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Are there any regional foods unique to Arizona and Utah?

I'll be driving down through Arizona and Utah, and want to eat local foods. Are there any foods unique to those states other than, maybe, tacos and fry bread? Foods I'm not gonna find anywhere else? I know there are dozens of regional specialties along the East coast, and through the South -- but what about the Southwest? Is there nothin' but fast foods and, if I'm particularly unlucky, faux French? Help me, please.

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  1. Can you expand on what you mean by "foods you cannot find elsewhere"? Given Phoenix's growth, I believe just about anything can be had here.

    I mean, there are places that sell Scrapple. To me, that's hardcore.

    3 Replies
    1. re: jhenner

      I know that I ate alot of quelites, (wild spinach), frijoles de la hoya (beans cooked in a Mexican Pot with fresh home made tortillas.

      That sure was good eating, I don't know if there was any lead in the hoya but we are all fine.

      1. re: cook52

        They're excellent beans, but they're frijoles de olla, "olla" being the cooking pot. "hoya" without the "h" is kinda how it's pronounced, but if you're looking for "hoya" (river valley or basin) you'll look all day and not find it.

        1. re: desertsun

          thank you, at least I can now sleep at night

    2. Not sure about Utah. In Arizona, there are lots of native foods, but I'm not sure where you'd go to eat them. Can't think of any restaurants that really serve them. I know down in Tucson there's a local group that brings out a portable flour mill to grind Mesquite pods into flour; they have a pancake breakfast with mesquite flour pancakes and cactus syrup. People gather their own pods from the desert or their yards and then bring them to the mill to be ground into flour. But that's only certain times of the year. You can find cactus candies, jellies, marmalades at various shops. I've seen cactus pads (they look like they come from a prickly pear cactus) sold in the grocery store. You can find all kinds of local honeys sold at shops and farmers markets. I love mesquite honey. Orange blossom is popular , too.

      There's always Sonoran style Mexican food. Lots of that in the Southwest.


      2 Replies
      1. re: Jen76

        Yeah, for AZ I was going to say nopales or nopalitos ( cactus ) but I really don't know of any restaurant that serves it regularly - although it's certainly edible and a definite "southwest regional" food.

        There's prickly pear which is used quite a bit in jellies/jams and syrups - mostly a desert type of thing. It's used in a lot of drinks as well. Prickly pear margaritas. There's agave nectar also. Made from the agave plant, it's very similar to honey but sweeter. Tonto Bar & Grill in Cave Creek makes a couple cocktails with it.

        Tonto Bar & Grill
        5736 E Rancho Manana Blvd, Cave Creek, AZ 85331

        1. re: azbirdiemaker

          Is catus products unique to Arizona? I see them in the stores and restaurants. Seems unique.

      2. If you are talking about individual ingredients, then nopales or nopalitos (as birdie said) is very regional. Prickly Pear juice, sauce, etc. is quite delicious and can be used in so many things (I even have a cookbook using PP in each recipe).

        If you are talking about regional dishes, I can think of a few things that I am sure you might be able to recreate at home, but are very common here in Arizona and Utah:

        1. Fry Sauce - Only had it once a long time ago, but our friends up in the Beehive State seem gaga over it.

        2. Carne Seca - Basically, it is beef that is marinated and then dried out in the sun and then reconstituted and added to tacos, enchiladas, or served plain with tortillas. It is fantastic, but I only find it in Tucson.

        3. Cheese Crisps - Others may argue, but I have yet to find a good replica anywhere of my most favorite food ever. It is simple, but the execution determined a good cheese crisp or an awful "cheese limp." Basically, it is a large flour tortilla set on a flat grill and heated. Cheese is then added to the top and allowed to melt and then spread out to cover the tortilla. It is then cooked until the tortilla is crispy and the cheese bubbling. Served with either salsa or taco sauce, it is pure comfort food. (And, no, a cheese crisp is not a quesadilla.)

        4. Don't under-estimate the power of the fry bread. Indian Fry Bread House in Phoenix has a wonderful array of fry breads topped with everything from spicy red chile to cinnamon and honey. It will stop your heart, but you will die with a big smile on your face.

        Hope this helps somewhat.

