grinding fatty, salty slab bacon right into the beef. The result is a mouthwatering mash-up of two beloved proteins that stays juicy even if you commit a culinary faux pas and order it well-done. 36889 N. Tom Darlington Dr., Cave Creek, 480-488-9796, cafebink.com

The Cowboy Burger at Relish Burger Bistro in the Phoenician
You probably didn't spend the day rustling cattle and playing faro, but no matter - this behemoth burger invites city-slickers to live the Western ideal with its humongous Kobe beef patty, fried onion rings, bacon rashers, sharp cheddar, jalapeÒos and house-made steak sauce ($16). 6000 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale, 480-423-2530, thephoenician.com/relish-burger-bistro/

 
Best Scones
Twisted Scones from Elizabeth's Moments of Joy
Gilbert-based baker Elizabeth Rakestraw is a former aerospace executive and also a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan, which might explain why her pastries are sky-high sublime. Her Twisted Scones, with their flaky layers crumbling into lush interiors of fruits, nuts, spices and icing, could be habit-forming. Luckily, Rakestraw provides plenty of ìMoments of Joy' for a quick flavor fix. With eight varieties - including cherry almond, maple bacon, ìDeath by Cinnamon,' and ham & gruyere - breakfast is bound to be deliciously twisted. 480-584-6454, elizabethsjoy.com
 
Best Waffles
Coconut Curry Waffles at Bragg's Factory Diner
Arrive early if you want to try the coconut curry waffles at cozy, pie wedge-shaped Bragg's Factory Diner; the seven-table eatery has been known to ìrun out' of them by noon. These inch-thick vegan masterpieces pack a one-two flavor punch that practically pogos across the palate - spicy at first bite, followed by a sweet coconut kiss and edge-y crunch. They don't need to be draped in mock butter and syrup. Just eat them naked - the waffles, that is. And have your rosemary potatoes, fresh fruit, hash browns or toast on the side, usually made with locally sourced ingredients from Farmyard. 1301 NW Grand Ave., Phoenix, 602-733-8076, braggsdiner.com 
 
Best Pork Fix
Brat Haus' whole roasted pig
Planning piggies are rewarded at Payton Curry's gourmet wiener emporium - give the kitchen five days' notice and you can go whole hog (literally) on a whole roasted pig served family-style with seasonal sides ($35 per person). The feast is recommended for 20 or more people, and an extra $20 per person scores bottomless beer. 3622 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-947-4006, brathausaz.com 
 
Best Appetizer
Crudo's pig ears
Step aside, pork rinds, there's a new swine snack in town: crunchy, salty, twice-fried pig ears. Munch on a plate full of the addictive devils, dressed in a tongue-tingling vinaigrette of white balsamic and red Fresno chiles ($7 as an appetizer, $5 as a small-bite bar snack). 3603 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-358-8666, crudoaz.com 
 
Best Fried Chicken
Welcome Diner
In putting their Old Dixie food truck on proverbial blocks at the Welcome Diner, Michael Babcock and Jenn Robinson assumed instant royalty status in the Valley's Southern cuisine scene. You'll be curtsying too after biting into this gravy-smothered fried bird topped with cheddar and bacon on a griddled biscuit ($9). 924 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix, 602-495-1111, welcomediner.net 
 
Best Deviled Eggs
Beckett's Table
What's better than a bacon-studded deviled egg? A deep-fried one - actually five golden eggs, served with spicy aioli and rings of pickled Fresno chiles. Bite through the crunchy cornmeal-and-panko crusted orbs to find a creamy center flavored with bacon, smoked onions, parsley, mustard and sour cream ($7). 3717 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-954-1700, beckettstable.com
  
Best 24/7 Drive Thru
BoSa Donuts
True doughnut devotees understand the necessity of a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week supply of sugary circles. What if a craving hits mid-afternoon? Or at 2 a.m. after a night of revelry? Sometimes you just need a fix, and BoSa gets it - offering legions of freshly glazed, frosted, jam-stuffed and cream-filled delights to satisfy any odd-hour craving. Offset the sugar with sandwiches, boba, Thai tea and coffee. Multiple Valley locations, bosadonuts.com.
 

