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Dinner Fare with Western Flair
How the West was really won: with cowboy steaks, chile-charge enchiladas, and gourmet game like glazed duck.


TRADITIONAL WESTERN hospitality starts with a friendly “Howdy” followed by an offering of hearty grub mesquite-broiled steaks or chicken, corn-on-the-cob, beans, rolls, and a sweet cobbler or apple pie with cinna­mon ice cream. But just as traditions evolve, so too has Western cooking, and our Valley is rich with tasty “before” and “after” exemplas. Mosey in as you are; leave the suits, ties and sequinned finery at home.

THE CAVE CREEK/CAREFREE AREA HAS THE highest concentration of classic cowboy eateries. Pinnacle Peak Patio (10426 E. Jomax Rd., 480-585-1599) is one of the oldest, with enough seating for several settlements: 1,600 inside and about 4,000 outside. Wear a necktie here and it’ll be snipped off and tacked to the ceiling with your business card.


Crazy Ed’s Satisfied Frog (6245 E. Cave Creek Rd., 480-488-3317), established in the 1960s, anchors the Old West-style Frontier Town, which is filled with shops and a saloon. Brewed-on-the­ premises Black Mountain Gold and Crazy Ed’s Cave Creek Chili Beer go perfectly with the steaks and barbecued vittles. The Horny Toad (6738 E. Cave Creek Rd.,480-488-9542) is just a-yonder, resplendent in roadside rustic ranch house decor. Reata Pass (27500 N. Alma School Pkwy, 480-585-7277), a rambling restaurant that is said to have been a stage stop in the 1880s, sits a few miles farther south in the city of Scottsdale.


Another popular Western red meat round-up can be found at The Steak-House at Rawhide, a re-created 1880s town. They herd folks in for a steak stampede, feed ‘em, then move ‘em out. If you’ve not experienced fried rattlesnake, now’s your chance. It really does taste like chicken.  


Other cowfolk-friendly spots to stake out: Mining Camp Restaurant in Apache Junction, Rockin’ R Ranch in Mesa, Rustler’s Rooste at the Pointe South Mountain Resort, and Hole in the Wall at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort.  


PHOENIX’S REGIONAL CUISINE IS not just down-home cooking. If your chops are smackin’ for grander goodies that stay with the Southwestern style, you’ll want to tie up at Cartwright’s on Saguaro Hill (6710 E. Cave Creek Rd., 480-488-803l) in Cave Creek. Proprietors John Malcolm and chef Eric Flatt have assembled a striking Arizona territorial decor that suits the gourmet steaks, game and seafood dishes. 


Select a steak, have it cooked to your specifications, and then customize it with roasted shallot demi-glace or béarnaise sauce. Add a potato, polenta or rice and wild mushrooms, asparagus or green beans with bacon.  Western etiquette means offering many seafood options, too halibut, salmon, sea bass, sole, swordfish, ahi, scallops and shrimp prepared to your taste. Cartwright’s has a handle on Mediterranean, Southwestern, Asian, and French with lemon caper Chardonnay butter.  


THE COMESTIBLES AT SCOTTSDALE’S Roaring Fork (7243 E. Camel back Rd., 480-947-0795) are extraordinary. Chef and proprietor Robert McGrath the 2001 James Beard Foundation Best Chef Southwest puts on a spread of sensationally seasoned sustenance that’ll knock your socks off (and likely your boots, too).


Since arriving on the dining scene in 1998, McGrath’s American-Western cuisine has galloped off with a passel of awards, and rightly so. It’s not fancy food, just good food that’s to borrow a well-known phrase kicked up a notch. Key to McGrath’s signature dishes is his skillful use of a chile or two tossed in to spice things up.  


Menu standouts include sugar and chile-cured duck breast with green chile macaroni gratin, mustard­crusted trout with pole beans and sweet potato fries, and a coffee-and molasses-shellacked beef tenderloin paired with mashed potatoes.


A STAR ON SCOTTSDALE’S DINING scene for five years now, Cowboy Ciao (7133 E. Stetson Dr.
, 480-946-3111) spikes Western dishes with an Italian accent. Far from the usual, this restaurant is quirky in both cuisine style and atmosphere. The gutsy grub we consider outstanding includes the Stetson chopped salad, the mushroom pan-fry (a menagerie of mushrooms in a slightly spunky ancho chile cream sauce dusted with cotija cheese), and porcini-crusted rib-eye steak with gorgonzola butter and mashed sweet potatoes.  


SIGNIFICANT TO ARIZONA’S WESTERN/Southwestern food heritage are the flavor influences from our Mexican and New Mexican neighbors.


Scottsdale’s Blue Agave Mexican Cantina (4280 Drinkwater Blvd., 480-429-1123) features such traditional Mexican tastes as burritos, enchiladas, fajitas and tacos, plus a few contemporary Baja Mexican dishes with Pacific Rim flavor surprises. Dishes that inspire a gracias include the open-face rellenos with Angus beef, the crab chimichanga with a sweet and sour mango red pepper sauce, and the seared achiote tuna with red chile wine sauce and green chile potatoes. Get things started with grilled shrimp on a lettuce-topped tostada with a spicy sauce.


