It's All Relative
Sample the flavors at Arizona's historic family-owned eateries.
By Nora Burba Trulsson
Some Arizona restaurants just have staying power, especially if they're run by families. You can try great food – and learn about the area's history – by grabbing a meal at these decades-old family-run eateries.
Aunt Chilada's - Phoenix
"Our regulars are like family," says Tiffany Allison of Aunt Chilada's, the Phoenix restaurant and bar that her family has been involved in since the early 1980s "They’ve been coming here for decades. They help when we get slammed on a busy night."
"We all grew up in this restaurant," says Allison, referring to herself and three sisters. "We had our first jobs here, and we're all still involved in one way or another."
Today, guests still come to this 100-year-old building for margaritas and Sonoran classics like enchiladas and chimichangas, but the menu is now spiked with dishes such as shrimp-stuffed pineapple, street tacos and chipotle cream chicken.
Next up? The family is pitching a reality show based on the restaurant. "We're calling it Blood, Sweat and Salsa," says Allison, a veteran of an early season of Hell's Kitchen.
Delgadillo's Snow Cap - Seligman
A drive down historic Route 66 in Seligman isn’t complete without a stop for a shake and a "cheeseburger with cheese" at Delgadillo's Snow Cap, a classic 1950s drive-in with vintage signage and memorabilia, and, outdoors, old cars.
Juan Delgadillo opened the Northern Arizona eatery in 1953. But when Interstate 40 bypassed Seligman in 1978, the town withered.
With the help of his brother and other business owners, Delgadillo promoted the idea of declaring the Mother Road a historic route, and business boomed again.
Today, the Snow Cap – open from early spring to late fall – is run by his children with help from their families. The new generations added tacos, sweet potato fries, onion rings and chorizo burritos to the menu, but still dole out plenty of malts, floats, cones, burgers and good humor.
El Charro Café - Tucson
As the story goes, Tucson restaurateur Monica Flin was in the kitchen of her El Charro Café, when a burrito flipped into a fryer. The hot oil splashed her and a Spanish cuss word bubbled to her lips. She uttered "chimichanga," the Spanish equivalent of "thingamajig," and the legendary Arizona dish was born.
Her café, founded in 1922, is said to be the nation's oldest Mexican restaurant continuously operated by the same family.
Today, Carlotta Flores, who took over in 1971, runs the restaurants, a catering arm and a commercial kitchen with the help of her extended family. They serve classic El Charro dishes such as carne seca enchiladas, made with beef dried on the restaurant’s rooftop racks; a topopo salad spiked with cheese and avocado; and corn tamales.
Garland's Indian Gardens Café & Market - Oak Creek Canyon
Deep in Sedona's Oak Creek Canyon, Garland's Indian Gardens Café & Market has been operated by three generations of the Garland family since 1984, who also own the nearby Garland's Oak Creek Lodge, as well as a Navajo rug store and an Indian jewelry business. This North Central Arizona business' history dates back to about 1947.
"This was built as a gas station and a general store," says Daniel Garland Jr. "My grandfather bought it, and he and my uncle ran it. When my wife and I moved back in 2011, we had the opportunity to take the reins. We're just the latest in a line of Garland family 'stewards' of this property."
The modernized menu, much of it locally sourced and organic, and restored interior have only added to the café and market's appeal. "What I like about this building is that it has always been a community center," says Daniel. "It's more than just the food. It's a place for people to gather."
Lutes Casino - Yuma
In Arizona's West Coast, three generations of the Lutes family have owned and operated Yuma's Lutes Casino. And if the current family trajectory continues, it's likely that there will also be a fourth generation in charge of the popular downtown eatery known for its pool tables, cold brews and the "especial," a hamburger-hot dog combo, spiked with hot sauce.
Lutes Casino is housed in a two-story brick building dating back to about 1900. It was built on Main Street as a general store, with an upstairs hotel. In the 1920s, it became the Casino Billiard Parlor, with pool tables and, most likely, covert gambling.
After R.H. Lutes acquired the business in the 1940s – when an acquaintance faulted on a loan – he renamed it Lutes Casino and eventually turned the place over to his sons, Bobby and Billy Lutes. The brothers added a kitchen and began serving food in the 1960s.