The rugged spirit of the Old West on which Cave Creek, Arizona was founded is reflected in its restaurant scene. Its combination of retro diners, authentic Sicilian pizza bistros, and old-world Mexican cantinas makes for one of the most interesting and eclectic dining experiences you’ll find anywhere.
Cowboy saloons, biker bars, and intimate cafes that serve Southwestern specialties, mouthwatering steaks, ranch-style BBQ, and nostalgic comfort food have helped establish Cave Creek’s reputation as a charismatic Western town, and it attracts thousands of local and out-of-town visitors annually.
Having so many choices can be overwhelming. If you’re not sure where to start, here are eight suggestions on some restaurants to try. Bon Appétit!
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
- The 8 Best Cave Creek Restaurants
- Cave Creek Restaurant Wrap Up
The 8 Best Cave Creek Restaurants
6248 E. Cave Creek Rd. // (480) 488-1752
If you ask locals where they take out-of-town visitors, El Encanto is one of the restaurants they frequently mention because it offers authentic Mexican food in a gorgeous, relaxing environment.
El Encanto is an old-fashioned hacienda complete with stucco archways and walls, and colorful Mexican tile. You can enjoy lunch or dinner on a covered patio that surrounds an enchanting garden and a natural pond with a waterfall and watch ducks and turtles glide by. If you’re lucky, you may even see an owl or a blue heron.
Once you’re seated, your server will greet you with a basket of fresh chips and a sampler of mild, hot, and verde salsas. Homemade specialties such as Seafood and Spinach Enchiladas, Fajitas, and Shrimp with Tequila Lime Salsa are made from fresh ingredients. The staff also makes fresh guacamole each day and serves it with corn tortilla chips hot from the oven.
The drink list includes domestic and Mexican beers by the bottle or on draft and wines from California, Spain, Mexico, and South America. Margaritas are the house specialty and are made with a premium blend of liquors such as Sauza Gold Tequila. They can be frozen or on the rocks, and you can make them your own by adding peach, raspberry, melon, mango, strawberry, or Prickly Pear flavoring.
Big Earl’s Greasy Eats
6135 E. Cave Creek Rd. // (480) 575-7889
Big Earl’s Greasy Eats is a retro diner that’s housed in an old gas station. It claims to be the last place where you can get an “honest” hamburger and is recognized as a Cave Creek landmark because it delivers on that promise and more.
Hamburgers and sandwiches are made from all-natural, hormone-free meat and chicken, and served on fresh-baked buns with hand-chopped lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and real mayo. Hot dogs are all-beef and are served with chopped onions and jalapenos and cheese. Sides include traditional favorites such as regular and sweet potato fries and onion rings as well as tater tots, mac ‘n cheese bites, and fried zucchini.
Big Earl’s has a full bar. So, you can order a domestic, imported, or local beer, glass of wine, or drink. You can also try an “adult” milkshake such as a White Russian, an espresso milkshake with vodka and Kahlua, or Cinnamon Toast Crunch, a vanilla milkshake blended with Cinnamon Whiskey and RumChata. I had the Almond Joy, which is a chocolate milkshake with Coconut Vodka and Hazelnut Liquor with my Mushroom Swiss Burger and it was as good as it sounds.
There’s some doubt as to whether Earl exists because according to locals, Earl sitings are rarer than Elvis sitings. When we asked our server whether he really exists, she smiled mysteriously and said, “No one knows for sure.”
7100 E. Cave Creek Rd. // (480) 575-3044
Brugos Pizza Co. & Bistro is a little piece of Sicily in the heart of Cave Creek. Co-owners Troy McDonald and Christina (Cefalu) McDonald specialize in preparing traditional and not-so-traditional Italian specialties made from recipes that have been in the family for generations.
Christina’s father came to the U.S. on a boat from Sicily. Her mother was the first American to marry into his all-Sicilian family, and learned to cook from Christina’s aunt, who didn’t speak any English. Until that point, the recipes had never been written down.
You can enjoy homemade lasagna, spaghetti, or fresh salads in the restaurant or on the patio and enjoy a domestic or imported beer, glass of wine, or Italian Margarita as you listen to the soft sounds of Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, and Rosemary Clooney.
If you order a pizza, you’re in for a big treat. The dough in Brugo’s award-winning pizzas is made fresh every day using a secret, Roman-style recipe. Seasonal toppings are sourced locally where possible and include cured meats and imported cheeses along with local produce. All sauces are house specialties.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Spaghetti with Fresh Pesto that was topped with imported Italian cheese, fresh basil and tomatoes, homemade roasted garlic, and olive oil. I stole a taste of my husband’s spaghetti and meatballs, and agree that the sauce is as good as they claim it is. We didn’t have dessert, but rumor has it that the Italian Apple Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting is wonderful.
6033 E. Cave Creek Rd. // (480) 488-7473
Local Jonny’s name comes from one of its owners and the origin of its ingredients. Co-owners Jon Oughterson and Lauren Van Winkle source all ingredients locally, from Arizona if they’re not available locally, and from the Southwest if they aren’t available in Arizona.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served in the café or tavern and on an outdoor patio. The well-stocked bar offers a variety of bottled and canned domestic and imported beers and craft beers on tap. You can also order wine by the glass or the bottle, or opt for a specialty cocktail.
