Local and sustainable food takes star billing on the park’s menus
Grand Canyon National Park - South Rim
on July 21, 2017
Grand Canyon is serving sophisticated cuisine with a focus on regional and sustainable food products that bring local flavors to the culinary forefront.
The first time I visited Grand Canyon I was eight years old and my palate had yet to acquire any degree of sophistication. It wouldn’t have mattered, really, since national park menus, circa 1970, had a similar lack of imagination. Grand Canyon was content to serve, and I was content to eat, hamburgers warmed beneath a 100-watt bulb and French fries that tasted like pencils.
This “Wonder of the Natural World” has matured a lot since then. Today, Grand Canyon is serving sophisticated cuisine with a focus on regional and sustainable food products that bring local flavors to the culinary forefront. Indeed, as the farm-to-table food movement sweeps the country, Grand Canyon is embracing it enthusiastically.
From Maswik’s casual Food Court to the ever-so-elegant El Tovar Dining Room, natural ingredients at the six restaurants and food outlets at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim are matched only by the park’s natural beauty.
When Harvey Meals Were Hearty Meals
On a springtime visit, I learned how food shaped Grand Canyon’s history and helped create what you experience today. Back at the turn of the 20th century, the Fred Harvey Company — which had been operating restaurants along the Santa Fe Railway since 1876 — was selected to operate the restaurant at the new El Tovar hotel. To cater to guests who made the considerable effort to reach the canyon, “Harvey Girls” served fresh water hauled in by train from Del Rio, 120 miles away. And to ensure that guests enjoyed the freshest ingredients possible, fruits and vegetables were grown in greenhouses on the premises and fresh-squeezed milk was brought to the hotel from an adjacent dairy.
While much has changed, more than a century later much remains the same. Water is still fresh, but it now arrives via the Trans-Canyon Pipeline from the North Rim’s Roaring Springs. And on Grand Canyon menus, guests will see an icon beside certain dishes indicating they include locally sourced ingredients for a true farm-to-table dining experience.
Serving What Comes Naturally
Given Grand Canyon’s six million years of natural history, it’s no surprise that fresh, natural ingredients are generously used in many of the park’s most popular dishes. Indeed, Xanterra Parks & Resorts, which operates the majority of restaurants in the park, created the Fresh Forward program to ensure guests enjoy healthy and sustainable choices. It dovetails with the National Park Service’s own Healthy and Sustainable Food Program. As a result, half of the park’s food purchases today are local and/or sustainable — that is, locally sourced, minimally processed, or organically grown. By 2025, that figure will reach 70 percent. It’s good for both guests and the environment. What’s more, each year Xanterra reviews and, if needed, modifies menus to satisfy the increasingly diverse tastes of park guests.
Take the popular Arizona Room of the Bright Angel Lodge, for example. The casual restaurant on the South Rim tells the culinary story of the native ingredients, flavors, and history of Arizona with a focus on heritage and heirloom ingredients. The restaurant features dishes with locally sourced Arizona ingredients — from Arizona-raised beef found in aged, hand-cut steaks and ribeye steaks to sustainable salmon filets, Arizona shrimp scampi, and other dishes inspired by the flavors of the Southwest. A delightful appetizer is the Navajo tepary bean dip served with blue corn tortilla chips and garnished with pine nuts. Tepary beans, well known to Native Americans since pre-Columbian times, have become a popular dish with Grand Canyon guests. Another unique starter dish — free-range bison and Arizona beef chili with black beans — reflects local ingredients and flavors, too. The restaurant also serves beers and wines from local artisan brewers and vintners.
Many specialty items in the Arizona Room are sourced from Arizona family farms and ranches and Native American businesses, such as Navajo Agricultural Products Industry in Farmington, N.M., Hickman’s Family Farms in Buckeye, Ariz., Farm Fresh Company in Phoenix, and JBS Arizona Grown Beef in Tolleson, Ariz.
Another casual eatery, the Bright Angel Restaurant, shows off Southwestern cuisine in such local dishes as Sonoran stuffed jalapeños, Arizona Tom turkey, “trailblazing” fajitas, and Moqui sour cream chicken.
At El Tovar Dining Room, where Harvey Girls once served glasses of Del Rio water, meals fuse classic dishes with contemporary twists. Easily the most upscale dining option in the park, it offers entrees using locally sourced ingredients such as sustainable salmon tostada on organic greens; hand-cut grilled Arizona-grown filet mignon; and pork chops with apple jalapeño chutney. Beef and pork red chile tamale with adobo crema is a locally inspired appetizer.
Taking a bow to the increasingly popular Arizona Wine Trail and Spirit Movement, El Tovar’s wine list features many vintages from the emerging Arizona wine industry. A menu icon signifying them as being made with sustainable practices and/or organic ingredients accompanies most.
So choose your favorite and raise a glass to Grand Canyon’s Fresh Forward program. Cheers!
How to Explore
Grand Canyon National Park Lodges provides the premier in-park lodging, managing six distinct historic lodges. From the El Tovar hotel, long considered the crown jewel of national park hotels, to Phantom Ranch, the only lodging on the floor of the canyon, you’ll find accommodations to help you get the most out of your visit to the Grand Canyon. At any time of year, there’s more than enough to fill your hours including visits to the Historic Village District, and rafting, railway, and motorcoach tours. For more information and reservations, visit grandcanyonlodges.com or call 888-297-2757.
For more travel experiences to Beautiful Places on Earth™ available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.