Can Arizona become a foodie destination? State officials, restaurant association think so

Jose Rojas prepares food for the Artizen Crafted American Kitchen & Bar at the Devour Culinary Classic in Phoenix. (Photo by Megan Bridgeman/Cronkite News)

The Devour Culinary Classic in Phoenix connects foodies with samples from resturants, wines and beer. (Photo by Megan Bridgeman/Cronkite News)

People sample Otro Cafe’s shrimp snow roll during the Devour Culinary Classic in Phoenix. (Photo by Megan Bridgeman/Cronkite News)

Foodies sampled sweets at the Devour Culinary Classic in Phoenix. (Photo by Megan Bridgeman/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – To learn a city’s best dishes, you need a local guide. The Arizona Office of Tourism and the Arizona Restaurant Association recently launched website Expedition Foodie to help out-of-towners plan their culinary adventure in Arizona.

The groups are collecting information about Arizona chefs and restaurants to feature on the website. Both organizations hope the site will help capitalize on positioning the state as a food destination.

In 2015, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recognized Tucson as the first city in the U.S. for gastronomy, which means it has localized food production and has invested in natural resources to create international culinary experiences.

(Video by Kanak Jha/Cronkite News)

Arizona restaurants also are getting global attention, including Little Miss BBQ in Phoenix.

Scott Holmes, owner of Little Miss BBQ, said he met a group of people from Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, who planned to stay in Phoenix for a week.

The owner of Little Miss BBQ in Phoenix said people come from around the globe to visit Little Miss BBQ in Phoenix. The line often forms before the doors open. (Photo by Erica Apodaca/Cronkite News.)

“They flew in and this is the only restaurant that they knew that they were going to eat at,” Holmes said. “It’s amazing. It’s really, really cool.”

Little Miss BBQ has consistently ranked as one of the top restaurants in the state, even the country, according to Yelp. The site has ranked it No. 11 on its list of best places to eat in the U.S.

Scott Dunn, the vice president of communications for the Arizona Office of Tourism, said places such as Little Miss BBQ help get Arizona on the food destination map.

“Our culinary reputation has elevated with each passing year,” he said.

The line at Little Miss BBQ usually starts at 9 a.m., and by noon, the wait can take as long as two and a half hours.

“We get people who fly in and they try to schedule their flight so that they land at 9 (a.m.) and can get their bags and be here by 10,” Holmes said. “It really kind of blows my mind sometimes.”

This year, Phoenix was named No. 1 for “favorite” pizza by Travel and Leisure magazine.

(Map by Courtney Kock/Cronkite News)

Dominic Armota, food blogger and critic for The Arizona Republic, said Phoenix is making its way onto these lists by embracing its own history and resources.

“Phoenix is finding its voice when it comes to all things culinary,” Armota said. “It is a town that it is getting more confident in the food that is getting made, more confident in its history.”

Whether a food market, BBQ joint or pizza place, more tourists are saying food experiences are an important part of their vacations, according to the Global Report on Food Tourism by the World Tourism Organization.

However, many national lists of “food cities” in the U.S. focus on the same places – New York, Los Angeles, Portland, New Orleans, according to sites like Zagat and The Washington Post.

Phoenix – or any other Arizona city – usually does not make these lists. But Zagat did rank Phoenix/Scottsdale No. 9 on its up and coming food cities list.

These cities are frequently found on best foodie city lists, either for a specific item or overall great quality.

The Arizona Office of Tourism reported that retail and bars brought in about $1 billion to the local economy in 2016, a 2 percent increase from the previous year.

The Expedition Foodie website is not the Office of Tourism’s only attempt to increase awareness about the food scene in the state. The site launched a video series called Arizona Expedition and hired food blogger Emily Elyse Miller to travel across the state and curate a list of eateries.

Tourism is Arizona’s largest export industry and brings in about $21 billion to the state annually. Restaurateurs and the Office of Tourism officials said they hope the website will boost the culinary status and bring in more tourist dollars.