Best Mole
Otro
Phoenix isn't exactly a hotspot for Oaxaca's best-loved culinary export, but of the few restaurants that serve the chile-based sauce, which uses in excess of 20 ingredients and can take up to two days to prepare, Otro bubbles to the top. Negro mole gets its dark color from dried mulato chiles and dark chocolate, and gets its layered flavor from toasted chiles, nuts, seeds and spices. Chef Doug Robson drapes the smoky, brooding elixir on wood-grilled chicken - so delicious it will haunt you for days. 6035 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-266-0831, otrocafe.com 

  
BEST ALFRESCO DINING
Metropolis at Optima Camelview
Metropolis may not be the 8th wonder of the world, but its patio is Phoenix's version of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Delicate vines cascade over cantilevered railings and woody grasses border elegant fountains like reeds along the Nile. Hunter-orange hue aside, plush outdoor conversation couches are the perfect spot to lie back and receive a mouthful of grapes. 7137 E. Rancho Vista Dr., Scottsdale, 480-621-6339, metropolisaz.com

Gertrude's at Desert Botanical Garden
The cactus lovers at Desert Botanical Garden have been cultivating breathtaking scenery since 1939, so it's little surprise their on-site restaurant offers a killer view. Feast on farm-fresh salads and locally raised pork while sitting in the shade of a graceful desert tree watching ground squirrels forage succulents for crumbs. It's a scene straight out of Snow White - if she traded her European weald for the Sonoran desert. 1201 N. Galvin Pkwy., Phoenix, 480-719-8600, gertrudesrestaurant.net

The House Brasserie
The showpiece of Chef Matt Carter's circa-1940 yellow cottage is a towering evergreen rumored to have been planted by the original owners' daughter. It shelters much of The House's expansive wraparound brick patio, making for an outdoor dining room that's usable nearly year-round. Striped garden gazebos, a weathered old fireplace and white picket fence complete the picturesque scene. 6936 E. Main St., Scottsdale, 480-634-1600, thehousebrasserie.com

Dinner Down the Orchard at Schnepf Farms
Schnepf Farm's semi-annual white linen dinners are a feast for the senses. Long banquet tables are placed in a working peach orchard, where the sweet perfume of ripening fruit hangs heavy in the air. As the sun sets, the sky is set ablaze. This magical experience culminates in a four-course meal prepared by the likes of Vincent Guerithault or James Beard Award winner Robert McGrath. 24810 E. Rittenhouse Rd., Queen Creek, 480-987-3100, schnepffarms.com

The Farm at South Mountain
When Valley regulars want a respite from desert drabness, they come here. The 12-acre oasis is lush and green, with a bountiful organic garden and grassy lawns. Grab a summery chicken salad with grapes and house-picked nuts from the Farm Kitchen, and dine at a picnic table underneath a leafy pecan-tree canopy. 6106 S. 32nd St., Phoenix, 602-276-6545, thefarmatsouthmountain.com 

 

Best Sandwich
The PHAT AZZ at Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles
You know a dish is good at Lo-Lo's if it manages to tempt you away from the always-epic chicken and waffles. This sassily named sandwich ($12) is a beast: chicken or a catfish fillet wedged between a sesame seed bun with bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato and your choice of creamy spread (mayo, ranch or Thousand Island dressing). Two locations: 1220 S. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-340-1304; 2765 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-945-1920, loloschickenandwaffles.com 

 

Best Bizzarely-Named Eatery
Deer Garden Signatures
Build your own bowl of noodle soup at this budget-friendly Asian fusion eatery in Mekong Plaza. Choose a soup base, two toppings and noodle style. Confused? The staff will gladly purvey recommendations. Or try our favorite: Korean noodles in a tomato-and-pumpkin fish broth topped with dumplings and bok choy ($8.50). 66 S. Dobson Rd., Mesa, 480-969-3908 