        3 Replies
          1. re: Seth Chadwick

            Love Fry Bread House. Get one of the combos with all the goodies (lettuce, cheese, chorizo, beans) and go to town.

            And when Seth mentions cheese crisps, just nod and agree... :)

            1. re: Seth Chadwick

              So true about the cheese crisps. I never heard of a quesadilla growing up. cheese chrisp we had all the time.

            2. I'm surprised no one's mentioned chimichangas. I had never heard of them until visiting a friend in Phoenix in 1969. She served up lunch consisting of Mexican takeout with chimichangas as the star item.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Sharuf

                You are sooo right. First I ever had a chimi was Ariz., we, at that time didn't have them in NM.

                1. re: Sharuf

                  It is a true regional specialty. Two places in Arizona claim to have invented them: Macayo's in the Phoenix area, and El Charro Cafe in Tucson. Macayo's claims they did so in the 50s, El Charro all the way back in the 20s. I'm siding with El Charro mostly because they have the better story... someone accidentally dropped a burrito in the deep fryer, and started to say something very dirty in Spanish, but quickly filled in the rest with another word. Sort of the Spanish equivalent of saying "Oh SHI...itake mushrooms". If you end up down in Tucson, you can easily kill two birds with one stone at El Charro and have yourself a carne seca chimichanga. From what I've heard, the original downtown location (where they still hang the carne seca from the roof every day) is the best.

                  1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                    El Charro seems to be sprouting new outlets all the time, but the original location is indeed still good and much nicer atmosphere. Was just there for an excellent lunch in February. The others all seem to have moved into old Sizzlers or the like, from what I can see when we have driven by.

                    1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                      I would eat them at a store called LA Chiuaense (spelling?) in Agua Prieta when we would cross border to Mexico

                      1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                        I'm now a bigger fan of the chimicanga now that I know it started in Arizona, whereever is true. thanks

                    2. tepary beans - they grow wild out hear - i know quiessence usually has a hummus or pate made of them

                      1. If you're looking for "local flavors," the local interpretation of Sonoran Mexican food has a lot of them. In addition to the items already mentioned, things you won't find made in the same way elsewhere in the country include posole, carne asada burros (Arizona style ones are traditionally just tasty meat, none of the rice and bean fillers so common elsewhere), and sopapillas (similar to fry bread with honey, often free with meals at Sonoran style places).

                        Please don't assume a shortish list of "truly local" foods means we eat nothing but fast food in this area! There are many, many excellent local interpretations of cusines you're already familiar with at good restaurants throughout the Southwest. A search on the specific cities you're planning to visit will turn up a lot of them. Southwestern strip mall architecture does tend to make the national chains highly visible (especially from the highway), but that does NOT mean that's all there is to eat!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: bortukan

                          Gee, sounds like New Mexican to me. Huh, until 1912, weren't NM & Ariz. one territory, cousin? Now those greedy Texans wanted NM all the way to the Rio Grande and took El Paseo (They can keep it.) and to add insult to injury, started putting beans in their chile!

                        2. I don't think you're going to find any native regional foods in the US that are still unique to their regions, except in very small niches. However, some noteworthy Arizona regional foods:

                          Lengua De Res & Tacos Lenguas: Beef tongue, and tongue tacos. These are pretty regional to the Arizona/Sonora region, though certainly they exist anywhere beef is eaten in some incarnation.

                          Buñuelos: Sweet fried bread, like a donut.

                          Sopapilla: Sweet fried bread, drizzled with honey. Not like a donut.

                          Chimichangas: Deep fried burrito. Tasty, but bad for you.

                          Mole: Any of a variety of thick chile sauces. Native to Central Mexico, many varieties are common to the New Mexico/Arizona/Sonora culinary region. It's a pretty generic term for a wide variety of sauces.

                          Menudo & Pozole: Two regional soups. Like Mole, there are varieties that span from the Arizona/New Mexico/Sonora region all the way into Central and South America. Pozole in particular has a deep history, dating to pre-Columbian America.

                          In northern Arizona, you may find Pinon nut cakes.

