La Fonda Two bests for legacy eatery with 60 years

Best of Flagstaff 2018

Written by Gail G. Collins

Motivation can come from many sources, even frustration. With hard work, the Garcia family turned frustration and a desire for entrepreneurship into a legacy business model for three generations of continued success. In 1957, three brothers—Sylvester, Frank Sr. and Albert Garcia—borrowed against everything they owned, including a beloved piano, to found the first La Fonda restaurant in Frank’s Sunnyside home on Center Street. It seated 30 guests, and their reputation for delicious meals soon outgrew their capacity. A warehouse on the corner of Second Street and Second Avenue was renovated and tables filled up with customers ordering homemade tamales and enchiladas cooked by the wives on Center Street. Their children raced to the restaurant with the food.

It’s always been a family affair at La Fonda, and several members went on to found six restaurants in Flagstaff, Kingman and the Phoenix area. Sylvester and his son, Marty, consistently pushed La Fonda in Flagstaff forward, and in 2018, celebrated 60 years in business. At 93 years old now, Sylvester was always humble, but grandson and general manager Brandon, said, “He comes in, he cooks and makes every big decision. My father, Marty, is the president—el jefe—and sister, Stephanie, and cousin, Ruben, are managers.”

The team believes showing up is 90 percent of it. Four generations have proven it. “Every Garcia born to us has worked, cooking on the line, washing dishes, whatever—it’s expected,” said Brandon.

The low, stucco building with arches is quintessential Mom and Pop Mexican, standing the test of time and tacos. The menu also has changed little by design and guest demands. Memorabilia menus confirm only slight alterations. Fajitas were added 20 years ago, and carnitas made an appearance a decade later. The most popular request remains the #2 Combination:  cheese enchilada, tamale, shredded beef taco, tostado, rice and beans.

“It’s not fancy, just good, old fashioned Mexican food.” The house margarita sells by the gallons—60 to 70 gallons on average each weekend. Local drafts and Mexican beers fill the gap.

La Fonda supports the community, and the athletic programs of Coconino, Flagstaff, Chinle, Tuba City and more high schools regularly unload busses of hungry athletes to refuel. “We clear the tables to feed everyone and help anyone that calls,” said Brandon.

Long-term commitment goes both ways at La Fonda. Juan has cooked for 30 years, and his assistants, Pedro and Fausto, have logged nearly 20 each. Employees have met and married there. Customers span generations, celebrations are commonplace, and cherished souls have ordered last meals from La Fonda to be delivered to hospice.

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Delhi Palace Cuisine of India A hidden gem in Hilltop Shops

Best of Flagstaff 2018

Written by Gail G. Collins

One of the seven wonders of the world stands in brilliant marble in Agra, India. The Taj Mahal is an UNESCO world heritage site, which took more than two decades to build. It hosts several million visitors annually, and a practicing mosque onsite is closed on Fridays.

Delhi Palace Cuisine of India, on the other hand, has been described as a “hidden gem” and is open seven days a week. The restaurant, tucked in its new, roomier location in the Hilltop Shops at Woodlands Village, closed for only a few days to make its move. The back wall boasts a spectacular painting of the Taj Mahal with linear perspective beckoning diners to enter. That is, if the scent of spices hadn’t drawn you in first. Either way, guests will explore a heady feast at Delhi Palace.

Northern Indian food is on the menu. A plethora of vegetables, fruits, grains and spices makes the cuisine vibrant and flavorful. Relative to southern dishes, the recipes are richer, with gravies made with ghee (clarified butter) or steeped in cream. Many dishes take hours to prepare. The spices used to create the staple garam masala, meaning warm mixture, are robust and earthy. Crushing and blending cumin, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns and more create pungent plates of curry begging to be mopped up with warm naan bread. 

Classic curries are popular. Lamb korma features marinated, boneless lamb, cooked in yogurt with cashews and delicate herbs and spices. Chicken tikka masala smothers boneless tandoori chicken in tomato and butter sauce. The tandoori is a clay vessel, heated with mesquite charcoal to 360 to 400 degrees for cooking anything from shrimp to mixed grill and even paneer, a fresh cheese. Think of it as ancient, aromatic barbecue.

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Your Pie: Good eats and a place to linger made your way

Best of Flagstaff 2018

Written by Gail G. Collins

When Lisa Muscarella traveled with her children to Atlanta for a chess tournament, starting a new business was not on her to-do list. The wife and mother of four already met specialized needs at home alongside a demanding job. Eating out is a necessary luxury at times, but value drove Lisa to research meal options before that trip. She found a company catering to families first and serving delicious, nutritious food at affordable prices. Your Pie hand-tossed pizza, customized with the freshest ingredients fit the bill.

“It’s hard to eat out as a family today; everything is pricey, or it’s junk,” said Lisa. “I wanted to build a restaurant where we would eat.”

