Tucson Gets International Recognition for Culinary Scene

Union Public House, Tucson | Steven Meckler

Tucson has become the first city in the U.S. to be recognized for its culinary culture by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The Arizona Daily Star and other news outlets reported last month that UNESCO has added Tucson to its Creative Cities Network. The network has 116 member cities around the world. Six of them are in the United States, but Tucson is the only U.S. city to be on the list for "gastronomy" — agricultural heritage, food traditions and culinary innovation.

Tucson, the University of Arizona and other organizations pursued the designation over two years. A UA official called the designation "a milestone in the history of Tucson."

Other listed cities recognized for their cuisine include Parma, Italy, and Phuket, Thailand.

Of course, you don't have to tell us that Tucson is a culinary hot spot. In recent years, we've featured places such as Renee's Organic Oven, Prep & Pastry, Maynards Market & Kitchen and Union Public House (pictured) on the pages of Arizona Highways.

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La Piñata Moves to '21st Century' Digs in Phoenix

Phoenix's La Piñata restaurant shortly after it opened in 1970. | Photos courtesy of La Piñata

After 45 years, Phoenix’s landmark Mexican restaurant La Piñata has closed its doors. The upside? The doors have reopened 10 minutes away, at a new location on Seventh Avenue and Camelback Road.

La Piñata’s original location on 19th Avenue was well-loved and frequented by locals in the neighborhood, according to owners Peter Bugarin and Roseann Schulz. (That includes Arizona Highways staffers, who have been eating there for decades.) The large, lavishly decorated restaurant included several rooms with white walls and guava-colored trim, folk art adorning the walls and banda music playing from the speakers.

Perhaps the restaurant’s best-known element was its huge, 1960s-style sign, which featured a vibrant yellow arrow pointing toward the building. Central, too, were its loyal customers, many of whom had eaten at La Piñata for decades.

Before it closed, La Piñata’s front room was covered in paper visitors could use to record a memory. These papers were filled with vignette memories of the times people had spent in La Piñata and the generations of families who ate there.

“I started coming here when I was 1 week old," wrote "Tabby & Millie. "My little Millie did the same. Thank you for nearly 40 years of cheese crisps!”

A patron named Sheryl wrote, “I was here the day you guys picked out the restaurant and I have never quit coming and will continue coming to the new one. I was with Mary when we came to look at the restaurant. La Piñata has way too many memories to put on paper. Good luck to the new restaurant. We love you.”

When the restaurant opened in 1970, the driving force was Bugarin and his mother, Hope, who had been a stay-at-home mother and never worked before.

“She blossomed,” Bugarin said. “She did. She really blossomed. And she became her own person.”

The restaurant prided itself as the “home of the chimichanga” and claims to have been the first to top the dish with cheese, onions, tomatoes, guacamole and sour cream. While it left the old location behind, it took the chimichanga with it — along with many of its customers and three skeleton figurines. The rest of the decorations were replaced.

So was the original sign, though Schulz and Bugarin tried everything they could to take it along. It was just too big. A new, smaller sign has been constructed to emulate the original as much as possible.

While the sign and skeletons stay the same, everything else has changed.

“It you think it’s going to be another version of this Piñata, it isn’t,” Bugarin said before the restaurant moved. “It’s the 21st century version.”

His promise has held true. The new restaurant is spacious and modern, with a long community table near the center and an outdoor fireplace on the patio. Their original customers are returning, but they’re inundated with new ones, too. More than they expected.

The new restaurant is worth a visit. In particular, take a look at the wall-size painting of a cowboy lassoing a piñata, commissioned specially for the new restaurant from artist Karen Bennett.

“I can’t say anything bad,” Schulz said. “It’s a great energy, and we’re happy to be here.”

— Molly Bilker

The new La Piñata is located at 5521 North Seventh Avenue in Phoenix. For more information, call 602-279-1763 or visit www.lapinatarestaurantaz.com.

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Four Peaks Tops Ranking of Arizona's Best Breweries

Four Peaks Brewing Company, Tempe

A story on lifestyle website Thrillist recently ranked the top 10 breweries in Arizona. And here's something that won't shock many of our state's beer drinkers: Four Peaks Brewing Company in Tempe took the top spot.

Another Tempe brewery, Huss Brewing Company, was second, followed by College Street Brewhouse in Lake Havasu City. Rounding out the list were brewhouses in the Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff areas.

Four Peaks has been around since 1996 and is a longtime favorite of Tempe residents and Arizona State University students. Several of its beers, including its iconic Kiltlifter and 8th Street Ale, are bottled and sold at retail locations statewide. The brewery has also expanded to locations in Scottsdale and at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, plus a tasting room elsewhere in Tempe.

One brewery that surprisingly didn't make the list was Flagstaff's Beaver Street Brewery, where you can't go wrong with the oatmeal stout, if you ask us. Rankings such as this one are entirely subjective, though, so you tell us: What's the best brewery in Arizona? Leave your answer in the comments.

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Bill Would Curb City Protection of Saguaros, Other Desert Plants

A bill currently kicking around the Arizona Legislature would outlaw city requirements that saguaros and other desert plants removed by land developers be transplanted elsewhere.

As The Arizona Republic reported last week, House Bill 2570 would affect cities across Arizona, many of which have laws in place to protect one of Arizona's most well-known and beloved symbols.

The bill is sponsored by a former custom-home developer, Rep. Darin Mitchell (R-Litchfield Park). He says cities have unfairly restricted rights of property owners through native-vegetation requirements.

Cities say the issue is one of local control and that the state has no business meddling in municipal governing.

But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

Photo: Dafire Dana | Mesa

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Wild Arizona: Mountains!

Photo: Pamela Baca-Hanes | Mount Baldy

EDITOR’S NOTE: Each afternoon in September, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, we’re spotlighting three of Arizona’s 90 wilderness areas. For more information about any of the state’s wilderness areas, visit Wilderness.net, a collaboration between several wilderness-related organizations. The information here comes from that site and the wilderness areas’ managing agencies. Always contact the managing agency before visiting a wilderness to learn about any restrictions that may be in effect.

Mount Baldy Wilderness

Early surveyor Captain George Wheeler called the view from 11,400-foot Mount Baldy “the most magnificent and effective” he’d seen. Baldy is an extinct volcano, and part of it is on White Mountain Apache Tribe land. You might see bald eagles, mountain lions and black bears on Baldy’s slopes.

Location: Southwest of Springerville
Established: 1970
Size: 7,079 acres
Managed by: U.S. Forest Service
Contact: Springerville Ranger District, 928-333-4372 or www.fs.usda.gov/asnf

Mount Trumbull Wilderness

Mount Trumbull, a basalt-capped mesa, rises to 8,028 feet in this wilderness, and its steep slopes are dominated by piñon pines and junipers. Atop the mountain is a ponderosa-pine forest that has never seen a logger’s saw. The Mount Trumbull Trail climbs about 5 miles round-trip to the summit, and primitive camping is available.

Location: Northwest of Grand Canyon National Park
Established: 1984
Size: 7,880 acres
Managed by: Bureau of Land Management
Contact: Arizona Strip Field Office, 435-688-3200 or www.blm.gov/arizona

Mount Wilson Wilderness
This wilderness is almost completely surrounded by Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and it’s closer to Las Vegas than to any major Arizona city. On approach, it looks harsh and dry, but several dependable year-round springs support bighorn sheep and other wildlife.

Location: North of Kingman
Established: 1990
Size: 23,900 acres
Managed by: Bureau of Land Management
Contact: Kingman Field Office, 928-718-3700 or www.blm.gov/arizona


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