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Last Updated on April 21, 2024

Inside: Curious about the foods of Arizona? We share Mexican classics, Native American traditional foods, and new Arizona famous foods to try. YUM!

No matter where we travel, we always like to try local foods. It provides an added dimension on the area’s history, plus you get good eats . . . a win-win! One of the reasons we love Arizona is the strong food culture here.

Arizona’s rich culinary tapestry is woven with Mexican influences, Native American traditions, and modern classics, creating a foodie landscape that is as diverse as it is delicious. From ancient staple dishes to modern twists on classics, these foods of Arizona match it’s stunning scenery. Some might even surprise you.

Listed below you’ll find 21 foods Arizona is known for. Savoring any (or all! 🤩) of these will make any Arizona Journey taste even better (note clever way of inserting name of website here 😉).

Foods of Arizona: Exploring the Mexican Influences

There’s no denying that foods in Arizona have a strong Mexican influence. As you dive into the food scene here, you’ll quickly discover that Mexican flavors permeate everything, from street food stalls to upscale restaurants. Over time, it has evolved and adapted, incorporating ingredients and techniques from different regions and cultures.

The Mexican influence in Arizona’s food scene is a testament to the historical ties between the two regions and the cultural exchange that has taken place over the years. And while tacos 🌮 are certainly something you’ll find (as you’ll see in #5 below) , there’s more. Much more 🤩.

1. Sonoran Hot Dogs: an Arizona Famous Food

tray of sonoran hot dogs
A tray of Sonoran hot dogs-one of the signature foods of Arizona.

One of the most iconic Mexican dishes you’ll find in Arizona is the Sonoran hot dog. Even though it’s a newer arrival to the Arizona food scene, it’s certainly a rising star 🤩. In fact, it’s the only hot dog in America to be associated with a James Beard Award (Daniel Contreras, owner of El Guero Canelo, a hot dog mini-empire in Tucson).

This mouthwatering creation combines a juicy hot dog wrapped in bacon (an auspicious start!) nestled in a soft bolillo roll, topped with pinto beans, diced tomatoes, onions, mustard, mayonnaise, and a drizzle of jalapeno sauce. It’s a delicious blend of flavors that perfectly represents the fusion of Mexican and American culinary traditions and is now a staple on the foods of Arizona list. 🌭🇲🇽

  • Where to find Sonoran Hot Dogs: All over Tucson. See our post about the Sonoran Hot Dog for a comprehensive list.

2. Chimichangas: Traditional Arizona Food at its Best

plate with chimichanga, rice and beans, one of the most famous foods of arizona
The chimichanga was a “happy accident” that has become one of the most famous foods of Arizona (Photo by Getty Images)

The chimichanga is a happy accident: someone accidentally dropped a burrito into the deep fryer and created of the yummiest foods Arizona is known for. It’s typically filled with shredded beef or chicken, cheese, and beans, and then topped with salsa, guacamole, and sour cream. Yes, please! 😋

The origin of the first Chimichanga is disputed: both El Charro Cafe (in Tucson) and Macayo’s Mexican Kitchen (in Phoenix) claim to be the first one to drop a burrito into the fryer, making them home to the first chimichanga. What no one disputes is that the Chimichanga was created in Arizona.

And no one disputes that they are muy delicioso! Be sure to try this Arizona famous food on your next visit.

  • Where to find Chimichangas: El Charro (4 locations in Tucson); Macayo’s Mexican Food (13 locations in greater Phoenix), and most other traditional Mexican restaurants.

3. Birria & Quesabirria Tacos

Deliciously rich birria, a traditional Mexican dish, has definitively marked its territory on the Arizona food map. This tantalizing slow-cooked beef is marinated in a medley of robust spices before braising to perfect tenderness. The resulting broth is also a joy to behold (and savor!).

quesabirria taco with broth and lime at Rollies Mexican Patio in Tucson
Rollie’s quesabirria taco with luscious slow-cooked broth for dipping . . . yea-ahhhh

Quesabirria tacos elevate this classic by folding the juicy, flavorful birria into a crispy seared corn tortilla with generous portions of melted cheese, topped with chopped onions and cilantro. (I told you tacos would show up on this list, didn’t I? 🌮)

This mouthwatering hybrid has truly encapsulated the hearts (and stomachs!) of Arizonians, cementing its status as on of the must-try foods Arizona is known for.