                          Tamales span a huge culinary region, but they belong to Arizona as much as anywhere in the United States. They are a very common local specialty in restaurants in Southern Arizona.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Booklegger451

                            As far as Mole goes, each state in Mexico has their own "take" on Mole. Yes, it is indiginous to Mexico, but is different, depending on the state. Most, that I have sampled in AZ, have been more Sonoran, than, say Morelan. Still, a search for Mole is a wothwhile endeavor.

                            As others have observed, much of the cuisine of AZ is mirrored in NM. Substitute blue corn for white, or yellow, and many of the dishes overlap. One has Indio-Mexican flavors, with the ingredients of the particular region.

                            For my AZ choices, I'd look more towards the Indio's versions - think Navajo there.

                            All of that said, the FOOD of AZ is not to be missed, even if one gets influence from across a state border, or a national one.


                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                              Oh, yes! Give me a great Navajo green chile mutton stew!

                          2. My husband and I visited Arizona last spring and had a wonderful meal at the Turquoise Room. It is at the LaPosada Hotel in Winslow. It is an old railroad hotel that has been renovated. It is a very interesting and charming hotel. We only ate breakfast there but I had Green Chile Eggs-divine! I would love to go back if only for a few more meals there.

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: jackieK

                              The foods of NM and AZ are more similar than different. Call them Soiuthwestern. To write that with the exception of the mountain resorts, UT is not known for its cuisine is to be kind. Salt Lake City has a few good restaurants but is mostly Chainsville. At home, Utahans are known for eating prodigious quantities of Tater Tots and Jello. Someone, I'm sure, will take me to task for this.

                              1. re: ClaireWalter

                                Yep, that's an unfair generalisation Claire :)

                                While I'm not an expert of the indigenous foods of the America's, I do know SLC has plenty of restaurants that would exist happily in much bigger cities.

                                I have been living here for 8 years and not a single tater tot or ounce of green jello has passed my lips.


                                1. re: gringo_stu

                                  Gringo Stu - I defended myself in advance (pre-defended myself?) by writing, "Salt Lake City has a few good restaurants....At home, Utahans are known for eating prodigious quantities of Tater Tots and Jello."

                                  I'll bet if you were living in Provo or Orem or Ogden instead of SLC, you'd have had plenty of opportunities to eat both. I've dined very well in mountain resort towns too, but HLBones wrote, "I'll be driving down through Arizona and Utah, and want to eat local foods." I'll wager that most of the Chowish restaraurants don't serve an awful lot of "local food." But I'm willing to be corrected if I'm mistaken.

                                2. re: ClaireWalter

                                  I disagree, I have lived in Arizona all my life as my parents & grandparents, very different cooking styles & foods. We never ate sopapillas or chicken enchiladas. I think people native Arizonans were far more humble in what they had to eat, simple foods without much fat or not as spicy. Hand made corn and flour tortillas, whole beans not refried, etc. anyway I am sure it is all good but I do prefer the authentic foods.

                                  1. re: cook52

                                    True, but the OP is going to be eating in restaurants, not in people's homes, so most of these responses are tailored to that fact. If you know of any restaurants that serve these types of items, I'm sure people would love to know about them!

                                    As for the Utah discussion; I've had mole several times at the Red Iguana in SLC and loved it. I know, central Mexican rather than "local," but I doubt the rest of the country has much like it, and it sure gave me a favorable impression of SLC food!

                                3. re: jackieK

                                  Great food, I will admit. The chef, however, is British. This does not diminish the great food.


                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                    Seth: "Fry Sauce?!" as a Utah specialty??? OUCH! Sadly, this is true for the mainstream. But for the chowhound, I enthusiastically recommend Pizzeria Seven Twelve in Orem, Utah. It uses only fresh, local ingredients, and as an added bonus, I believe they use Amano chocolate in their chocolate desserts (Amano--fyi--is among the best artisanal chocolates made in the USA and it's made in Orem). The chefs at Pizzeria 712 were formerly at Sundance. These guys have vision and are committed to quality.
                                    I also like the Red Iguana in Salt Lake quite a bit (as opposed to the Blue Iguana), but right now I think Pizzeria 712 is the best thing Utah Valley has got going for it (for mid-range affordable dining)---for what it's worth.

                                    1. re: chocosnob

                                      I think the idea was to come up with foods that one could find only in Utah and Arizona, not necessarily the best food that each state has to offer.