 

Best Bizzarely-Named Eatery, V.2
Beaver Choice
Even jaded foodies find something exciting at this temple of funky culinary fusion. Where else can you order poutine (small $5.75/large $8) and gravlax ($7.95) with your kˆtbullar (Swedish meatballs, $13.95) Intrepid diners dig into the exotic Flying Jacob, a baked dish of chicken, peanuts, chili sauce, crËme fraÓche and bananas ($15.95). 745 W. Baseline Rd., Mesa, 480-921-3137, beaverchoice.com 

 

Best Way to Calculate Pie
Pie Snob
Nothing soothes the soul like a slice of old-fashioned pie, and nobody cooks 'em like self-proclaimed ìpie snob' Traci Wilbur - excluding your grandmother, of course. With recipes and techniques passed from grandmother to mother to daughter, Wilbur's pies - lemon meringue, coconut cream, pecan and apple - look and taste homemade because she makes them one at a time to order. One taste of her cinnamon-kissed caramel apple pie and you'll turn into a pie snob, too. 4220 E. Turney Ave., Phoenix, 480-635-2425, piesnob.com 

 

Best Homegrown Culture-and-Coffee House
Songbird Coffee & Tea House at monOrchid Gallery
Want a quadruple biggie double half-caf chocochino with sprinkles? Go somewhere else. Part of a permanent art installation, Songbird offers a simple menu of international coffeehouse favorites, from smoky Thai tea and sweet Italian sodas to Cubanos and pour-overs made with locally roasted Cortez coffee beans. The vibe here is chill and community-centric. Grab a cafe au lait and peruse shelves of donated books while soaking up the latest RoRo gossip from Songbird's regulars. 214 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix, 602-374-4192, songbirdcoffeehouse.com 

 

Best Reimagined 60s Standard
TV Dinners at Angels Trumpet Ale House
Every Tuesday, comfort food meets kitsch at Angels Trumpet as chef Xane Brody rolls out a weekly rotating ìTV Dinner' on compartmentalized cardboard trays. The dinners generally encompass a theme and could include anything from Southern grub (blackened catfish with dirty rice) to American picnic fare (BBQ pork sandwich with coleslaw and potato salad). Desserts include classics like banana pie and the kitchen's signature homemade ìPop Tarts.' Combined with an extensive selection of crafts on draft, this old standard never tasted so good. 810 N. Second St., Phoenix, 602-252-2630, angelstrumpetalehouse.com 

 
Best Locavore Restaurant
Cafe Allegro at the MIM
The best-kept dining secret in town is inside the Musical Instrument Museum, where the food is affordable and a significant portion of the menu hails from somewhere in Arizona. Chef Chris Lenza seeks out quality foodstuffs, from Yuma farm-raised tilapia to persimmons from Globe. You don't need a ticket to get in, but you do need to get there between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., because the cafe only serves lunch. 4725 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix, 480-478-6000, mim.org
 
Best Italian Christmas Feast
Andreoli's Italian Grocer
Every day at Giovanni Scorzo's rustic Italian deli seems like an Italian holiday. Still, nothing tops Scorzo's once-a-year Festa di Natale (December 14, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.), when the deli magically transforms into a food lovers' feast, stuffed wall-to-wall with traditional Italian Christmas foods and handmade and imported pastries you won't see other times of the year. Drop in anytime during the Christmas festivities for an authentic taste of Italy. 8880 E. Via Linda, Scottsdale, 480-614-1980, andreoli-grocer.com 
 
Best Resort Dining
Bourbon Steak
National celebrity chef Michael Mina's swank ode to red meat got a much-needed jolt of locality when Chef Chris Curtiss (noca, North Italian Farmhouse) joined the kitchen crew in May. Top-notch steaks and Mina staples like lobster pot pie still dominate prime real estate on the menu, but Curtiss flexes his creative muscle with fantastic handmade pastas, exquisite seafood preparations including crudo, and a palate-popping 10-course chef's tasting menu that will leave you breathless - and $125 lighter. 7575 E. Princess Dr., Scottsdale, 480-585-4848, scottsdaleprincess.com 
 
