The Top Thing to Eat: Phoenix

Written: The Top Thing Staff | August 25, 2023

1. Sonoran Hot Dog

Wrapped in bacon and bursting with the flavors of beans, onions, tomatoes, and meats, the Sonoran Hot Dog is a mouthwatering fusion of Mexican and American culinary traditions, delighting diners in restaurants. This local favorite is more than just your average hot dog; it’s an experience.

Served in a soft, bolillo-style bun that perfectly complements its savory fillings, this street food delicacy has become synonymous with West Phoenix‘s vibrant food scene. Its unique blend of textures and tastes makes it, especially the beautiful salads and seafood, stand out among other local dishes in restaurants.

Restaurants across the city have embraced the Sonoran Hot Dog, elevating it from simple street fare to a menu must-have, with chefs adding it alongside dishes like pizza on their patios. From diners to long bars with back doors leading to hidden culinary gems, you’ll find variations of this beloved dish waiting to be discovered at sunrise or under the Sphinx-like gaze of night owls seeking late-night eats in restaurants and dining rooms, where dishes and cocktails complement the experience.

Beyond its deliciousness, what truly sets the Sonoran Hot Dog apart is its ability to bring people together—locals swapping stories over shared plates or visitors getting their first taste of Phoenix’s rich cultural tapestry through every bite in restaurants, enjoying this and other dishes on a patio.

2. Chimichanga

Imagine biting into a crisp, golden exterior to find a hearty filling of meat, cheese, rice, and seafood. That’s the chimichanga for you—a deep-fried burrito that has become a local favorite in Arizona. Its origins are deeply rooted in this state, making it more than just seafood; it’s a piece of cultural heritage in restaurants and kitchens through dishes.

Unlike its cousin, the spring roll, which is often light and filled with vegetables or sometimes shrimp, the chimichanga offers a satisfying meal at restaurants. It’s typically packed with savory seafood ingredients that make each bite an explosion of flavors in restaurants’ kitchens. From seasoned beef, chicken, or seafood to melted cheese and perfectly cooked rice—all encased in a tortilla that’s fried until crispy—with ingredients chosen by the chef, it’s no wonder why this city’s dish stands out.

What sets the chimichanga apart from other Mexican cuisine is not just its preparation but also how it’s served. A dollop of sour cream and guacamole on top adds creamy and refreshing contrasts to the rich fillings inside. This combination elevates the dish from good to unforgettable.

In Phoenix, finding a restaurant or food truck without this iconic seafood item on their menu in the city would be challenging. It speaks volumes about how integral chimichangas are to Arizona’s culinary scene.

3. Prickly Pear Gelato

Prickly Pear Gelato, crafted by a skilled chef, is a must-try dessert in Phoenix, offering a taste that’s as unique as the city itself. This delightful treat is made from the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, which thrives in the arid climate of Arizona.

The flavor profile of Prickly Pear Gelato is an intriguing blend of sweet and tart, capturing the essence of its natural source. It’s a refreshing departure from traditional gelato flavors, providing a culinary experience that’s both exotic and familiar, thanks to the chef.

What sets this gelato apart, even more, is its vibrant pink color. Unlike many brightly colored foods that rely on artificial dyes, the stunning hue of Prickly Pear Gelato comes directly from the fruit it’s made from. This not only makes for an Instagram-worthy scoop but also assures you’re enjoying something entirely natural.

For those exploring Phoenix’s culinary scene, Prickly Pear Gelato isn’t just a dessert; it’s an exploration into local flavors and ingredients that define Southwestern cuisine. Its popularity among locals and tourists alike speaks volumes about its appeal.

4. Fry Bread

Fry bread is a delicious staple of Native American cuisine, specifically integral to Navajo culture. This flatbread is deep-fried until it reaches a perfect golden color and puffy texture. What makes fry bread so versatile and beloved is its ability to pair with both savory and sweet toppings.

For those who lean towards savory flavors, topping options include meats like beef or chicken, beans, and cheese. These combinations transform fry bread into a hearty meal that can satisfy any appetite.

