The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa
There are food moments that you never forget. And the cuisines of the Southwest are rich with culinary memories for me: the spicy dip in a Phoenix restaurant that was my kids’ introduction to fiery jalapenos; the tasty salsas, tamales and chimichangas in Tucson’s Mexican eateries; and the puffy Navajo fry bread, traditionally fried on the end of a green piñon twig.
Traditional Southwest cooking is rooted in a pantry of corn, beans, squash and chiles. From small corner eateries to Phoenix’s upscale restaurants, I’ve found good-quality ingredients and dishes that are a treat for the tastebuds.
What makes Arizona’s Southwest cuisine unique is the intersection of several cultures – primarily the conquistadors of Spain and the Native Americans. The pioneers, ranchers and cowboys who homesteaded the western frontier brought their own touches to the ingredients of the ranch lands, the high desert and the mountains. Chuckwagon steaks grilled over a mesquite fire? You’ll find everywhere from a ranch stay to a five-star city restaurant. Chiles served stuffed, fried, battered and as a seasoning? Try any of a thousand Mexican restaurants.
In Arizona’s big cities – like Tucson and Phoenix – creative chefs are experimenting with fusion-style cooking. Combined with the traditional eateries of the Southwest, the choices for a dinner out are endless.
And while you may not think of wine when you think of Arizona, the state’s microclimates are home to three main wine trails, linking a dozen vineyards and more than 60 wineries. Arizona’s growing wineries are one of the state’s best-kept secrets.
Metropolitan Tucson CVB
There’s no shortage of flavours to excite just about any foodie:
- Chocolate-covered bacon anyone? In February the city of Glendale (on the outskirts of Phoenix) hosts The Chocolate Affaire, a true romance with the decadent treat. Chocolate is found in every form, on its own and coating everything from bits of Key lime pie to deep-fried churros to bacon. www.glendaleaz.com
- In the southern part of the state, the Old West Highway is the route for the Salsa Trail, linking communities and businesses that grow, produce and serve the spicy Mexican condiment, farm fresh chiles and homemade corn and wheat tortillas. In September the annual SalsaFest in Safford puts on a salsa challenge, jalapeno eating contest and hot air balloon rides. www.salsatrail.com
- The brand-new Grand Canyon Dinner Theatre & Steakhouse brings world-class dinner theatre to the South Rim gateway community of Tusayan. The hour-long musical show features song and performance. Dinner is served family-style and includes all the traditional fixins’. www.grandcanyondinnertheatre.com
- Prepare for a road that twists and turns to the mile-high arts community of Jerome, home of The Haunted Hamburger. The menu is peppered with Arizona specials – Prickly Pear Mojitos, the 16-oz Haunted Sirloin, or the massive Double Haunted Burger topped with guacamole and green chiles. www.thehauntedhamburger.com
- The newly-opened Brat Haus in downtown Scottsdale shakes up things with over two-dozen craft beers on the menu as well as house-made gourmet sausages from traditional style to the more exotic, including habanero chicken, wild boar and rattlesnake. www.brathausaz.com
- Foodies get to share table space with the chef at Feast, the interactive communal meal held on the last Tuesday of every month at Talavera, the signature restaurant at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North. The meal focuses on locally-sourced ingredients and Arizona Stronghold wines. www.talaverarestaurant.com
- In Tucson, one of the nation’s great botanical gardens, the Tohono Chul Park, has opened the new Tohono Chul Garden Bistro. Breakfast and lunch are served in the garden surroundings, with a focus on dishes made with local, organic ingredients. www.tohonochulpark.org
- Follow the neon saguaro sign in Tucson to the Monterey Court Café and Bistro, in a repurposed 1930s motor court motel. The historical property also has live music and a weekly farmers’ market. www.montereycourtaz.com
- The ASU performing arts theatre, ASU Gammage, has teamed up with over a dozen Tempe restaurants to offer special dinner and a show deals to Broadway and BEYOND ticketholders on days of performances. www.asugammage.com
- Named as One of the Top 50 Plates in the Country by USA Today, El Charro Café in Tucson is the nation’s oldest Mexican restaurant in continuous operation by the same family. The menu is a who’s-who of Mexican dinner favourites – from fresh made guacamole to fajita platters and colourful banderas. www.elcharrocafe.com
- Three main wine trails – the Verde Valley Wine Trail in the north, the Sonoita/Elgin Wine Trail in the far south, and the Willcox Wine Trail in the southeast offer a variety of skilfully crafted wines to satisfy any wine taster. There are guided tours, tasting rooms, festivals and wine/food pairings. www.arizonawine.org