BEST BREAKFASTS
Cowboy Breakfast: Harold's Cave Creek Corral
Mosey on up to cowboy country for breakfast vittles so gut-busting you won't need to eat again until the dinner bell rings. It's the kind of awesome-but-unfussy grub you typically find in skillets around a morning campfire: giant three-egg omelets, griddled cakes and waffles, and fluffy biscuits slathered with rich sausage gravy. 6895 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, 480-488-1906, haroldscorral.com

Carb-Load:
The Famous Suicide Stack at Heart and Soul Cafe in Cave Creek
Imagine an entire breakfast menu piled on one plate and you have an idea of the glorious gluttony of the Famous Suicide Stack. A biscuit bottom is the foundation upon which 12 layers of morning staples - chicken-fried steak, hash browns, green pork chili, scrambled eggs, etc. - are heaped into a hot mess of deliciousness that feeds 4-6 ($49). 4705 E. Carefree Hwy., Cave Creek, 480-595-7300, heartandsoulcafeaz.com

Breakfast Sandwich:
Mom and Pop's Bagel and Bakery
Some of us believe that anything yummy is likely to be even better between two pieces of bread. This includes breakfast - hence the bagel sandwiches at Mom and Pop's. The sausage, egg and cheese is particularly savory, but you can get anything from turkey to lox to vegetarian. 8110 W. Union Hills Dr., Glendale, 602-744-2643, mpbagels.com

 
Best $10 Chicken Dinner
Mercado y Carniceria Cuernavaca
Catch an enticing whiff of outdoor grilled chicken from the parking lot at this unassuming Mexican market and butcher shop. Ten bucks gets you a whole spatchcocked chicken seasoned with garlic, coriander and annatto (which imparts a noticeable yellow tint on the chicken), plus a pint of soupy beans, a pint of rice, a short stack of flour tortillas and a half pint of salsa. Cluck cluck. There isn't a better chicken deal in town. 2931 N. 68th St., Scottsdale, 480-423-5552, carniceriacuernavaca.com
 
Best Westside Sushi
Sushi Catcher
Sushi chef Casey Kim took a gamble when he left his job of five years to purchase a defunct Asian eatery in a seedy Westside strip mall. Facing closure three months later, a miracle happened: locals from nearby colleges discovered Sushi Catcher's brilliant all-day happy hour. Las Vegas rolls for five bucks. Crab for less than a ten-spot. And so on. Pungent surf clam sashimi and grilled unagi are ocean-fresh, but it's solid gestures like hooking up first-timers with free samples that makes Kim's eatery a good catch. 6334 W. Bell Rd., Glendale, 623-748-8006, sushicatcher.com 
 
Best Late Night Ramen
Posh Restaurant
Known for improvisational small plates with serious haute flair, Posh turns Japanese the first Wednesday of every month. Chef Joshua Hebert's Nipponese pedigree translates into a bowl of slurp-tastic noodles, topped with fancy garnishes for only $10. Choose goma (sesame), shoyu (soy), miso, or shrimp ramen. Though Hebert's monthly bowl of satisfaction is served only after 10 p.m., non-nocturnes can take comfort in rumors that the ramen may soon see the light of day. 7167 E. Rancho Vista Dr., Scottsdale, 480-663-7674, poshscottsdale.com
 
Best Curry
Pumpkin Tofu Curry at Thai Spices at Mekong Plaza
We adore curry in all flavors of the rainbow, from spicy red to mellow yellow. Thai Spices' pumpkin version marries the spiciness of panang with the thick peanut sauce of Massaman for a delectably savory stew that begs to be lapped up like soup. The dish and its meager $5.95 price tag are well-kept secrets. Every component is a delight in the mouth, from silky-soft tofu cubes and crunchy veggies to melt-in-your-mouth squash chunks scented with cinnamon and star anise. 66 S. Dobson Rd., Mesa, 480-649-9777, thaispicesaz.com
 
