Foodie Trail: Mesa, Arizona in 16 Sips and Bites

Mesa may be the next biggest star in the Phoenix metro, featuring over 300 days of sunshine and a whole lot of adventure; you can easily go from the urban center to wide-open spaces in minutes and experience a wide variety of activities.

Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch along the Salt River – like stepping into a postcard

Come for the desert landscape. Take in a baseball game during Spring Training, where the Chicago Cubs made their home since 1952. Immerse yourself in the arts and explore the cultural and historical amenities that give Mesa its unique character. Art lovers will adore the contemporary arts museum and world class live performances at Mesa Arts Center. Make memories on the trails or desert landscape catapulting with giant saguaro cactus.

One of the main joys of travel is to explore food, and Downtown Mesa and nearby Gilbert are packed with dining and drinking options. Mesa’s burgeoning culinary scene makes it easy to create your own fresh foodie trail.

Eat the best brisket sandwich of your life at Jalapeno Bucks roadside stand situated between orange orchards.

Drink wine out of test tubes at Garage-East

At this urban farm community called Agritopia, sip a flight of test tube wines at Garage-East near the Barnone makers’ stalls. This winery experiments with fermentation, like bringing the ultimate “Breakfast Wine” with freshly squeezed grapefruit and white wine. Try the Sonoran Spritz made with their house-made Campari and 22 different herbs and spices with white wine. Pair a test tube flight with a charcuterie board filled with local cheese curds, nuts, sausage, and honey. The Good Neighbor light red blend was one of our favorite light reds. 

Dive into a fruity pebble Flintstones churro at Joyride Taco House

For the love of Mesa and Mexico, this busy laid-back spot with open garage doors, hip art, and patio spaces, features tacos with slow-roasted meats in house-made tortillas and hand-muddled aqua Frescas, where your choice of liquor can be added. Sip a prickly pear or cucumber jalapeno margarita and don’t miss the best part – ending your meal with their Tricked-Out Churro Menu. Our fav – is the freshly made churros doused in fruity pebbles with condensed milk and cinnamon sugar. Other options include Classic, Nutella Banana, and a Churro Sundae with dulce de leche ice cream, banana chips, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, cherry, and sprinkles.

Snack on a $3 soft-serve prickly pear ice cream at Topo

This roadside takeaway spot in Gilbert is hard to miss, with its iconic architecture inspired by Route 66 landmark signs. Find the four-foot adorable gopher (topo means gopher in Spanish) in a sombrero, atop this food stand inspired by the owner’s childhood altercations tending to crops on a farm. Serving up grab-n-go burritos, elote (street corn), and soft serve with unique dipping options like lime, prickly pear, and chocolate, we suggest ordering the prickly pear and vanilla swirl on a cone and have it dipped in a fun combo.  

Satiate yourself after a post horseback ride with a Cowboy Cookout at Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch

Just 40 minutes away in North Mesa, drive to the Salt River and spend a night or two at the historic Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch where the Southwest truly comes alive with dramatic mountainous cactus-laden views in the shadow of the majestic Bulldog Cliffs. 

This rustic ranch in the Tonto National Forest is where you savor star-lit nights in one of 20 rustic cabins in the wilderness. No TVs or phones here; participate in a communal cowboy dinner where you can overload your plate at the buffet line with smoked cowboy steak ribeye with chimichurri, smoked chicken legs, cowboy beans, seasonal veggies, sour cream chive rolls. Some nights your dinner will come with entertainment and a guaranteed apple cobbler with ice cream and Mexican hot chocolate for dessert. 

Kayak down the river or horse back the “Old West” way as wranglers nearby provide a guided trail ride through the Sonoran Desert in the Goldfield Mountains along saguaro studded ridges and even across the Salt River into creosote-covered hills. You will never forget this experience. Even more impressive is that wild horses still exist in America and often can be seen here at the water’s edge at sunrise or sunset. As many as 500 horses roam the shoreline of Saguaro Lake where they get out of the desert landscape to cool off in the water and graze the underwater foliage. Apparently, the horses have been living on the Salt River reservation since the early 1900s. 

