By Lauren Topor for Bite Magazine
Many regions and cultures influence Phoenix’s dining scene. But there’s one that has long played a role, sneaking under the radar, hidden from the palates of casual restaurant-goers until recently. Native American cooking has been in practice for centuries, and today’s modern restaurateurs and chefs are bringing it to the forefront of Phoenix’s dining scene. Here are five local restaurants celebrating native ingredients with native-inspired dishes.
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Everyone has a story to tell. Just ask chef Tamara Stanger of Helio Basin Brewing Co., who has crafted a menu featuring native ingredients, such as the tepary bean.
“The first time I tried tepary beans, I was taken aback by how rich, dynamic and flavorful they were,” says Stanger. “I researched their history and was even further amazed to find that they have been cultivated for over 4,000 years by indigenous people.”
Stanger showcases the tepary bean in a delicious starter made with Oodham white tepary bean puree with whipped milk curd, herbs, roasted pepita, pickled vegetables and Indian fry bread. The bean also shines in the roasted Oodham tepary bean blend with sweet potato, portabella, arugula, sweet corn and tomato hummus served on a stoneground Pima corn tortilla.
In 1992, Fry Bread House owner Cecelia Miller opened the doors to her iconic Phoenix restaurant for the first time. Twenty years later, in 2012, the James Beard Foundation named it one of “America’s Classics,” an honor given to legendary family-owned restaurants across the country. Miller, who hails from the Tohono O’odham Nation, started the restaurant at the urging of friends and family. Using her mother’s time-honored fry bread recipe, Miller tops the hand-pulled, deep-fried dough with beans and red chile sauce made from ground red chile pods. Spooned on a circle of fry bread, it is one of the restaurant’s signature dishes.
4545 N 7th Ave, Phoenix 85013
Located on the Gila River Indian Reservation, at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass, is Kai, Arizona’s only AAA Five Diamond/Forbes Five Star restaurant. Here, your taste buds are taken on a journey through native tastes and traditions. Kai, which means “seed” in the native Pima language, is led by chef de cuisine Ryan Swanson, who incorporates the spirit of Maricopa and Pima tribes into masterfully-crafted and beautifully-plated dishes like the cedar-wrapped ocean trout, mesquite-charred ha:l soup and courses on Kai’s 13-course tasting menu made from locally farmed or foraged ingredients.
Located at Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass, 5594 Wild Horse Pass Blvd, Phoenix 85048
While Native history is on display at the Heard Museum, visitors can get a taste of it, too. Featuring Southwest-inspired cuisine—many of American Indian origin—the museum’s Courtyard Café showcases locally sourced, natural and organic ingredients in its dishes. For a true taste of Arizona, try the Dreamcatcher, a baby greens salad made with tomato, avocado, corn, dried cranberries, Ramona Farms Pima wheat berries, pepitas, and balsamic vinaigrette.
While brown spirits are at the forefront at this popular whiskey bar, the menu offerings aren’t overshadowed. In fact, they’re shining stars. More than bar food, the kitchen staff at Second Story delicately prepares and plates each dish, including the standout fry bread sliders. Local chorizo, manchego, grape, cider onion jam and fresh greens are all layered inside of soft, house made fry bread, which makes for a taste that is unique to the Southwest.
Lauren Topor is a Phoenix writer and lover of all carbs. Follow her on Instagram at @hungryinphoenix.