In 1876, a group of settlers en route from Boston to California, stopped to celebrate the July 4th centennial holiday by erecting a large wooden pole to fly the stars and stripes. That flag staff gave the town its name. The characters who filled the streets in those early days gave the town its continuing charm. Route 66 cuts through the heart of this mountain town, bringing pub after pub of craft brew and wooden seating. The busy railroad provides a pleasant background noise to this sleepy city. Flurries seemed to be falling in a neverendingly gentle reminder of the moisture in elevation. Flagstaff sits at over 7,000 ft (2,100m) above sea level, next to the largest mountain range in Arizona, the San Francisco Peaks. Sometimes, it felt like I was catching my breath on each step. It’s a friendly city, people greet you with a smile and “Hello” and plenty of dogs to pet.
My first meal was at Diablo Burger (120 N. Leroux St.) A tiny joint inside of Heritage Square serving up burgers on English muffins and skinny, salty fries. I had the Señor Smoke which was a great mix of avocado, bacon, cilantro and spicy mayo, matched with one of their tasty home brewed porters.
At altitude, I just couldn’t find my appetite, so I missed the normal dinner restaurant times, and was forced to take a late meal at the Lumberyard Brewery (5 S. San Francisco St.) The Knotty Pine Pale Ale was a fruity, elegant and balanced beer, but the pulled pork was just microwaved nonsense and not very good.
This breakfast place, Martanne’s Burrito Palace (112 E. Rte 66), wins a special place in my stomach as having one of the best breakfast dishes I’ve ever eaten. It’s a funky place with cute SnP shakers and Day of the Dead artwork. Their green pork chilaquiles were breathtakingly good followed by a deep roasted coffee to finish off the meal energized me for a hike in the fire scented hills of Flagstaff. I actually ate this exact same thing the next day it was so good.
I stopped in for a hot choco at Macy’s (14 S. Beaver St.), a famous pit-stop for coffee and vegan eats for students at Northern Arizona University. There’s lots of chatting and reading being done here.
For dinner, a trendy little Latin kitchen called, Criollo (16 N. San Francisco St.) had some delicate and delicious fish tacos, fashionable vodka drinks and refreshing salsas.
Ancient Americans knew the secret of the silent cactus. They represented the memory of ancestors. In shadows or in groups, the plants can resemble a human shape. The cacti can be over 30 feet tall, live to be over 100 years old and are only found in the Sonoran desert of Arizona and Mexico.
Tucson, settled next to the imposing mountains filled with human-like Saguaros, has a long history with Spain and Mexico. The Spanish settled here in the 17th century and of course built some churches to convert the local heathens. San Xavier Mission is one of the most prominent. It is located on autonomous Native American land maintained by the Tohono O’Odom tribe. The chapel is a mix of old wood and stucco. Intricate Catholic details abound, as well as a scary wooden replica of St. Francis.
The “Old Pueblo” has been growing rapidly in recent years. Restaurants are everywhere, chains, casual, dive and strange. I only had one day, so we started out with the enormous portions of Bamboo Terrace (1754 W. Ajo Way). My grandma ordered her favorite, chicken egg foo young, and I had the won-ton soup and sesame chicken. The food was suitable for any palate, not spicy nor seasoned, just Chinese American food.
For dinner we wanted to go to Karichimaka (5252 S. Mission Way) for the famous cheese crisps, but alas, they were closed on Mondays. Instead, we went to the ultra casual El Guero Canelo (4519 S. 12th Ave). It’s counter service with cheap prices. The guacamole was outstanding and the carne asada tacos were decent, but as always with Mexican beef, every 4th bite required me to pull out a fatty piece. Their specialty was Sonoran hot dog, which is a bacon wrapped hot dog with beans and onions. For the price, it was good, although choice selection was too small with only cheese, chicken or beef fillings. (My grandma had a flashback to her first washing machine which was now used as a mere decoration.)
Night was settling in with the arrival of the cool desert air as the trailers began to glow from the lights of their TV sets.