Lunch and dinner choices include burgers and salads and some Mexican and pasta items. However, Local Jonny’s really shines at breakfast time. My husband had the Traditional Breakfast–two scrambled eggs with cheese, bacon and sausage, seasoned potatoes, and toast. The cheese-flavored eggs were wonderful and the homemade salsa on the side was the perfect complement.
I had Jonny’s Famous Pancakes, which are made from homemade batter and laced with blueberries and house granola and topped with whipped cream. They were light and fluffy and everything you’d expect given the name.
Local Jonny’s has a very loyal following with both year-round and seasonal residents. When the Coronavirus pandemic threatened its livelihood, they stepped up to keep business booming. One winter visitor put $1,000 in the tip jar because he wanted to be sure his favorite restaurant would still be there when he returned the following year.
6823 E. Cave Creek Rd. // (480) 488-9118
The Buffalo Chip is an Old West saloon and the menu reflects its down-home atmosphere. You can choose from a variety of “Texas-Style” barbeque items, such as Beef Brisket and Smoked Chicken, and pair them with sides such as Mom’s Potato Salad, Cowboy Beans, and Quickdraw Cole Slaw. If you have room, order the fruit cobbler. There’s a different kind each night. So, you might get apple, peach, cherry, or sweet potato pineapple. It was apple the night we were there, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.
Come for the food but stay for the fun. Live bands perform Tuesday through Sunday. Join the crowd on the dance floor and show off your Two-Step or West Coast Swing, or come on Thursday night to take free lessons. There are also free line dance lessons on Tuesdays.
The Buffalo Chip hosts amateur bull riding contests on Wednesday and Friday nights in a small rodeo arena in the back of the restaurant. Arrive early for dinner and sit in the stands or buy VIP tickets and eat while you watch the show.
If you’re a Wisconsin Badgers or Green Bay Packers fan, the Buffalo Chip is the place to be on Saturdays and Sundays during football season to cheer your team on to victory.
6895 E. Cave Creek Rd. // (480) 488-1906
Harrold’s Cave Creek Corral calls itself the “Original Wild West Saloon.” Founded in 1935, it’s known as being a place where you can get good food, hear great music, and have a “dang good time.”
Harrold’s features live music by local bands Wednesday through Sunday and Country Western dance lessons on Fridays. And it’s the place to be on Sundays during football season if you’re a Steelers fan. Harrold’s is “Heinz Field West,” and is one of the largest Pittsburgh Steelers bars in the country, complete with Terrible Towels and Iron City Beer.
6268 E. Cave Creek Rd. // (480) 687-9077
Stumblina’s Cantina is conveniently located in the heart of downtown Cave Creek across the street from Frontier Town. You can eat inside or sit outside on the spacious patio and watch the activity on the main drag through town.
Reading the menu and deciding what to order is half the fun. A couple of items include “Johnny Ringo Knows Latin Pork Tacos,” which features shredded green chili pork with lettuce, Pico de Gallo, cilantro, Mexican cheese and sour cream, and “Festus Haggin Chicken Sandwich,” a country fried chicken breast on a bun topped with swiss cheese and candied jalapenos.
The bar offers bottled, draft, and craft beers, domestic and imported wines, and specialty drinks such as the Stum-Belini, a take on a traditional Bellini.
If you have room for dessert, try “Big Nose Kate is a Hot Cookie,” a baked chocolate chip cookie topped with vanilla ice cream, or “Josephine Earp Orders Room Service,” a slice of decadent chocolate and peanut butter mousse pie topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce.
6738 E. Cave Creek Rd. // (480) 488-9542
The Horny Toad is a family restaurant that offers comfort food in a relaxed, rustic atmosphere in its dining room and on an outdoor patio with a mountain and desert view.
Everything at “the Toad” is cooked on a mesquite charcoal grill. It’s known for excellent barbecue chicken and pork ribs made with its house sauce, and has won awards for its made-from-scratch fried chicken, Strawberry Shortcake, and Apple and Peach Cobblers served with Cinnamon Swirl Ice Cream.
Plan to do some shopping before or after you eat, because the only year-round Christmas store in the area is at the Horny Toad. You can find wreaths, garlands, Christmas stockings, and menorahs, and see themed Christmas trees with ornaments for a variety of interests.
A Southwest tree displays cactus, cowboy hats, coyotes, and owls. A patriotic tree honors the military heroes and first responders such as police, firefighters, and paramedics. The tree for sports fans has ornaments for both pro and college teams.
Cave Creek Restaurant Wrap Up
Cave Creek is a wonderful, friendly town and has many types of restaurants that offer traditional and Southwestern specialties at reasonable prices.
Since it’s located just thirty minutes from Phoenix, it’s a popular place to visit and take out-of-state visitors who want to experience the Old West.
Whether you’re looking for fine dining or a more relaxed atmosphere, you’ll find the perfect place to relax and have a great meal. So, when you plan your visit to Cave Creek, remember to check out these eight restaurants.
Which of these Cave Creek restaurants do you want to try first? Let us know in the comments section below!
Marni Patterson is a travel writer, photographer and videographer in Phoenix, AZ. She has lived and traveled extensively in the U.S. and Europe and is gradually making it to all the destinations on her “bucket list” in Asia/Pacific, Africa and South America. After years of writing web content and marketing materials in the high-tech industry, she’s applying her experience writing about software, cloud computing and cybersecurity services to promote destinations and provide travel tips.