You drive by prickly pear cactus everyday in the Valley. But chances are you didn't know every part of the plant is edible, and chefs around the Valley are making use of the Arizona native in their restaurants.
We're not just talking about prickly pear margaritas, either. (Though there's a very good one on this list.)
Nopales are the flat pads of the cactus, and prickly pear, or tuna in Spanish, is the bright purple or red oval fruit that grow on the cactus. They can be found in pretty much all Mexican grocery stores. But if you'd rather leave the dirty work to someone else, we've got you covered. Here are our 10 favorite places to eat cactus in Phoenix.
Asi es la Vida Nopales and a plate of melted cheese, what can be better? The queso fundido from Asi es la Vida is a rich starter with Chihuahua cheese, which is similar to Monterey jack. Eat it with chips, or wrap it up in a hot tortilla.
Los Reyes de la Torta Don't think Los Reyes is only about tortas. Order the nopales con pollo plate, and make your own nopal tacos. The nopales are the best part of the dish with their chili seasoning and smoky flavor. We squeezed some lime on top and couldn't get enough. The preparation of this plate of nopales was one of our favorites.
Courtyard Café at Heard Museum There's something so classy about sitting outside on a beautiful Arizona day, sipping on prickly pear lemonade. It might look like pink lemonade, but the flavor is so much more fun. At first drink we were anticipating a tart flavor to hit, but it was only sweet going down. We've heard prickly pear described as a cross between watermelon and bubble gum, and we won't argue with that.
The Heard doesn't stop at the prickly pear lemonade. Their barbecue pulled pork torta with prickly pear barbecue sauce and cole slaw was delicious. The natural sweetness of the prickly pear fruit was so much better than the sugary, honey taste in most other sauces. Our bread was wet with the sauce, and soaked up all the sweet and savory flavors of the sandwich.
Barrio Queen Three different nopal tacos can be found on the menu at Barrio Queen, and all three left us wishing for bigger portion sizes. The salmon and nopal taco had a bit of sweetness mixed with the salmon flavor. Nopales, sautéed onions and peppers, and tomatoes with a bit of cheese filled our second taco. The nopales still had a bite to them, making a nice contrast between the soft peppers and onions. A fried egg topped the last nopal taco. That last taco is a modern version of the scrambled eggs and nopales we used to have for breakfast.
Comedor Guadalajara The quesadillas at Comedor are not your average cheese-stuffed tortillas. Filled with nopales, chicken and peppers, this dish takes up the entire plate and is listed under appetizers. It was so massive we couldn't finish the whole thing. But every bite was delicious. The nopales took away the bitter flavor of the green peppers, which was a plus, and the acid taste with chicken was something we couldn't get enough of.
Bragg's Factory Diner A vegan nopales sandwich at Bragg's was a first for us. Add jackfruit barbacoa and our heads were spinning. Slices of fresh nopales spilled out of the sandwich and were not completely tender; you could even see where the chefs removed the spines. The nopales and the spiciness of the jackfruit was a new one for our taste buds. The sandwich, Nopales Like Home, was impossible to put down. Each bite was better than the last.
Gallo Blanco If alcohol will put your mind at ease when consuming cactus, look no further than Gallo Blanco. The AZ Margarita is made with prickly pear juice, Sauza Blanco Tequila and other juices...and it's hard to just have one. The sweetness of the prickly pear has no tart aftertaste and goes down smooth with the tequila.
Two Hippies Beach House Outrageous Tacos and Burritos Vegetarian tacos can be hard to come by, and boring in some cases, but Two Hippies' nopales taco comes loaded with chilled nopales, beans, cabbage, tomatoes and cheese inside a mini flour tortilla. Throw some salsa on top for some spice, and the tender nopales and tomatoes come to life.
El Tlacoyo When the order of huaraches con nopales came to the table, it looked like all we got was a plate of nopales. But cut into the dish, and underneath the sea of green was a huarache, which is similar in texture to a fried corn sope, but an oval shape (said to resemble the shape of the Mexican sandal called a huarache). Inside the huarache were fried beans, and the nopales were mixed with spicy green chili. By the size of the huarache, we thought we could only finish half, but the spice wouldn't let us put our fork down.
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Taco Guild With the sweet flavor of prickly pear, it's a given that the fruit has made its way into the dessert world. Once your tacos are consumed, ask for a serving of their prickly pear sorbet. The bright purple pink-ish scoops of sorbet come with fresh fruit toppings of strawberries, blueberries and blackberries. The sorbet has a bubble gum taste, but the flavor never fades. The mix of fruit flavors brings out a sweetness that is pretty much irresistible.