Celebrate Native food culture at these 13 Indigenous-owned restaurants in metro Phoenix

In 2020 Gov. Doug Ducey signed a proclamation recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day, a move state Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai has been pushing for since 2013. While it does not replace Columbus Day as a state holiday, the proclamation says that Arizona recognizes Indigenous people, the first inhabitants of the Americas, and the historic injustices they have suffered.

Dah diníilghaazh, also known as fry bread, is associated with Native culture, but its origin reflects these injustices. The U.S. made the Navajo people in present-day Arizona walk 300 miles to what's now eastern New Mexico, where they were forced onto a land where they could no longer grow traditional crops. The government left them with flour, sugar, salt and lard — the ingredients that now make up fry bread.

Though it began as a form of oppression, to many, fry bread now is symbol of overcoming adversity.

"For Diné people, we've always been a culture of assimilating things and making it our own," said Renetto-Mario Etsitty, owner of The REZ, a pop-up and catering company. "We have this idea since first contact, it's kind of like a give and take. There is something new that will eventually become a part of us. Like we have sheep, horses and cattle that became a part of our culture."

Etsitty said he started The REZ in 2012 because he felt there wasn't enough representation of Native food in Phoenix food culture — and even national food culture. He specializes in vegan options because he wants to educate people about the many Native foods that are plant-based in origin.

"You can throw a stone and hit all sorts of food places, from Sarajevo and El Salvadoran and stuff like that, but the actual Native food from these parts doesn’t really exist as much," Etsitty said.

From mutton sandwiches to pickle slushies, if you are looking for ways to support Indigenous business owners and learn about Native food culture, check out these restaurants and food stands in metro Phoenix and beyond.

Café Gozhóó

Located in Whiteriver in a former gas station at the intersection of State Route 73 and East 57th Street, chef Nephi Craig celebrates Western Apache foodways at Café Gozhóó. Classically trained, Craig, who is Navajo and Apache, founded Native American Culinary Association to create a network for Indigenous chefs and bring research, development and refinement to Native cuisine. He founded Café Gozhóó as part of the Rainbow Treatment Center, which promotes addiction recovery through connecting with food and the land and "activating ancestral knowledge." Gozhóó means harmony, beauty, love, balance, happiness and respect. The menu offers acorn stew, red chili, squash stew, Nada’Ban or Apache corn bread and specials.

Details: 5624 N. First St., Whiteriver. 928-338-1010, cafegozhoo.com.

Emerson Fry Bread

Mutton sandwich from Emerson Fry Bread food truck in Phoenix.
Mutton sandwich from Emerson Fry Bread food truck in Phoenix.

This bright purple food truck is known for its roast mutton sandwiches and steamed corn stew, featuring home-grown mutton and corn direct from the Navajo Nation. Owners Roxanne Wilson and Loren Emerson, a classically-trained chef and member of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, also grow squash, green chiles and onions at a community garden, The Arizona Republic reported.

Other menu items include the bean and cheese fry bread and the carne asada Indian taco, named for their children Yolli and Jazzy. When the Navajo Nation locked down under the pandemic, the couple came up with a plan to provide foods that Native people would go home to get. It worked — most of the foods people order have mutton as the main ingredient, Wilson told The Republic.

On Oct. 8, the truck will be at Heard Museum to celebrate Indigenous People's Day.

They also plan to be onsite at the Super Bowl in 2023.

Details: Search 'Emerson Fry Bread' on Facebook.

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Fry Bread House

The long-standing Fry Bread House is a Phoenix icon. The restaurant opened in 1992, serving made-to-order fry bread. The restaurant would go on to become the first Native American restaurant to win a James Beard award — the "Oscars of food" — in the America's Classics category.

Founder Cecelia Miller, who died in May 2020, learned her fry bread technique from her mother while growing up in the Tohono O’odham Nation, she told The Arizona Republic in 1996. Fry Bread House is currently located in Phoenix's Melrose neighborhood.

Details: 4545 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix. 602-351-2345, facebook.com/frybreadhouse.

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Hakiri Coffee Bus

Ho-Chunk owner Catherine Zingg transformed a school bus into a coffee truck with her sister in 2021. After living in Seattle, she fell in love with coffee and decided to bring more diversity to the Phoenix coffee culture. Pair a maple latte with one of Mark Chacón's pastries at the bus, which can be found in a parking lot on the corner of Seventh Avenue and West Edgemont Road. The bus will become Strawberry Coffee in fall 2022.

