By Ron Goulet
As a very appealing mid-size city destination for vacationers and new residents alike, Flagstaff is the commercial and cultural hub of Northern Arizona. Outdoor recreation is king in the Flagstaff area. It is a gateway to the Grand Canyon. It is home of Northern Arizona University, one of Arizona’s three state universities. There are a multitude of shopping choices, and more than 200 choices for dining from fast food to renowned fine dining restaurants.
Coffee: There are two extremely popular, LOCALLY-OWNED coffee emporiums – one was popular before coffee became trendy and popular in the 90s. Macy’s European Coffee House is the oldest. It’s on South Beaver Street in the city’s Bohemian south side neighborhood. It’s popular with the college crowd, but then many Flagstaff residents are former NAU college students! You may see lawyers having a casual conference or drifters traveling by psychedelic school bus. They offer the usual, full menu of coffee drinks along with excellent pastries, salads and sandwiches. Very casual. Beans are roasted fresh right in the main room. Take along a bag of fresh-roasted French Roast beans.
Another long-time local favorite is Late for the Train Coffee. They have three locations in town, but try the downtown location on San Francisco Street, immediately across from the Coconino County Courthouse. Late for the Train also has the full menu of coffee drink choices – for local appeal try “Rez Dog.” You may find bigger and more popular breakfast burritos, but the breakfast burritos at Late for the Train are superb – delivered fresh daily.
Breakfast: We won’t direct you to Cracker Barrel. Always try the local, hometown favorites. Our top choice is La Bellavia (two doors south of Macy’s Coffee) near downtown on South Beaver Street. Completely Flagstaff born and raised, La Bellavia has been in its current location for nearly 30 years. Its choice of creative egg breakfasts is hard to top. If you want a place where they really sling the hash, very popular with the locals, try The Place, or The Other Place (also locally known as Mike and Ronda’s), both on Route 66 with one location very near downtown, where Route 66 turns into South Milton Road. It’s fast and it’s basic, but expect a good breakfast at a very reasonable price. Popular in more recent times but a bit of a drive north of town on U.S. Highway 89 is Horseman’s Lodge. They’ve been putting out a fine breakfast in recent times since new owners took over. Horseman’s is also one of Flagstaff’s finest steak houses!
Lunch: Nearly too many choices to tackle the subject. The salad choices at either of two Flagstaff locations of Oregano’s (a small-ish Arizona Italian chain) are huge and excellent. One salad can fee two hungry travelers! OR, try their famous deep dish pizza, but expect a wait while it bakes. Ask anyone what their favorite Mexican restaurant is and you’ll get any number of answers. We recommend Tacos Los Altos (a location in both East Flagstaff and West Flagstaff). Their food is hard to beat and their tacos are consistently voted “Best of Flagstaff.” It’s not Taco Bell! Or, while a bit on the pricey side, we think the very best in town is Oscar’s Burrito Fiesta. It’s in the Bookman’s Shopping Center, set back from the road along South Milton Road just south of downtown. If you want shrimp or fish tacos, there is no other choice in Flagstaff! There’s nothing bad on the menu so take your pick.
Diablo Burger on the town square is featured in many regional travel magazines as the place to go for a burger in Flagstaff. Brix and Tinderbox are two high-end, fine dining restaurants, on the north side of downtown and south side respectively. If you’re willing to pay, you’ll not be disappointed at either. If it’s Chinese you’re after, you’ll get as many recommendations from the man on the street as there are restaurants, but take our word for it – Hunan West, in a non-descript strip mall on South Plaza Way off Milton Road is the best! Plain and simple. If you need further direction, just order Mongolian Beef. Monsoon on the town square is also extremely popular for Asian dining. If you want sushi, head to Karma, directly across from the historic train station, downtown, on Route 66.
Galaxy Diner on Old West Route 66 is a throwback to another era with giant portions. Pop culture posters and memorabilia cover the walls – the movies, music, and drive-in days. Hands-down, the best chicken fried steak in Flagstaff. The best onion rings in Flagstaff. Real malts and shakes with the extra brought to your table in the stainless steel mixing cup. It’s vacation – go for the whipped cream.
For the full-on cowboy experience in an open pit Arizona steakhouse, drive the 20 minutes southeast of town on Lake Mary Road to the small, resort enclave of Mormon Lake and try the Mormon Lake Lodge. Your steak, cooked to order over a real, mesquite fire. You won’t leave hungry; more likely with a doggie bag. The onion soup alone is worth the drive! Call ahead for seasonal hours. Take in roping contests on the major holiday weekends in the arena. Enjoy a full schedule of family events at Mormon Lake Lodge over the 4th of July holiday weekend each year, away from the crowds of Flagstaff. There’s a great Zane Grey museum inside Mormon Lake Lodge.
For a romantic dinner with fine dining, try dinner on the patio at Josephine’s (always creative cuisine) on North Humphreys Street near downtown, or the back outdoor patio on a summer night at Pasto (Italian) on the town square.