A culinary revolution is quietly unfolding in the heart of Arizona’s expansive landscapes. Nestled in small towns across the state, chefs and restaurateurs are crafting extraordinary dining experiences, merging local flavours with global culinary expertise. This journey into Arizona’s best-kept culinary secrets showcases the state’s gastronomic diversity and the artisans behind these hidden gems.
Old County Inn: A Taste of Wood-Fired Perfection
In the rustic setting of Old County Inn, Chef Michael Dahling, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, is redefining wood-fired cuisine. The aroma of freshly baked breadsticks, ready to be dipped in a unique green chile beer cheese, greets diners as they enter this culinary haven. Dahling’s masterpiece, however, is the pizza topped with woodfire-roasted pork, a dish that encapsulates his passion for blending traditional techniques with innovative flavours. But the chocolate-coconut-macadamia cast iron cookie leaves a lasting impression, epitomizing Dahling’s commitment to elevating simple ingredients into extraordinary experiences.
Merkin Vineyards Hilltop Winery: Where Wine Meets Culinary Artistry
Perched on a scenic hilltop, Merkin Vineyards Hilltop Winery, owned by winemaker and rock star Maynard James Keenan, offers more than just exquisite wines. Chef Christopher Smith, utilizing fresh produce from Merkin Gardens, crafts dishes that are a symphony of flavours. His lasagna cupcakes and Romanesco cauliflower-topped pizza are not just meals but a celebration of Arizona’s agricultural bounty. The experience is complete with their house-made gelato, a sweet homage to the vineyard’s picturesque surroundings.
Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant: A Fusion of Tradition and Innovation.
Chef Santa Sutton’s Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant is a testament to culinary creativity. Garnering accolades like Trip Advisor’s “Top 25 Hidden Gems in America,” Sutton’s menu is a vibrant tapestry of traditional Mexican dishes with a twist. The enchiladas and fajitas are infused with a fusion flair, while the whole-wheat tortilla wraps add a health-conscious touch. However, The pièce de résistance is the secret-recipe carrot cake – a dessert worth visiting.
Cafe Roka: Gourmet Dining in a Historic Setting.
Housed in a 1907 storefront, Cafe Roka, led by Chef Rod Kass, is a gourmet destination marrying history with contemporary cuisine. The caramelized onion and fig tart is a masterful blend of sweet and savoury, a perfect introduction to the grilled lamb salad entree. An Arizona-centric wine list ensures that each meal is accompanied by the perfect regional complement, enhancing the high-desert dining experience.
The Turquoise Room: A Celebration of Native Traditions and Flavors.
At the historic 1930 La Posada Hotel, Chef Jesus Nunez is continuing the legacy of The Turquoise Room with his Native traditions and Four Corners-inspired menu. The Hopi hummus, made with reservation-grown tepary beans, and the signature half-cream sweet corn, half-spicy black bean soup, are a tribute to the region’s rich cultural heritage. The free-range bison short ribs conclude the meal with a nod to tradition and innovation.
These hidden culinary treasures of Arizona are more than just eateries; they are the gateways to exploring the state’s rich culinary landscape, woven with the threads of tradition, innovation, and passion.
For more information, visit The Arizona Office of Tourism.
Written by: My Thanh Pham
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