In the Phoenix area you’ll find wine, urban farms, craft breweries, local olive oil, and peach orchards. Farm-to-table restaurants dot the landscape of Arizona’s Valley of the Sun. There is so much foodie goodness sprouting from the once-parched desert that the communities of Mesa, Gilbert and Queen Creek have put together a Fresh Foodie Trail for visitors to follow. This desert has more to offer than prickly pear cactus juice and dates. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll encounter.
Fresh Foodie Trail Starting in Mesa
A great place to start is at the Mesa Visitor’s Center. We found out that Mesa is Arizona’s third largest city. It is known as a center for the arts with its beautiful Mesa Arts Center complex and colorful main street.
But we were in Mesa for food and farm to table cuisine. Mesa has long served as the culinary gateway to some of the top restaurants in the greater Phoenix area. This region, which includes the towns of Gilbert and Queen Creek, has ten agritourism attractions that make up the Fresh Foodie Trail. You can find everything from peaches, olives, citrus, lettuce and even local beer as you follow the trail.
You’ll have the opportunity to purchase specialty foods and produce as well as sit down for a farm-fresh meal at one of the area restaurants. Just ask for the lists and guides at the Mesa Visitors Center at 120 N. Center Street. Growing seasons vary so be sure and inquire about what you can see and taste during your visit.
An Arizona Fresh Foodie Trail Community
A must-see as you follow the trail is the agriculturally focused community of Agritopia. It’s on Ray Road in Gilbert. This is an urban farm that incorporates housing, food-focused shopping and dining. It all started with a family farm out on rural land. But as urbanization started to encroach on the farm, the Johnston family started a collaborative venture with city planners. The result was Agritopia, an innovative concept.
The Farm takes pride in providing organic, locally grown produce. Items from the daily harvest are available at the food stand, the coffee shop has to-die-for baked goods and you’ll find even more farm-grown produce turning up in meals at Joe’s Grill. Joe’s Grill is a destination in itself. Once the family home, it has been transformed into a mid-century modern diner. The large desert trees shade picnic tables outside where families often gather to enjoy a burger. These burgers are special. Enjoy the fresh-ground chuck blanketed in fontina cheese and layered with veggies sourced from The Farm at Agritopia.
When we toured, a new venture on the property was in the works. And, now you can explore the makers of Barnone. At Barnone you’ll find the handmade works of twelve of Arizona’s most talented makers. Not only can you glimpse these skilled craftsmen and women hard at work, but you can also buy their wares to take home. From woodworkers to winemakers, from letterpress printers to florists, Barnone houses an impressive array of local artisans. Watch for special events. You can take a workshop, listen to live music and fill your grocery bag at the Wednesday night Farmers Market.
As you walk around Agritopia, you’ll likely notice that pathways and sidewalks connect homes, farms, gardens, a school, parks, and commercial areas into a seamless network reminiscent of a traditional village. There is even an assisted living facility on the property.
More Surprising Stops on Arizona’s Fresh Foodie Trail
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Queen Creek Olive Mill on Meridian Road in Queen Creek. In a day when oil and vinegar tasting rooms are sprouting up in every upscale shopping location, it’s nice to visit a place where they actually grow the olive trees and press the olives.
Queen Creek Olive Mill is Arizona’s only family-owned and operated olive mill and farm. They are proud of their high quality extra virgin olive oil. Learn about how they grow, press and bottle the oils on their free tour. It ends with a tasting of oils, olives, vinegars and more. I brought home their Extra Virgin Olive Oil and found it to be a light, delicate oil that I’ll buy more of from their online catalog.
And, they have added a shop featuring their house-made products. Olive oil is front and center but they also are becoming known for their soaps and lotions. In addition they offer a great selection of Arizona wines and souvenirs.
Between tasting and shopping you can enjoy their Tuscan-inspired eatery and deli. They offer gourmet sandwiches, soups, salads, gelato and local fresh roasted espresso. Look for events in the olive grove like live music and happy hour.
After that, we headed back to Mesa. A huge surprise for me were the futuristic growing towers of True Garden Urban Farm. No problem visiting in summer, it’s pretty much an indoor farm! True Garden Urban Farm is a 5,000 square foot center for education including the innovative indoor gardens. You can visit by appointment.
Founder, pharmacist Troy Albright worked with patients with complex health problems. Simply put, he believed that good food… better food, would tremendously enhance their lives. He researched what was available and landed on a vertical aeroponic Tower Garden technology. Visualize this: ceiling high white towers with planting slots where produce grows without soil year round in the hot desert.
Behind the pharmacy we were introduced to a unique facility, operated by solar power, which grows local, living produce available year-round. As we toured the futuristic gardens with farmer Susie Cannon, she convinced us of the quality of the produce by handing us leaves as we walked through the towers. This was the crispest, richest (strong plant taste) food I had encountered… way beyond farmer’s market good.
The True Garden Urban Farm offers a CSA and a Wednesday farm stand where you can buy their produce. And, if you are sold on the taste as I was you may want to invest in a tower yourself. They sell those, too.
Fresh Foodie Trail Restaurants to Try
You might want to start your day out with breakfast at T.C. Eggington’s on Alma School Road in Mesa like we did. We enjoyed sitting on their patio in the shade of umbrellas and perusing their extensive menu.
All their offerings are made from scratch using fresh, local ingredients. They serve meals with over 8,000 eggs a week from Arizona’s Hickman Family Farms. Locals flock there for brunch (they are open until 2:30 p.m.) They also serve salads, muffins and pastries. But go for the egg dishes. I especially enjoyed one of their frittatas.
If you are strolling downtown Mesa, consider an informal meal at Worth Takeaway on Main Street. It’s a small place with a big farm to table presence. They feature a variety of innovative craft sandwiches. They source from local farms and purveyors.
And top your lunch off with a cup of their house-made banana pudding. It’s so good, they often run out in the afternoon.
When You Go – Arizona’s Fresh Foodie Trail
Getting to the Mesa area is easy. If you want to visit downtown Mesa and the arts district, you can take the METRO Light Rail from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (PHX) or Central Phoenix. There are two airport choices, PHX or Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport (AZA) served by more regional carriers (note: the Light Rail does not service Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport). If you are driving, be mindful of the rush hour. The freeways can be busy.
There’s much more to explore with the Arizona Fresh Foodie Trail Brochure as your guide. Think about peach orchards and pie, a visit to a flour mill and a trip to a winery in nearby Florence. There’s plenty to plan your vacation around. And, there’s plenty of desert recreation and sightseeing to do between meals. Enjoy more of our Farm to Table finds as you wander Around the World or Across the Street™.
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations, meals and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.