Sip cocktails down below at the White Rabbit speakeasy 

In Downtown Gilbert at the end of the road in the historic Heritage Court building, sidle down a stairwell to try to find this Prohibition-inspired bar where a password will let you in if you speak easy. Passing through an enchanting apothecary hallway as alcoholic concoctions were once prescribed, a glamorous underground bar with various seating areas awaits. Keep with the notorious history and order a cocktail with Illegal Mezcal or Not All Money is Green with Los Vecinos Mezcal, lemongrass, apple, cucumber, and citrus topped with sparkling water.

Grab special cocktails at romantic Espiritu

At first look, we felt like we were transported into a dimly lit cool New York City bar right in downtown Mesa. The menu is divided into Quick Cocktails or Shots & Other Mistakes. A couple favorites – Mordida is like dessert with Mezcal, Madeira, licor 43 and almond extract; while the tropical spicy Sonoran Sling includes charred pineapple and other fancy ingredients like chiltepin infused Bacanora, Cherry heering, grand mariner, Peychuads bitter apertivo, Almond orgeat, lime juice, pineapple juice, molé bitters. 

Get crazy and ask for shots of Con Fuego set ablaze or a corn blend made with Mexican corn whiskey, elite liqueur, and vanilla liqueur. 

Savor sandwiches at Worth Takeaway

Locally baked bread amps any sandwich but this minimalist café is packed. The word is out about their artisanal sandwiches, beer and cocktails, and happy hour. Fill up on the Italian Grinder (Genoa salami, pepperoni, smoked ham, Havarti, pickled pepper relish, and more on a hoagie roll) or the Roast Beef with horseradish crema and cheddar on ciabatta. A must is the Cold Brew Latte with spiced honey and dash of cinnamon. 

Dine in the desert botanical garden patio after walking around Chihuly in the Desert 

These masterful massive glass sculptures created by Dale Chihuly may have you wondering how they were placed. Gawk at these colorful beauties gleaming in and around the majestic saguaros and desert gardens – now until June 19, 2022. Book reservations for a 4-course dinner at Gertrude’s or stay for lunch at the Patio Café for locally sourced ingredients. Split a Strawberry Salad with chicken and a Santa Fe Wrap. Sample carrot and beet hummus or tamales. 

Sample craft beers at 12 West Brewery 

Named after its location, this taproom, cocktail bar, restaurant and lounge features its own craft beers and collaboration beers from Arizona breweries and cocktails made from spirits created at local distilleries like Arizona Distilling Company and Grand Canyon Brewing & Distilling. Try the barrel aged dessert stout called German Chocolate Cake Day, the juicy citrusy Tangelo Frontside, or the Pineapple Shake with pineapple, marshmallow fluff, and vanilla. Pair your suds with a Bretzel, a Bavarian pretzel served with beer cheese made with 12 West’s Wheat Beer.  

Wine taste over Bruschetta Boards at Postina WineCafé

This industrial wine cafe offers unique wines and a lengthy creative bruschetta menu with 12 varieties! Wine taste an evening away at this popular indoor-outdoor café with bruschetta options like Sweet N’ Spicy Pepper Jam & Goat Cheese; Ricotta, Dates, and Pistachios; Burrata, Bacon, Arugula, & Tomato; or Warm Artichoke Spread. Don’t miss Mondays and Tuesdays after 8 PM where you can order a bottle of wine and 4 bruschetta varieties for $25. 

Enlist in Taste Explosions at Cider Corps

Many microbreweries abound in Mesa, but we loved the refreshing ciders at this veteran-owned cider taproom, donned in patriotic art murals and grenade beer taps where they also sell grenade-like beer cans (Hello Cider Bomb Chocolate Covered Blueberry in a can!). Sample a cider flight or opt for one of our favorites – the Fort Marita with vanilla bean and Morita chiles. Soak up the brew ha ha with their wood-fired pizza paired with a strawberry rhubarb pie cider or apple pie cider – as American as it gets!

