Credit: lblinova / Adobe Stock

Cactus Bites

By: Elise McClain

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June 23, 2018

Discover culinary interpretations of Arizona’s greatest icon.

About the author

Elise McClain

Arizona’s relationship with the cactus is centuries old. It ties people and their cultures to the land. Yes, you can see cacti in all their various shapes and sizes scattered throughout Arizona, but one unique and rarely acknowledged means of experiencing cacti is through the palate.

Sonoran Rose Prickly Pear Vodka

Raise your spirits with Sonoran Rose Prickly Pear Vodka. This vodka is exclusively distilled in Flagstaff, where the owners of Canyon Diablo Spirits have perfected the art of combining the sweet fruit of the prickly pear with locally made vodka. This Northern Arizona original pairs well in many of your favorite drinks—try it in cosmos, martinis, and mules.

Saguaro fruit wares

Join in a traditional cactus harvest. Held every June in the Sonoran Desert south of Tucson, the Ha:san Bak Saguaro Harvest Festival celebrates the native saguaro cactus. Culturally and historically significant to the region, the saguaro is Arizona’s best-known cactus and state plant. Along with the fresh-picked saguaro cactus fruit, Ha:san Bak offers other indigenous foods, archaeological hikes, and hands-on demonstrations.

Cut-up prickly pear fruit next to a mason jar filled with more slicesPrickly pear slices ready to eat. Credit: / Adobe Stock

Prickly pear gelato

East of Phoenix lies the state’s smallest official community, Tortilla Flat. And one of the town’s original structures from the 1940s, the Tortilla Flat Country Store & Ice Cream Shop, is rich with Arizona history. Peruse the gift shop and grab a bite of the locally acclaimed prickly pear gelato served with a side of Western nostalgia.

Prickly pear candy

Cheri’s Desert Harvest, a Tucson business, offers a large selection of edible cactus products ranging from jams and jellies to preserves and candies. One of Cheri’s best-sellers includes regionally renowned prickly pear cactus candies. These gummy candies are made from the handpicked fruit of the prickly pear cactus and make for a sweet Arizona memento.

Prickly pear maple syrup

Phoenix’s Vovomeena restaurant specializes in serving authentically crafted coffee, breakfast, and brunch. Don’t pass up the Arizonan interpretation of johnnycake—two corn and chile cakes topped with prickly pear maple syrup and served with sweet rice and your choice of meat or potatoes.

Nopales burritos

Nopales (or prickly pear cactus) on a cutting boardA board of nopales is cut and ready for cooking. Credit: lblinova / Adobe Stock

Intimate and rustic, Maya Mexican Restaurant in Prescott offers a vast array of authentic Mexican food for a great price. Among vegetarian options are nopales (or prickly pear cactus) breakfast burritos, which include eggs, onions, and tomatoes. The combination nopales con huevo platter features the grilled cactus plus rice, beans, chips, and salsa.

Cactus fries

Nestled among the Red Rocks of Sedona, the Cowboy Club offers a variety of Southwestern and cowboy fare, with a view to boot. Among the most popular appetizers are the cactus fries. Flash fried and served with prickly pear sauce, these dippers are a unique take on the classic nopal.

Cholla buds

A bowl of recently harvested cholla budsRecently harvested cholla buds. Credit: AOT

Kai Restaurant is one of Arizona’s premier fine-dining restaurants and is located in the Gila River Indian Community near Chandler. Kai means “seed” in the American Indian Pima language. Drawing from American Indian culture, Kai utilizes indigenous Southwest ingredients—cactus buds and blossoms are prominent on the menu. Try the grilled tenderloin of Tribal buffalo served with a smoked corn purée, cholla buds, chorizo and scarlet runner bean chili, and saguaro blossom syrup to get a true taste of these uncommon ingredients.

Prickly pear margarita

Kick back and relax in Yuma where guests are invited to enjoy an Arizona take on a Southwestern classic: the margarita. Stop by The Patio Restaurant and Bar where prickly pear margaritas are served daily. By mixing traditional margaritas with prickly pear syrup, The Patio has found a sweet, thirst-quenching drink to satisfy even the saltiest patron.

Find many local culinary options around Arizona and stories that highlight the best foodie experiences worth traveling for at

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