4. Carne Seca/Machaca

Platter of carne seca with rice, beans and limes, tradtional arizona food
Carne Seca at El Charro Cafe (Photo courtesy of Yelp)

Carne Seca (which is also known as Machaca) is a desert-dried beef delicacy, similar to beef jerky. It owes its unique flavor to the traditional drying process that includes air-drying the thinly sliced beef and a whole bunch of robust southwestern seasonings. (The Arizona sunshine doesn’t hurt either 😎.)

The resulting meat is super-tasty, sort of like a Mexican flavor concentrate. It’s used in dishes across the state, from hearty stews to spicy burritos . . . even topped on salads. Enjoying carne seca is experiencing Arizona’s heritage in every delicious bite.

Many classic Mexican restaurants serve carne seca/machaca; no foods of Arizona list is complete without it! You can also find it packaged at many carnicerias (meat markets) if you’d like to take it home to make your own goodies.

5. Tacos Rasurado

close up of taco rasurado from tacos apson-authentic foods of arizona
Grilled, juicy, meaty, messy . . . delicious! Taco Rasurado from Tacos Apson in Tucsonone of the foods of Arizona you really must try.

Time for some “taco math.” Tacos = good. Mesquite-grilled beef ribs = better. Tacos + mesquite-grilled beef ribs = WOWZA!!! 😲 (where is the “chef’s kiss” emoji when you need it?!)

That’s Tacos Rasurado: shaved rib meat on a warm corn tortilla, with a grilled chile along side. Salsa it up to your heart’s content. It’s a taco on an entirely new level.

Tacos Rasurado isn’t just a meal, it’s a tantalizing taste of Tucson tradition, passionately served, and one of the foods of Arizona worth seeking out. But don’t take my word for it. Check out this video from America’s Test Kitchen . . . I dare you not to drool! 🤤

  • Where to find Tacos Rasurado: Tacos Apson in Tucson (2 location) . . . featured in the video above.

6. Flour Tortillas

Flour tortillas are essential ingredients in such yummy mexican treats as burritos and chimichangas (see #2 above). And they have their origins in the Sonoran Desert, fully cementing them as one of the foods of Arizona.

uncooked flour tortilla on board dusted with flour, underneath rolling pin. Cooked flour tortilla in the background. Traditional Arizona food
Flour tortillas are traditionally unique to the Sonoran desert, one of the more historic foods of Arizona (Getty images)

The Spanish colonizers brought wheat with them as a crop when they came to the region 500 years ago. And the rest, as they say, is history. What began as a convenient winter crop has morphed into a staple of the Sonoran style of Mexican cooking. And it is definitely a traditional Arizona food.

Naturally they’re great when wrapped around burrito or chimichanga fixings. But they’re also pretty darned good warmed up and served with a little butter. Just sayin’ 😉.

  • Where to find authentic local flour tortillas: Tortillas Rosario in Phoenix; Alejandro’s Tortilla Factory in Tucson; also most carnicerias will carry these brands. (But if you go to the main stores you can get ’em while they’re still warm 🥰.)

7. Cheese Crisp

The cheese crisp, is a traditional Arizona food that’s especially popular in Tucson. (It’s also a fave of Tucson native Linda Ronstadt!) Essentially an open-faced quesadilla (but super-crispy!), it is a perfect fusion of its Mexican ancestry and American innovation.

This enticing dish is crafted with a large, open-faced flour tortilla, generously sprinkled with cheddar cheese, broiled to perfection.

Green chile cheese crisp at El Minuto in Tucson-Foods of Arizona
Just a lil’ bit o’ green chiles on El Minuto’s Cheese Crisp. . .perfecto! 😋

The tantalizingly crispy edges and gooey center offer a mouthwatering feast of textures. Some folks (me! ✋) like to add green chiles or (small amounts of meat) to give it some zing. The key is to not overload it with too much stuff on top, it will collapse and lose its signature crisp!

