Leisurely lunch at The Cafe in Sonoita

Once in a while I get a huge desire for a big, juicy burger. Who doesn’t?  Again when I feel that craving I hope I’ll be near Sonoita, Arizona, so I can stop in The Café. Chuck and I recently enjoyed a leisurely Saturday lunch at this wonderful little country café, located just east of the intersection of State Routes 83 and 82, about 45 miles southeast of Tucson. While I can’t accurately testify about all the menu items, I can report my findings about the Blue Cheese Burger and “the day’s special” green chile cheeseburger. These were among the best I’ve had in a long time.

More reasons to dine at The Café in Sonoita:

On-the-way to wine country

Before an afternoon of wine-tasting at any one or more of the Sonoita and Elgin area wineries, you may want to have a bit of lunch. The Café is one of just a few eateries in Sonoita. The drive from I-10 south to Sonoita along highway 83 is part of an entire stretch of officially-designated scenic Arizona highway. You’ll see some of Arizona’s best farm and ranch lands.

Views from the patio at The Cafe

Views from the patio at The Cafe

Excellent mountain views

The restaurant itself doesn’t look like much from the outside, but who cares? You came here for a good meal, and you’ll be enjoying it either inside the rustic, oak and brick interior or you’ll be out on the patio gazing at the Santa Rita Mountains or the Canelo Hills while you dine. And those mountain views are excellent. On the warm, sunny Saturday we visited, the higher elevations were still under a layer of snow.

Molly enjoying the dog friendly patio at The Cafe

Molly enjoying the dog friendly patio at The Cafe

Dog-friendly outdoor seating

A separate entrance to the patio from the outside often will indicate a restaurant has a dog-friendly area. Since each restaurant has its own policy and each Arizona county government has its own health restrictions, I will first inquire before I bring Molly over to the patio gate.

Green chile burger was the special of the day

Green chile burger was the special of the day

 

Blue Cheese Burger

Blue Cheese Burger

Mouthwatering menu

The Café’s lunch list clearly shows that this restaurant is a few steps ahead of other Arizona rural cafés. The menu excites the taste buds with one of these selections: a Black and Bleu Salad with steak, blue cheese with greens and cucumbers, a Hot Bacon Vinn Salad with tomato, apple bacon and walnuts or a grilled cheese sandwich with cheddar, Swiss, provolone cheese and homemade pesto. The burgers we were served were really tasty — fresh, hot beef patty with melted cheeses, sesame bun, veggies and condiments on the side with crisp fries… need I go on?

Get there early to get a table -- this place fills up fast for Saturday lunch

Get there early to get a table — this place fills up fast for Saturday lunch

Locals eat here

Most of us already know: it’s obvious to distinguish tourists from locals when you step into a restaurant. When you see a solid representation of locals, you can be confident of consistency in food quality, customer service and value. Chuck and I can’t wait to return.

Top-notch service from Kirsten at The Cafe

Top-notch service from Kirsten at The Cafe

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Randall House Restaurant and Gift Shop in Pine, Ariz.

Randall House sign

If this Memorial Day weekend is typical of almost any other three-day weekend, Arizonans will take to the freeways, streets and back roads en route to high country campgrounds and resorts, in search of cooler temperatures. Motorists planning a drive through Pine, Arizona will want to stop for breakfast or lunch at the historic Randall House Restaurant and Gift Shop.

Randall House certainly isn’t new. The restaurant has been in operation since 1998. But not all visitors realize that this pioneer home was once a popular community gathering place. Some may not know how pioneer homeowner Mary Ellen Randall would invite nearby residents for pastries and coffee on their way to and from the post office. During the early 1900s, Mrs. Randall was not only famous for her homemade breads, muffins, cookies and pies, but she was also known for her generous hospitality. She had a knack for making everyone feel at home. On their way home from school, children would stop by the Randall’s home for freshly baked cookies. Current restaurateurs Barbara and Patrick O’Connor are continuing Mary Ellen Randall’s tradition of warmth and hospitality — and homemade cooking.

The restaurant, located at the original Randall home site and serves breakfast and lunch Wednesdays through Sundays, is a historic point of interest. Visitors can peer through glass openings in the walls to see a log and adobe section of the original cabin. The first dwelling was constructed by Alfred Jason Randall in 1881. Alfred’s grandson George Randall with his wife Mary Ellen lived at this home for much of the 20th century. George passed away in 1987. In 1998, following Mary Ellen’s death, the building was restored and remodeled by the O’Connors, who then transformed it into a restaurant. Mrs. Randall would be pleased.

 

 

kitchen

Randall House dining room resembles a farmhouse kitchen

On a recent visit, our server invited us to have a tour the restaurant and grounds. While waiting for our meal, I strolled around the back of the home to see the backyard and outbuildings, as well as the tiny library, picnic tables, walking paths and gardens that compose the adjoining Randall Park. While walking through each of the interior dining rooms at Randall House, I realized that this more than just a casual breakfast and lunch spot. It’s also a gift shop. Wooden corner cupboards support unique toys, crafts and goodies ‘to go.’ After your meal, I recommend browsing for kitchen gifts such as colorful aprons, trivet holders, counter canisters, cutting boards or specialty toys like hobbyhorses, crafts kits and wooden puzzles.

About the food and service: I had no complaints, but after all, it was just our first visit. However, our service wasn’t nearly as slow as the consensus from the reviews sites describes. After I spent a few minutes walking through the restaurant and around the grounds, snapping a few photos and I came back to my table, lunch was served. Since it was Cinco de Mayo, I had ordered the featured lunch special of fish tacos  — a set of nicely grilled tilapia with a side of tasty slaw. My husband had a taco salad, which he said was very tasty and filling.