                                      1. re: chocosnob

                                        I was aiming more toward the request for regional foods. "Specialty" is in the eye of the beholder along with "authentic." Something that is mainstream could still be a specialty.

                                  2. One more plug for Orem, Utah. Hardly a local food, but Eliane French Bakery (1750 S. State St. in Orem) is the real deal. The people who own it were trained by a French boulangerie/patisserie chef who helped them import the right equipment and find the right ingredients. The croissants aux amandes are as authentic as anything in France. They have ridiculously copious portions of daily lunch specials (or at least did the last time I went) and all the pastries are top quality EXCEPT creme patissiere-based treats like eclairs (get a pear tart or a charlotte instead).

                                    1. In season, Utah peaches. I don't know if these exist outside of this area but I'd never seen or tasted one before we moved to Arizona. Juicy, sweet and delicious! We had nice peaches in WA but not like this...

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: ziggylu

                                        Honestly, I've never met a Utah peach I liked. Dry and mealy every time. Maybe I'm missing something.

                                        I do confess to being a bit spoiled on southern peaches though. My grandfather was from Arkansas and figured out how to grow southern peaches in his backyard here in AZ. It took a lot of time and care and they were smaller than normal but man were they unbelievable. Nothing compared to Utah peaches in my humble opinion.

                                      2. I grew up in Phoenix back in the 1970s, when Arizona had a very small population. The vast majority of Arizonans were Native American, Caucasian, and Hispanic, or some combination.

                                        The invasion of yuppies seeking sashimi and potato- encrusted halibut came way later.

                                        The Mexican we ate was border food. And IMO the best border Mexican was and is Carolina's, which my parents used to take us to since when it was a shack with a counter back in 1975.

                                        We were friends with the legendary Carolina herself. And whenever anyone in my family sees Carolina's son, Joe, or her D-I-L, they remember my family as being some of their original fans -- which make us the envy of everyone else in line.

                                        Now, Carolina's has two locations ( one is very close to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport) and people line-up to eat there. At lunch on weekdays the line in the south Phoenix location can have 50 people in it, but it's obviously worth the wait. And if you call ahead you can go straight to the pick-up line.

                                        Also, all my friends from college, who used to visit me in Arizona over the summers, and who I took there, became fans. Some planning special stop-overs in Phoenix to eat at Carolina's TO THIS DAY.

                                        The machaca burrito and the oaxaca special are my favorites. The machaca taco plate is just yummy too.

                                        The hot sauce is HOT sauce, not salsa, but I take back quarts of it when I come back to California. I put it on everything from pizza to steamed broccoli. I keep the hot sauce for months in the fridge, but I would suggest that others don't keep it that long.

                                        The new Carolina's, the one in north Phoenix, has salsa verde, which is also excellent.

                                        Whenever I go home (to Arizona) my first stop, even before visiting my parents, is Carolina's if it's open. My sister got her fancy wedding catered by them.

                                        Carolina's Mexican Food (both locations are closed on Sundays)

                                        VERY CHEAP -- NO AMBIENCE UNLESS YOU WANT TO TAKE IN THE REAL PHOENIX.

                                        Location near Sky Harbor Airport

                                        1202 E. Mohave
                                        Phoenix, AZ
                                        (602) 252-1503

                                        North Phoenix
                                        2126 E. Cactus Rd.
                                        Phoenix, AZ
                                        (602) 275-8231

                                        We also love El Norteno on Roosevelt and 7th Ave. Sadly, it's in a very dangerous neighborhood in my opinion, and is literally a tiny taco shack, although it does have an outdoor sit-down area. I can't vouch for the cleanliness.

                                        My mom loves the tamales, and I love the shredded beef taco plate, the hot sauce, and the machaca plate.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: ValleyGal

                                          I can absolutely attest to the phenomenal food at Carolina's. Its an addiction of mine and if you want true, authentic Sonoran style mexican she's as good as it gets. If you've never been you must try the Machaca plate - I always order it with an extra tortilla. I'm also quite fond of her tamales in fact, we order dozens around the holidays (both green and beef).

                                          And I'm jealous too ValleyGal ;)

                                          1. re: ValleyGal

                                            What about Bill Johnston's Big Apple?