Eat the best brisket sandwich of your life at Jalapeno Bucks roadside stand

Ranked Best BBQ in Arizona by Food and Wine Magazine in 2020 for the Best Barbecue in Every State issue, this roadside stand is situated between citrus groves. Get in line for Arizona-style BuzzSaw Brand BBQ and New Wave Mexican Soul Food while the smell of Arizona red oak and pecan wood fills the air as it permeates the meats. While the pulled pork sandwich is a win-win, the brisket sandwich on a soft bun with a creamy sauce is the one you’ll dream about for days. Take home a green chili shredded beef burrito for later or dine outside at a picnic table on their covered patio. Homemade BBQ and hot sauces make a nice souvenir.  

Learn how to make sourdough at Proof Bread

New on Main Street, sign up for a sourdough bread making class where bakers Jon and Amanda share their techniques and tips for mastering this hard-to-master style of baking. Take your loaf home afterward or just pop in for a window seat to gaze through and watch the baking action. This bakery also sells sourdough pastries and chunky loaves using Old-World baking traditions. Naturally-leavened croissants and flaky pastries are made fresh daily. 

Two doors down, local Arizona purveyors fill a boutique grocery market at Main St. Harvest with homemade goods. From cheese to chocolate, green juice to goat mill caramels, the assortment is impressive – perfect for snacks on the go or take-home gifts. 

Buy produce at True Garden Urban Farm or invest in your own vertical tower

This 5,000-square foot vertical urban farm greenhouse shows visitors how to grow nutritious food without soil, year-round. The solar-powered True Garden showcases living food from its vertical towers allowing foragers to regrow with the roots intact for multiple harvests.

The owner since 2013, compound pharmacist Troy Albright, Ph.D., grows up to an acre of fresh vegetables and herbs using 1/10 of the land and a fraction of the water. He believes everything starts with food for your health because “food is alternative medicine helping your body do what it should be doing and a healthy brain signals the body to do the right thing.” No chemicals to worry about when you control the lighting, the seeds, and the spray. Truly the farm of the future! Pick up produce at their weekly farmer’s market or stop in for a seminar or other educational programming about organic growing practices, nutrition, and overall health and wellness. 

Taste olive oils before a Tuscan-inspired lunch at Queen Creek Olive Mill

Eight hundred olive trees were planted here in 1998 and today over 7000 produce Olives that are pressed on-site to produce high-quality extra virgin olive oil at the base of the San Tan Mountains, an area known for its fertile soil. After the popular Olive Oil 101 Tour, dine outside for a memorable Tuscan-inspired lunch featuring warmed olives, or choose your own Bruschetta Board with options alike Avocado and Bacon or Green Apple and Chardonnay Herb Mascarpone. The pasta menu is where you should order from, with offerings like Gemelli Al Pesto with roasted chicken breast, toasted pine nuts, and sundried tomatoes that will have you dreaming about when you can return. Featured on the Food Network, this family-owned and operated farm, market, and eatery is Arizona’s only producer of extra virgin olive oil. It’s impossible not to take home olive oil in varieties like Fresh Crush Rosemary, Meyer Lemon, 3 Chile, and Dark Chocolate.

Lunch at Tortilla Flat Saloon, a 1904 stage stop along the Historic Apache Trail 

After a day trip to Mesa’s Superstition Mountain Museum and Goldfield Ghost Town, cruise 30 minutes away on this scenic route to dine at Tortilla Flat in a real saddle bar stool. Dollar bills act as wallpaper left by visitors worldwide. Neither flood nor fire has been able to remove this historic stop which is an authentic remnant of an old west town, nestled amid the Tonto National Forest, Superstition Mountain Range. Celebrate your Wild West Day with Killer Chili, Big Burgers, Prickly Pear Ice Cream, and the appreciation of all you witnessed – a mining town, an old west stagecoach stop, and the natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert. 

For more information about Gilbert, Arizona, read https://lalascoop.com/2019/04/09/gilbert-arizona-is-phoenixs-coolest-suburb/

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