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The Amazing Food and Drink Scene in this State May Surprise You

Sponsored by Arizona office of Tourism

01.15.20

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Photo by Ellen Barnes

Photo by Ellen Barnes

Arizona is the place to be for those passionate about farm-to-table cuisine, craft beer, and locally made wine.

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You step outside with a glass of crisp chardonnay and look out past the lush vineyards to see majestic mountains in one direction and flat-topped mesas in the other. You’re caught up in the moment until the arrival of a charcuterie platter—another delicious flavor that’s also locally made.

You may not expect a dedicated region producing fine wines in the middle of Arizona, but that surprise is part of the appeal. And wine isn’t all you’ll find. With a robust craft beer movement and chefs who have a strong commitment to local sourcing, Arizona is a foodie’s dream destination. In fact, Tucson was designated America’s first City of Gastronomy by UNESCO in 2015. But whether you’re exploring the amazing urban food scene there or in Phoenix, or visiting the frontier towns of the Verde Valley, you’ll find lots of great places to eat and drink in Arizona—all influenced by the region’s geography and history.


Here’s where to go.

Cottonwood/Clarkdale/Jerome

This trio of charming small towns—all within 10 minutes of each other yet all slightly different—form a hub for terrific food and wine. Start with the Verde Valley Wine Trail. Because there are so many wineries in this area—who knew?—there’s an official trail to guide you through North Central Arizona’s different grape-growing regions. The meandering trail goes from Jerome through Clarkdale, and then south to Cottonwood. With 23 stops to make along the trail, offering everything from earthy tempranillos to sparkling wines, you might want to make a long weekend of it. Among the don’t-misses: Merkin Vineyards’ Chupacabra Bubbles, available at Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room; and Osteria in Cottonwood and at the Caduceus Tasting Room in Jerome. 

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When it comes to dining, small towns don’t mean limited options. You’ll find a little bit of everything, from creative appetizers to go with a locally produced glass of wine to breakfasts that last all day. Enjoy the latter at the Mine Café in Jerome. Here you’ll find burritos like the “Hungry Savage,” which includes beef brisket, scrambled eggs, home fries, and gravy. With it, you may want a glass of Clarkdale’s Chateau Tumbleweed’s Chard/Verdelho, or a Barrio Blonde from Barrio Brewing, because, hey, it’s local, too.

Or try Haunted Hamburgers in Jerome. Before the place opened in 1994, one by one, the hammers that were used to renovate the old place began to disappear—then later, they’d reappear, and in the most curious of places. Besides its resident poltergeists, there are all kinds of burgers here, from chili cheese to BBQ. But as long as you’re here, you might as well get the Haunted Burger, loaded with bacon, cheddar, Swiss, mushrooms, green chiles, grilled onions, and guac…if you dare.

Then head to the Tavern Grille in Cottonwood and sample their version of a skinny pizza—a cracker-thin lavosh served with artisanal toppings, plus a whole menu of burgers and mains like meatloaf and prime rib, with local wines and brews to wash it down with.

Phoenix

Arizona’s capital city has it all—locally focused, award-winning cuisine, as well as terrific wines and beers. In fact, craft beers are a really big thing here, with more than 80 craft breweries in the area. Head to Angels Trumpet Ale House for 31 taps and hard-to-find brews that beer geeks adore…or just relish the unique names, like Arizona’s Taildragger Toasted Pecan Dopplebock. The elevated bar menu is equally interesting: pizza flatbreads, grilled cheese with brisket, and house made Pop-Tarts for dessert. Or check out any of Four Peaks Brewing Company’s four locations for a tour and their award-winning Scottish-style ale, Kilt Lifter, at, along with seasonal bottles like the best-selling Pumpkin Porter.

The Phoenix dining scene is contemporary—but not fussy—and as local as can be. Anyone who knows anything about pizza has heard about James Beard Award winner Chris Bianco’s famous Pizzeria Bianco. Now Bianco’s has opened Pane Bianco Van Buren, where you can sample what made his pizza so famous: slow-rise, high hydration dough. And don’t skip the sandwiches, made with focaccia bread that’s also homemade and perfect as the pie.

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Over at the new farm-driven restaurant in midtown, Persepshen, there’s a husband-and-wife team serving up a menu that changes daily and includes lots of wood-firing and pickling, along with an all-Arizona wine and spirits list. Even the wood benches are made from reclaimed old barn wood. And take a culinary journey with James Beard-nominated chef Shinji Kurita’s at the 13-seat, omakase-only ShinBay. There’s no menu and just two seatings a night; the culinary journey is sure to be an interesting one, with nigiri sushi as the star throughout the multi-course evening.

Tucson

Tucson sits at the crossroads of Old West, Spanish, Native American, and Mexican cultures—a unique location that’s reflected in its rich cuisine. You’ll also find a super-chill vibe and a strong sense of keeping it local—along with that UNESCO City of Gastronomy designation. Start your journey at El Charro; established in 1922, it’s the oldest continuously operated Mexican restaurant in the U.S. and serves straight-up, old-school Sonoran cuisine, like huge chimichangas. But also try the fried burritos, stuffed with anything you like; they were invented here. And bring the kids along—there’s a full menu for them, too.

For a different kind of history, Cup Café—in downtown’s landmark Hotel Congress—is where the notorious outlaw John Dillinger was tracked down in 1934. Today, the café is far more chill, and the most dangerous thing you’re likely to encounter is the double-chocolate pudding cups on its dessert menu. You’ll otherwise find a Southwest-leaning menu, with locally sourced meats, honey, and polenta.  To find the cool kids in Tucson, look no further than Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, the art-filled urban space with James Beard award-winning chef Janos Wilder at the helm. The culinary beat here is as much local as global, with dishes like a yogurt-and-curry-marinated braised chicken or a grilled pork chop with red chile honey baste—the ingredients sourced from nearby farms and ranches. The cocktails are equally creative, and there’s a buzzy live music scene here, too.

Explore more hot spots to taste Arizona’s delicious food and drink at ExpeditionFoodieAZ.com.