The little mining town of Superior — about 50 miles from the East Valley on U.S. Highway 60 — hosts its annual Prickly Pear Festival this weekend, celebrating all the drinks, desserts and dishes you can make from the spiny cactus. If a jaunt into the mountains isn’t in the cards, here’s where you can taste the cactus closer to home (and, no, margaritas — the easiest prickly pear-flavored concoction to find in the Valley — didn’t make the list).
PRICKLY PEAR SANDWICH, SALAD & SPIKED LEMONADE
1902 N. Higley Road, Mesa, (480) 396-0077, or 610 N. Gilbert Road, Gilbert, (480) 926-9077
Few places offer the kind of punch Flancer’s, which has cafes in Gilbert and Mesa, packs when it comes to prickly pear. Three menu items feature the distinctly Southwestern flavor. Flancer’s Spiked Prickly Pear Lemonade ($4.50-$5.50) blends homemade lemonade with prickly pear cactus juice and ice cold vodka. The Perfect Prickly Pear Chicken Sandwich ($9.25) layers prickly pear-marinated chicken breast with lettuce, tomato, melted provolone and homemade New Mexican green chile mayonnaise. The same cactus-coated chicken tops the Prickly Pear Caesar Chicken Salad ($7.50-$9.75).
PRICKLY PEAR GELATO
Tortilla Flat Country Store
20909 E. Apache Trail, Tortilla Flat
(480) 984-1776 or www.TortillaFlatAZ.com
Tortilla Flat, a speck-sized remnant of stagecoach stop on the historic Apache Trail, has been somewhat famous around these parts for years for saloon seats made of saddles and a country store serving prickly pear ice cream to road-weary travelers. The saddles are still there, but the ice cream has been replaced by prickly pear gelato, a silky, sweet, pink concoction made with bright magenta bits of the cactus fruit and its juice. It’s the town’s No. 1 seller, but don’t pin your trip on a culinary conquest alone; consider the scenic, winding drive into the Superstition Mountains part of the experience. Scoops are $3 each, plus tax, and you can get them in a cup, sugar cone or waffle bowl.
NOPALES & STEAK
Los Reyes de la Torta
1528 E. Southern Ave., Tempe
(480) 491-1314 or www.LosReyesdelaTortaAZ.com
Most prickly pear creations feature the vividly colored fruit of the cactus. This place, featured on Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food” and known for its authentic Mexico City-style fare, elevates the prickly pear’s spiny green pads from the desert floor to dinner plates.
Grilled strips of the cactus, or nopales, are served alongside a grilled, bone-in steak or chicken breast (with cheese, guacamole, beans and rice) in Nopales con Asada o Pollo ($10.99). They also play a starring role in The Hulk, a green drink made with pineapple, a hint of lime juice and, yes, nopales.
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