Like any place, the Grand Canyon State is home to many recipes that have deep ties to the area. Because Arizona shares a border with Mexico, many of these recipes are popular Mexican dishes. But some, like the tequila sunrise, originated in Arizona. From cheese crisps to date shakes, discover these seven traditional Arizona recipes.
Prickly Pear Margarita
One of Phoenix’s unofficial slogans is, “We salt margaritas not our roads.” The margarita, in many ways, is considered to be one of the city’s signature beverages. The tequila-based drink is simple—tequila, triple sec, sweet and sour mix, and salt or sugar to garnish the rim. If you want to give this drink a truly Arizona spin, consider adding prickly pear syrup into the mix for a dash of sweetness and a pleasant pink color. For a full recipe, check out this blog.
Legend has it that the tequila sunrise cocktail was invented at the historic Arizona Biltmore resort in central Phoenix. Way back in the 1930s, bartender Gene Sulit was asked by a guest to whip up a drink that was perfect for poolside sipping and carried a surprising mix of flavors, according to the Arizona Biltmore’s website. Sulit came up with a mix of tequila, soda, crème de cassis, and fresh lime juice. That humble beginning led to the creation of a colorful cocktail that is now served all over the world. Here’s the full recipe from the Biltmore as printed in the Arizona Republic.
Fry Bread or Navajo Tacos
If you’ve spent any time in Arizona, you’ve no doubt seen fry bread for sale at physical stores or from food trucks. Fry bread does have a sad origin story. It was originally made by Native Americans who were using the minimal provisions given them by the US government during relocation. Fry bread is exactly what it sounds like—take flour, salt, baking powder, and water then mix them together before frying in oil. Check out this blog for the full recipe.
The beauty of fry bread is that it’s easy to dress up or down. Enjoy it plain, topped with powdered sugar for a sweet option, or as part of a Navajo taco that’s topped with lettuce, tomato, ground beef, or another protein of your choosing.
The origin story of the chimichanga is up for dispute. Some claim it originated at El Charro in Tucson while others say it was at Macayo’s Mexican Kitchen in Phoenix. Regardless of who’s right, the chimichanga is a food with undeniable Arizona roots. Simply put, chimichangas are deep-fried burritos. Legend has it that a burrito was accidentally dropped in a fryer and that’s how the creation was born. To make one at home, make your own burrito then fry it in oil. Check out this blog for a specific step-by-step recipe.
Sonoran Hot Dog
Hot dogs have many different varieties that shift by the region—look at Chicago, for example. Southern Arizona’s take on a humble hot dog is the Sonoran dog, and they’re rather easy to make. According to Discover Marana, Sonoran hot dogs originated in Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora, Mexico, in the 1980s. Due to its close proximity to Mexico, the Sonoran dogs became popular throughout southern Arizona. The Sonoran dog consists of a hot dog topped with bacon, sautéed onions, chopped tomatoes, and condiments like ketchup and mustard—though the toppings can vary. Here’s a recipe if you’re looking for inspiration.
Fun fact: Sonoran dogs are a bona fide culinary creation, as proved in 2018 when Tucson’s El Guero Canelo won a James Beard award—the highest honor in the culinary world—for its Sonoran hot dogs.
Cheese crisps are also sometimes called Arizona cheese crisps due to the food’s deep ties to the state. The snacks are essentially open-faced quesadillas. The recipe typically goes like this: Tortillas are buttered, baked, topped with cheese, baked again, then topped with salsa and guacamole. Here’s a link to a recipe.
Arizona is so devoted to dates that we even have a city called Dateland. According to Serious Eats, date shakes have been served in that city, located just off Interstate 8, since the 1920s. The shakes are relatively simple to make—boil and smash Medjool dates and blend them with vanilla ice cream.
Fun fact: Medjool dates were one reserved only for royalty and are the sweetest and largest of the date family, according to Serious Eats.
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