Details: Parking lot on the corner of Seventh Avenue and West Edgemont Road, Phoenix. 480-340-5871, @hakiri on Instagram.

Hope (left) and her husband Aaron Peshlakai, co-owners, pose for a portrait at the soon to open Hope's Frybread Restaurant on Sept. 29, 2022, in Mesa. The pair had been making and selling frybread for 10 years and finally decided to open a brick-and-mortar location. "It was either this or a food truck and I didn't want to stand in 105¼ in a heat tank," Hope Peshlakai said.
Hope (left) and her husband Aaron Peshlakai, co-owners, pose for a portrait at the soon to open Hope's Frybread Restaurant on Sept. 29, 2022, in Mesa. The pair had been making and selling frybread for 10 years and finally decided to open a brick-and-mortar location. "It was either this or a food truck and I didn't want to stand in 105¼ in a heat tank," Hope Peshlakai said.

Hope's Frybread

Diné chef Hope Peshlakai grew up in Lókʼaahnteel, located on the Navajo Reservation. For Peshlakai, a family party isn't complete without the flat, puffy rounds of fry bread, used as a vessel for holding chili or picking up pieces of steak. For years she sold Navajo tacos, a fry bread with taco toppings, at fundraisers. Now she has a brick-and-mortar in Mesa opening Oct. 8.

Details: 144 S. Mesa Drive, Suite E, Mesa. hopesfrybread.com.

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Thalia Roessel offers scones and other sweet treats made with indigenous ingredients.
Thalia Roessel offers scones and other sweet treats made with indigenous ingredients.

Scone on?

Owner and baker Thalia RoesselI operates her bakery primarily from Palabras Bilingual Bookstore. Her pastries are inspired by her Navajo background and native ingredients.

In addition to Ayóó Áhálniih specialty scones, including the likes of white corn strawberry cheesecake, blue corn pinion apricot and white corn grilled peaches and cream, she offers virtual and in-person classes for children ages 4 to 7 and their parents where they can learn how to make blue corn banana breads, blue corn cakes and white corn cookies.

She saves her extravagant pastries, like blue corn tres leches cake, three sister’s cake, blue corn cakes, chocolate sumac cake, blue corn crusted pies and other variations of corn scones, for catering orders.

Find Scone On? at Palabras, Native Art Market in Scottsdale and Hogan Espresso coffee shop Tuba City on Navajoland.

Details: Palabras Bilingual Bookstore, 906 W. Roosevelt St, Phoenix. 602-595-9600, @sconeon on Instagram.

Native Coffee

Quetzal Co-Op buys green coffee beans from family farms in five different regions in central and South America, roasts them in Phoenix and sells it at markets and coffee shops around the Valley.
Quetzal Co-Op buys green coffee beans from family farms in five different regions in central and South America, roasts them in Phoenix and sells it at markets and coffee shops around the Valley.

Native Coffee is a coffee shop operating out of a sky blue, vintage trailer. Typically parked in the West Valley, the trailer offers drinks that include an iced churro macchiato, horchata cold brew and saguaro blossom tea. A second trailer is also in the works.

Co-owner Brittany Martinez-Chavez, who is Akimel O’odham and Xicana, wants Native Coffee to support Indigenous communities in a number of ways. The coffee shop uses fair trade coffee from Quetzal Co-Op, a Phoenix purveyor that sources beans from Indigenous growers. Native Coffee also gets its tea from Native Seeds, a conservation nonprofit based in Tucson that partners with Indigenous farmers.

Details: Dirt lot at 9256 W. Van Buren St., Tolleson. For current schedule, visit instagram.com/nativecoffeeco.az or facebook.com/nativecoffeeaz.

The REZ an urban eatery

The Rez, an Urban Eatery, served up vegan blue corn tacos at Devour the World at the Japanese Friendship Garden on Thursday, March 21, 2019.
The Rez, an Urban Eatery, served up vegan blue corn tacos at Devour the World at the Japanese Friendship Garden on Thursday, March 21, 2019.

A pop-up offering late-night, Native American cuisine, The REZ serves street food with a focus on vegan options. Chef Etsitty uses Cortez Millin's Blue Bird Flour, a staple in Navajo and Hopi nations, for the fry bread, as well as blue corn chips for the chilaquiles.

Etsitty also makes his own pickled cucumber, jalapeño and red onion. The REZ is available for small catering events and has started pop-ups again after it was closed in 2020 during the pandemic. On the REZ's Facebook he shares posts about Diné foods, from blood sausages made from sheep parts and picking wild greenthread for Navajo tea.

