Wondering what exactly is Arizona food? Then you’ve come to the right place!
Sonora, a state on the Mexican border, has influenced the cuisine of Arizona because of its rich desert geography and history. Over 20 Native American tribes call Arizona home, as do newcomers from around the world and out-of-state settlers looking for the sun.
Arizona’s Southwestern cuisine is the result of their combined influences.
International restaurants are abundant in large cities, serving everything from Peruvian ceviche to Jamaican braised oxtails and Korean corn dogs.
As well as regional chain restaurants, Phoenix has outposts of a beloved New York City food cart and a famed Chicago chicken shack.
Local ingredients are being celebrated in fine dining restaurants in new ways, earning them national acclaim.
Spanish missionaries shifted the Tohono O’odham east of the Gila River 400 years ago, and food culture in Arizona dates back to that time.
Early O’odham food was primarily flavored and textured with seeds from saguaro fruits.
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The Best Arizona Food
Whether it is a dish whose traditions are firmly rooted in Arizona soil or an indigenous ingredient that can only be found here in the Grand Canyon State, these delicious foods should be savored in the Grand Canyon State.
It is widely acknowledged that cheese crisps originated in Arizona. Griddle-fried flour tortillas topped with crumbled cheese are a popular bar snack.
The dish can be served as-is, or enhanced with onions, chiles or other toppings before being sliced and shared. There is also a classic option of sprinkling strips of green chile across the melted cheese in a star pattern.
While it is unknown whether or not they originated in Tucson, El Charro Café Mexican restaurant and Macayo’s Mexican Food in Phoenix are likely candidates.
A Phoenix institution with a confirmed history, Teepee Mexican food offers three versions of its renowned cuisine.
If you deep-fry a burrito, you’ll get good things out of it. Many sit-down Mexican restaurants in the state serve crunchy-fried tortillas topped with shredded or chopped meat. It’s hard to escape the fact that the chimichanga’s origin story is contested.
There’s no doubt that it was invented in Mexico, where it’s a rolled meat sandwich filled with mayonnaise and chopped tomatoes. However, several Arizona restaurants also claim its invention, including Phoenix’s Macayo’s and El Tanquero cafe. Charro Café in Tucson, too.
A famous Mexican curse word came out of the mouth of founder Monica Flin after she accidentally dropped a burrito into the fryer one day.
It doesn’t matter where it originated; the Arizona chimichanga is now a staple, especially when it comes smothered in red or green chile sauce. Delicious!
Sonoran Hot Dogs
Phoenix version of the New York and Chicago hot dogs is the Sonoran hot dog. They feature a fusion of American pork products and Mexican flavors, wrapped in bacon and stuffed with pinto beans, onion, tomato, mayo, mustard and jalapeno salsa.
Initially developed in Sonora’s capital of Hermosillo, where the hot dogs were sold at baseball games, these dogs arrived in Arizona during the ‘90s and were popularized by competing Tucson vendors El Güero Canelo and BK.
Earlier this year, the hot dog made history by winning the coveted James Beard Award in America’s Classics category, solidifying its status as an iconic food.
In most Arizona cities, the best Sonoran hot dogs can be found at roadside carts, often with add-ons such as Hot Cheetos and nacho cheese.
Also, If they are accompanied by a green bulb onion and a toasted yellow chile güero, they are even better!
A chain of sandwich shops based in Tucson, their icy fruit drinks go by the shop’s name.
The texture and flavor of an Eegee are a cross between slushy and Italian ice. Still, the ever-changing ‘flavors of the month’ have included mango tango, orange dream, and galactic grape.
Founded in the early 1970s by Edmund Irving and Robert Greenberg, the company sold iced creations from a food truck.
There are now dozens of Eegee’s locations in Tucson and Casa Grande, and a location in Gilbert in the Valley. I definitely recommend this drink when the weather is hot!
Prickly pear candy and pink syrup are sold at airport gift stands, as the fruit of the cactus is synonymous with desert vacations.
Despite the sweet prickly pear candies, most locals prefer the prickly pear drinks, ranging from sour beers to fuchsia cocktails.
A hot pink prickly pear lemonade is a refreshing summer drink. Prickly pear margaritas are a favorite at Mexican restaurants for those looking to add some agave to their Southwestern drink.
You can find golf ball-sized purple fruits called tunas at farmers markets and grocery stores in late summer and early winter.
