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.

Continue reading “La Fonda Two bests for legacy eatery with 60 years”

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.

Continue reading “Delhi Palace Cuisine of India A hidden gem in Hilltop Shops”

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.

A Literary Legacy on Bark

Illiterate Basque sheepherders told of their lonely, dangerous work with carvings on Inner Basin aspens.

1470191_10152041717170169_939949830_nSpecial to the Daily Sun
Monday, August 25, 2008

When Santiago Parra carved his name and the date, 1970, into an aspen tree on the Inner Basin Trail, he marked the end of an era. Parra made his lines thin and neat. As the tree grew and stretched, his marker would remain attractive, legible and a witness to his having herded sheep near Lockett Meadow. Continue reading “A Literary Legacy on Bark”

4,000-Strong Walk for a Cancer Cure

Ann Eagan is an inspirational co-chair for Saturday’s Climb to Conquer Cancer, but she didn’t do it alone.

1470191_10152041717170169_939949830_nSpecial to the Daily Sun
Sunday, August 17, 2008

The American Cancer Society reminds us in its ads that cancer touches everyone.

Even me. We all saw the commercial. A woman trudges uphill to the narration, “I can do this, I can do this …”

I’d seen the ad 50 times and wondered — something was familiar about her.

The woman is Ann Eagan. She was also co-chair for Saturday’s 20th anniversary Climb to Conquer Cancer, a cancer survivor and — come to find out — an old college friend.

“Until 2007, I climbed simply for friends, family and co-workers,” Eagan said. “Then, I was diagnosed with intravascular lymphoma.” Continue reading “4,000-Strong Walk for a Cancer Cure”

Working wonders: Senior citizens contribute to workforce

Seniors provide an experienced, flexible labor source

1470191_10152041717170169_939949830_nSpecial to the Sun
Monday, August 11, 2008

Sandy Abbajay, at 70 years young, helped set up and establish Linens ‘n Things at the Flagstaff Mall Marketplace last October. It took 10 days and untold truckloads of goods, but fortunately, she had the dedicated assistance of another senior, Verna Johnson.

“I just can’t sit,” said Abbajay. “And besides, you can never retire from life,” she added, laughing. A few years ago, Abbajay made the decision to move across the country. The fact that her children objected to her driving off to explore future options just steeled her resolve. She put her life in storage and her retirement from 20 years as a manager on hold. Continue reading “Working wonders: Senior citizens contribute to workforce”

Pick a Card, any Card

At training camp in Flagstaff, the players compare jerseys with the fans, who show solidarity by booing the refs

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Special Reporter to the Daily Sun

A man in wrap-around sunglasses and a Cardinals’ jersey stood on the sidelines of the practice field. He was close enough to hear the pro players pant as they executed a drill.

Brett Anderson collected 15 autographs from the Arizona Cardinals players during a signing event before Saturday's practice. Hoping to get a total of 30, Anderson said he fell short of his goal because he arrived late after a three-hour drive. (Dana Felthauser/Arizona Daily Sun)
Brett Anderson collected 15 autographs from the Arizona Cardinals players during a signing event before Saturday’s practice. Hoping to get a total of 30, Anderson said he fell short of his goal because he arrived late after a three-hour drive. (Dana Felthauser/Arizona Daily Sun)

Suddenly, a kicker walked up and asked, “Hey, where’d you get that jersey, man? T.J. Maxx?” Caught off guard, the fan said, “No, I got it for Christmas.”

Both men wore No. 1 and grinned at each other.
Continue reading “Pick a Card, any Card”

Botanist buzzing with excitement over wildflowers

The Arboretum’s wildflower walk becomes a talk about ‘the birds and the bees’ for the plant kingdom.

1470191_10152041717170169_939949830_nSpecial to the Sun
Monday, July 28, 2008

They ranged from novice earth-diggers to experienced gardeners and they studiously scribbled notes on steno pads and raised their hands to ask questions.

“It’s a matter of stewardship,” botanist Gwen Waring said to the 25 enthusiasts gathered for the annual Wildflower Walk at the Flagstaff Arboretum on Saturday. “As our ecosystems are disturbed and changed, we need to provide a refuge for our native plants that also welcomes animals into our garden. “I take an evolutionary approach,” Waring said. “There are 110 conifers, and they are ancient creatures. But flowering plants are so much more diverse. They developed strategies for pollination as they evolved. These exploded in the Cretaceous Period, evidenced by fossils from that time.” Continue reading “Botanist buzzing with excitement over wildflowers”

Parkinson’s sufferers ‘Think Big’

Although there is no known cure for the disease, a new program at FMC helps to restore muscle control and stability

1470191_10152041717170169_939949830_nFriday, July 25, 2008

Special to the Daily Sun

Larry Gold stretched his arms wide and reached to the left, mimicking Cindy Thomann, a physical therapist at Flagstaff Medical Center.

“What kind of effort is that on a 1-to-10 basis?” Thomann asked him. “An 8,” Gold answered.

“What can you do to make your movements bigger?” Thomann asked, then watched.

“That’s right, hold your chin up and extend your hand. Catch those raindrops,” she encouraged in a loud, firm voice with a positive bent. “Are you tired or thirsty?” Continue reading “Parkinson’s sufferers ‘Think Big’”

In the money

Even a novice can spend a fun day at the track – especially when the winners come in

1470191_10152041717170169_939949830_n Sunday, July 06, 2008

Special Reporter

In the movie “Seabiscuit: An American Legend,” jockey John “Red” Pollard is asked to breeze a horse.

What on Earth is that, I wondered? I soon found out that breezing means to let a horse run easily with little encouragement — in Red’s case, it could nearly kill a guy.

After that, I wanted to see a real race. Continue reading “In the money”