  • Where to find Cheese Crisp: El Minuto (Linda Ronstadt’s go-to when she’s in town); most other full-service Mexican restaurants in Tucson serve this classic in the foods of Arizona annals.

8. Santa Cruz Red Chile Powder

Exotic and flavor-packed, Santa Cruz Chili Powder is one of Arizona’s culinary treasures. It’s made from just one ingredient: anaheim chiles 🌶️, picked at the peak of ripeness, then dried and ground into this flavor-packed powder.

Arizona chefs and home cooks alike love this powder (including yours truly!), because it forms the basis for any proprietary chili blend. It invigorates any dish with its warm, robust flavor profile (although it’s not spicy–you can add that as part of your proprietary blend 😉).

This is one of the foods of Arizona you can experience no matter where you’re located. Grab a container of this classic chili powder, and create a taste of Arizona right at home.

  • Where to find Sant Cruz Red Chili Powder: Grocery stores throughout Arizona; mail order from Amazon.

Unearthing Native American Staple Dishes: Traditional Arizona Food

Table showing an array of native american ingredients in baskets
Native American ingredients form the basis of many of the foods of Arizona today (Getty images)

Mexican-inspired street food offers a burst of flavors and textures in Arizona, but the state’s culinary landscape got its start long before that.

The foods of Arizona also encompass an array of Native American staple dishes. Just looking at all the ancient structures in Arizona, such as Montezuma Castle, tells you that this area has been populated for millennia.

Drawing on the land’s natural resources, Native American cuisine in Arizona is a testament to sustainability and the deep connection between the people and their environment 🏜️. Many of the foods of Arizona as we know them today have their roots in Native American traditions.

9. Tamales

Although typically associated with Mexican food, the origin of tamales is traced all the way back to 7,000 B.C. in the Aztec empire. Tamales are a harmonious blend of corn dough, seasoned meat, and aromatic spices, all neatly enveloped in a corn husk.

Cutting board piled high with tamales, with avocado, lime and salsa in the foreground. native american food
Commonly associated with Mexican cooking today, tamales are one of the foods of Arizona with Native American roots (Getty Images)

When the Spaniards arrived in the 1500s, this versatile and staple dish was already here. Over time tamales were absorbed into the Mexican culture throughout the Southwest US.

Tamales are a eaten all year long, but they are also a traditional Arizona food at Christmas🎄. Families gather together to prepare large batches of tamales to serve on Christmas Eve.

This delicately steamed delicacy exudes a richness that immerses the palate in a symphony of flavors. Although you can purchase frozen tamales many places (including Trader Joe’s), it’s not the same as freshly-made. (Think of the frozen pizza vs. fresh from the pizzeria comparison 🍕!)

Try a bit of of evolutionary food history on your next trip to Arizona with some authentic tamales. You’ll sample a bit of Native American and Mexican culture in every bite 😋.

10. Native American Frybread

bubbly native american frybread in foreground, with woman's hand turning frybread in background; native american foods of arizona
Despite a complex history, frybread is one of the key Native American foods of Arizona

One iconic staple is Native American frybread (also known as Navajo frybread) a delicious creation born out of necessity during times of scarcity. (And, frankly, some shameful acts by the government.)

But the resourceful Navajo (or Diné) people persevered, and frybread is one of the results.

Made from simple ingredients like flour, water, salt, and baking powder, this golden and fluffy bread is typically fried until crispy and served either plain or topped with a combination of sweet or savory toppings.

Its versatility makes it a popular choice as the base for many Native American-inspired dishes, such as Indian tacos or Navajo burgers. (But served with honey or cinnamon-sugar is pretty fabulous too! 🍯)

READ NEXT: Things to do in Downtown Phoenix

11. Posole

overhead shot of posole with pork, avocado, hominy and radish-foods of arizona
Colorful and hearty pozole has Native American roots (photo courtesy Pozoleria)

Posole, a traditional Native American stew of corn and pork, has also been commingled with Mexican food culture (where it is often spelled pozole).

This heartwarming stew, often enjoyed during celebrations, is a blend of harmonious flavors. Hominy, which is large, puffy corn kernels (that have been soaked for HOURS) forms the basis of this bracing dish.

