restaurant reviews:: Arizona travel

While on our road trip through Arizona last week, we ate at several places that I wanted to share with y’all. If you live in AZ or ever find yourself traveling there, check out some of these restaurants throughout the state.

Indian Gardens Oak Creek Market — Sedona areaunnamed

On our way out of Sedona, we stopped at this cafe and market, and I’m so happy we did. It would have been easy to miss it, but I think it’s such a little gem. According to their website, it is an Arizona landmark, celebrating 70 years on this historic property. They had several sandwich/soup/salad options (with several vegetarian meals), and they even have craft beer on tap. My favorite part was the garden patio area tucked away behind the building, shaded by big trees.

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I got the Gobbler (smoked turkey breast, avocado, provolone, local organic sprouts, tomato, and pesto mayo on sourdough bread).
Craig chose the Spring Pulled Pork (slow-roasted, pulled pork with house made barbecue sauce and seasonal slaw of bok chou, daikon, carrots, & cabbage. Served warm on ciabatta bread). While mine was delicious and sort of refreshing after our hiking adventure, I had major “order envy” over Craig’s dish. That BBQ was so yummy, and the slaw was the perfect combo of crunchy and sweet.

The market was also stocked full of craft beer, wine, coffee, snacks, desserts, and gifts — perfect for filling up the car with goodies before we began our trek to the Grand Canyon. I just wish we could have stopped back by again!

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El Tovar Dining Room
— Grand Canyon

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Since we were staying at the historic El Tovar Hotel for a night, we decided we should have a nice dinner at their onsite restaurant. The Dining Room has the same rustic charm as the rest of the hotel property, and if you’re seated near the windows (we were not), I’d bet you would have the most gorgeous view of the Canyon.

We  started with the House Salad and the French Onion Soup… the salad was good, but the soup was lick-the-bowl-clean good. Craig and I joked that maybe they’d have Elk on the menu since they’re all over the park area, but of course, they did not. Instead, he opted for the Buffalo Filet (Fig Compote, Pepperjack Au Gratin Potatoes, and Seasonal Vegetables). I wanted to steal his potatoes, and I think he really liked that fig compote. I am not big on quail/duck/lamb chops, so I went with a rather safe choice — the Chicken Piccata (Angel Hair Pasta with Lemon Caper Sauce and Seasonal Vegetables). It was good, but nothing too exciting to write home about.

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Their dessert options are displayed right as you enter the room, which of course worked on me. I was stuffed by the time dessert rolled around, but I couldn’t say no to the Flourless Chocolate Cake. It was a good decision. I would have been perfectly happy just ordering the appetizer and dessert for my meal…. which seems to be the case a lot.

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The Mission — Scottsdale
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Our first night in Scottsdale, we at at The Mission, which is located in Old Town and serves Latin cuisine. It was just a random find on tripadvisor.com (ranked #8 out of 992 restaurants in Scottsdale). I’m glad we made a reservation, though, because it’s clearly popular  among tourists and locals (including bachelorette parties). It’s a rather loud, dark restaurant, but the vibe is swanky and cool. They have patio seating, but I loved the inside decor — lots of mirrors and dark chandeliers. We grabbed a couple yummy cocktails from the very busy bar while we waited for our table (Red Sangria and a Blood Orange Rita).

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We started with the Tableside Guacamole. Calling it “tableside” was sort of amusing, as the tables are quite close to one another, not leaving much room for them to pull a cart up to the table to make this dish. It was a HUGE bowl of guac, but we managed to almost finish it. Probably not the brightest idea, considering that we are always stuffed after eating too much chips and dip before dinner at Mexican restaurants. For dinner, we ordered a plate of the Pork Shoulder Tacos (smoked & slow braised‏ for 12 hours, pineapple habanero glaze, cotija cheese, handmade tortillas), which serve two. They were so rich, but so very good. We also ordered sides of the Black Bean Puree and Chipotle Honey Cream Grits — both were good additions to the meal.

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Chelsea’s Kitchen — Scottsdale

Chelsea’s was recommended to us by a couple different people, and I got the impression that it is more of a local scene, which was welcomed after being in such touristy areas on our trip. There was a long wait, so I think it’s a pretty popular place. We’d already had appetizers at the hotel for happy hour, so we skipped that section of the menu.

