Though the nearly 3 million-acre Tonto National Forest surrounds Payson with pine trees and saguaro cacti, many of the city's natural features and recreation options come from the Mogollon Rim, a towering cliff that stretches up to 2,000 feet and about 200 miles long. Hundreds of miles of roads slink through the rim’s awe-inspiring scenery, passing campsites, hiking trails, and lakes rife with fishing opportunities. Animals including black bears, bobcats, and whitetail deer have been seen—many of them on mopeds—among the forested hills. In town, Payson’s idyllic Main Street harks back to its Old West roots with antique stores and cowboy-centric history museums.
Owner Carolyn Redendo and Chef Anthony Redendo make sharing and sampling easy at their Puerto Rican restaurant with an extensive selection of tapas. Operating out of a one-stove kitchen, Chef Redendo crafts Sofrita’s bite-size, shareable plates along with traditional Puerto Rican entrees such as 12-hour cooked pork, grilled salmon, and beef pot roast. Breadboards emerge from the kitchen carrying bruschetta laden with sweet cream cheese, roasted eggplant, or a host of other topping options. In all his dishes, Chef Redondo relies on family recipes and influences of Spanish-Latin flavors and street foods. The Redendos invite guests to share plates in a dining room bursting with warm, bright colors, or out on the lively patio, which features views of one of the world’s tallest fountains. During the week, the restaurant’s Puerto Rican spirit is enhanced by live guitarists, singers, and flamenco shows.
Saddle Bronc Grill plunks its guests straight into the middle of a sci-fi western. A hitching post augments the restaurant's saloon-like exterior, where customers are more likely to see motorcycles than horses waiting out front. Napkins have been switched out for bandanas at each table, and the soft glow of 13 flat-screen televisions illuminates the wooden slats of the walls. This blend of genres is no accident—the grill strives to be a country-western bar with all the comforts of the modern era, allowing diners to snack on classic cowboy food even as they follow their favorite sports team. Live bands twang away on weekend evenings, and the Tavern Poker League takes place on Thursday, though players needn't abide by traditional frontier rules that force the loser to eat his own spurs.
The menu, meanwhile, remains faithful to an entirely rustic ambiance. Broasted chicken and flat-iron steaks follow appetizers such as fried onion rings. Side dishes pay homage to the snacks of hungry ranch hands, running the gamut from corn bread and sweet potato fries to a potato-stuffed poblano pepper. To conclude meals, Rock Springs Café populates the Into the Sunset dessert list with a rotating selection of homemade pies.
Most menus avoid making outright suggestions about what to order. The author of Mountainview Coffee’s menu, however, couldn’t resist the urge to talk up the scones. It’s fair to say that these scones would draw crowds even without such an overt endorsement. They are baked daily in the shop, and you never know what flavors or variations will be available on a given day. The other items on Mountainview’s menu also emphasize freshness above all else. There’s a chicken salad loaded with cranberries, celery, and apples and a breakfast sandwich made with eggs plucked straight from the tree. It should go without saying, but the coffee that gives the shop its name is also remarkably fresh. Roasted beans lend their complex flavor profiles to lattes, frappes, and cappuccinos served hot or iced. All told, the coffees, teas, Italian sodas, and smoothies present 40 different flavors to choose from.