                                          2. Chicos, small dried corn kernels to soak with and cook with pinto beans; makes a complete protein. Very old Native American technique.

                                            1. Two restaurants worth trying that will have dishes you will not find elsewhere are Janos in Tucson and Vincents on Camelback in Phoenix. Both feature classically trained chefs who have interpreted local specialties in a contemporary and sophisticated manner. Another place to consider is Kai at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass where they put a Native American spin on everything including ingredients. As for an individual dish; how about stuffed squash blossoms?

                                              6 Replies
                                              1. re: Poerz

                                                In recent years, there has been a resurgence of Native American cooking and cuisine. This is the original cuisine of the Southwest (and other regions of America too!) and is making a strong comeback. Here are a few highlights of opportunities to try some of the unique cuisine of southwester Native peoples.

                                                In April 2009, Desert Rain Café opened in Sells, AZ (the capital of the Tohono O'odham Nation. The café features the traditional foods of the Tohono O'odham - People of the Desert - prepared in both traditional and contemporary ways. Tepary beans, cholla cactus buds, mesquite flour, agave syrup and other traditional foods are the heart of the menu. It is located about an hour from Tucson. The menu can be viewed at www.desertraincafe.com. (Full disclosure: I work for TOCA, the non-profit organization that runs the café. For more information on Tohono O'odham foods, visit www.tocaonline.org).

                                                One of Arizona's few (two maybe?) Mobile 5 Diamond restaurants – Kai Restaurant – focuses on Native American foods and cuisine. "Kai, meaning 'seed' in the Pima language, features a menu rich in creativity, history and Native American culture. Executive Chef Michael O'Dowd incorporates the essence of the Pima and Maricopa tribes and locally farmed ingredients from the Gila River Indian Community to create unforgettable masterpieces. James Beard Award-winning Chef Janos Wilder is consulting chef for Kai and is renowned for creating unique and indigenous menu experiences." Their dedication to utilizing traditional, Native-American ingredients in innovative ways can lead to a remarkable dining experience. For inforrmation: http://www.wildhorsepassresort.com/di...

                                                The Ventana Room in Tucson (also 5 Diamonds) has introduced a Desert Tasting Menu. "From the desert fields of the Tribe to the Ventana Room’s fine dining tables, the Tohono O’odham take pride in serving its crops at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson. Painstakingly hand harvested before being infused into traditional French haute cuisine, the Tohono O’odham provide the enchanting flavors of the southwest to diners in a AAA Five Diamond award-winning restaurant." Visit: www.ventanaroom.com.

                                                For the past several years, TOCA has sponsored the annual Taste of Native Foods fundraising dinner. This event -- held at both Kai and the Ventana Room – brings together six to eight of the top Native American chefs for a multi-course exploration of the indigenous foods of the Americas. An article about the 2009 event can be read at: http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/byauthor/....

                                                There is also the annual Celebration of Basketry & Native Foods Festival which takes place at the Tohono O'odham Nation Museum and Cultural Center in the Spring. It features cooking demonstrations by both traditional Native cooks (e.g., Hopi piki bread) and top Native chefs.

                                                1. re: Tohono Rat

                                                  I wish Arizona developed a chile fetish similar to our New Mexican neighbors... and maybe some unique varieties a la Hatch.

                                                  1. re: Poerz

                                                    I agree completely. Both chefs, and their restaurants, are some of our local favorites. Each chef's take on the local cuisine, passed through that classical training, is unique.

                                                    Good call,


                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                      From what I hear, the Ventana Room may be another casualty of the economy. Rumor has it that it will not be re-open after their normal summer hiatus. It would be quite a shame. That would leave Kai as my "Best of Arizona" without any doubt.

                                                      1. re: Tohono Rat

                                                        When we were in AZ a few years ago, we dined at the Turqoise Room in the La Posada hotel in Winslow, and had an excellent meal that included several dishes whcih focused on Arizona produce, game, and Native American ingredients - including churro lamb (terrific), tepary beans, etc. I'm happy to see that they're still out there - here's their current menu:


                                                        The La Posada itself is a distinctive old Harvey railroad hotel, being restored to it's former glory, and is well worth a visit in and of itself - as is the restaurant.