Details: Search "The REZ an urban eatery" on Facebook for next events.

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Sana Sana

Maria Parra Cano, chef and mami-preneur of the plant-based Sana, Sana, chats with parents during the grand opening of the school's new vegan cafe on June 7, 2019, at V.H. Lassen Elementary School in Phoenix.
Maria Parra Cano, chef and mami-preneur of the plant-based Sana, Sana, chats with parents during the grand opening of the school's new vegan cafe on June 7, 2019, at V.H. Lassen Elementary School in Phoenix.

Sana Sana is a food business started by Maria Parra Cano, offering plant-based ancestral foods. Cano, who is Xicana and Indigenous, attended Scottsdale Culinary Institute. She became interested in the medicinal side of food after she was diagnosed with diabetes during her first pregnancy.

Some of the foods she's served at events and the Spaces of Opportunity farmers market include blue corn pancakes made with juniper ash, tamales and quinoa con leche de coco. Sana Sana also operates an Indigenous food pantry where people can purchase items online. The selection includes cholla buds, mesquite flour and tepary beans.

Details: sanasanafoods.com. Follow instagram.com/sanasanafoods for updates.

The Stand

In the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, a grab-and-go stand along Alma School Road serves fry bread, green and red chili, tacos and menudo. Michael Washington, who’s of the Pima, Maricopa and Tohono O’odham cultures, owns and operates The Stand, which opened in 2008.

His late wife Cindy Rose started the business, selling about 200 fry bread sandwiches a day out of their home, The Republic reported. Her reputation grew, catching the attention of the Cooking Channel. After his wife died in 2019, Washington told The Republic he continues to run The Stand to keep his wife's memory going.

Details: 3996 N. Alma School Road, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. 480- 519-1108, facebook.com/SRTheStand.

M&D's Snack Stand

Misty Morgan and Daphen Whitman of the Gila River Indian Community have build a business around pickle slushies, a frozen treat made up of pickles, shaved ice, sweet syrup and Kool-Aid. Their flavors range from Jolly Rancher to chile watermelon. The couple, known as "The Pickle Slushy People," told Indigenous affairs reporter Shondiin Silversmith that the idea came from an ice cream truck that used to drive around their community selling a similar frozen dessert.

"There is nothing new about pickles and Kool-Aid on the rez, everyone eats that," Morgan said.

Recently, the two have also added fry bread, spicy red pork pozole, nachos and tacos salad to the menu.

M&D's Snack Stand can sometimes be found at The Stand on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. It has also popped up in locations from Laveen to Sacaton.

Details: Visit facebook.com/pickleslushyppl for schedule.

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The Table at Junipine

The first brick-and-mortar restaurant from Diné chef Jaren Bates and fine dining chef Bret Vibber has finally opened in Sedona. The two operated WILD Arizona Cuisine pop-ups for three years, creating fine dining with foraged indigenous ingredients. Some of the dishes you'll find on the menu at Junipine are wild mushroom potstickers served with spruce tip emulsion and chiltepin infused honey, Terra Farms Iberico pork hangar steak with Ramona Farms tepary bean cassoulet and crab apple relish. For dessert, Bates prepares sweet corn biscuit with tepary bean icing, butternut caramel and a roasted sweet corn creme anglaise, a mesquite honey cake with steamed corn ice cream and a milk bread pudding with manzanita caramel and juniper spiced custard.

Details: The Table, 8351 N. Highway 89A, Sedona. 928-282-3375, junipine.com/sedona-dining.

Val's Frybread

Owner and operator Valene Hatathlie, a Navajo woman, started making and selling fry bread in 2018 to pay for her college tuition. When the pandemic forced her to cancel her pop-ups in 2022, she pivoted and created a fry bread mix. Making fry bread takes lots of practice. Hatathlie, who learned the craft from her grandmother, tried to make it more accessible through her premade mix based on her grandmother's recipe. Val's Frybread is American Indian Foods-certified. AIF, a branch of Intertribal Agriculture Council, started in 1998 as a platform for American Indian products. It also protects Native American businesses and the customers by ensuring that the producers are indeed American Indian. Hatathlie ships the mix nationally and internationally and has relaunched her pop-ups that operate out of a new food trailer.

Details: valsfrybread.com.

Reach the reporter at Priscilla.Totiya@azcentral.com. Follow @priscillatotiya on Twitter and Instagram.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: 13 Indigenous-owned restaurants and food stands in metro Phoenix