A Little Bit Navajo, A Whole Lot Good: Cameron Trading Post Restaurant, Cameron, Arizona

For anyone exploring northern Arizona and heading to the Grand Canyon via the eastern entrance, there’s a stop along the way that should absolutely not be missed. The 100+-year-old Cameron Trading Post offers a welcome respite from the highway, a glimpse into Navajo life, and a great meal. At Cameron, you can shop, gas up, stay overnight, camp, and browse museum-quality Native American crafts. And you can eat. Oh boy, can you eat.

Location: 466 US Hwy. 89, Cameron, Arizona, one mile north of the Hwy. 64 turn-off to the Grand Canyon east entrance. The Trading Post is at the southern border of the Navajo Nation, 50 miles north of Flagstaff, and 75 miles south of Page and Lake Powell.

Menu: Whenever you arrive, there’s going to be a meal waiting for you. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all on the menu at the Cameron Trading Post Restaurant. With a mix of Native American, Mexican, and down-home American specialties, you’re spoiled for choice.

Burgers and sandwiches, egg dishes, grilled meats and seafood at dinner, plus many dishes with a solid local accent. I strongly suggest you spring for one of the Navajo/Mexican house specialties for a unique treat.

Thoughts: Sitting all by itself in the high desert plains north of Flagstaff, beside a one-lane, 660-foot-long metal suspension bridge, you’ll find the Cameron Trading Post. The restaurant is just one part of a much larger complex.

The post was first established in 1916 as a commercial center where the local Navajo and Hopi tribal members could bring their rugs, jewelry, pottery, and sheep to trade for food and other provisions. As the roads improved and travel to the Grand Canyon began to boom, Cameron became a popular stopping point before turning off onto Desert View Drive for the trip to the South Rim of the Canyon.

Today, the compound boasts a motel, RV park and campground, a grocery store, post office, gas station, and an enormous gift shop. There’s also The Gallery, which houses some of the most beautiful, world-class Navajo, Hopi, and Pueblo rugs, pottery, jewelry and other crafts for sale, very high-end stuff.

But it’s the restaurant you want. Enter through the main entrance and walk straight through the gift shop toward the back of the building. The hostess desk is just past the restrooms.

And then smile at the lovely room and the beautiful view of the Little Colorado River Gorge just beyond the picture windows. With a high ceiling covered in vintage pressed tin, antique cabinetry from a century-old apothecary, walls draped with quality Navajo rugs, basketry and art, a cozy stone fireplace for cooler days and evening—they all add up to a comfortable space.

But what about the food? Well, in a word, it’s delicious, especially if you order one of the house specials.

My go-to is always the one dish with an almost cult-like following, one regulars will drive a hundred miles and more for—the Navajo Taco. Far and away the #1 bestseller on the menu, it begins with a bottom layer of Navajo Fry Bread, a fried flatbread that comes out golden on the outside, puffy and light on the inside. It is then heaped high with layers of ground beef, chili beans, lettuce, shredded cheese, chopped tomato, and mild green chilis. It makes for a delectable pile. A vegetarian version is also available without the beef.

WARNING: Unless you are really, really hungry or you have a fridge or other place to store leftovers, order a half order. It will likely still be more than you want to eat at one meal.

Other popular specialties at lunch and dinner include the Navajo Beef Stew, thick with chunks of beef, and the Navajo French Dip, thin-sliced roast beef piled high on fry bread with Swiss cheese and grilled onions, with au jus for dipping, and a whole roasted green chile on the side. There’s a range of burgers, including one served on fry bread, and the Chile Cheeseburger Arizona Style, served open-faced and topped with chile beans, melted cheese, and bacon.

Dinner includes everything on the lunch menu but adds some perfect steaks, salmon and grilled trout as well as some more south-of-the-border dishes such as pork tamales and enchilada plates.

Desserts are also yummy and interesting. My favorite is the Highway 89 Landslide, a Navajo fry bread—yep, there it is again—topped with a mountain of vanilla ice cream, chocolate and raspberry sauce, and whipped cream. There’s always a choice of fresh home-made pies. And if they have their peach cobbler the day you are there, don’t hesitate. Just order it.

At breakfast, you can choose from lots of omelets and other egg dishes – I love the Eggs Benedict Mexicano where pepper jack cheese and a spicy red chile salsa replace the hollandaise. For big eaters, pair your eggs with steak, a pork chop, or a country-fried steak smothered in sausage gravy. There’s oatmeal and waffles, hotcakes or blue corn pancakes. But I recommend the house special Prickly Pear French Toast—two slices sandwiched around a filling of cream cheese and prickly pear cactus jelly. (If you love the jelly, you can buy some to take home in the gift shop.)

NOTE: No alcohol is served at the Cameron Trading Post Restaurant or sold on the property. There’s a nice range of cold drinks and sodas plus coffees, teas, and hot chocolate. Plus, they make killer milkshakes. Try the Cactus Jack milkshake, made with prickly pear syrup and fruit. It’s likely not something you’ll find at home.

From late spring through early fall, prime tour bus season, the dining room can get crowded at mid-day. Try to arrive before or after lunch throngs. If you don’t have that choice, don’t worry. The room is large, and tables turn over fairly quickly. Service is friendly and efficient, no matter how busy it gets. Most of the servers are Native Americans from the nearby reservations.

Before or after your meal, take time to stroll through the beautiful gardens, planted in the 1930s. Wander the pathways paved and walled in sandstone past blooming roses and chrysanthemums, daisies and marigolds and honeysuckle. Considering the miles of desert you drove through to get here, the lush gardens seem like a magical oasis.

Price Range: Since you are basically in the middle of nowhere here, prices are on the high side. But portions are huge. And you can ask for a half portion. Breakfast dishes range from $7.99-16.99, and lunch from $9.99-12.99. For a full dinner, expect to pay about $10.99-$15.99 for most main dishes, or up to a high of $27.99 for a prime rib plate.

Donna Meyer

Donna Meyer is a freelance travel writer and the creator of Nomad Women, a blog to inspire older women travelers to get out and see more of the world. When she is not traveling the world--and eating everything in sight--she lives in San Miguel de Allende, in central Mexico.

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