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Jun 20, 2009 10:49 AM

What to eat in Arizona?

Will be staying in Sedona for a week in a rental condo and doing day trips to Painted Desert, Phoenix, etc. Driving to Sedona from Las Vegas via Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon (south rim). On a strict budget (will mostly do grocery shopping and cook at home).

I'm wondering where we can buy/eat cheap but tasty food and drink in any of the regions listed above, including:

-Southern Barbecue (Texas style is preference, but also enjoy Memphis and Carolina)

-Rattlesnake, bison, buffalo, cactus, prickly pear and other southwestern desert area "specialty" foods (are there others? what are the local beers/wines/cocktails to try?)

- Mexican, Tex-Mex or Latin American (hope to eat one nice meal at Elote Cafe in Sedona)

- picnic supplies or road trip snacks (including In-N-Out Burgers...never tried 'em)


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  1. You might want to be a bit more specific with where you're going... Painted Desert is a wide swath. One of the more famous parts, Petrified Forest National Park, is 150 miles east of Sedona. Phoenix, on the other hand, is 110 miles south of Sedona. That little "etc." could mean anything in between, or something entirely in the other direction.

    If you want Texas, Memphis, or Carolina style barbecue, your best bets are in Texas, Memphis, and Carolina. Barbecue in AZ is closer to Texas than anything else, but we don't do beef nearly as much as in Texas. Your path into our fair state takes you relatively close to the absolute best barbecue place in Arizona: Eat At Joe's Barbecue in beautiful downtown Wikieup, about 30 miles south of the I-40 (your route from Kingman to Grand Canyon/Sedona). The Mojave Greens are addictive; jalapeƱos stuffed with crab and cream cheese, wrapped in bacon and smoked. Their house wings are ridiculously good too. Pick up some homemade beef jerky for road nibbles. A distant second place for barbecue is Joe's Real BBQ (no relation between the two Joes) in Gilbert, a suburb of Phoenix.

    Rattlesnake is not a local specialty, it is a local novelty delicacy. Tourists eat it, locals don't. The flavor is mild, and there's a lot of bones to deal with. There are two places I can think of off the top of my head that serve it. Both are in Phoenix. One is Rustler's Rooste, the other is Rawhide, both are ridiculous tourist traps. If you REALLY want to try rattlesnake, get it in the bar at Rustler's Rooste and then go somewhere good for dinner.

    Buffalo is not a Southwestern regional specialty. Buffalo were east of the Rockies. Bison were too ;)

    If you see cactus on a menu, it's certainly going to be prickly pear. It's more commonly seen as a side dish in Mexican restaurants by its Spanish name, nopales (no-PAH-lays). The first place I can think of that serves up nopales is Tradiciones at Phoenix Ranch Market on 16th Street and Roosevelt in central Phoenix. Phoenix Ranch Market is a chain of Hispanic grocery stores in town. Inside each is a food court area that has all kinds of delicious offerings. Tradiciones is the company's full-service restaurant, located right next door to what is considered their flagship store in the area. I like the food inside the food court more, but Tradiciones has the all-around experience going for it, especially if live musicians are strolling around. If you go to Tradiciones, the thing to get is the Parrilada. It's a selection of fresh-grilled meats with homemade tortillas and all the trimmings (including your nopales). The portions on that are very generous- the one that serves two could feed three easily. If you do go to Tradiciones, it is still very much worth your time to wander around the Market. The atmosphere is vibrant, and there's all kinds of food available. These days there's pollo asado roasting out front, usually elote (roasted corn topped with butter, Mexican cheese, and chiles) near the exit, and all kinds of stands inside with food ready to eat. You'll likely be some of the only gringos in the place, but don't worry, most of the staff is bilingual and quite helpful. Ask questions, the staff is friendly and helpful. You might wish to bring along a cooler for this leg of the journey; the food at the Ranch Market is plentiful and very inexpensive. At the least, pick up a bag or two of tortillas.

