Don't just push through Flagstaff, Arizona, and on to the Grand Canyon, a 90-minute drive away. Grand Canyon National Park might be one of the seven wonders of the natural world, but its culinary options are about as limited as water along its South Kaibab Trail. In Flagstaff though, a college and railroad town of 70,000 located at 7,000 feet on a mountain surrounded by extinct volcanoes, the food scene is booming. Restaurants not only cater to locals looking to refuel after a long day of hiking, biking or skiing in the nearby Coconino National Forest but also to sophisticated international visitors. Between meals, take time to wander around downtown, which is bisected by Route 66 and active railroad tracks, and has streets lined with historical, sandstone brick buildings.
From mismatched tables and chairs to double pastry cases, well-worn wood and linoleum floors, a chalkboard menu hanging from the ceiling, and the vibrant photography of founder Tim Macy hanging on all the walls, Macy's European Coffee House and Bakery (macyscoffee.net; 14 S. Beaver St.; 928-774-2243) is the anti-Starbucks and one of Arizona's oldest coffeehouses. Order a Macy's Special - steamed hot chocolate and espresso - with a bowl of yogurt and house-made granola (almonds, walnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, peanut butter, vanilla, grains and sesame and sunflower seeds sweetened with honey at $5.25) before sitting at a table and taking in Macy's photographs, which usually have a multicultural vibe or are collages of patrons from the cafe's 38 years in business. Just as diverse are the cafe's pastry cases - the raspberry cheesecake bars have chunks of raspberries in them - and clientele, which range from river rats to college kids and professors, professional runners, astronomers, hippies and tourists.
Upon walking into MartAnne's Breakfast Palace (928-773-4701; 112 E. Route 66), it's easy to wonder what you've gotten yourself into. Walls are redder than a fire engine, the linoleum floors are a black-and-white checkerboard, chairs are upholstered in glittery vinyl and hanging everywhere are paintings - some on wood, others on canvas, most with Dia de los Muertos-inspired subjects and all by local artist Emma Gardner. If this outsize decor doesn't intimidate you, the portion sizes you'll see coming out of the kitchen while you wait for a table will. One order of the house specialty, chilaquiles ($9.25), fried corn tortillas tossed with green onions, cheese and scrambled eggs, and topped with red or green chile sauce, is enough to feed two people - but everyone still orders their own entree. MartAnne's may be "The House That Chilaquiles Built," as stated on a colorful sandwich board outside the front door, but there's so much more, whether you're studying the menu for lunch or all-day breakfast, including Cindy G's Posole and pork green chile, which is still made from the recipe of the cook, Alice Flemons, better known as "Ms. Alice," who helmed the kitchen for five decades under three owners and for as many name changes.
Tucked into a residential neighborhood several blocks north of Route 66 in what once was a dirt-floored, brick carriage house, Brix (brixflagstaff.com; 413 N. San Francisco St.; 928-213-1021) is fine dining without any fanfare, even if it was included on Condé Nast Traveler's "Top 95 New Restaurants in the World" list the year after it opened (2007). Specific dishes change based on the season and what's available from local producers, but generally the menu is American comfort food, executed well and with imagination, such as hibiscus and Gorgonzola ravioli accompanied by a blueberry-green chili jam and pear sherry sauce ($24) or beef tenderloin with asparagus and foie hollandaise ($38). When weather keeps the herb-and-flower-ringed outdoor patio from being used, which, sadly, is more than half the year - Flagstaff's at 7,000 feet, remember, and there's a ski resort just outside of town - reservations can be tricky; there are only about eight inside tables (although there are seats at the bar). If you can't get in at Brix, try sister restaurant Criollo Latin Kitchen (criollolatinkitchen.com; 16 N. San Francisco St.; 928-774-0541). It has the town's best happy hour (3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday) that includes $4 prickly pear margaritas, a Sonoran hot dog my boyfriend had to eat with a knife and fork, and pork tacos I wouldn't share.
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Mishev is a writer based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Find her on Instagram: @dinamishev.