 

meal

Lunch special: Tilapia fish tacos with cole slaw

As I walked through the dining rooms, I saw a large group of women who had just finished their meals and were preparing to leave. As I waited for them to walk out so I take a photo, I noticed their plates, still on the table. They were empty! All of these gals had completely cleaned their plates! Whatever they ordered must have been well worth every crumb!

Randall House is known for its quaint, country style dining, homemade, made-to-order breakfasts of quiche, pancakes, French toast, omelets, muffins and scones. The same is true for its lunches: hearty sandwiches, wraps, soups and salads. But don’t think this place is just for ladies’ luncheons. The portions appear ample enough to fill up the hungriest of ‘he-men.’ This I know first hand — it’s one advantage to sitting on the front patio: you can witness the satisfied expressions on well-fed, departing patrons.

patio

Randall House: historic home, pleasant patio, gift shop and restaurant

Readers: What are your favorite eateries in Mogollon Rim Country?

 

 

Don’t miss Costa Rica’s La Paz Waterfall Gardens

No trip to Costa Rica is complete without a visit to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Even if your only stop in Costa Rica were to be this wonderful combination resort and sight-seeing attraction, you would have seen much of what this Central American country is famous for: beautiful butterflies, amazing hummingbirds, colorful snakes and frogs, lush tropical gardens surrounded by spectacular rivers and waterfalls. All of this flora and fauna is set in a magnificent hillside cluster with fishing lake and boutique spa resort. But the Costa Rica ‘to-do’ list wouldn’t be finished without volcano and coffee plantation tours, forest canopy zip-lining and river rafting. Guests at the adjacent Peace Lodge can arrange nearby day tours to these areas as well. La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Peace Lodge are centrally located between Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose and other iconic Costa Rican tourism highlights: Arenal Volcano and hot springs resorts near Fortuna. It’s an ideal location for those considering a vacation in Costa Rica.

Butterfly feeding time at La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Hummingbird taking a rare rest break

Aviary birds are perfect close-up 'models'

Colorful ox cart ready for passengers

Favorite photo opportunity along 'Trail of Falls'

Restaurants, lodge rooms -- even restrooms have the feel of the tropics

These photos don’t really do justice for this wonderful Costa Rica park, wildlife refuge and hotel. Find more descriptions and a photo gallery on the website.

US Airways flies from Phoenix to San Jose International Airport daily. Best times to visit are November through April. This is the high season, so expect rates to be higher.

Windmill Winery is versatile venue

Windmill Winery isn’t just a winery and tasting room. It’s also a farm, market, plant nursery, wedding venue, restaurant, corporate meeting place, entertainment location and farm implement museum. It’s also a nice destination for an afternoon day trip.

Windmill Winery

The winery features a different set of wine selections monthly, making it possible for wine lovers in the San Tan Valley area to enjoy a variety of varietals from different wine regions. Plus Windmill Winery has its own private label including a sweet white wine and a robust red.

Located at the western edge of Florence, Windmill Winery is just a short half hour drive from the southeast suburbs – probably just over an hour from Phoenix. It may have started out as a nursery, but it has grown into a popular wedding and reception venue, as couples opt for a setting of country charm. When we arrived, owner Harold Christ immediately made us feel welcome and invited us to sample some of the white Hummingbird Nectar and the red Dutchman’s Bold. Although these wines are from grapes grown and processed outside Arizona, plans are in the works for grape vines to be planted onsite. In about seven years, if all goes well, Windmill Winery may be boasting not only its own label, but its own wine.

Windmill Winery burro

With wine in hand, we strolled outside to the tour the grounds. A quaint outdoor patio welcomed us at the door. The patio encompasses several tables and gas heaters for the cooler evenings. The lush setting made us forget we were in the desert – the entire property reminded us of an eastern or mid-western farmyard. And after learning the history of the big red barn, we knew why. The 45-foot high structure was dismantled in Green Bay, Wisconsin then shipped to Arizona and reconstructed on the 60-acre property.

Windmill Winery, as an entertainment venue, has all bases covered. Events such as Brews, Brats and Blind Man’s Bluff, Mardi Gras Madness, and Murder Mystery Nights are upcoming dates the winery’s calendar. Diners need to book these events in advance as they sell out early. The Valentine’s Prime Rib dinner was already sold out. These special events are for advanced purchase only. Also in February, Windmill Winery starts Friday happy hours from 4 to 7 p.m. with half price specials on house wine and light appetizers. There’s also a solid collection of craft brews and local beers available.

Poultry on parade at Windmill Winery

Catered dinners on one night a week provide visitors with a menu that would make any master chef drool.

You might choose from a gourmet burger, created with homemade garlic-mayo aioli, with horseradish cheddar served on a bed of Arugula leaves, topped with a fresh-baked Kaiser roll, including a special condiment of bacon jam or a platter of Hawaiian-style pork with sea salt herbs and spices, slow cooked in banana leaves with a coconut rice grilled pineapple and slice of Pina Colada bread. Hungry yet? Many of the ingredients were grown on Christ’s same property, known agriculturally as Florence Farms. Much of the Florence Farms harvest also finds its way to the kitchens of about a dozen local resorts and restaurants.

One of Windmill Winery's unique landscape features

Although it’s not actually a museum, there’s a collection of farm implements on display such as John Deere tractors and other implements. Harold and his wife Katie recently were featured in an installment of Massey Ferguson’s’ online magazine: MyFarmLife.com. Windmill Winery, located at 1140 West Butte Road in Florence, is open Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. and Friday noon to 10 p.m.

What are your favorite day trips around Arizona? I would welcome any ideas, suggestions or recommendations from readers. Just let me know by emailing me at azgetawaytravel@gmail.com.