Before I really got to know about Arizona I always (mistakenly) thought it was just a desert – and never in a million years thought that it would have an amazing food culture. But boy was I wrong! Not only does it grow its own olives and produce its own olive oil, it is also home to the number one lettuce capital of the US, and grows and produces pecans, dates, wine, beer and salsa (it even has its own Salsa Trail).
The list is just too long to create just one blog post so I’ve gone ahead and created my top four food experiences – all under fun themes for you to enjoy! Just hope you can contain your enthusiasm as you read about all of the mouth-watering experiences awaiting visitors to the Grand Canyon state…
BEST ROMANTIC FOOD EXPERIENCE
The Royal Palms Resort & Spa is without a doubt one of the MOST romantic spots in Arizona – it even has a resident Director of Romance (that’s how romantic it is!). I enjoyed my dinner outside on the restaurant’s beautiful patio, which was dim-lit with candles everywhere and surrounded by the resort’s citrus groves. We had impeccable, friendly service and the food was…amazing. I indulged and had the lobster tortellini, which was soaked in a delectable butter sauce. I also tried three of the restaurants appetizers (its menu is seasonal so certain items change throughout the year) – Crab Cake, Jumbo Prawns & Peach Salad – and two of its signature desserts – Caramel Cheesecake Crème Brulée and the Inside Out ‘Ice Cream’ Sandwich – all worthy of the calories (and great choices for two to share!). I was surprised to find out that the orange trees that grace its courtyard are the source for all of the resort’s marmalade – and guests can also purchase a jar to take home with them as a souvenir!
BEST OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH FOOD EXPERIENCE
One of Tucson’s hidden gems – frequented mainly by locals – is the authentic Mexican restaurant El Guero Canelo. Started by the Contreras family in 1993 and was originally just a simple 6’ x 8’ taco stand (the stand has since been expanded but the original still exists – it’s the South Tucson location on 12th Street!). It’s also home to the famous Sonora Hot Dog – a local favourite and surprisingly delicious. So what is it exactly? Well, it’s a hot dog wrapped in mesquite-smoked bacon, cooked on a grill, then topped with beans, grilled onions, fresh onions, tomatoes, mayonnaise, cream sauce, mustard and Jalapeno salsa or sauce – the bun was not a traditional hot dog bun but quite a bit fluffier and sweeter. I was not brave enough to try a hot dog on my own so it was shared – I also ordered a traditional burrito – or burros – mine was the medium chicken with beans, cabbage and cheese. The best part was adding the toppings – there’s a topping cart in the middle of the covered outdoor-style restaurant that includes pickled onions, salsas, fried spring onions and more. Simply delicious!
BEST ‘SEASONAL’ FOOD EXPERIENCE
While in Tucson, I stayed at the beautiful boutique hotel, Lodge on the Desert, situated on five acres in mid-town. Perhaps sometimes overlooked for other resorts in the area, Lodge on the Desert was absolutely beautiful – it had a gorgeous outdoor fireplace in its restaurant’s courtyard, a beautiful pool and lovely rooms. The restaurant (for me) was the best part though – all creations come from Executive Chef Ryan Clark, a native Tucsonan whose farm-to-table concept and slow food motif complements the Lodge’s casual elegance. Dining outdoors I enjoyed the Grilled Organic Salmon that is usually served with a creamy tri-colored orzo, goat cheese and smoked tomato cream, saute spinach, carrot-chive-beet salad but I was naughty and actually had it substituted for the (seasonal) basil-spaghetti squash. For dessert we shared the (seasonal) “Kinda” Pumpkin Roll: spiced pumpkin bread, baked almond-praline, sweetened nutmeg cream cheese, made-to-order roasted meringue – it was superb.
BEST ETHNIC FOOD EXPERIENCE
A great ‘foodie’ excursion in Scottsdale is the three-hour ‘A Taste of old Town Scottsdale’ tour presented by Destination Food Tours. Different tours are available so there’s always something new to experience but I must share my favourite stop (though hard to narrow down!): it might come as a surprise but it was Malee's Thai Bistro and Sushi Bar. Located in a 1920s-style building on Main Street amongst art galleries, Malee’s has been serving delicious Thai food since 1987. It is here that I tasted the absolute BEST Tom Ka Gai soup I have ever had – and was surprised to find out that the kaffir lime leaf, Galanga root and lemongrass used in the soup are all grown in the restaurant’s backyard garden. Fans of the food can also take a turn at making it themselves at one of the restaurant’s Saturday cooking classes.
Jennifer McGibbon joined the Arizona Office of Tourism team in August 2012 as the new Public Relations Manager for the Canadian market. Jennifer comes with 10 years of experience in Public Relations and a lifetime of travel experience. Having caught the travel bug at an early age, Jennifer usually finds herself eating her way through different countries and cities (sometimes a little too much!). Her favourite destinations include Rome, Paris, London…and now, of course, Arizona.