Navajo tacos are known as Indian tacos because they replace tortillas with fry bread, layered with beans, beans, chili, ground beef, lettuce, tomato, onion and cheese.
Arizona’s Indigenous communities often serve these tacos at fundraising events, powwows and roadside stands, although they are not exclusive to Diné communities.
There is even a place called The Stand on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. An iconic food in its own right, fry bread is a golden-brown flatbread crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.
Also, it’s a food with a complicated relationship with Indigenous people and food tainted by trauma.
Around the middle of the 1800s, the U.S. forced Diné people living in present-day Arizona to walk for 300 miles into New Mexico, where they were forced to grow their crops on land they couldn’t cultivate.
In its place, the government provided them with flour, sugar, salt and lard, which they would later use to make fry bread.
Indigenous tribes in the Southwest grounded mesquite pods into flour for centuries as a food source.
These long, flat legumes grow on mesquite trees native to the deserts of Arizona. During the summer, when they begin to turn yellow, they’re ready to harvest. You can mill them into sweet and nutty flour, which can be used to make everything from pancakes to pasta.
Mesquite flour is an uncommon pantry item today, but local chefs and bakers find new ways to use it.
Scottsdale’s Super Chunk Sweets & Treats is famous for its mesquite chocolate chip cookies, which have won local and national awards.
Original Chopped Salad
According to local foodies, the Original Chopped Salad is sometimes described as the unofficial ‘state salad’.
The salad is composed of chopped arugula, smoked salmon, pearl couscous, pepitas, asiago cheese, dried sweet corn and marinated Roma tomatoes.
This dish became popular at Cowboy Ciao in Scottsdale over 20 years ago, called the Stetson Chopped Salad.
According to an article published in The Arizona Republic in 1984, a similar dish was served at Steven, another now-closed Scottsdale restaurant.
In his time at Cowboy Ciao, Chef Bernie Kantak updated the dish, which you can now find on menus throughout the Valley.
There is nothing quite like Arizona burritos. They are nothing like the Mission-style burrito you’ll find at Chipotle or at many burrito shops in California – they have a scoop of meat on a fresh flour tortilla, perhaps with some cheese or guacamole.
The Arizona burrito hits you hard, just like the ones brought from northern Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua in the 1900s by workers hungry for a protein-filled, filling meal.
Take a bite from one of their Mexican joints open 24 hours a day, such as Filiberto’s or Riliberto’s, Alberto’s or Los Betos. Just make sure you’re hungry beforehand. Don’t forget to order a side of salsa hot to go with your meal.
Native American Fry Bread
As a result of the Long Walk, the Navajo people from Arizona were deported 300 miles to a reservation in New Mexico in 1864, when they made fry bread for the first time.
A Navajo recipe for bread consisted of flour, water, salt and baking powder, which was fried in lard, with limited supplies.
In the modern era, the dish has been adapted by other tribes, and the fluffy bread is usually topped with beans, meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and sour cream, or it’s used as a shell to wrap taco fixings.
Experience some of the best fry bread in the state at the Hopi Cultural Center while exploring the Hopi Arts Trail.
Summary Of The 10 Must-Try Arizona Dishes
Many breathtaking views can be found in Arizona, including the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, and Saguaro National Park.
It is not uncommon for visitors to come from miles away to experience other natural wonders like Havasu Falls and Meteor Crater.
Nearly 7 million people live in Arizona, and Arizonans have developed a rich culinary culture.
So, if you are a serious foodie, you might really consider visiting Arizona and trying all the different amazing dishes!
Visiting other destinations in Arizona? Check out our other guides:
- 15 Best Restaurants in Prescott, Arizona
- 7 Sedona Restaurants With a View
- 10 Fun Things To Do In Goodyear Arizona
- 6 Must-Try Glendale Restaurants
- 8 Best Cave Creek Restaurants
- 5 Best Scottsdale AZ Restaurants
Which of these Arizona foods do you want to try first? Let us know in the comments section below!
Igor Jovanovski is an aspiring digital nomad, travel blogger and graphic designer who really loves food. He also has a creative side, and he works as a freelance graphic designer in his spare time. He has traveled across Europe quite a few times since he was young and recently started his mission to visit every country in the world! Igor’s favorite thing about traveling is the way he gets to know new people, food, places and cultures.
This exciting experience helps him create his own stories and make memories that will last forever