Food, much like music, is a universal language. In fact, when words fail during most cross-cultural exchanges, it’s gastronomy that tends to fill in the blanks. The same can be said for those avid adventurers seeking gastronomic good times gallivanting to or through Arizona. Don’t let the desert landscape and the proximity to the Mexican border fool you. There’s plenty of global options to entice the pickiest of eaters.

Read on to enjoy the spice of life by learning the story of Arizona’s cuisine in Phoenix and other cities. Your taste buds can thank us later.

Traveling Taste Buds

Why do foodies flock to Arizona? To grant their taste buds the opportunity to globetrot to every corner of the earth without buying a round-the-world ticket. Sounds inviting right?

Newly reborn as a ‘foodies oasis’, Phoenix has captured global attention in recent years. And with good reason. Menus featuring cuisine across the spectrum of savory or sweet make selecting one establishment to dine in impossible. And things don’t get any easier in nearby Tuscon, where street food and fine-dining fare are equally drool-worthy.

Like a Lay’s potato chip, you can’t have just one. This is especially true when referencing the sheer number of eateries available in the area and it only continues to grow. But even if a culture’s cuisine fails to motivate, at least you can say that you’ve tried it, right?

All of the gastronomy listed below is available within a 14,000-square-mile radius. So, who’s hungry?

Ethnic Eateries to Try

First, up, Ethiopian food. Eating with your hands either excites or disgusts people. At Cafe Lalibela, which offers delicious Ethiopian and eastern African foods, eating with your hands is a must. Thick stews and cooked vegetables served on large sheets of injera bread make this an authentic Ethiopian eating experience.

Location: 849 West University Drive, Tempe

Fresh, healthy and downright delicious fare put Zayna Mediterranean on the map for vegans, vegetarians and meat lovers alike. Take your taste buds on a trip from Tucson to the Middle East (with a stop over in Greece) and indulge in meze favourites like pita, hummus, tabbouleh, and baba ghannuj—sharing optional!

Location: 1138 North Belvedere, Tucson

Need ramen in your life? Why travel to Southeast Asia for one when Ikkyu is available right in Tucson and serves Japanese gastronomic food fare? At Ikkyu the variety of complex flavors and toppings offered here include menu favorites like sushi, rice and ramen bowls.

Location: 2040 West Orange Grove Road, Tucson

Wet the palette with a taste of Vietnam and a hearty bowl of Phở from Khai Hoan. A deceptively simple steaming bowl of rice noodles with beef (chicken or vegetables) in a sweet-savory broth. Is your mouth watering yet?

Location: 1537 East Apache Boulevard, Tempe

For Iranian/Persian cooking, Persian Room doesn’t disappoint, offering traditional Mediterranean dishes such as dolmas (rice stuffed, pickled grape leaves) or kebabs. Lean in, however, on a lesser-known dish like ghormeh sabzi, a flavorful herb stew, for a gastronomic experience.

Location: 17040 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale

When in Phoenix, try German goodies, right? Jokes aside, you really can’t go wrong with any of the delicious selections at Zur Kate. The Jägerschnitzel, a thin cutlet of fried meat showered in mushroom gravy, comes highly recommended.

Location: 4815 East Main Street, Mesa

The food boasting out of the Caribbean is an alluring combination of Spanish, African, and Indigenous foods. At the Puerto Rican Latin Grill the options offered are extensive but definitely give Pernil, a popular roasted pork dish, a try.

Location: 2714 West Thomas Road, Phoenix

There’s an abundance of Thai restaurants in the PMA, but highly recommended is Thai Basil. This restaurant is a chain and can be found in several places around the Valley. Wash down the red, yellow, or green curry with Thai iced tea to complete the dining experience.

Location: 403 West University Drive, Tempe

In the Southwest, Tex-Mex is a gastronomic category all its own, but chief among them is the chimichanga. A deep-fried burrito stuffed with pico de gallo salsa and your choice of beef or chicken. Come to Carolina’s Mexican Food and get the best Tex-Mex in town.

Location: 1202 East Mohave Street, Phoenix

Where in the World to Begin?

This foodie-travel guide travels from the Americas to the Caribbean. Across Europe, and to the far corners of Asia. And this list of recommended restaurants is only the top tier of the universally decorated cake in the Phoenix Metro Area. Arizona may not have been on a list of foodie destinations before, but it surely must be now.

If the wide-open space of the Arizona desert is mimicking the emptiness in your stomach, then give this list a shot. What better way to break up a day of sightseeing than a hardy lunch inspired by a country clear across the globe?

That’s the story of Arizona’s cuisine. Now, which of these ethnic eateries will you choose to sample the spice of life?