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When it comes to iconic restaurants in Arizona, El Chorro Lodge ranks right up there. Recently, the old adobe got a facelift, and things are better than ever. Including the sticky buns.
By Maryal Miller
paradise valley In the ever-expanding metropolis of Phoenix, Arizona, traces of the state's storied past are often overlooked and rarely preserved. This writer even came close to downloading Rawhide on iTunes and hijacking a kid's stick-horse just to feel an authentic link to long ago. Thanks to El Chorro Lodge, which was recently revamped and reopened, that wasn't necessary. The restaurant is getting rave reviews, and best of all, despite the recent overhaul, the rustic refuge hasn't lost an ounce of its stylish, Southwestern charm. Or its famous sticky buns.
Shortly after being sold to Valley philanthropist Jacquie Dorrance by longtime owners Joe and Evie Miller, El Chorro was handed over to celebrated architect Mark Candelaria. That was in June 2009. In February 2010, he handed it back with a refreshed look and a new chef. "Visiting El Chorro is like coming home again," Dorrance says. "We didn't want to change that feeling by unveiling an entirely new menu. Instead, we infused the menu with some unique new dishes."
Translation: Gone are some ultravintage menu mainstays such as shad roe and chateaubriand, but still around are the ever-so-tender mesquite-grilled rack of lamb (a customer favorite) and Australian lobster tail, in addition to fresh, contemporary dishes like tomato-and-burrata salad and Santa Fe chicken enchiladas.
If you're a longtime regular, don't let the changes keep you away. The lodge still houses the famed Classroom Bar, an abundance of hair-on-cowhide rugs and leather club chairs, and many original art pieces, fireplaces and light fixtures. Of course, a few modern enhancements were made — c'mon, the place became an eatery 73 years ago, decades before The Food Network was born and Americans started worrying about cholesterol.
Among the changes, the blue-emblazoned patio with its stunning views of adjacent Camelback and Mummy mountains was expanded to almost three times its original size. A new boccie lawn and organic vegetable garden were created. The Classroom Bar now houses plasma-screen TVs. And an airy new indoor/outdoor bar was added to the entryway. In addition, El Chorro is in the process of becoming LEED Gold certified, complete with solar panels. Yes, El Chorro has gone green!
Regardless of the brick, mortar and menu, what makes this adobe landmark so special is the people who pass — and have passed — through the door. People like Jacquie Dorrance, who is dedicated to preserving El Chorro's history. People like Clark, Milton, Barry and the Phoenix 40 who sipped scotch and socialized in El Chorro's dimly lit corners. People like Steve Nash, who charmed a Sports Illustrated reporter at the bar during a hometown interview. And the people yet to come — future generations of families celebrating engagements and graduations, and toasting with signature El Chorro Sunrises in hand.