In Arizona, you can find respectable Mexican food almost anywhere, and Safford, a small town in the eastern part of the state, is no exception. That’s where the owners of Casa Mañana faithfully re-create recipes passed down by the original owners — who took the concept of “homestyle cooking” to a new level.
Emma Gabaldon and her husband, Gaby, started the family restaurant out of their house in 1951, and it quickly became a beloved gathering place for locals. When Adam Hoopes and his mother, Diane, bought Casa Mañana in 2004, they committed themselves to preserving the food and atmosphere Safford residents grew to love when the Gabaldons were at the helm.
And those residents took notice. After years of changes, the restaurant started getting busy again — so busy, in fact, that the Hoopeses added rooms onto the original brick house to accommodate the guests coming through their doors to enjoy dishes such as chiles rellenos, tacos and tamales.
“This town does not wait for food,” Adam says. “We wanted to serve families faster.”
The service is indeed prompt. Right after you’re seated at Casa Mañana, you’re treated to a basket of mixed corn and flour tortilla chips with two kinds of salsa. But save room for the main course, because portions are generous. Among the locals’ favorites are the green chile chimichanga special and the creamy chicken enchiladas. Many of the dishes are served with spiced rice and refried pinto beans.
If you’re in the mood for something unique, try a Hoopes family dessert: funnel-cake-batter fries, topped with powdered sugar and served with dipping sauce. You wouldn’t have found that on the Gabaldons’ menu, nor would you have found the Hawaiian-themed dishes Adam cooked up in the summer of 2005 because he “didn’t have time to go on vacation.” Now, that seasonal menu is a Casa Mañana mainstay.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, an older couple is dining in a small brick room that once was the house’s porch. The alcove was the first room in the restaurant that was finished, they explain, and they often spend anniversaries there. When they finish their lunch, Adam helps the woman to her feet.
“It’s hard to get out of a chair at age 92,” she says. “Age 90,” her husband insists. “No fighting,” Adam says with a laugh.
Lighthearted bickering and good food ... what could be more appropriate for a casa than that?
502 S First Avenue