If it's a controversial candidate you're seeking for an official state food, you'll get it, in spades, in regard to two Mexican-inspired creations.

When it comes to the chimichanga, the Macayo's story goes that founder Woody Johnson invented it in 1946 when he accidentally dropped a meat-filled burro into a fryer. Other it-came-from-Tucson-but-not-from-Macayo's arguments regarding the chimi's beginnings abound (including a second accidental dropping of a food into the fryer) in addition to two claims of it first being served in Mexico: one, as a variation on the flauta, the rolled corn tortilla, in the early 1920s by an Irish/Mexican family, and a second as the variant chivichanga.

And if your head isn't completely spinning yet, there's another theory that the dish was part of the local cuisine of the Pimería Alta (the upper land of the Pimas surrounding both parts of southern Arizona and northern Sonora in Mexico) as early as the 18th century.

The chimichanga
The chimichanga
PHOTO BY JAMIE PEACHEY; BODY PAINTER: JOCELYN CASDORPH; MODEL: ALLY SANDBERG

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Where do Valley chefs and restaurateurs weigh in when it comes to picking an official food for Arizona? Judging by the answers, it's all over the map.

Michael Monti (owner, Monti's La Casa Vieja): "We've had a long history with ostriches in the state for about 100 years. Originally, their feathers were used as plumage for women's hats when it was common in the fashion world. So let's bring ostrich and serve it up on the table — or nopalitos, or cactus — because we have a lot of it."

Jason Alford (chef, Roka Akor) and Eric Flatt (co-owner, Tonto Bar & Grill and Cartwright's Sonoran Ranch House): "Prickly pear."

Justin Beckett (chef/owner, Beckett's Table): "When we do figure it out, I hope it doesn't include prickly pear."

Josh Hebert (chef/owner, Posh): "Some kind of taco, but a hybrid taco mixing traditional with modern ingredients."

Justin Micatrotto (co-owner, Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers franchises): "The first thing that comes to mind is Tex-Mex, but coming from someone who's no stranger to a deep-fryer, we might want to get fried rattlesnake on board."

Christopher Nicosia (chef, Sassi): "It should have a smoky element to it and would have to be a street food. How about a smoky sausage (hot dog or other type) topped with green chile pork served wrapped in Indian fry bread with roasted corn and cactus relish, jalapeños, and crushed corn tortilla chips? I think I'm going to buy my food truck now."

Michael Stebner (chef, True Food): "Pecans."

Eddie Matney (chef/owner, Eddie's House): "I'd like to see a plate with an Arizona queso dip in the middle and foods from all over the world surrounding it."

Robert Morris (general manager/sommelier, Cork): "Maybe a chimichanga. I think it originated here."

Meggie Miller (marketing manager, Twin Peaks): "Do the 49ers count?"

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Not nearly as folklore-infested and chain-pimped as the chimichanga, it is mainly agreed upon that the roots of a second Mexican-inspired contender, the Sonoran hot dog (a mesquite-smoked and bacon-wrapped frank tucked into a bun and smothered in beans, mayonnaise, chopped tomatoes, and other goodness) stem from Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora. Though not an Arizona invention, its popularity throughout the state makes it a viable choice.

For Valley folk, the good news is that we can celebrate our 100 years of statehood by eating the aforementioned state food candidates.

Kai, located in the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa on the Gila River Indian Reservation near Chandler and Arizona's only five-star and five-diamond restaurant, serves up a top-notch offering of Native American cuisine. Macayo's may think its chimichangas are the best, but restaurants like Carolina's, Pedro's Mexican Restaurant, and Valle Luna also are worth a bite. And for hot dog fans who like to eat late, Nogales Hot Dogs, the stand serving Sonoran-style hot dogs on the southwest corner of 20th Street and Indian School Road, opens around 6 p.m. and runs late into the evening.

If states like Missouri can claim the ice cream cone, Oklahoma barbecued pork, and Illinois popcorn, then Arizona certainly can give itself an official food, especially after having a century to think about it. Even if the choices are vast and at times controversial, at least there's discussion.

If and when an official state food does come to a vote, mine will be for an underdog: mesquite flour. Despite years of attempted eradication by ranchers, the mesquite tree has persisted — its pods, not to mention wood, utilized by humankind for centuries. And if that isn't a testament to Arizona grit, I'm not sure what is.

Of course, I'll have a prickly pear margarita in hand to celebrate.

The drink's fruit, according to our unofficial poll on Chow Bella, was the runner-up favorite among our readers, second only to the Sonoran hot dog. (We pitted the dog against the prickly pear fruit — bacon prevailed yet again.)

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4 comments
Beefy
Beefy

I don't know what the official state food should be, but I know it should give you the hershey squirts after eating it.

Marshabarnhouse
Marshabarnhouse

I think our state food should be "asphalt fried eggs" : thanks for reading

Wnc
Wnc

I demand that the editor post a correction to this article. The Navajo did not obtain Navajo-Churro Sheep from spanish settlers. They developed the breed from sheep that may have come from Spanish stock brought to the Americas. Navajo-Churro sheep did not exist the 16th century. Our Navajo people bred them and developed this breed over centuries to be hardy for its environment. They are unique to the Colorado Plateau and are list as endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Please show respect to our Navajo people and make this correction! Contact Dine Be Iina in Shiprock for information about this breed and efforts to help Navajo breeders be successful with their sheep and fiber arts. Also check out Sheep Is Life Celbration the third week of June in Tsaile at the Dine Colloge.

Central Scrutinizer
Central Scrutinizer

On behalf of sheep enthusiasts everywhere, I thank you for this correction request.

 
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