Best Food Fight
Gelato Spot
Many an inner fat kid cringed when Gelato Spot announced a summer competition pitting the likes of candy queen Tracy Dempsey and Crudo's Cullen Campbell against each another in a no-holds-barred gelato-creation smackdown. Later, those feelings of guilt and shame dissolved in mouthwatering gelato flavors such as shoyu chocolate caramel and peach cobbler. G-Spot owner Tommy Plato sold more than 5,800 scoops of the custom flavors, and proceeds from each $5 scoop went to Phoenix Children's Hospital. Next year's epic rematch is already in the works. Multiple Valley locations, gelatospot.com.
 
Best Cypriot Food
Cyprus Grill
Though the menu includes mouth-watering sheftalia, a meatball/sausage dish traditional to Cyprus, the true Cypriotness of this Mediterranean eatery in Phoenix is hard to quantify and would probably require a trip to the island itself. One thing is certain: It's quite tasty. Try the zingy, lemony calamari appetizer, and more importantly, think how cool it'll sound when somebody asks what you had for lunch and you oh-so-casually say ìCypriot.' 4747 N. 20th St., Phoenix, 602-954-2394, cyprusgrill.com
 
Best Flan
Secreto Cantina
Management at Secreto has rolled over more often than an obedient labrador, but luckily for locals, the addictively good flan remains. Secreto's version is smooth and silky like creme brulee, without the eggy undertone that bogs down other flans. Served as a thick wedge topped with buttery caramel sauce, the decadent dessert does double-duty as a milky chaser for Secreto's spicy pork relleno with savory smoked meat, poblanos and twin sauces that will make your taste buds tingle. 4232 E. Chandler Blvd., Phoenix, 480-706-2200, secretophoenix.com 
 

Best Gourmet Mac and Cheese
Voila
Mac and cheese is true comfort food, evoking the simplicity of childhood while simultaneously soothing the taste buds. Voila's sinfully creamy version has the hallmarks of the one your mom made: gooey layers of mellow cheddar that melt into a bechamel-like sauce, al dente noodles and a crisp, bubbly oven-browned crust. The French-Cajun twist is the addition of sweet and succulent crawfish, a bayou treat that boosts cheesy mac beyond the blue box and into fine dining. 10135 E. Via Linda, Scottsdale, 480-614-5600, voilabistroaz.com

  

Best Place to Avoid Anaphylaxis
The Oink Cafe
You can get just about anything for breakfast at this porcine-themed eatery, from pancakes to chorizo and eggs to chicken fried steak about as good as any you've tasted. But ask for peanut butter to spread on your English muffin, and you're out of luck. According to Oink Cafe servers, one of the owner's children has a peanut allergy; thus, goober-based products are verboten on the premises. So eat with confidence, unless you're allergic to deliciousness. 4326 E. Cactus Rd., Phoenix, 602-404-OINK, theoinkcafe.com 

 
Best Healthy Fast Food
D'lish Drive Thru
On the way to the office, class or a workout and need a healthy pick-me-up? No problem. D'lish caters to your on-the-go lifestyle, while offering fresh, local fare with plenty of gluten-free and vegetarian selections. The Breakfast Buzz - vitamins, protein, espresso, peanut butter, nonfat milk, banana and chocolate, blended with ice - can be made for vegans and norms alike, and is one of the best shakes in town. 2613 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-247-8537, dlishdrivethru.com
 
Best Slice
Isa's Pizza at Aiellos' Salumeria
Michelangelo was as gifted at sculpting as he was at painting. The Aiello family is carrying on the multitalented Italian tradition by expanding their legendary salumeria, deli and bakery to include Isa's Pizza. Pies are just another medium for the Aiellos to showcase their genius, with authentic Old World pizzas (Nana's Pie is a well-executed margherita, $22) and Americanized favorites (Meatlovers and Supreme, $22), making patrons feel like famiglia. 777 E. Thunderbird Rd., Phoenix, 602-547-3354, aiellositaliandeli.com 
 