Like the Native American peoples themselves, posole predates state (and federal) borders. As a result, posole can be found throughout the southwest, with slightly different flavor profiles. As a traditional Arizona food, the broth tends to be clear, with a robust chile zing.

Posole is often a weekend special on restaurant menus, and it’s worth trying when available. With each spoonful, you can taste the generations of history and the reverence for the land that this dish represents.

12. Tepary Beans

Side by side images of dried white and brown tepary beans, in packaging by Ramona Farms
Drought resistant tepary beans have been prized by the native peoples of Arizona for centuries for their nutritional benefits

Tepary Beans, a cherished Native American food, are a powerhouse of nutrition. Long prized for their drought-resistance, these tough little beans become amazingly creamy and flavorful when cooked.

Holding a treasure trove of proteins and fiber, tepary beans have been nourishing the population for centuries, proving that the best of nature is often preserved in its simplest forms 😇. Explore the richness of Native American heritage with every bite.

  • Where to find Tepary Beans: Served at the Courtyard Cafe in Phoenix; or purchase on Amazon & make them at home!

13. Prickly Pear Fruit

Throughout the Arizona desert you’ll find the prickly pear, with its signature flat pads telescoping out. (After the famous saguaro 🌵 it’s probably the most recognizable cactus!)

side by side images of bright pink prickly pear fruit next to a pink margarita with a salt-rimmed glass
Vivid pink prickly pear has been nourishing desert dwellers for ages; today it’s a popular ingredient in margaritas (Getty images, lma stock)

The namesake prickly pear fruit, which is a bright magenta in color, is one of the foods of Arizona that you’ll find growing wild just about everywhere. And it’s been nourishing the native peoples for centuries milennia.

You can enjoy its sweet-tart taste right off the cactus (if you’re patient enough to remove the spines–yeeouch!😫).

But you don’t need to risk a finger-piercing to taste it; prickly pear jellies, juices and syrups are available to buy. And any Arizona bar worth it’s salt should be able to whip up a yummy prickly pear margarita.🍹

  • Where to find prickly pear: Prickly pear syrup, jelly and candy made in Arizona by Cheri’s Desert Harvest is available on Amazon; prickly pear margaritas are available from fine mixologists throughout Arizona 😉

14. Mesquite Flour: foods of Arizona from the bounty of the desert

close up of Mesquite pods on a tree. Mesquite flour is one of the native american foods of arizona
The fruit of these mesquite pods makes a sweet, nutty (and nutritious) flour (Getty Images)

Mesquite flour originates from the pods of the mesquite tree, a drought-friendly plant native to the Sonoran desert. Native Americans, particularly the Pima and Tohono O’odham tribes of southern Arizona, have utilized this flour for centuries.

In addition to its sweet, nutty flavor, mesquite flour is packed with nutrients: it’s high in both protein and fiber.

The pods are ground into a flour, which is then used in baking and cooking for a variety of dishes. Traditionally, indigenous people used this food of Arizona to bake into a dry cake to carry them through the lean winter months.

Today, many southwestern chefs are using mesquite flour in place of traditional flour to create nutritious and tasty treats, including breads, tortillas . . . and cookies 🍪!

  • Where to find mesquite flour & products: Big Skye Bakers sells a range of baked goodies at Tucson Farmers Markets; flour available by mail order from Mount Hope Wholesale (despite the name they sell 2 lb. and 5 lb. bags)

15. Chiltepin

The chiltepin is a teeny tiny-yet fiery 🔥-chili pepper Sonoran Desert. (It sort of looks like a chili pepper 🌶️ and a peppercorn had a baby!)

