One of my early food memories is from when I was nine years old and my mom took us on a trip of a lifetime out West. In Arizona we went to a rodeo where I had my first taste of Navajo fry bread. Just like it sounds, it was a hunk of dough that was deep-fried, what’s not to like?
It was a lot to absorb for a kid from Long Island. (And did I absorb it, I was quite a chubby child.) That taste of Navajo frybread led to a lifelong love of fried dough, resulting in my latent donut fetish, although that’s probably not a good thing.
We were in northern Arizona recently where my taste buds perked up with signs stating “Navajo fry bread tacos” and “Indian tacos.” What? Is there a way to improve upon the humble fry bread?
We were staying in Tuba City on the western end of Navajo Nation and stopped for a meal at the Tuuvi Cafe. The restaurant is conveniently attached to a gas station and every table was packed; since we were the only anglos there I figured the food would be pretty authentic.
The waitress assured me that the fry bread taco was the best we’d find anywhere, so how could I resist? (To make things a bit confusing the Tuuvi Center is Hopi-owned so they eschew the “Navajo” designation and simply call theirs a “Tuuvi taco.”) When she brought out my plate with a massive heaping of food I looked around to see how many other people were joining me.
An Indian fry bread taco is just like the names says: Take a large portion of ground beef, mix it up with spices and peppers, melt some cheese on top, cover it with lettuce and tomatoes and plop the whole thing on a hubcap-sized piece of freshly fried dough. Picture eating a cheeseburger with all the fixings on a giant donut and you get the idea.
The meat was perfectly spiced with a bit of heat but not too much. The frybread underneath stayed crispy for the first few minutes before it gave into the juicy beef assault. I finished most of the topping but barely made a dent in the main event, the frybread.
A dessert fry bread at Fry Bread House in Phoenix.
The verdict: A Navajo frybread taco is one of those things you should try once. But for me, as much as I love donuts, the combination of fried bread and beefy taco filling was a bit much. But Arizonans love it, in 1995 they voted it the state dish of Arizona.
A week later we stopped at Fry Bread House in Phoenix for a piece of hot fry bread adorned with just cinnamon and sugar that melted into the crispy dough. That was more to my taste.
What do you think, does the Navajo fry bread taco sound too good to pass up?