In the 1930s, though Arizona was still in its infancy, word was getting out about State 48, especially in the colder parts of the country. As a result, travelers began flocking to the state, many choosing to luxuriate at the Arizona Biltmore. One evening during that time, a guest asked in-house bartender Gene Suilt to dream up a cocktail, both refreshing and flavorful. Suilt chose tequila as the cocktail’s base, pairing it with soda water, vibrant red crème de cassis, and lime juice. As the drink settled in the glass, Suilt and the guest could not help but notice the red liqueur sunk toward the bottom, making the cocktail resemble the iconic Arizona sunrise.
That day, the Tequila Sunrise was invented at The Wright Bar at the Arizona Biltmore (ArizonaBiltmore.com). Nearly 100 years later, the bar and cocktail are still standing – both with some impressive upgrades – and are a great place to start when planning an Arizona food and drink tour. Billed as The Original Tequila Sunrise, today it features crème de cassis, lime, tequila, and soda, but also a hint of pomegranate for added bite and visual appeal.
Looking for other items conceived in Arizona? Make a date for both El Charro (ElCharroCafe.com) in Tucson and Macayo’s (Macayo.com), which has locations Valleywide. There is debate as to which was first, but they are widely believed to be inventors of the chimichanga. Both feature a bevy of chimis ranging from appetizer-sized offerings to massive fried burritos stuffed with beef, chicken, or pork and topped with everything from chili relleno sauce to spinach con queso.
Of course, a dish need not be invented in Arizona to be worth a taste.
Apple Annie’s Orchard (AppleAnnies.com) in Willcox, for example, has an ample bakery and storefront in addition to its farm operations. There, visitors will find an array of fresh pies, breads, and even apple butter, which is made by slow-cooking freshly picked and peeled apples with warming spices for hours until thick and indulgent.
And while Pizzicletta (Pizzicletta.com) in Flagstaff did not invent the pizza, they have darned near perfected it. Boasting a custom-made wood-fire stove imported from Italy, the eatery is run by Caleb Schiff. Prior, he led a laboratory at Northern Arizona University before changing the direction of his entire life after eating his way through Milan. All of his pies are scrumptious, but his Bee’s Knees is special. Schiff’s makes his own mozzarella and sausage for this pie, pairing them with mascarpone, sage, and locally sourced honey.
There is a world of culinary wonder between Flagstaff and Ahwatukee to experience along the way, as well.
Both The Barley Hound (TheBarleyHound.com) in Prescott and Mariposa (MariposaSedona.com) in Sedona have wild and worthy twists on traditional French fries. The eclectic Barley Hound, located in a Victorian-style home that dates back to the early 1900s, boasts truffle fries cooked in duck fat that attracts hungry adventurers from across Arizona, while Mariposa, a dreamy architectural marvel with 270-degree Red Rock views, makes its fries from a yuca, a woody root vegetable native to South America, pairing them with Spanish paprika-kissed aioli.
Over in Cottonwood, there are a host of epicurean options, notably Merkin Vineyards (MerkinVineyards.org), which recently opened a new winery that includes a restaurant with some of the best pasta outside of Italy as well as a gelateria run by an actual gelato master, and Crema Craft Kitchen (CremaCottonwood.com), boasting some of the best brunch dishes statewide. There, splurge on the silky, decadent red velvet waffles with fried chicken on top.
Just up the hill from Cottonwood in the small town of Jerome, The Haunted Hamburger (TheHauntedHamburger.com) has nearly a dozen mouthwatering burgers from which to choose, each on a homemade bun and with toppings piled sky high. Moving a bit farther south, there is also a similarly small town called Strawberry, which is home to PIEbar (Instagram.com/piebaraz). Do not let the name fool you, however. This 325-square-foot, brightly painted gem makes the best empanadas around, both sweet and savory. On a good day, they sell more than a 1,000 handheld delights!
Once back in the Valley, head to Mochilero (MochileroKitchen.com) in Peoria for an authentic Sonoran Hot Dog, a four-ounce Kobe grilled beef frank is wrapped in bacon and laid in a bolillo-style bun, topped with black beans, pico de gallo, crema, and avocado foam.
And to finish? Cruise over to ZuZu at Hotel Valley Ho (HotelValleyHo.com) in Scottsdale and order the Show Stopper of the month. This is perhaps the best-named dessert in the world. The over-the-top take on a milkshake was inspired by the classics served in sweet shoppes in the 1950s. Though it changes monthly based on pastry chef Maria Arenas’ inspiration and imagination, the Show Stopper always starts with a milkshake base. From there, house-made desserts and candies are piled high on top, and for an added charge, boozy versions are available as well.
"There is a world of culinary wonder between Flagstaff and Ahwatukee to experience along the way..."