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I was having a hard time deciding between the Green Chile Burger (roasted green chiles and Tillamook cheddar with french fries) and the Wood-fired Rotisserie Jidori Chicken (cannellini beans, veggies). The waiter actually recommended trying the chicken, because he said it was that good. I really wanted the Baked Mac n Cheese as a side, but I was told it’s almost the size of an entree. The chicken was moist and flavorful and I really liked the cannellini beans, but I ended up eyeing the burger that a neighboring table had gotten… 
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Craig wanted something a little lighter than he’d had the night before, so he chose the Grilled Swordfish Tacos, which were guaranteed to be the best in town. Quiet a claim! 😉  He ate most everything on his place, but I think we both decided that dessert was our favorite thing we ordered…..
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Because it was this! Mile-high meringue on the Key Lime Pie (with Strawberry Gelato).  Delicious to the last bite, and we wish we’d gotten a bigger piece. 
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Another thing of note — they have a platter of cookies to take on the way out! They know the way to my heart.

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El Chorro — Paradise Valley (Scottsdale area)
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We celebrated our (early) anniversary on our last night in Arizona with a most delicious dinner under the desert stars. This restaurant was recommended to us by a friend, and I’m so glad we tried it out. All entrees include a basket of their famous Sticky Buns, and honestly, that’s what sold me on the place. They were… well…. let’s just say that we devoured them in about 30 seconds and would have eaten 100 more if we were physically able to.

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For our meals, I chose the Braised Beef Short Ribs (whole grain mustard mashed potatoes, garden carrots, and haricot vert) and Craig tried to order the 1/2 Rack of Lamb (brussels sprouts, white bean puree, blackberry jalepeno demi), but the waiter told him it would just be a snack, so he begrudgingly ordered the whole thing. I think he probably regretted that decision after the Sticky Buns…

As you may have noticed, we thoroughly enjoyed eating our way through Arizona. We can’t wait to go back one day!

travel:: the Grand Canyon

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From Sedona, we drove up to the Grand Canyon National Park, which has been a longtime item on my bucket list. The 2.5 hour drive up to the park was really pretty, with a good bit of the first half being through the mountains. I don’t know what I expected, but I certainly didn’t think we’d be taking a drive through the forest in Arizona.

We aren’t incredibly outdoorsy people, so instead of staying several days to hike down to the bottom of the canyon and camp (and then hike back out!), we opted for a night at the historic El Tovar Hotel, positioned at the South Rim. You couldn’t get much closer to the rim unless you slept on the sidewalk. There are several lodges and cabins located in that area of the South Rim, but I really liked staying at El Tovar for our first time there. From the moment you step onto the large, rocking chair-filled front porch and enter through the wooden double doors into the lobby, you can feel the rustic, turn-of-the-century charm. The hotel was built in 1905, and I would bet that a lot of aspects haven’t changed since then. The rooms are somewhat small, but they’re well-equipped with modern amenities (even a Kuerig coffee maker) — and I loved the tile work in the bathroom.

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We arrived late in the afternoon and took a scenic drive out to Grandview Point (thanks to a suggestion from our Canadian friends in Sedona) to get our first glimpse of the canyon. It was so incredibly impressive — photos we’d seen just did no justice to how magnificent the sheer size is.

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Bright and early the next morning, we started our hike down the Bright Angel Trail, which was only about a quarter mile down from the hotel. Like I said… we’re not hikers. So going about 1.5 miles down into the canyon and 1.5 miles back out was PLENTY for us. Add in the high altitude, and we thought me might not make it out. I will say that it’s supposed to take twice as long coming back up, but we did it in equal time… so maybe we were going a bit faster on the way out than we should have. We must have looked tired, because there were several people who passed us and asked if we’d gone all the way to the bottom — HA!

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The trail itself, though, was quite peaceful. It was neat to just stop every so often and take in the grand view and how far we’d made it down. We decided afterward that we liked the hiking in Sedona better, but I’m so glad we did the GC.

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After cleaning up (we were COVERED in orange dust!) and checking out of the El Tovar, we hopped back in the car to make the 4 hour trek down to Scottsdale. Once out of the park, we came back by this bizarre little place called The Flintstones Bedrock City. It has been around for over 45 years and consists of a campground, diner, and theme park. Craig was just dying to check it out, so we took a chance on it and stopped for lunch. While the place was pretty deserted, the lunch was a nice little surprise. It was nothing fancy — burgers, hot dogs, and the like (all with Flintstones-themed names) — but it was well-made and much better than stopping at McDonald’s. We didn’t end up paying to go through the theme park, but I’m sure it would have brought back many fond memories of one of the best cartoon families there ever was.

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