On the sweeter side, honey drizzled over warm fry bread or a sprinkle of powdered sugar can turn this dish into an irresistible dessert or breakfast treat. The contrast between the crispy exterior and the soft inside, combined with sweet toppings, creates an unforgettable eating experience.

Fry bread not only offers a taste sensation but also provides insight into Navajo culture and history through each bite. It’s more than just food; it’s an experience that connects eaters back to traditions that have been passed down through generations.

5. Carne Asada Tacos

Carne Asada Tacos are a must-try in Phoenix, embodying the essence of Mexican street food with their rich flavors and simple yet satisfying composition. These tacos feature grilled, marinated beef that’s been soaked in a blend of spices and lime juice, creating a tender and flavorful filling that’s hard to resist.

Served on soft corn tortillas, they strike the perfect balance between the smoky meat and the freshness of added toppings like fresh cilantro and onions. A squeeze of lime juice right before you take your first bite elevates the flavor profile, making each taco a delightful experience.

What sets these tacos apart is not just their taste but also their accessibility. You’ll find them across Phoenix – from bustling street corners to cozy cafes – each place adding its own twist to this classic dish. The simplicity of carne asada tacos makes them versatile; whether you’re grabbing a quick lunch or sitting down for dinner with friends, they fit every occasion.

Here’s what makes them stand out:

  • Grilled Marinated Beef: Juicy and full of flavor.
  • Corn Tortillas: Adds authenticity to each bite.
  • Fresh Cilantro & Onions: Brings brightness and crunch.
  • Lime Wedges on the Side: A splash enhances all other flavors.

6. Green Chili Burrito

The Green Chili Burrito in Phoenix is a culinary delight that perfectly marries the heat of green chili with the succulence of tender pork. This dish stands out for its harmonious blend, where each bite delivers a punch of spicy heat complemented by the rich, savory flavors of slowly simmered pork.

At its core, this burrito is generously stuffed with pork that has been meticulously cooked in a vibrant green chili sauce. The choice of meat is crucial; it’s often shoulder or butt cuts known for their fat content which melts away during cooking, leaving behind tender pieces that absorb all the spicy goodness.

What elevates this dish further is how it’s served – often smothered in an extra layer of cheese and more green chili sauce. This not only adds to its visual appeal but also introduces another level of flavor complexity. The melted cheese creates a creamy texture that balances out the spice, making every mouthful irresistibly delicious.

Phoenix locals and visitors alike rave about this dish for good reason. It’s not just food; it’s an experience—a must-try for anyone seeking to explore the city’s rich culinary landscape.

7. Mesquite-Grilled Steaks

Imagine biting into a steak that’s been kissed by the smoky flavor of mesquite wood. That’s what you get with mesquite-grilled steaks in Phoenix. This method isn’t just about cooking; it’s an art form, infusing each bite with the essence of Arizona itself.

Local sourcing is key here. The beef comes from Arizona ranches, ensuring freshness and supporting local farmers. It’s not just about enjoying a meal; it’s also about contributing to the community.

The seasoning on these steaks is often simple. Why? Because when you have quality meats like these, you want to let their natural flavors shine through. It’s all about enhancing, not masking, the taste of this premium product.

Dining in Phoenix means more than just eating; it involves experiencing meals crafted with care and attention to detail. From beautiful salads that complement your steak to a beverage menu filled with cocktails perfect for sipping on a patio under the stars, every element adds to the experience.

Whether seated at an elegant table indoors or enjoying the casual style of an outdoor setting, mesquite-grilled steaks offer more than just food—they provide an unforgettable dining adventure unique to Phoenix.

8. Navajo-Churro Lamb

Navajo-Churro lamb is a must-try for anyone visiting Phoenix, offering a taste that’s both unique and deeply rooted in the region’s history. This meat comes from the Navajo-Churro sheep, an ancient breed known for its lean yet highly flavorful profile.

The preparation of this lamb in traditional dishes showcases its versatility. You can find it stewed, where its flavors deepen and meld with local herbs and vegetables, or roasted, highlighting its natural richness without overwhelming the palate.