    Oh, speaking of tortillas, another great place for Mexican food is Carolina's down on 12th Street and Mohave. It's a dive- the place looks like it's about 15 years overdue for a paint job, the food is all served in Styrofoam boxes on orange plastic trays. But oh MAN is it good! When I go, I usually get WAY more than I can possibly eat and take the majority of it home for lunch the next day. My favorites include the Oaxaca Special burro (filled with beans, chorizo, potatoes, and cheese), and their enchiladas (killer red sauce, also available to go). They also make the absolute best flour tortillas in town. Get two dozen to go. One dozen isn't going to survive the trip back up to Sedona. Usually one of the still-warm tortillas gets devoured before I manage to leave the parking lot.

    We don't do Tex-Mex in these parts. We do Sonoran, and have quite a few New Mexican restaurants (i.e. food from New Mexico, not Mexican that is new) as well. As New Mexican is all but impossible to find outside here and New Mexico, you would be wise to partake in a true regional specialty. The two places I would recommend are either Richardson's or Los Dos Molinos, with Richardson's getting the nod by a nose. Now if you enjoy fiery food, Los Dos Molinos is going to be your better bet, but in general the food is better at Richardson's. Also note that the plates at Richardson's run $12-29, with bunches hovering around $15 and $25, while Los Dos is $11-14.

    Another regional delicacy you might want to track down are Rocky Mountain oysters. I know Stockyards carries them under the title of Calf Fries, but can't think of anywhere else that carries them. What *are* calf fries, you ask? They're the product of when ranchers turn a bull into a steer. Any further explanation is best left to Wikipedia. Of the local delicacies, it's more likely that calf fries were actually eaten at some time than rattlesnake was.

    I just saw you were looking for local beers too- the leading local brew is Four Peaks. There's also Oak Creek Brewery up in Sedona. They have a brewpub inside of Tlaquepaque (which you MUST visit- to me, Tlaquepaque IS Sedona), and also the brewery hiding off the beaten path. As far as the local cocktails... Margaritas. I'll take mine on the rocks, with salt please. The most common variation on it is a prickly pear margarita. Note that this is made with the bright magenta fruit of the prickly pear, while nopales are the pads of the prickly pear.

    Oh-KAY I think that should be enough to get a good start. Have fun in our fair state!

    Phoenix Ranch Market III
    1602 E Roosevelt St, Phoenix, AZ 85006

    Carolina's Mexican Food Restaurant
    1202 E Mohave St, Phoenix, AZ 85034

    Stockyards Restaurant
    5009 E Washington St Ste 115, Phoenix, AZ 85034

    Rustler's Rooste Steakhouse with a View
    8383 S 48th St, Phoenix, AZ

    Oak Creek Brewing Co
    2050 Yavapai Dr, Sedona, AZ 86336

    3 Replies
    1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

      Good post JK, Joe's BBQ is great, always go there when I visit my buddy in Chandler. I'm from Tucson, you even mention the word Tex Mex in any of the Mexican joints here and you're asking to get thrown out!

      1. re: mrbigshotno.1

        I've had to travel to Sedona several times on business this year - JK's recommendation of the Oak Creek Brewery and Talaquepaque are on the mark.

        Elote is one of my favorite restaurants in Arizona - great margaritas, its not an inexpensive place to dine - recommend you get there early unless you have a party of 6 or more they don't take reservations, it was pretty windy on their outdoor patio - pretty sunset views but windblown.

        Also at Tlaquepaque is a Mexican restaurant (Casa Rincon?) that has several unique adaptions of Mexican food they hang their sombrero on. They offer chile relleno's two different ways, I had one of each last time there - I recommend the traditional with green chile sauce.Easy to fill up on chips and a pretty bland salsa, ask your server to bring the spicy one the help eats!

        If you're looking for budget/bargain dining next to Tlaquepaque is a resort wtih an Italian restaurant (Joe's Bistro) they featured an all you can eat pasta bowl for under $10 - select from several pastas and sauces, have a glass of wine and its one of the least expensive dining experiences in Sedona which isn't cheap city to dine in from my trips there. The owner is from Brooklyn and is very personable.

