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Featured Dining LocationTucson's El Charro Café has kept satisfied diners coming back since 1922.

© Paul Markow


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Best Restaurants 2011
In places like Phoenix and Tucson, it's pretty easy to find a good restaurant. But where do you go when you're in Wikieup or Snowflake or Camp Verde? You could pack a lunch or eat fast food, but there are so many other options, including the 25 locally owned eateries in our fourth-annual "best restaurants" issue. There are plenty of others, of course, but this should fill you up for a while.

by Nikki Buchanan

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We hope you're hungry, and we hope you have plenty of gas in the car, because after you've read our fourth-annual "best restaurants" issue (a roundup of 25 great places to relax over breakfast, grab a snack, have a frilly girls' lunch, enjoy a fancy dinner or just wolf down a hot dog), you're going to want to hop in your buggy and eat your way around the state. Just like Arizona, our list is diverse, offering a bit of history here, a dash of family friendliness there, all served up in one delicious melting pot. Dig in, and drive carefully.


Casa Antigua, Camp Verde
Locals love this colorful mom-and-pop for lots of reasons, but the fresh-tasting, home-style Mexican food is chief among them. Owners José and Flor Rivas cater to their small community by sticking to basics, such as carne asada and Baja-style fish tacos, steak ranchero and shrimp enchiladas, all handled so expertly you'd never know the couple's roots lead back to Guatemala, not Mexico. Of course, it doesn't hurt that José, who runs the front of the house while Flor cooks, treats everyone like family — or that the margaritas go down so smoothly.
522 W. Finnie Flat Road, 928-567-6300.


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Casa Vicente, Tucson
There's never a dull moment at this family owned Spanish restaurant, where Spanish wine-tastings, Spanish guitarists or stomping flamenco dancers are scheduled nearly every night of the week. Although lunch fare is limited to tapas samplers and bocadillos (French bread sandwiches filled with, say, Spanish chorizo and olives), the evening tapas and dinner menus extend beyond familiar classics such as tortilla Española, gazpacho and paella. Sangria, Spanish sherry and Cava (Spanish sparkling wine) keep the natives stirred up, so head for the patio when you crave some peace and quiet.
375 S. Stone Avenue, 520-884-5253, www.casavicente.com.
Celebrations of Generations, Snowflake
What began as a lacy, ultra-feminine tearoom has morphed into a nostalgic, shabby-chic-meets-farmhouse café, offering fancy breakfasts, salads, sandwiches, homemade soups and desserts to hungry folks of either gender. High tea requires 24 hours' notice, but daily-changing quiches and scones (both restaurant signatures) are available all the time and are so popular that a sign reading "Everybody must get sconed" seems to be accurate. Once a month, the restaurant hosts a Celebrations of Generations dinner, celebrating the food, dress and music of a designated decade.
432 S. Main Street, 928-457-0198, www.celebrationsofgenerations.com.
Crema Coffee and Creamery, Cottonwood
It's hard to say what Crema cultists like best about this charming, clean-lined cafe in Old Town, but it probably starts with the letter "c." Some would vote for the excellent coffee, others for the dreamy chocolate chip-walnut cookies, still others for the chicken-walnut salad or the house-made waffle cones. The "creamery" in the operation's name refers to the small-batch, artisan gelato, made with local ingredients, the flavors rotated seasonally and according to whim. What would you say about chocolate milk, caramelized pear or butter salt caramel gelato? "Criminal" (another c-word) comes to mind.
917 N. Main Street, 928-649-5785, www.cremacoffeeandcreamery.com.


Criollo Latin Kitchen, Flagstaff
Paul and Laura Moir — the talented couple behind the brilliant Brix — have opened one of Flagstaff's loveliest and best new restaurants, a wood-floored, art-filled space devoted to all things Latin American. Executive chef David Smith likes to shake things up on his lunch, brunch and dinner menus, offering classic ceviche, ropa vieja and huevos Motuleño alongside his own creative riffs such as quinoa fritters, pork belly tacos and wild mushroom burritos. Meanwhile, bar wizard Anthony Alvarez complements the food with Latin American wines, local microbrews and premium tequilas, mescals, rums and ports. The bar, by the way, is made of wood that was salvaged from the devastating Rodeo-Ched­iski Fire of 2002.
16 N. San Francisco Street, 928-774-0541, www.criollolatinkitchen.com.


Darbi's Café, Lakeside
Better rise and shine to hit this family friendly, three-squares spot before the crowds show up. Otherwise you'll be staring hungrily (and maybe drooling slightly) as belly-filling portions of eggs Benedict, biscuits and gravy, and the epic pancake sandwich are delivered to the early birds who got there ahead of you. Originally a breakfast-and-lunch operation, Darbi's has become so popular it's now open for dinner Wednesdays through Sundays, offering up thick-as-a-brick homemade meatloaf, chicken and dumplings, and a rockin' Friday-night fish fry.
235 E. White Mountain Boulevard, 928-367-6556.


Dinner Bell Café, Prescott
Open for breakfast and lunch only, this friendly, funky diner never actually rings the dinner bell, but locals and tourists arrive in droves for breakfast, consistently raving about specialty coffee drinks, buckwheat waffles with mango and walnuts, dreamy homemade cinnamon rolls and chicken-fried steak. Choose between two ambience options: a classic, well-worn diner overlooking the street, or an airy, arty café and patio overlooking the creek (dubbed Creekside). Either way, you can expect the same great food and the same policy: cash only, no plastic accepted.
321 W. Gurley Street, 928-445-9888.


El Charro Café, Tucson
Established in 1922, the original Court Avenue location is said to be the oldest Mexican restaurant in continuous operation by the same family in the entire country. When you see the thick adobe walls, creaking wood floors and vintage calendars splashed with dashing vaqueros and voluptuous señoritas, you'll be convinced. To satisfy modern tastes, the menu has been expanded to include gluten-free dishes and vaguely Southwestern specialties (think grilled chicken with mango-balsamic dressing, dried cranberry and pepitas), but stick to tradition and try the signature carne seca: marinated and shredded beef, air-dried on the restaurant's roof. Caramelized and wispy, it's meaty cotton candy.
311 N. Court Avenue, 520-622-1922, www.elcharrocafe.com.
Flavors of Louisiana, Avondale
Decorated with Mardi Gras beads and color photos of the Big Easy, this tidy quick-serve, housed at the lone end of a giant strip mall, doesn't conjure our Hollywood-fed notion of Cajun Country. But with the help of her grown daughters, owner Jennifer Goff, a Cajun born and bred, surely does capture its flavors, offering up the rich gumbos, jambalaya and boudin balls that are Cajun standbys. Her crunchy fried oyster po'boy and Dunkin' Catfish, fried crisp and smothered in crawfish étouffée, are well worth the schlep to Avondale for her scrumptious answer to the question, "How's bayou?"
13025 W. Rancho Santa Fe Boulevard, Suite B103, 623-935-2357.

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DiningWhether you find yourself famished in Flagstaff or starved in Sonoita, there are many great spots to find a bite in Arizona... [more

Weekend GetawaysCheck out Weekend Getaways around the state. ... [more]

Events CalendarEscape, experience and explore Arizona, one event at a time... [more]

 

LodgingNo matter where you travel in Arizona, you'll find lodging that ranges from rustic to ritzy, along with everything in between... [more]

External LinksFor more information about great places to visit in Arizona, view our list of links to external resources, from Native American arts to parks and national forests... [more]

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