El Charro’s Fiesta Platter
El Charro’s Fiesta Platter features tacos and mini chimichangas
Published November/December 2015

Southwestern Spice

El Charro, in Safford, takes its culinary cues from local flavors

BYSam Lowe
The lunch crowd drifts in casually, just like it has for more than a half-century at El Charro. Cowboys and miners. Teenagers. Little kids with their parents. Chatty friends and merchants. A few passersby, a few tourists, but for the most part, they are Safford (in southeastern Arizona) locals. 
“They come here because this is Gila Valley food,” Thomas Biggs explains. He’s a Safford native who has been the operator and general manager of the restaurant for the past two years. “There have been no drastic changes. I know what the people want. It’s this combination of Sonoran and Jalisco dishes.”
El Charro has officially been open since 1955 and has seen several owners, but Biggs says some Safford old-timers claim it dates back as far as the early 1940s. Biggs did some remodeling when he took over, but he left a huge mural intact on one entire wall. It’s a desert scene featuring an adobe house — a very Southwestern visual. “The people insisted that we leave it, so we did,” he says. This helped the establishment retain its combination of small-city charm coupled with a major Mexican influence. All food is prepared fresh daily and cooks use as many local ingredients as possible. Equally important, the prices are reasonable.  
The menu spans favorite Mexican dishes such as enchiladas, burritos, tamales, and refried beans. But two items set El Charro apart. They are the chalacas and the enchilada-style French fries. Chalacas start with masa (corn flour), shaped into a bowl then deep-fried. Once removed from the fryer, the bowl is loaded up with a variety of fillings, ranging from chicken to beef to beans, then topped with shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes. The fries are basic French fries covered with cheese and a special enchilada sauce, then heated. Although listed as an appetizer, it’s a meal in itself. And if your sweet tooth kicks in, try the deep-fried ice cream coated with caramel.
Patrons who choose to dine there should ask for an Arizona Salsa Trail Passport and get it stamped. The passport lists all 13 restaurants on the Salsa Trail, a cooperative venture that began more than a decade ago to promote local dining spots, which follows the Old West Highway through Graham and Greenlee counties. Prizes are awarded to those who collect enough stamps. Those who hit all 13 are awarded a loyalty T-shirt. 
SAM LOWE is a freelance writer who has been writing about Arizona for more than 35 years.

If You Go
601 W. Main St., Safford
Open 11 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Around town: Nearby Roper Lake State Park offers camping, boating, and fishing for outdoor enthusiasts. Mount Graham is sprinkled with campsites and hiking trails, as well as spectacular mountain scenery and wildlife. A few miles north of Safford, the open-pit copper mine at Morenci is a major attraction. 
Learn More
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