The native peoples of these regions have been using this food of arizona for over 8,000 years, not only as a spicy food but as a potent medicine and a spiritual aid. Its intense heat and distinctive taste added zest to their food, while its medicinal properties helped them combat various ailments.

chiltepin bush, with tiny red chiltepin chilis, alongside an image of a hand holding red chiltepin chiles, which are the size of currants-one of the native foods of arizona
Tiny chiltepins are one of the native foods of Arizona . . . and hot Hot HOT! (Getty Images)

Today, the chiltepin is used in salsas, stews, and meat dishes to give them an extra zing 💥. Hotter than jalapenos and habaneros, these little fire bombs are prized for their fierce heat and smoky, citrusy notes. (I confess that I need to use them s…p…a…r…i…n…g…l…y 🥵)

  • Where to find chiltepins: Chilttepica Products sells chiltepins in a variety of sizes and mixed spice blends. Available at specialty stores throughout Arizona or by mail order (see website for details).

16. Sonoran Wheat Flour

Sonoran wheat was the first wheat cultivated in the New World. It was introduced to the Sonoran Desert by the Spanish Missionaries in the 1600s. Wait . . . you might be thinking, “doesn’t that make it more a mexican food?”

Not really. That came a little later.

The local Tohono O’odham and Pima peoples quickly realized this crop was ideal for the desert climate-Yay! 🎉 Plus, it also grew during the winter, when the planting fields were usually fallow-Yay Again! 🙌. So . . .

The indigenous folks knew a good thing when they saw it, and wheat quickly became part of O’odham cuisine. Cooks incorporated wheat berries into traditional poshol, a stew with tepary beans, as well as pinole (a kind of porridge).

Today bakers love heritage Sonoran wheat, with its slightly nutty taste and low protein for use in pastries and pastas, and blended with other heritage wheats in breads. (I’m a baker & I love it for delicate, crispy cookies! 😋).

  • Where to find Sonoran Wheat: Multiple products, including flour, wheat berries & crackers from Hayden Flour Mills (available either from Amazon or at Whole Foods); breads from [James Beard Award Winner] Don Guerra at Barrio Bread (see above) in Tucson.

Foods Arizona is known For: Modern Twists on Classic Recipes

While Arizona’s culinary heritage is deeply rooted in Native American culture and the rich flavors of the Mexico, the state’s food scene also embraces innovation and modernization. Chefs and food enthusiasts alike have found ways to put a contemporary spin on classic recipes, creating a delightful fusion of old and new.

Check out these “newer” foods of Arizona to find some mouthwatering surprises. 🤤

17. Artisan Pizza: Foods of Arizona???

I bet your thinking, wait, WHAT? What does Arizona have to do with Artisan pizza?

Chris Bianco, that’s what. (Or should I say “who”?)

Back in the 1980’s, when pizza was still relegated to bowling alleys and strip malls (remember the flimsy take out boxes?), Chris Bianco started making wood-fired pizza in the back of a Phoenix Italian grocery store. It was good-very good. People noticed.

holding a margherita pizza outside pizzeria bianco
Chris Bianco’s innovation placed artisan pizza firmly in the “foods of Arizona” category

Fast forward a few years and Chris’ Pizzeria Bianco is being hailed as “the best pizza in America” from food critics all over the country. In 2003 he was the first pizziaolo (pizza maker) ever to receive a James Beard award. A Big. Deal.

Today foodies can find wood-fired artisan pizza 🍕 all over the US, which is absolutely terrific. But it all started in a little Italian grocery in Phoenix. Cool 🤩.

  • Where to find Chris Bianco’s Pizza: Multiple locations of Bianco Restaurants in Phoenix. Each has a slightly different menu, but they all serve pizza.

18. Steaks & Burgers made from Grass-Fed Beef

grilled medium-rare ribeye steak sliced crosswise with knife alongside and parsley garnish-getty images
Steaks and burgers from grass-fed beef have been foods of Arizona since the cowboy days. (Getty Images)

Arizona has a rich ranching heritage, with cattle grazing the sprawling grasslands. So the “emerging trend” of grass fed beef 🌱 is tried and true here in Arizona.

Multiple ranches in the state have been doin’ it this way for generations (Thank ye kindly, ma’am 🤠). The good old-fashioned way: better for the cows, better for the planet, better for you.

This may be one of the most traditional foods of Arizona of the modern era. To try one of these steaks or burgers is to taste a bit of cattle ranching history 🥩 (and a baked potato alongside isn’t bad, either 😉).

