Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside linger at a crossroads, both by design and by consequence. Geographically lodged where the Mogollon Rim’s high desert mesa ends and eastern Arizona’s still largely unspoiled and verdant White Mountains begin, the region is also slowly transitioning from the conservative, budget-minded getaway it’s been known for generations as, to something attempting to resemble—if faintly—an alpine locale offering more than RV campgrounds, cheap development, and sadly: an abundance of gray, over-promised bar food.
Unlike some of Arizona’s other high-profile, high-elevation destinations like Flagstaff, Sedona, Cottonwood, and others, authentically good dining in Show Low or Pinetop-Lakeside remains conventionally elusive . This does not mean that satisfying restaurants don’t exist—to the contrary in fact. However, by most common standards, the area’s better-quality options for dining out remain rare.
If you happen to be traveling to the vicinity, there are a few places where said good food can be discovered. I first profiled the dining landscape years ago HERE, featuring classics like Darbi’s, Red Devil Pizza, and Grumpy Jake’s BBQ. Consider the below list an addendum to that story:
La Vie Marketplace & Cafe – Pinetop-Lakeside, AZ
Where do settled Scottsdale and Tucson moms go to escape the pressures of family cabin life on busy holiday weekends? La Vie Marketplace & Cafe. More than anyplace else, La Vie does the most to transcend the trappings that ail the local dining buffet. Part brunch spot, part coffee shop and green juicery, part tiny retail boutique, it’s both cute enough to draw those seasonal desert moms away from their padded country club calm and tasty enough to not alienate striving locals who want something more when dining out. The reason? Head chef Shannon Plowman, formerly of still-missed Cafe Bocado, who helps La Vie remain buzzing through the seasons with updated menus known for their healthy leanings. The breakfast and lunch only hangout is popular for their vegetarian and casually vegan friendly eats which remain no less satisfying to the meat-minded, like their daily quiches, fresh veggie rice bowls, salad wraps, decadent pancakes, and fabulous baked goods. Lunch specifically brings interesting sandwiches like the eggplant parmesan, the Cubano and the falafel pita. La Vie also offers a limited cocktail menu of mules, spiked ades and flavored martinis. Owner Mosty Bauer also owns the adjacent Spa Estique, one of the best day spas in Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside.
Torreon Grill – Show Low, AZ
Located in the heart of an upscale, masterplanned development by the same name, Torreon Grill anchors the community’s expansive clubhouse and golf club. Open to the public year round, the restaurant serves comfortable, non-offending options like burgers, stacked sandwiches and fish tacos throughout the day, to more classic dishes for dinner like varied pastas, steak and prime rib. Boasting one of the more picturesque patios in Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside, overlooking an emerald-kept Troon golf course downslope, and offering one of the region’s most capable full-service bars (there’s a mai tai on the menu, friends), Torreon Grill is easily one of the smarter options in town.
Licano’s Mexican Food & Steakhouse – Show Low, AZ
Locals and visitors alike hold loyal to Licano’s throughout the year for unfussy, sentimental and saucy Sonoran-style Mexican comforts like plate-sized chimichangas, smothered burritos, pan-fried tacos, and their wonderfully greasy and brittle, neon-hued cheese crisps. Licano’s also serves a menu of decent margaritas, pleasantly stiff and not-too-sweet riffs often made with fresh-squeezed juices. Little known secret? Licano’s unassumingly serves some of the best prime rib in Show Low.
The House – Show Low, AZ
Slightly off-course on Hall Street in downtown Show Low, The House “yard bar and eatery” brings something unique to an otherwise quiet pocket of town. Boasting a large grassy lawn where, during summer months, diners can take advantage of a pleasant outdoor bar experience while playing competitive, family-friendly outdoor games, The House is primarily known for their over-the-top burgers, sandwiches, salty finger foods, and decent beer selection. The still-new destination has quickly become a welcome retreat for visiting lowlanders craving something more than divey Mexican and warmed over pub fare. Sometimes variety can be a powerful driver.
Red Barn Creamery – Show Low, AZ
Located in small, retrofitted standalone, immediately adjacent to The House (same ownership) in downtown Show Low, Red Bard Creamery is the newest stop for tourists and locals to indulge. Featuring a range of homemade ice cream flavors, mostly classic but a few interesting outliers, often including non-dairy options, Red Barn Creamery is a charming new outpost in an area with surprisingly little-to-no summertime, or anytime, dessert experiences that don’t force you through the drive-thru.
Charlie Clark’s Steakhouse – Pinetop-Lakeside, AZ
Not a new place by any stretch, but certainly one of the most famous, the historic, western-themed steakhouse and bar Charlie Clark’s may be Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside’s strongest claim to a hallowed local classic. Charlie Clark’s has been operating in some capacity for almost 80 years, making it one of the oldest continually operated restaurants in Arizona, serving a meaty menu of steaks, prime rib, chicken, burgers, even seafood. The main dining room is only open for dinner, however the adjacent bar and lounge is a popular daytime hangout for burgers, sandwiches, fried sides, and cold beers. Live music on select nights.
White Mountain Donuts Cafe & Deli – Show Low, AZ
These are the best donuts in Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside. Located among a small preserved cluster of quaint, highway-fronting businesses in downtown Show Low, White Mountain Donuts is one of the area’s newest independent concepts trying to break the town’s otherwise ordinary mold, offering a large array of scratch-made donuts, yeast and cake varieties, including build-your-own options for both the young and young at heart. A recently opened cafe and deli, connected next-door, serves breakfast and lunch.
Persnikkity’s Cafe & Bakery – Show Low, AZ
Busy most of the year, Persnikkity’s is another above-average option for breakfast and lunch that strays from the usual bar food formula. Beyond the breakfast standards, think a casual counter-service lunch menu of burgers, sandwiches, pitas, wraps, and baked goods worthy of takeaway.
Buffalo Bill’s Tavern & Grill – Show Low, AZ
Owned and operated by some of the principals behind the well-known Porter Mountain Steakhouse in Pinetop-Lakeside, Buffalo Bill’s resurrects many of Porter Mountain’s original charms for a new chapter in a new space. Located in the still sparsely developed Bison Ridge Golf Club housing community, a local casualty of the Great Recession, Buffalo Bill’s keeps it simple with an honest menu of sandwiches, burgers, pastas, and similar. An attractive back patio overlooking the surrounding ponderosa forest remains the most desirable perch for perfect-weather days.
Pinetop Brewing Company – Pinetop-Lakeside, AZ
If only there were more great breweries in the vicinity. Pinetop Brewing Company is perpetually busy, comfortable, and exactly what a cozy brewery in a strong-minded mountain town should feel like. With a clientele that intersects both locals in-the-know and atuned visitors, Pinetop Brewing Company is an ideal go-to for an afternoon layover, to watch the big game, sample a flight of their signature suds, and or grab a better-quality burger on the patio. Besides the beer, what truly sets Pinetop Brewing Company apart is their food menu. A surprisingly alternative range of sandwiches, said burgers, sides, and small pizzas that dare you to find better examples at other local spots. Try the Yardbird sandwich, a handheld of flaky fried chicken, pickles and a schmear of sweet honey mustard inside an airy glazed bun. It’s a sandwich, a digestible moment, that proves there is eating in the area worthy of being discovered.
Read more about Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside dining:
Arizona: White Mountain Eating
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