        If I recall correctly the Cowboy Club on the Main St (i.e. - tourist part of town) had rattlesnake as an appetizer .

        There was a fairly new barbecue restaurant in a small stripmall near the big roundabout just below downtown with an outdoor deck, enjoyed a brisket plate - spicy, vinegary sauce was my favorite, its probably the most afforadable restaurant with a view in Sedona.

        If by chance you refer to Michael and Jane Sterns book including cates along route 66 or I-40 be forewarned - I ate at the one in Holbrook and had a terrible experience and meal - the place (I think it was Aggie's) was filthy, service surly and the roadside Mexican food terrible.

        Happy travels and dining to you.

      2. Grocery stores: look for Sunflower Markets or Trader Joe's which will have good prices and local things too.


        1. Any suggestions for organic, nitrate-free, dairy-free, fresh, local groceries and meat in Sedona or Canyon area would also be greatly appreciated.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Food Tourist

            For those types of items, the main chain stores in the SW are Trader Joe's, Sunflower Market, and Whole Foods. Although the latter is nationwide they do seem to try to purchase some items locally. At the least, most have a display of local honey, preserves, dried foods, etc. It would be worth a web search for Sedona area farmer's markets. The Grand Canyon area will be more difficult, if those criteria are essential you may need to take some things with you.

            Also, look for fresh roasted green chiles. It's not high season for them yet, but Latin oriented grocery stores (Ranch Market and Food City are two local chains) often have them roasting out front. They're great for spicing up things you make at home; I love them in a grilled cheese sandwich or an omelet. Those two chains will have a wide selection of other chiles too (fresh or dried), and often sell nopales and prickly pear fruit, if you want to try cooking those at home. Prickly pear fruit make a pretty good dessert sauce, there should be recipes on Epicurious or other web sites.

          2. Sedona is a popular tourist area so you won't have problems finding tourist fare. The prices tend to be a bit higher than you'd find at your local restaurant but the food you'll find is overall very good quality, so you'll get what you pay for.

            Ratuetuate was correct that the Cowboy Club has rattlesnake. They actually have a great appetizer plate that includes Cactus Fries (deep fried Nopalitas Cactus with a great sweet prickly pear sauce), Buffalo Brochettes and Snake Brochettes as well as their signature flat bread. The Cactus fries are one of my favorites (watch out they're addicting) prepared with a light breading, the buffalo is always prepared a perfect medium rare so that it's not tough and the snake is OK, it can be a little bland. The flat bread is seasoned nicely and is also great dipped in the prickly pear sauce that comes with the cactus fries. At $19.95 it's not inexpensive, but you do receive enough samples of the items to allow a table of four to sample everything. It's an easy way to try the items you mentioned all at once.

            Something to consider while visiting is sampling the local wines. There are 13 wineries in northern Arizona and most of the restaurants in Sedona support them. You may try visiting the Art of Wine in the Hyatt Pinon Pointe shops in Uptown Sedona where they allow you sample many of the wines from the area, or Made In Arizona (in the Oak Creek Marketplace next to the Cowboy Club).

            Elote Cafe was mentioned and it's one of my new favorites in Sedona. The chef focuses on quality and prefers local products when possible. You can find Arizona Stronghold and Page Springs wines at this location by the glass (both Arizona favorites). He also includes local beers and even a local Flagstaff distilled vodka. The food is delicious and if possible try to get there around sunset and enjoy dining on the patio.

            You may try shopping at the New Frontiers Market in West Sedona. They focus on high quality natural foods and will have some local Arizona favorites. You may want to visit New York Bagel and Deli (in the New Frontiers shopping center) for breakfast or picnic items. Ross and Lois are from New York but have lived in Sedona for the last ten years and have a become a local favorite.

            You may want to steer clear of the touristy prickly pear margaritas - most of the time they are very sweet and more of a novelty item than representative of Arizona.

            You'll have a great time!

            Cowboy Club
            241 N Highway 89A, Sedona, AZ

            Art of Wine
            101 N Highway 89A # B9, Sedona, AZ

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