Arizona's delicious cuisine influence ranges wide, from its rich desert geography to its deep history with the Mexican border state of Sonora. Many Communities call Arizona home, including more than 20 different Native American tribes. Immigrants from around the world and out-of-state transplants chasing the sun. All together, they have shaped Arizona's vibrant blend of Southwestern cuisine.
In larger cities, one can find a wonderland of international restaurants serving everything from Peruvian ceviche to Jamaican braised oxtail and Korean corn dogs. Phoenix is also peppered with regional chain restaurants from around the country, such as a famed Chicago chicken shack and outposts of a beloved New York City food cart. Chefs at fine dining restaurants used to explore new ways to celebrate local ingredients and they are also earning national acclaim in the process.
There are a few dishes that ARE quintessentially Arizonan, for residents and visitors alike. From Navajo fry bread to prickly pear margaritas, chimichangas to Sonoran hot dogs, these 10 dishes are essential Arizona eats.
Arizona burritos are usually made with meat and they are famous as meaty treasure. Unlike the Mission-style burritos one can find a place like Chipotle or at many burrito shops in California, mostly some of them keep it simple with just a scoop of meat, like carne asada, carnitas or spiced pork adobada, and perhaps a little cheese or guacamole wrapped in a fresh flour tortilla.
One would not find rice, sour cream, lettuce or other ingredients packed in, because Arizona burritos kick-it old school, reflecting the ones brought from the northern Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua in the 1900s by migrant farmworkers who needed a protein-packed, filling meal to get them through a hard day of work. Try one from any of their 24-hour Mexican joints, like Filiberto’s or its counterparts, Riliberto’s, Aliberto's or Los Betos.
Good things happen when one can take a burrito and deep fry it. A crispy-fried tortilla surrounding chopped or shredded meat is a central part of the menu at most sit-down Mexican restaurants in the state. The chimichanga's contested origin story just feeds into the lore of the dish. It’s true that it may have been invented in Mexico, where it’s about the size of an egg roll or a flat square that’s topped with mayonnaise and chopped tomatoes, but several Arizona restaurants also lay claim to its creation, including Phoenix-based Macayo’s.
As the story goes at El Charro, founder Monica Flin accidentally dropped a burrito into the fryer one day and began to mutter a famous Mexican curse word. No matter where it came from, the Arizona chimichanga is now a local staple, especially when it’s smothered in red or green chile sauce.
Sonoran hot dogs :
The Sonoran dog is Arizona’s answer to New York and Chicago dogs. It is Wrapped in bacon and the bun stuffed with pinto beans, onions, tomato, mayo, mustard and jalapeno salsa, the Sonoran dog is a fusion of American pork products with vibrant Mexican flavors. It was Originally invented in Sonora’s capital of Hermosillo where they were sold at baseball games, the dogs made it up to Arizona in the 90s and were popularized by competing
Tucson vendors El Güero Canelo and BK. In 2018, El Güero Canelo made history by receiving a coveted James Beard Award in the America’s Classics category, solidifying the hot dog’s iconic status. While the recipe can be tweaked with add-ons like Hot Cheetos and nacho cheese, the best Sonoran dogs tend to be traditional ones found at roadside carts in most Arizona cities. They’re even better when they come with a toasted yellow chile güero and a green bulb onion on the side.
Eegee's is a Tucson-based chain of sandwich shops known for its icy fruit drinks that go by the same name. The texture of an Eegee is a cross between a slushie and an Italian ice, but the flavours can get more creative with lemon, strawberry and pina colada options along with the ever-changing flavours of the month that have included the likes of mango tango, orange dream and galactic grape.
The name is a combination of the initials of founders Edmund Irving and Robert Greenberg, who started selling their iced creations from a food truck in the early ’70s. Today, Eegee’s has dozens of locations across Tucson and Casa Grande, and recently opened a Valley location in Gilbert.
Tequila sunrise :
Although Mick Jagger popularised the tequila sunrise on the Rolling Stones 1972 tour, a fun fact that many may not realise is that the tequila sunrise cocktail was reportedly created right here in Phoenix many years earlier. There is a story which is referred to as the, in the 1940s, bartender Gene Sulit worked at the Wright Bar inside the Arizona Biltmore Resort.
When a customer asked for a refreshing tequila cocktail to beat the Arizona heat, Sulit mixed up a colourful cocktail with gradient colours, like a sunrise, hence the name. The original tequila sunrise had no orange juice or grenadine in sight; instead, the cocktail was made with black currant liqueur creme de cassis mixed with tequila, lime, ice and soda water. The classic is still available at the Arizona Biltmore resort bars and swimming pools where guests can sip a tequila sunrise poolside.
Cheese crisps :
Cheese crisps are widely acknowledged to have been created in Arizona. The bar snack consists of a flour tortilla sprinkled with shredded cheese and griddled until crispy. It can be served as is or spruced up with onions, chiles or other toppings before being sliced to share.
One classic option includes strips of green chile spread out in a star pattern across the melty cheese. Their exact point of origin is disputed, but likely contenders include El Charro Cafe Mexican restaurant in Tucson and Macayo's Mexican Food in Phoenix. Teepee Mexican food, an old school Phoenix spot with a storied history of its own, offers three different versions.
Prickly Pear :
Little stands at the airport are filled with bright boxes of prickly pear candy and bottles of luminescent pink syrup, as the sweet cactus fruit has become synonymous with desert vacations. And while the candies can be a treat, most locals forgo them in favour of prickly pear drinks from sour beers to fuchsia cocktails.
Many restaurants serve hot pink prickly pear lemonade, a refreshing summer sipper, and for those looking to add a little agave to their Southwestern drink, prickly pear margaritas are a favourite at Mexican restaurants. Look for the golf ball sized purple fruits, called tunas, at farmers markets and grocery stores from late summer through early winter.
Navajo Tacos :
A typical Navajo taco is also called an Indian taco. swaps tortillas with fry bread and is then layered with beans or bean chilli and topped with ground beef, lettuce, tomato, onion and cheese. Though not exclusive to Dine people, these tacos are a staple at fundraisers, powwows and roadside stands for Arizona's Indigenous communities. One spot on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community is even called The Stand. Fry bread itself is an iconic food: it is a golden-brown flat bread that is fluffy on the inside, and fried crisp on the outside.
But it's also a food born from trauma and one with which some Indigenous people have a complicated relationship. In the mid-1800s, the U.S. forced Dine people from present-day Arizona to walk 300 miles into present-day eastern New Mexico, where they had to live on land where they couldn't grow their traditional crops. The government instead left them with flour, sugar, salt and lard, ingredients that would later be used to create fry bread.