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The 25-year Flagstaff resident had no business or food industry background, but her enthusiasm carried the idea forward. Husband Peter provided expertise as a longtime commercial contractor, who has built restaurants around the city and the country. Their planning utilized as many local attributes as possible, so Your Pie would be Flagstaff’s pie.

The one-of-a-kind ponderosa pine bar was felled by pine bark beetles, yet stands up to a throng of diners. The wall menu—a checkerboard of painted chalk slates—was designed for the space. Blonde wood fixtures and tables, matched with chairs and booths, plus long banquettes, provide tons of seating. The soaring space with steel and stone accents, sleek lighting and stacked ruddy brick generates an updated Brooklyn pizza presence.

Peak Produce delivers high quality, fresh, native produce, but what makes the pizza your pie? “You can build your own handcrafted pizza with endless toppings,” said Lisa. “Create any masterpiece you want and all for the same price!”

Diners with dietary restrictions can enjoy vegan choices with dairy-free cheese or a gluten-free crust made with cauliflower. “We go the extra mile for our guests,” assured Lisa.

The Millers, regulars at Your Pie, like the consistency and clean concept. Usually Mrs. Miller orders the turkey pesto panini, but this night sampled the cauliflower pizza crust because they have found everything is good.

Your Pie serves root beer, handcrafted in Arizona with honey from local bees, on draft. “We are the only ones in town to offer natural soda choices on our fountain drink dispenser,” said Lisa. No artificial coloring and sweetened with cane sugar. Kombucha on tap offers another healthy alternative. As for tipples, 18 more taps with plenty of Arizona brews, like Historic Brewery’s Pie Hole Porter, and wine are available.

Community is integral at Your Pie. The company pledges aid to end childhood hunger. From the day ground was broken for Your Pie, Lisa gathered community, building both a restaurant and a family of followers. A free pie donation party on Opening Day in June sealed a happy bond with pizza lovers. When it came time to vote for Flagstaff’s best, Lisa neglected to request support. Your Pie’s loyal fans voted it Best New Restaurant anyway.

Stopping by for a quick meal is no problem. Your Pie’s wood-fired custom oven cooks pizzas in about four minutes. As proof, two Guardian ambulance crews clustered around tables on a weeknight for a fast, wholesome supper.

Still, you’re invited to linger at Your Pie. Televisions catch up diners on the sports scores or serve presentation purposes. That night, folks played board games, and an impromptu birthday celebration arrived, balloons and gifts in tow. Those seated around the fire pit called out for another round of drinks.  

“Good food and the good community of family and friends is the ultimate combo,” said Lisa with a smile. AZDailySun

2619 S. Woodlands Village Blvd.

Bona fide Butchery: Proper Meats + Provisions

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, January 2019

Written by Gail G. Collins

The Shambles is the oldest street in York. Its name descends from an archaic word meaning slaughterhouse. The market of butcher stalls is mentioned in The Domesday Book of William the Conqueror, an 11th-century grand survey of England. Soon after, the Butchers Guild, a professional organization, who held sway in matters of hygiene, weights and measures and so on, formed to oversee the trade.

Fast forward in history to 1865, when Chicago’s meatpacking industry utilized a vast network of railways, and few decades later, the advent of reliable refrigeration generated potential. In the 50s, neighborhood butchers promoted their offerings with recipe booklets, such as A Medley of Meat Recipes. In those days, a shopper popped into the green grocer for fresh produce and the fish monger for today’s catch, but the butcher often suggested supper. Cleaver in hand, he would point out specialty cuts and how to prepare them.

This golden period—captured in ambience and action—still exists at Proper Meats + Provisions, newly relocated on Route 66. Chunky, custom, butcher block tables meet leather benches with their backs fastened by leather pulls against rough paneled wainscoting. Chalkboards advertise the menu choices. Iron shelving contains practical goods for dining plus items for sale—olive oils, fresh pasta, cutting boards or cast iron pans. Kim Duncan Design fashioned the vintage air.

Behind a long glass case, filled with sausages, steaks and unique offerings, Joe Fiandach stands ready to provide advice on locally-sourced animals with a sure pedigree.

“The goal is to buy meat, like wine, from single farms,” said owner Paul Moir. “We have three sources in the case today:  Arizona Legacy from Humboldt, Pierre’s Prime from Rimrock and Creekstone Farms out of Kansas.”

Award-winning restaurateurs Paul and Laura Moir also founded Brix and Criollo Latin Kitchen in Flagstaff, and originally opened Proper Meats in Southside in 2014. Now occupying the former Grand Canyon Café space, the new location expanded the shop in multiple ways.

“It gave us opportunities to spread out the kitchen space for production and preparation and include a new seafood case with wider selections,” said Paul. “It also provided more space for retail and expanded hours.” Meal options, like a bucket of fried chicken, homemade stock or Bolognese, sausages or charcuterie and more, are prepackaged in a case for easy access. Even Fido can benefit from homemade dog food.

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