You know a restaurant is pure Arizona when former Gov. Rose Mofford eats dinner there nearly every day for eight years after in opens.
And while the 93-year-old Arizona icon doesn’t make the daily trek to Sierra Bonita Grill and Catering anymore, she still has the North Central Phoenix restaurant deliver her favorites on a daily basis. And in case you miss Mofford, you still might get a glimpse of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Arizona historian Marshall Trimble, who dine often at Sierra Bonita. It just doesn’t get more Arizona than that, and dining just doesn’t get more Arizona than Sierra Bonita.
The restaurant itself pays homage to the Sierra Bonita Ranch, founded in 1872 and one of the oldest cattle ranches in the United States. The restaurant’s walls and corners are adorned with dozens of Western paintings, photographs and sculptures, each connected to the ranching lifestyle and each depicting Arizona and the three prime groups that helped build the West — Mexicans, Native Americans and cowboys.
“The thing about the items we place in the restaurant is that each piece has a story,” said Sierra Bonita Grill and Catering owner Nate Hopper. “It was important to me to have stories about why we have a saddle in the corner or why a picture is on the wall. It gives the restaurant some personality and the stories help keep us close to those cowboy and Southwest roots that help shape the restaurant.”
But the real story behind Sierra Bonita Grill and Catering and the reason Arizona’s most famous daughters and sons keep coming back is the food. It’s ironic that Hopper, a native of Upstate New York who now wears cowboy boots to work, has been able to take a Southwestern menu and put new and inventive twists on those menu items to create something new and delicious. And he has done so brilliantly. The result are nothing short of a stampede of flavors.
While Hopper changes the menu seasonally, there are some constants. The best-selling buttermilk chicken and the smoked red chile pork roast are always on the menu. There’s a reason for that: The buttermilk chicken, served with mashed sweet potatoes, is as comforting as a grandmother’s hug and as delicious as any dish in Phoenix. Other favorites include Hopper’s poppers, four jalapeños served with a blend of four cheeses; Albondigas, homemade meatball soup and corn tortilla; the Southwestern Cobb salad, with house greens, grilled carne asada, bacon, sliced egg, tomato, cucumber, avocado, salsa fresca and jalapeño jack cheese; and the pork osso buco, with green chile and cheddar mashed, roasted baby carrots, cipollini onions, zucchini and Hatch green chile sauce. But the truth is you could throw a dart at Sierra Bonita’s menu and always end up with deliciousness. The food is as well thought out and rich as Sierra Bonita’s history.
Don’t forget to check out Sierra Bonita’s special rooms in the basement that are perfect for special occasions or business meetings. You’re sure to leave Sierra Bonita with a new story to tell, a new lesson that was learned and a belly that will be forever grateful. Yippee ki-yay.