Best Universally Pleasing Eatery
Phoenix Public Market Cafe
Everybody can find something yummy and satisfying at this cute urban cafe, from your meat-and-potatoes dad to your vegan sister to your gluten-intolerant best friend. The kitchen is health-conscious without sacrificing flavor and uses local ingredients whenever possible. Pair gluten-free oats risotto ($7.25) with a latte for breakfast, dig into a vegan rice bowl ($10.50) for lunch or tuck into a pork chile verde pot pie ($9.50) for dinner with an Arizona wine or one of five rotating draft beers. 14 E. Pierce St., Phoenix, 602-253-2700, phxpublicmarket.com 
 
Best Pretend Dive Bar
Shady's
With its black vinyl booths and wood-paneled walls, Shady's bridges the gap between Don Draper and Dan Conner, with a splash of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Fun specials and events draw people in, from Breaking Bad viewing parties to industry night, where folks who work in the restaurant and bar businesses get $1 off drinks. 2701 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-956-8998 
 
BEER BLOWOUT
Best Beer Selection
Angels Trumpet Ale House
Angels Trumpet is an apt moniker for this beer lovers' heaven on earth. Hop-heads love the 31 rotating taps, which include both global brands and Arizona-made masterpieces like Oak Creek Brewing Company's chocolate-cherry porter and Desert Eagle Brewing Company's Imperial Adler IPA. Prost! 810 N. Second St., Phoenix, 602-252-2630, angelstrumpetalehouse.com

Best Cask Ale
SunUp Brewing
Lots of love goes into SunUp's cask-conditioned ale selections, which are naturally carbonated, hand-pumped and often dry-hopped for livelier flavor. Styles range from Imperial Stout with Russian coffee to IPA with simcoe hops. 322 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-279-8909, sunupbrewing.com

Best Seasonal Beers
Winter: Nut Before Christmas
Medium-bodied English brown ale yields a creamy head and coffee overtones. 4.2% ABV. SunUp Brewing, 322 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-279-8909, sunupbrewing.com

Spring: Mr. Pineapple
Pineapple-infused, clove-kissed wheat beer. Won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival. 5% ABV. SanTan Brewing Company, 8 S. San Marcos Pl., Chandler, 480-917-8700, santanbrewing.com

Summer: Orange Blossom
Light American wheat ale. Think vanilla-kissed mandarin oranges. 4.5% ABV. Papago Brewing Co., 7107 E. McDowell Rd., Scottsdale, 480-425-7439, papagobrewing.com

Fall: Pumpkin Porter
Spicy-scented porter blends pumpkin-vanilla flavors with robust roasted malts. 5% ABV. Four Peaks Brewing Company, 1340 E. Eighth St., Tempe (plus three more Valley locations), 480-303-9967, fourpeaks.com

 
Best Neighborhood Bar
The Little Woody
Arcadia residents didn't exactly picket in protest when longtime dive bar The Great Escape closed back in 2011. By the same token, Arcadians loved it when this speakeasy-style neighborhood bar from Vig maestro Tucker Woodbury replaced it in January 2012. Featuring an innovative drink menu ($10 bourbon flights, craft cocktails) and haute bar nibbles (shishito peppers, daily gumbo) set against a hip lodge-like backdrop, it's the kind of upscale cave that no ëhood should be without. 4228 E. Indian School Rd., 602-955-0339, facebook.com/thelittlewoody 
 
Best West-Side Sports Bar
The Deli Sports Bar
The Deli is everything a sports bar should be: a quirkily-named, family-owned dive with good grub and beaucoup TVs. Opening at the crack of dawn for both the coffee and breakfast-beer crowd, the Deli balances contemporary craft beer culture with an aged corner-bar vibe. And with 20 flat screens, you'll catch every game under the Arizona sun, from Sun Devils softball to that NFL game down the street. Bonus: Best bratwurst west of Brat Haus. 9635 W. Peoria Ave., Peoria, 623-979-5163 
 