La Hacienda (Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, 7575 E. Princess Dr., 480-585-4848) is the only Four-Diamond/Four-Star Mexican restaurant in North America . The setting is a turn-of-the-century ranch house with low, wood-beamed ceilings, fireplaces and Mexican folk art. To ensure authenticity, executive chef Reed Groban and others take occasional tasting tours through the villages of Mexico . The tours have inspired baked Gulf shrimp with bacon and Jack cheese, pan-seared mahi mahi with a saffron cake and charred tomatillo chutney, and the signature spit-roasted suckling pig marinated in bitter orange and tamarind. Be sure to conclude with chocolate crepes and mangoes.


WHILE MANY OF THE MEXICAN EATERIES IN THE Valley feature the mild Sonoran style, diners seeking more arriba! on their plates should seek out one of the Valley’s New Mexican chow houses. Scottsdale’s Carlsbad Tavern (3313 N. Hayden Rd., 480-970-8164) offers a plethora of chile-charged starters, salads and burgers. The apricot and habanero chile-glazed pork tenderloin with fried leeks could actually make your tongue do the cha-cha.  


Those in-the-know know this is the place for the New Mexican specialty carne adovada (slow-roasted pork simmered in red chile sauce and served with cheese and a tortilla). At lunch, latch onto the Roswell Reuben, which is packed with pastrami, seasoned red cabbage, spicy Thousand Island dressing and jalapeno Jack cheese on sourdough. Only the truly serious flame-hunters should attempt the habenero chile burger served with fries, salad and a glass of milk to smother the burn.


Richardson’s (1582 E. Bethany Home Rd., 602-265-5886), a smallish bar ‘n grill in central Phoenix, has been around so long it’s an institution. The celebrated spot is always packed; plan on a wait with a signature margarita in hand. Once you’re able to sit yourself down, settle into the New Mexico sausages and Santa Fe chicken, the black bean gumbo, or carne adovado. The red chile prime New York strip is, indeed, a prime choice.  


Before going to south-central Phoenix’s Los Dos Molinos (8646 S. Central Ave., 602-243-9113), be forewarned, this establishment is for true “chile heads.” Victoria Chavez’s New Mexican-style food is some seriously fiery fare and it has a most loyal following. Within the white adobe Los Dos house, which is decked out with strings of chile pepper lights, kachinas and folk art, diners happily pack away the house specialty, adovada ribs. These pork ribs are so tender that the meat practically falls from the bone with so much as a hungry glance. Beans and terrific home­made tortillas accompany. Tamales and chiles rellenos are zippy standards here, and plenty of Mexican beers are available to douse the flames. If your taste buds are still smoldering, pop a few sopapillas (fried dough puffs) drizzled with honey and dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon.


THE SOUTHWESTERN FOOD STYLE, WITH ITS distinctive flavors and bright colors, was derived from the blending of Western, Mexican and Spanish cookery. A couple of decades ago, a handful of talented local chefs began to harmonize successfully classic cooking techniques with our region’s ingredients. Rustic in its beginnings, Arizona’s Southwestern cuisine today is more refined in its layering of flavors, texture nuances and presentation. And, surprisingly, the dishes now have Asian twists too. Chefs are no longer restricting ingredients to exclusively indigenous products.


One of the original champions of chiles in the Valley is English-born Farn Boggie, executive chef at north Scottsdale’s Coyote Grill (7077 E. Bell Rd., 480-922-8424). Chef Farn is nuts about chiles. A decade ago, only 10 or so chiles were available. Today, he has dozens of chiles on hand and, in a picturesque setting of copper and stone accents, Farn’s fare seems served up from a heated heaven. Firecracker shrimp rolled in crushed red pepper with a honey lemon dip, habanero sea scallops with pepperjack sauce, citrus-crusted catfish with orange chipotle sauce, and spicy chicken mole with prosciutto, basil and peppered cheese top the list.


You can’t miss downtown Scottsdale’s Tequila Grill (4363 N. 75th St., 480-941-1800): Look for tall columns spouting flames. Inside, diners find a handsome interior decorated with glass blocks, massive wooden beams, and a floor-to-ceiling metal-and-glass agave cactus that displays the bar’s impressive tequila collection. The Southwestern sustenance here includes Linguine en Fuego (tiger shrimp and Dun­geness crab with portobellos, bell peppers and sugar snap peas in a jalapeno cream sauce), Phoenix Tournedos (grilled tenderloins on corn-crusted potato cakes topped with blanched spinach, Dungeness crab, scallion hollandaise and mushroom guajillo sauce, and Sonoran shrimp with ancho chiles and fresh lime juice, served on wilted spinach with feta cheese. We recommend chasing these festive flavors with a shot of the watermelon-, honeydew- and cantaloupe-infused tequila.

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