Finally, a burger with a taste of place

 

Some 12 million people visit the Grand Canyon every year, but any "foodies" among them tend to be disappointed when they arrive at the rim.
 
Where in all this luscious landscape, they ask, is anyone serving food that tastes of this place? Why do so few restaurants in Arizona's canyon country feature the range-fed beef or lamb, vegetables, fruits or other seasonal fare produced by local farmers and ranchers? Except at the world-renowned Turquoise Room in Winslow and Garland's in Oak Creek, both of them Arizona towns several hours south of the Grand Canyon, few chefs in the region have been smart enough to make use of locally produced food and prepare it well.
 
Until now. When Derrick Widmark first got the idea for Diablo Burger two years ago, he was already working for the Diablo Trust, one of the oldest collaborations between ranchers and farmers in the West. The Diablo Trust began in 1993, at a humble community gathering arranged by the ranchers of the Flying M and Bar T Bar. Since then, the Trust has done so much to sustain open spaces, protect biodiversity and restore healthy watersheds that it has garnered awards from the U.S. Forest Service, the National Cattleman's Beef Association and the National Partnership for Reinventing Government.
 
And yet, even with such national and regional fame, Widmark knew that the nonprofit trust needed more of a human face in the communities of northern Arizona where it worked. Though millions of people travel through the hundreds of thousands of acres of working landscapes managed by the Diablo Trust, few had any idea what the group was trying to achieve. Fewer still ever tasted any of the food it produced in a local setting.
 
It took time and patience, but Widmark assembled a team of investors and collaborators who have now changed their community's notion of what good local food can be. And the food served on Heritage Square, smack-dab in the middle of downtown Flagstaff, is exceedingly good, modestly priced and served in a comfortable and elegant setting.
 
The beef in the burgers is raised on the open range, free of growth hormones and antibiotics. It comes exclusively from the ranches within the Diablo Canyon Rural Planning Area, an innovative effort to keep private landowners and agencies engaged in maintaining the integrity of a working landscape that covers nearly a half-million acres along I-40 between Flagstaff and Winslow. But this beef is not the tough, jerky-like chaw that Arizona ranches offered their cowboys a century ago; instead, it is deliciously seasoned and carefully prepared in a variety of ways that make you expand your notion of what a burger can really be.
 
Onions, herbs and tomatoes top the burgers, and they come from Mountain Meadow Farm in Flagstaff and McClendon's Select in Peoria, Ariz. The burgers come in buns, tortillas or rolls from the Tortilla Lady in Flagstaff and Simply Bread in Phoenix. Distinctive regional wines and beers are also featured. Soups, salads and desserts change each day or so, but the tomato soup I sampled was as good as any I've ever tasted: savory and smooth, but substantial.
 
Within the first month after opening, Diablo Burger was serving as many as 300 people from late afternoon through evening. Times might be hard, but the nation's economic downturn doesn't seem to be keeping folks away from food that's both good and affordable.
 
Range-fed beef, served within 40 miles of where it was produced, offers about the lowest carbon footprint of any food produced on the American continent. It's made up of sun and grass, and as free of petrochemicals as any food these days can be. You walk away from Diablo Burger with a lingering sense that your decision to eat there has been pretty good for you, for the land, and for the local rural community. What more could anyone want?
 
Gary Paul Nabhan is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He lives in Tucson, Arizona, where he is a professor at the University of Arizona and the author of several books, including Coming Home To Eat.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNICATIONS & DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Position Type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman, MT Compensation: $42,000 - $47,000 Benefits: Major Medical Insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k, PTO, flexible...
  • PARTNERSHIP & COLLABORATION DIRECTOR
    WEST REGION WILDFIRE COUNCIL- RIDGWAY, CO The partnership & collaboration director will provide leadership and/or assistance with all initiatives that create and enhance connections between...
  • 2 FIELD PROJECT SPECIALISTS (POSITION FORMERLY TITLED TRAIL CREW TECHNICAL ADVISOR)
    Are you passionate about environmental conservation and connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with outdoor leadership...
  • WATER STEWARD
    The Blackfoot Challenge is seeking a full-time Water Steward to coordinate and deliver a variety of partnerships and projects aimed at conserving and enhancing water...
  • SMALL FARM AT BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA, CALIF.
    Fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm in the mountain town of Mount Shasta. Small home, 2 barns (one with apartment), and more. Famously pure air and water.
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • POLICY & PLANNING SPECIALIST
    Position Type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman, MT highly preferred, remote negotiable Compensation: $50,000-54,000 Benefits: Major Medical Insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Illinois Valley SWCD is offering an incredible career opportunity in beautiful SW Oregon. .8+ FTE, plus benefits. Visit our website for full details.
  • DEVELOPMENT MANAGER
    Formed in 1980, Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action brings people together to build grassroots power through community organizing and leadership development. The Alliance works...
  • LITIGATION ASSISTANT, NORTHERN ROCKIES OFFICE - FULL-TIME BOZEMAN | REMOTE OPTION
    Visit our website to apply: earthjustice.org/about/jobs
  • BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE SEEKING AN ASSESSMENT CONSULTANT
    ASSESSMENT OF THE SCOPE OF CONSERVATION PLANNING AND ACTIVITIES IN NATIVE NATIONS IN THE NORTHERN GREAT PLAINS Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Rural Community Assistance Corporation seeks experienced CFO.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks, the official philanthropic non-profit partner with the National Park Service Southeast Utah Group, is seeking an Executive Director....
  • GRAND CANYON MANAGER
    Application deadline: May 9, 2022 Anticipated start date: June 15, 2022 About the position Are you passionate about building authentic relationships, supporting tribally led initiatives,...
  • LAND CONSERVATION PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Eastern Sierra Land Trust (ESLT) is seeking a Land Conservation Program Director to join our nationally accredited land trust. This is a full-time position based...
  • OUTREACH AND COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
    Reports to: Communications and Outreach Director Location: Ashton, Idaho (partial remote schedule possible) Status: Full-time, 40 hours per week Timing and Duration: Position open until...
  • CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER
    The Western Landowners Alliance (WLA) was founded in 2012 by landowners and managers to increase the wellbeing of working lands in the American West and...
  • WILDERNESS STEWARDSHIP CREW MEMBER
    The San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA) wilderness crew members work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to monitor wilderness characteristics, conduct trail work, and...
  • OUTDOOR PROGRAM - ASSISTANT DIRECTOR (TEMPORARY, FULL-TIME POSITION)
    St. Lawrence University seeks to fill a temporary, full time, Assistant Director position in the Outdoor Program. The Outdoor Program provides professional outdoor recreational and...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    We find groundwater, reduce excavation costs and determine your IBC site class for a fraction of drilling costs.