Best Local Way to Spruce up Your Cocktail
AZ Bitters Lab bitters
Wine and cocktail aficionados Bill and Lillian Buitenhuys began playing with bitters-making as a home hobby until several local bartenders told them they had liquid gold on their hands. Now their three commercial varieties - winter-spiced Figgy Pudding, chile-and-chocolate-spiced Mas Mole, and saffron-and-fennel flecked Orange Sunshine - jazz up cocktails all over town, including Bar Crudo and the new Virt˙. Buy online or at JAM in Scottsdale and Wedge & Bottle in Chandler to use at home. azbitterslab.com
 
Best Adult Milkshakes
Hi-Fi Kitchen & Cocktails
Hi-Fi's adults-only take on the malt shop classic is designed to keep the 21-and-over set partying well past dessert hour. Thick vanilla ìlo-phat' soft-serve is amped up with the addition of spirits, from cake-flavored vodka to Fireball whiskey. The latter is a base for the eye-opening Cinnamon Roll with cinnamon syrup and toasted breakfast cereal, which plays runner-up to our clandestine crush: the Drunken Monkey with banana vodka, Frangelico, chocolate syrup and fresh banana. 4420 N. Saddlebag Trail, Scottsdale, 480-970-5000, hifibars.com 
 
Best Place for Cornholing
Culinary Dropout at The Yard
At his Culinary Dropout location in north-central Phoenix, Sam Fox converted an old motorcycle lot into a massive indoor-outdoor play area - so massive, in fact, that he had room left over for a row of cornhole courts. Cornhole - a classic game of beanbag-tossing marksmanship - should theoretically be played with a beer in one's hand, which is why those 43 brews on tap come in so handy. 5632 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-680-4040, foxrc.com/restaurants/culinary-dropout 
 
Best Drunken Date
Drunken Date Cake at Brat Haus
Tangy crËme fraÓche swirled with barely sweetened whipped cream melts seductively over a sultry Sphinx Date Ranch date and Four Peaks Oatmeal Stout cake scented with cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and clove. A dark pool of sticky brown sugar and butter caramel at the bottom of the bowl begs to be licked to the last drop. You ought not to have this much fun eating cake. $6, or $40 for half sheet (16 servings). 3622 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-947-4006, brathausaz.com
 
Best Cocktails
Retro: The Duce
Steve and Andi Rosenstein's 1928 warehouse-turned-swank-multiuse-haunt pours the kind of throwback cocktails that late-night gamblers likely swilled in the building's original Prohibition-era speakeasy. Mason jar barware proves a clever, homey touch to Cuba Libres, basil gimlets and our go-to cocktail, a devilishly sweet, circa-1922 Cherry Sidecar with VSQ brandy and muddled cherries. 525 S. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-866-3823, theducephx.com 
 
Food-Friendly: Little Cleo's Seafood Legend
Well-prepared seafood is hard enough to find locally, but seafood-friendly cocktails are rarer than a South Sea pearl. Enter Little Cleo's clever ìroyales,' which combine sparkling wine with a splash of fruit or spice liqueur. Sage & honeysuckle offers a unique herbaceous flavor profile, while sugary, tart blood orange and pineapple seals the deal by squelching any trace of brine. 5632 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-680-4044, foxrc.com
 
Garden-to-Glass: Sprouts at Camelback Inn
The wellness experience at Sprouts Spa extends beyond Swedish massage to cocktails that Mother Nature herself would gladly tip back. PiÒa coladas are made with fresh fruit puree, while aloe in the refreshing Strawberry Botanical reportedly aids digestion. Other aromatic whistle-whetters - many of which include herbs grown in the resort's on-site garden - include the Garden Fresh Mary and Carrot Ginger Cocktail. 5402 E. Lincoln Dr., Paradise Valley, 800-242-2635, camelbackspa.com

 

 

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