Yuma knows something about fresh food: Its entire backyard is a garden.
You just have to look around to see that Yuma knows something about food. The town sits amid a massive garden. More than 90 percent of all leafy vegetables consumed in the country from November to March are grown in these fields. When Yuma restaurants talk about fresh and local, they’re referring to their backyard.
With a revitalized riverfront, historical downtown, two beautiful state parks and a burgeoning agritourism business, Yuma has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years. No longer a mere pit stop on the way to San Diego, Yuma has become a destination in its own right. With more people spending time here, they need to be fed. And fed well. Fortunately, that’s not a problem.
Burritos have come to enfold all kinds of things. Anything that can be swaddled in a tortilla ends up on trendy menus. Chile Pepper practices good burrito fundamentals and reminds us just how delicious simplicity can be.
Burritos from Chile Pepper are familiar, comforting and addictive. There’s a variety of meat options, but the bean and cheese burrito ($1.89) is the one that flies out the door by the sack full. The beans are plump and rich, blended with the right proportion of gooey cheese, and wrapped in a tortilla that is close to perfect. Made fresh daily, the tortillas are fluffy as pillows, lightly singed and absolutely melt in your mouth.
If you’re accustomed to mega-burritos the size of dachshunds, these will seem small. But they’re just right for dipping into the plastic cups of flavorful salsa that come with. At these prices, you can afford more than one. Or add a few crunchy rolled tacos (69 cents each) to the meal. The Gutierrez family started Chile Pepper in 1954, so generations of Yumans have grown up on their food.
Details: 1030 W. 24th St. 928-783-4213, www.bgfamilyltdpartnership.com.
Red Rose Sang Chan
Any place you can order pad thai and a pierogi is worth investigating.
Chan Kinburan operated a food cart on the east side of town, but because Thai cuisine was still a bit of a mystery in Yuma she also sold pierogies. When she opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant in September 2013, the pierogies stayed. But with more than 50 Thai dishes on the menu, it may take a few visits before you get around to trying the plump little dumplings.
Start with deep-fried spring rolls ($7), the crunchy wrappers bursting with fresh vegetables and noodles. When Kinburan couldn’t reliably find bok choi, lemongrass, Thai eggplant and spicy basil, she began growing them in her garden.
Pad woon sen ($9) is heavenly, a stir-fry of egg, broccoli, carrots, napa cabbage, snow peas, mushrooms and onions on a bed of crystal noodles. All dishes come with a choice of meat or tofu. Soups are made from scratch daily.
Details: 11274 S. Fortuna Road (Pioneer Shopping Center). 928-342-7777,www.atouchofthaiyuma.com.
Yuma’s Main Squeeze
First came the wine, then the food.
The only winery in southwestern Arizona opened in 2010 in one of downtown’s historical buildings. Because grapes are one of the few crops that don’t thrive in Yuma, they’re sourced from all over the world to create 49 wine varieties. The menu, originally just a couple of cheese plates, has grown to include salads, panini, wraps and flatbreads.
The Cubano panini ($10) features succulent pork marinated overnight. Try the vibrant strawberry spinach salad with house-made poppy seed dressing as your side.
Wines cost $14-$20 a bottle. Ten are available by the glass daily and a tasting flight lets you sample five for $6. Yuma’s Main Squeeze also offers pretty sweet happy-hour deals, including Women’s Wine Wednesday, with $3 glasses of wine, and $3 craft beers on Thursday.
Details: 251 S. Main St. 928-247-9338, www.yumasmainsqueeze.com.
The Patio Restaurant
One of Yuma’s newest eateries (it opened in October) is making a splash with its food and ambiance. Perched on the edge of Desert Hills Golf Course, the Patio serves beautiful views and spectacular sunsets with its meals.
Chef Alex Trujillo has been a driving force in Yuma’s culinary scene for years with his catering company and work at special events. His passion for fresh local ingredients is a linchpin of the menu.
Start with locally grown medjool dates stuffed with blue cheese, swabbed with chipotle sauce and wrapped with bacon ($7). The mozzarella-stuffed meatloaf ($16) will forever change how you think of this classic comfort food. Try it with the house salad, grilled romaine that’s caramelized and adorned with roasted corn, pumpkin seeds, cranberries and more in a homemade passionfruit dressing.
Details: 1245 W. Desert Hills Drive. 928-344-1125, www.patioyuma.com.
If you feel the décor at T.G.I. Friday’s is too understated, visit Lutes Casino. Assorted collectibles gobble every spare inch of space in the barn-like hall. Paintings and posters cover the walls; neon signs and mannequins dangle from the ceiling. It looks like a swap meet exploded.
Yet people flock here for the grub, not the bric-a-brac. Lutes is known for burgers, sandwiches and south-of-the-border specialties, such as the grilled chicken and cheese quesadilla with Ortega chiles ($6.69).
Built in 1901 as a general store, Lutes was turned into a pool hall around 1920. A few pool tables in back keep the tradition alive but the rowdy days when gambling and fights were commonplace are long gone. The place is now packed with families and tourists.
Grab a juicy cheeseburger for $5.29. If you want to show your arteries who’s boss, order the Lutes Special — an unholy but completely delectable union of cheeseburger and hot dog ($6.49). Why isn’t this on every menu?
Details: 221 S. Main St. 928-782-2192, www.lutescasino.com.
5 more places to try
• Das Bratwurst Haus serves authentic German cuisine, “food just like your oma makes.” But you better go soon: It closes for the season on April 15.
Details: 204 S. Madison Ave. 928-329-4777, www.dasbratwursthaus.com.
• Penny’s Diner is a shiny, fun ’50’s-style eatery with big burgers and friendly service. And it’s open 24 hours, a nice surprise in a small town.
Details: 1731 S. Sunridge Drive. 928-539-9000,www.facebook.com/PennysDinerYuma.
• A&R Grill has been open for a year serving juicy burgers, sandwiches and other bar fare while operating 16 taps with choice microbrews.
Details: 712 S. Fourth Ave. 928-783-0260 or find the restaurant on Facebook.
• Da Boyz specializes in hand-tossed pizzas with light, chewy crusts and heaping plates of pasta. It recently added a more casual restaurant in the Foothills to go along with the downtown location.
Details: 284 S. Main St., 928-783-8383. 11274 S. Fortuna Road, 928-317-1717.www.daboyzyuma.com.
• Prison Hill Brewing Co., Yuma’s only microbrewery, pairs handcrafted beers with tasty pub fare such as sandwiches, burgers, salads and a few signature entrees.
Details: 278 S. Main St. 928-276-4001, www.prisonhillbrewing.com.
If you want to sample a range of what Yuma has to offer, Savor Yuma tours are for you. These gastronomic adventures are progressive dinners in which participants shuttle from one eatery to the next, experiencing everything from food trucks to fine dining. Participants are transported by motor coach to three restaurants. The final tours of the season are March 22 and April 7. The cost of $55 per person includes transportation, food and two coupons for alcoholic beverages.