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The Short Version: Tortilla Flat was originally established in 1904 as a freight station for the workers building the Theodore Roosevelt Dam. Today, this historic site is popular among locals and sightseers looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Couples can spice up their day by sharing a chili burger at the saloon, and they can visit the Mercantile Store to get a souvenir to remember their time in Tortilla Flat or enjoy the world famous prickly pear gelato in the Country Store.
The historic town of Tortilla Flat is no more than a pinprick on the map of Arizona, but it has a lot of history, romance, and entertainment to offer visitors.
Tortilla Flat is a hidden gem nestled along the Apache Trail in the Tonto National Forest. It’s two miles east of Canyon Lake and situated at the foothills of the Superstition Mountain range, so it’s a perfect dating destination for outdoorsy folk.
Couples can stop by Tortilla Flat for a bite to eat or a little shopping and then enjoy a day of fishing, hiking, camping, ATV riding, or boating.
This incredibly small town — population of six — has a distinctive Old West look. Its Main Street features a saloon, country store, museum, and gift shop. There is only one street in town, so visitors don’t have to worry about getting lost as they mosey down the quaint boardwalk with their loved ones.
Katie Ellering is the owner and operator of Tortilla Flat. She is also one of the six people who live in town under the address of 1 Main Street. Kate described Tortilla Flat as a unique attraction located in one of the most scenic mountain ranges in Arizona.
“We’re a tiny town out in the middle of nowhere — about an hour’s drive from Phoenix,” she said. “Once you’ve gotten out of the city, you almost feel as if you’ve gone to a different state because Tortilla Flat has such a unique feel to it.”
Over the last century, Tortilla Flat has transformed from a humble stagecoach stop into a noteworthy tourist attraction that has been the backdrop for many family vacations and dating adventures.
Established in 1904, Tortilla Flat was originally a settlement for the contractors working on the Theodore Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River just northeast of Phoenix. This massive project helped the Arizona deserts become more hospitable to farmers, ranchers, and other fortune seekers in the Wild West.
Tortilla Flat saw many people coming and going, but it was never large enough to be recognized by the government as a town. Therefore, all its records were kept by local leaders and property owners who made their lives out there among the mountains.
A replica of the old schoolhouse that existed in the 1920s now houses the historic records and memorabilia that tell the story of Tortilla Flat. This museum is small, but it’s packed with interesting artifacts. One of its most eye-catching features is the original movie poster for “Lust for Gold,” which was based on a book written in a cave just outside of Tortilla Flat.
Back in the 1900s, Tortilla Flat was a place where hard-working people could find a quiet place to rest their heads. It was a historic stagecoach stopover, and it even hosted former President Teddy Roosevelt in 1911.
Today, Tortilla Flat has been refurbished to offer entertainment and refreshment for people on the road to outdoor adventure. Couples can change up their dating routine by driving into the mountains and visiting a well-preserved and lovingly maintained Old West Town.
The first thing you’ll see when you pull up to Tortilla Flat is the Mercantile, a gift shop that’s full of locally made items. The Mercantile has a good variety of souvenirs from locally made jewelry and authentic Native American made pottery to informative guidebooks and historical novels.
The Tortilla Flat owners take pride in getting merchandise from local artists and vendors. That way, visitors can get something unique — perhaps a piece of turquoise jewelry or a buckskin knife sheath — to remember their trip to the small town.
“We really want to maintain that authentic Wild West feeling,” Katie said. “That’s important to us because there’s really nothing else like it. Entering Tortilla Flat is like stepping back in time to the Old West.”
After driving through the mountains or hiking through the forest, people tend to work up a big appetite, and they can rely on Tortilla Flat to satisfy their taste buds with its traditional American Southwest fare and homemade fudge.
The Country Store sells a variety of sweet treats, including fudge, ice cream, and gelato. The store’s Prickly Pear Gelato is its most popular dessert by far. It is bright pink and made locally from the tangy fruit that grows on Arizona’s cacti. Customers can also find Prickly Pear BBQ sauce on the shelves.
“The food is definitely one of the highlights of coming to visit us,” Katie said. “We have delicious food and many signature items that you won’t find anywhere else.”
The Superstition Saloon is known throughout the area for its juicy burgers and ice-cold beers. Couples can saddle up at the bar — the seats are made from genuine saddles — or they can find a table on the outdoor patio where they can enjoy the fresh mountain air.
One of the most popular menu items at the saloon is the Killer Chili, which is made from an 80-year-old secret recipe. It’s got quite a kick and can warm people up on a cold day. The kitchen serves over 100 gallons of Killer Chili every week during its busy season. The store also sells the Killer Chili mix so people can make it at home.
Superstition Saloon has a long history in Tortilla Flat, and people can become part of its story for only $1. Guest are invited to decorate a dollar bill and leave their mark on a historic site. Many people sign their names or put the date on the bill to commemorate their time at Tortilla Flat. The saloon is wallpapered with over 300,000 dollar bills from 80 countries, and team members put more up every day — wherever they can find room.
The saloon offers cold beer and good vibes all year long, and it also has live music when it gets cooler and the sun comes out.
For the past three years, The Tortilla Flat Band has played music on the saloon’s patio. Its schedule starts Oct. 24 and will be open weekends through Christmas and then seven days a week from Christmas through spring until the weather gets too warm. The music typically starts around 11:30 in the morning and goes on for hours — weather permitting. Couples can sit on the patio with a cold brew and enjoy the family-friendly atmosphere.
“We can’t wait to get the band back together this year,” Katie said. “The Tortilla Flat Band does a fantastic job of singing, playing, entertaining, and telling jokes. It’s a fun draw when the weather cools down.”
Tonto National Forest is the largest national forest in Arizona (the fifth largest in the U.S.) with over 2.9 million acres of rugged land open to visitors. It’s a hot spot for hikers and campers, and some groups enjoy taking their all-terrain vehicles or motorcycles through these rough and winding roads.
Anyone exploring Tonto National Forest can rely on Tortilla Flat to offer a good meal and entertaining stopover. This destination attracts boaters from Canyon Lake and hikers from the Apache Trail.
There’s a little something for everyone in Tortilla Flat. You’ll see families with little kids taking cutesy pictures of the town’s facade, and you’ll also see old married couples treating themselves to some gelato. Young couples can visit the saloon or the gift shop as a fun and low-key dating activity.
“We have an eclectic clientele. There are locals on a day trip and Midwesterners on a weekend getaway, and Canadians escaping the cold,” Katie said. “It’s a family spot, and it is absolutely a joy to see so many kids running around in cowboy outfits.”
In honor of National Cowgirl Day on September fifth, Tortilla Flat hosted a contest to encourage visitors to dress up in their cowgirl or cowboy best, stop in town, and take a fun selfie. The team offered a $100 gift card as a prize for the photo that got the most likes after being shared on the Tortilla Flat Facebook page. The deadline to post your photo is Friday, September 11.
Whether you’re going on a camping trip or a first date, Tortilla Flat is a great destination with refreshment, entertainment, photo ops, and conversation starters galore. People come from all over to enjoy stepping back into yesteryear in this Old West town.
Tortilla Flat has preserved its history to share with visitors. Stopping by here is a reminder of the simple things in life. Couples can go on a dating adventure in the mountains and get some good food or pick up some souvenirs along the Main Street of Tortilla Flat.
“We see ourselves as temporary caretakers since the property has been around since 1904,” Katie explained. “Our job is to make sure things are updated, and that Tortilla Flat is going to be around for the next 100 years.”