SAFFORD, AZ - December 25, 2010 — I couldn’t leave Safford without dining at one of the many local restaurants.
El Charro, owned by Dalton Overstreet, specializes in chalaca, a bowl made of masa harina flour. Overstreet freezes the bowls to shape them, then deep fries them and serves them filled with beans, red or green chiles, and meat, topped with lettuce, tomato, and cheese. I also tried his chile rellenos, stuffed with beef, served with a deep fried corn tortilla and melted cheese.
El Charro is the oldest continuously owned and operated restaurant in the Gila Valley, open since 1955, and employing the same cook for nearly 30 years.
Bisbee, Arizona! Described by one local as an island of liberal blue in a sea of Republican red.
Driving south from Tombstone, entering Bisbee felt like entering a Shangri-La in the high desert. A high mountain pass, burrowing through Mule Shoe Tunnel, opens out into the ex-mining town, terraced and pinned to the surrounding cliffsides like some mythic, isolated civilization.
In Bisbee, middle-of-the-back ponytails are de rigueur for men, and the public library sports a banner proclaiming: “Banned Books Inside!” Local mothers stage regular peace marches, up in the hills, ex-hippies grow organic produce, and most everybody meets on Saturdays at the farmers market in the town park.
Downtown Bisbee holds a collection of well-preserved turn of the century Victorian buildings, filled with Old West and copper mining history. Many of the late 19th Century boarding houses have been updated as charming bed and breakfasts. For shoppers, there is much more here than your typical Southwestern trinkets and cactus pictures.
Former saloons house an eclectic assortment of nearly 50 cafes, restaurants, galleries, and shops offering everything from sumptuous jewelry to Killer Bees’ award winning honeys and mustards.
Bisbee’s early history is bound up the gold, silver, copper, lead, and zinc deposits in the surrounding mountains. The Queen Mine Tour goes underground on a trip into the now inactive copper mine that was one of the richest in history when opened in 1877.
Santiago’s Restaurant, overlooks the center of Old Bisbee on the corner of Howell and Brewery Gulch. Just a long jump north of the border, the Mexican food is well seasoned and prepared. People also tout the fish tacos, and the ceviche was uniquely served and delicious.
For breakfast, go to the Breakfast Club in nearby Lowell. It’s just that simple.
The Saturday farmers market is both laid back and exciting. A range of vendors, exhibitors, and entertainers draw a large and friendly crowd. Local and specialty produce are major items along with some quality crafts and foods. It’s easy to fill a shopping basket with reasonably priced, locally grown fruits and vegetables, as well as a range of more exotic fare.
I stayed in the Hotel San Ramon. Gracious, well-appointed, very welcoming and comfortable, the boutique hotel is located in the heart of the historic downtown, perched above Santiago’s Restaurant.
On a Saturday night, this could be a problem for light sleepers. The hotel thoughtfully provides earplugs, but a better solution—the Bisbee solution—is to get dressed, go downstairs, and join the party.
Bisbee stands as an example of the old adage about making lemonade out of lemons.
It was a one-industry town, tied to the mines until the mid 1970s. As the mines closed, mining employees left, and many artists found Bisbee an attractive and inexpensive location to settle, preserving the small town atmosphere and architecture. Tourists and the requisite ancillary services followed.
Today, despite—because of?—the open pits and mining’s other less-than-prosaic legacies, Bisbee is simply a great place to visit.
In Bisbee, it’s even easy to forget the turmoil acted out just a few miles to the south. However, heading north toward Tucson, we got stopped by a Border Patrol roadblock.
Use only the freshest ingredients when making the ceviche. Most types of white meat fish can be used along with shrimp, mussels, conch, squid, or tuna.
1 pound halibut fillets, sliced in 1-inch wide strips
8 ounces lime juice
2 tomatoes, diced
1 red onion, chopped
1 cup cilantro leaves
3 tablespoons tomato sauce
1 Serrano chile (seeded and chopped, for more spice substitute one jalapeno pepper)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cucumber, thin sliced
In a large glass baking dish, spread the halibut along the bottom. Pour in lime and orange juice, and let refrigerate for about 4 hours. Stir in the remaining ingredients, coating thoroughly, and refrigerate for another hour. Serve with the sliced cucumber and tortillas.
Arizona Office of Tourism, 602-364-3695, www.arizonaguide.com
Cochise County Tourism Council, 480-802-3905, www.ExploreCochise.com
Bisbee Tourism, www.discoverbisbee.com
Hotel San Ramon, 520-432-1901, www.HotelSanRamon.com
Killer Bee Honey, www.killerbeeguy.com
Santiago’s Restaurant, http://santiagosmexican.blogspot.com
Reed Hellman is a freelance writer living in Alberton, Maryland. For more of his signature culinary escapades, read his articles in Recreation News, in print or online. Visit his Recipe for Adventure Website at www.reedhellmanwordsmith.com. You can find more recipes in The Recipe Box on his Website.
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