19. The Tequila Sunrise

When talking about foods of Arizona, do drinks count? I think so.

Tequila sunrise (no orange juice!) with a coaster from the Arizona Biltmore--where it was invented. One of the foods arizona is famous for.
A tequila sunrise where it was invented–one of the famous foods of Arizona. (NO ORANGE JUICE!)

Despite the song of the same name, the classic rock group Eagles did not invent the Tequila Sunrise. (Although they do have a strong connection to Arizona, with Standing on the Corner Winslow Arizona!)

The honor of the drink’s invention goes to bartender Gene Sulit of the (super swanky✨) Arizona Biltmore hotel in Phoenix, waaay back in the 1930s.

Legend has it that a guest requested a refreshing drink to take poolside, and asked Gene to “surprise me.”

Mr Sulit created a concoction that was as pretty as it was delicious: a blend of soda and tequila with crème de cassis and fresh lime juice. The super-thick crème de cassis’ settled at the bottom of the glass, creating the gradient of colors that mimics a sunrise and created a name. 🍹🌅

(Curious to note that there is NO orange juice 🍊 in this original version!)

And the rest, as they say, is history (and an Eagles song 🦅).

  • Where to get a tequila sunrise: Um, well how about the Wright Bar at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel? (Which would of course be the Tequila Sunrise.)

20. The Arizona “Original” Chopped Salad: one of the more recently-created foods of Arizona

Image of chopped salad, with rows of tomatoes, corn, pepitas, aruguly, cous cous and smoked salmon; foods of arizona
The “Original Chopped Salad”, one of the newest foods of Arizona (photo courtesy the Gladly)

About 25 years ago Scottsdale chef Bernie Kantak developed a really tasty salad at a restaurant called Cowboy Ciao. In keeping with the cowboy theme he named it the Stetson.

It involved a curious combination of chopped ingredients-smoked salmon, arugula, pearl couscous, pepitas, currants, dried sweet corn, and marinated tomatoes-artfully presented in a bowl in neat little rows, that were then tossed together table-side with a buttermilk herb dressing.

People loved it. [It’s really good!]

So much so that when Kantak left his former employer to open the Citizen Public House he took his signature salad with him. But he couldn’t bring the name.

So he rechristened it the “Original,” and onto the menu it went.

Today there are replicas of the Chopped Salad scattered around Phoenix and Scottsdale. But there’s only one “Original.” Well, technically there are three: Chef Kantak has three restaurants and you can get the salad at all of them . (in case you’re fact-checking 😉)

21. The Date Shake

There are only two states in the country that grow dates: Arizona and California The dry, sunny climate mimics that of the Middle East, where dates grow natively. 🌴

Enterprising farmers imported date trees to Arizona in the early 1900s and soon began selling this nutritious, sweet fruit from roadside stands. Heck, the scientific name for a date palm is even called Phoenix dactylifera, so what does THAT tell you???

Date shake in a large plastic cup alongside an image of the date palm, Phoenix dactylifera. Getty images
Date shakes are definitely one of the foods of Arizona–the tree, Phoenix dactylifera, even has an Arizona name! (Getty Images)

Travelers passing through would stop and stock up on yummy dates to bring home as souvenirs. But there was an even bigger treatat these rest stops: the date shake. 🥤

Using 3 simple ingredients: milk, ice cream & sweet sticky dates, the date shake became a refreshing way to break up a trip through the desert. [Spoiler alert: I also like to make a “healthy” version at home with yogurt 🥰]

Today many of these roadside stands are gone, but a few remain to provide one of the historic and sweet foods of Arizona, a reminder of Arizona days gone by.

While Arizona’s culinary heritage is deeply rooted in Native American culture and the rich flavors of the Wild West, the state’s food scene also embraces innovation and modernization. Chefs and food enthusiasts alike have found ways to put a contemporary spin on classic recipes, creating a delightful fusion of old and new.

I invite you to immerse yourself in the flavors and foods of Arizona. Take a bite out of history and indulge in the vibrant cultural tapestry that flavors this state. Don’t miss out on the chance to experience these 21 must-try authentic foods of Arizona that have made their mark on the state’s culinary landscape.

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