Sharing borders and centuries of history with both Sonora and Baja California, the Yuma area abounds with authentic sabor (flavor) and bountiful fields growing the ingredients for a truly local cuisine.

Like much of Arizona, Yuma was part of Mexico long before it was part of the United States.

Spanish explorers first arrived in 1540, and padres and pioneers from New Spain traveled to California via the Anza Trail and the Yuma Crossing in the late 1700s. Yuma and the lands south of the Gila River only became U.S. territory in 1854.

Because the border crossed us before we crossed the border, Yuma remains more diverse than the rest of the state, with about 60 percent of county residents proudly claiming Hispanic heritage.

But Yumans of all backgrounds join in bidding visitors bienvenidos y comer bien (welcome and eat well)!

While sampling Mexican food in our area can be as easy as picking up a Yuma Visitors Guide (download or request a printed copy at www.visityuma.com), here are a few ways to make it even simpler.

Plan Your Visit Around a Festival


The little farming town of Somerton will host its 5th Annual Tamale Festival December 17, 2011, with scores of vendors competing for “best” honors in a dizzying array of categories. (Did you know tamales come in sweet “dessert” varieties? Now you do!)

Sponsored by El Diabilito ASU Alumni Club, this event also helps fund local scholarships, so come hungry and eat for a cause! There will be live music and entertainment, too. Find more information at www.somertontamalefestival.com or (928) 388-4837.

To celebrate Arizona’s centennial, Yuma, San Luis and San Luis Rio Colorado (Sonora) will host the Barrier 2 Bridge arts festival Feb. 10–19, 2012.

Along with symposia, panels and forums, this multifaceted border celebration will include a Taste of San Luis tasting event and outdoor concert, as well as a guided tour of San Luis Rio Colorado with lunch, shopping and entertainment. Learn more at www.sanluisarts.com or (928) 341-8584.

For tacos in every flavor, make a date to attend the 2nd annual Yuma Taco Festival, April 14, 2012, sponsored by the City of Yuma. Good thing it’s held at Desert Sun Stadium – you’ll need to take a few laps around the bases to work off all these tasty treats. Live music, entertainment and other vendors add to the fun. For more information, call (928) 373-5040.

Take a Cooking Class


Cooking with Sabor classes at Main Street Café in Somerton use local produce in healthy versions of border cuisine – think tamales, nopales (prickly pear cactus pads), desserts and more, but minus the lard and deep-fat frying.

An offshoot of the nonprofit Regional Center for Border Health, the café’s larger mission is to promote healthy eating and empower women by providing job training in the food-service industry, so your fun afternoon supports a worthy program.

Classes are held twice weekly, January through March. Get more information from www.somertonmainstreetcafe.com or (928) 627-4744.

Join a Taco Trail Tour


For a south-of-the-border adventure that doesn’t require a Food Truck.JPGpassport, many locals enjoy a “taco truck tour,” cruising likely neighborhoods and stopping wherever smiling crowds are gathered around a food truck or grill. Fresh, made-to-order fare doesn’t get more authentic – or delicioso.

But both venues and menus change often, and you may need to order by pointing if you don’t “habla Español,” which can be a little intimidating to gringo principiantes (beginners). That’s why the Yuma Visitors Bureau is creating a series of “Taco Trail” culinary tours this year.

Though the itineraries will vary, all the Taco Trail tours will highlight authentic border fare in venues ranging from low-rent to high-falutin’. A tour could start with a salsa- and margarita-making session at Tina’s Cocina, then move on for wine and tapas at Yuma’s Main Squeeze winery, entrées at a “taco truck food court” (i.e., an open area where many trucks and vendors congregate), and end with café con leche and flan for dessert at the elegant Julieanna’s Patio Café.

Exact schedules and pricing are still in development, so check back at www.visityuma.com or (800) 293-0071 for more information.

Yuma is a great place to discover the elemental truth of the motto emblazoned over the counter at local landmark Mr. G’s: Panza llena, el corazon contento – Full belly, happy heart.

(Brought to you by the Yuma Visitors Bureau.)