Beyond just being a culinary delight, choosing Navajo-Churro lamb supports indigenous agriculture practices in Arizona. This sheep breed has been part of the landscape for centuries, representing a living connection to heritage and sustainable farming methods.

When you order this delicacy at local farms or restaurants specializing in native cuisine, you’re not just enjoying an exquisite meal; you’re participating in a tradition that spans generations. It’s an experience that connects diners directly to the land and people who have nurtured it.

9. Poblano Pepper Dishes

Poblano peppers, celebrated for their mild heat level, are a versatile ingredient in Phoenix’s culinary scene. They cater to most palates by offering just enough spice without overwhelming the dish. This accessibility makes them a favorite among locals and visitors alike.

One popular way to enjoy poblano peppers is stuffed with cheese or meat fillings, known as Chiles Rellenos. These dishes blend the pepper’s subtle heat with rich flavors from the fillings, creating a mouthwatering experience that’s hard to forget.

Chefs across Phoenix have mastered the art of preparing poblano peppers in various forms – roasted, fried, or incorporated into sauces. Each method brings out different aspects of the pepper’s flavor profile, making every dish unique.

In dining rooms around the city, you’ll find these peppers featured not only in traditional Mexican dishes but also in innovative small plates that showcase the chef’s creativity. From seafood enhancers to oyster shooter companions, poblano peppers add depth and complexity to an array of dishes.

The beauty of poblano pepper dishes lies in their ability to suit any dining occasion – whether it’s a casual meal or a sophisticated dinner party. Their versatility ensures there’s something for everyone on Phoenix’s vibrant dining scene.

10. Saguaro Fruit Desserts

In the heart of Phoenix, a unique dessert is making waves among food enthusiasts – desserts made from the fruit of the saguaro cactus. This native gem of the Sonoran Desert offers a taste that’s as exotic as its origin.

The saguaro fruit has been traditionally harvested by the Tohono O’odham people for centuries. They’ve mastered turning this desert bounty into delectable treats long before it became a culinary trend in Phoenix.

What makes these desserts stand out is their subtle sweetness, derived from jams, syrups, and candies all made using saguaro fruit. Unlike anything else you’ll find on your plate, they offer a flavor profile that’s both refreshing and uniquely Arizonan.

Here’s why you should try them:

  • Authenticity: Enjoying these desserts connects you to an age-old tradition.
  • Unique Flavor: The subtle sweetness is unlike typical sugary treats.
  • Local Delicacy: It’s a true taste of what Phoenix and its surrounding desert have to offer.

Whether spread over toast in jam form or drizzled atop pancakes as syrup, saguaro fruit desserts invite locals and visitors alike to savor something truly special.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s a must-try food in Phoenix?

The Sonoran Hot Dog is a local favorite you can’t miss. It’s a bacon-wrapped hot dog loaded with beans, onions, tomato, and mayo. Think of it as the ultimate fusion of Mexican flavors and American street food.

Can I find any unique desserts in Phoenix?

Absolutely! Try the Prickly Pear Gelato for a sweet treat with a desert twist. It’s like licking a scoop of Arizona sunshine that’s been chilled to perfection.

Is there something for taco lovers in Phoenix?

Yes, Carne Asada Tacos are your go-to. They’re packed with grilled marinated beef nestled in soft corn tortillas – simple yet bursting with flavor.

Where can I get authentic Native American cuisine in Phoenix?

Fry Bread is iconic. This fluffy deep-fried dough serves as the base for savory or sweet toppings – think of it as the versatile canvas of Native American culinary art.

What’s an unusual but tasty dish to try?

Give Navajo-Churro Lamb a shot. It’s not your everyday lamb dish; this one comes from sheep that are direct descendants of those brought by Spanish explorers, offering an authentic taste history lesson on your plate.

Any recommendations for vegetarians visiting Phoenix?

Poblano Pepper Dishes are fantastic options. These mild chili peppers make any meal pop without overwhelming heat – perfect for those who love flavor without the fire.