I have always been captivated by the variety of Mexican-inspired dishes that can be found across the United States. Growing up in El Paso, Texas, I was exposed to a wide range of flavors and ingredients from Juárez and other border cities. From thick, sweet Coca-Cola to markets full of peppers and spicy pork, I was in love with it all. When I moved across the country, I was surprised to find that not all Mexican-inspired dishes were consistent.
For example, my favorite puffy tacos were replaced with flat tortillas fried with sugar and cinnamon. Corn pudding was easy to find in the Midwest, but it was relegated to a small spot in Southern restaurants. Fish tacos from Southern California and the Bay Area included battered and fried or flaked whitefish, such as tilapia or cod. The version of sopapilla I'm used to includes sweet or savory options and is found mainly in southwestern New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, the Texas strip and Arkansas. Today, I'm exploring the regional Mexican cuisine of Central Arizona.
From corn tortillas to corn tamales, corn is a humble ingredient that plays an important role in Mexican and Mexican-inspired cuisine. Tamales are an ancient food, derived from a Central American dish with corn dough wrapped in plantain or plantain leaves, depending on the terroir. Chivichanga from Mexico and chimchiganga from Arizona are both fried dishes that have a clear connection between them. When in season, Urban Fresh has been known to use local asparagus-flavored cholla buds in salads and other dishes. The first mention of a burrito on the menu occurred in the 1930s at the Café Español El Cholo in Los Angeles.
Since then, it has become a great example of the many global influences that people have brought to Arizona, from grocery stores to food trucks. Likewise, the spices and fragrances of Arizona cuisine are largely based on its Spanish and Mexican influences. So what are some popular dishes that use ingredients from local farms and ranches in Central Arizona's Mexican restaurants? Ensenada Street Food prepares a vegan alternative to pumpkin (zucchini) that you can order instead of any of their meats for its many dishes. Most of the country serves better-known sopapillas, which are sweet, topped with powdered sugar and served with chocolate or strawberry syrup. The three oldest types of beans harvested in the region are teparos beans (Bafv, in O'odham), red beans and red beans. No matter where you are in Central Arizona, you can find something unique to enjoy.
From tacos stuffed with beef or chicken to fish tacos with battered and fried whitefish, there is something for everyone. Sweet condensed milk can be preserved even in hot conditions so you can find something delicious no matter what your preference is. Explore regional Mexican cuisine across the United States and find new favorite recipes to inspire your own Mexican meals.