This post is a bit different from my usual subject matter here, but I figure it is likely to be of interest to at least a few of my readers. I was up in Farmington a few days ago and ate at Ashkii’s Navajo Grill. I remember reading about this place when it opened a few months ago and being intrigued by the idea. Basically, it’s a Navajo-owned restaurant serving Navajo cuisine to a Navajo clientele. There are very few Navajo restaurants anywhere; I think I recall hearing about another one in Phoenix, and this Navajo Times article about Ashkii’s mentions one at the Farmington Indian Center, but those are the only other examples I can think of. There may be a few others, but it’s definitely not a prominent culinary niche anywhere. There are restaurants in the various reservation border towns that serve some Navajo dishes, but these are typically aimed at curious tourists who don’t know anything about Navajo food, and the resemblance to the sort of food that would be served in a true Navajo context varies considerably.
The interesting thing about Ashkii’s is that it is explicitly targeting a Navajo clientele, and the food is therefore made to suit Navajo tastes rather than Anglo ones. It’s been quite successful too, both in terms of the authenticity of the food and the amount of demand for it among the Navajo community in Farmington. The place was almost empty when I went there, but that was at about 2:00 pm on a weekday, not a busy time for restaurants in general. The decor is quite stylish and pleasant, and the food is indeed very authentic. I ordered a Navajo taco, since I figured it would be good to go for something very standard and traditional. It was very much the sort of Navajo taco that would be on offer at an event on the reservation rather than the kind many off-reservation restaurants offer. Mexican restaurants in particular often do their “Navajo tacos” basically the same way they do the rest of their food, with ground beef and beans smothered in melted cheese and chile sauce, the only difference being the use of frybread rather than a tortilla or sopaipilla underneath it all. This Navajo taco, however, had roast mutton rather than ground beef mixed in with the beans, shredded cheese, and raw lettuce, tomatoes, and onions piled on top. It comes with optional green chile, which I ordered and which turned out to consist of a whole roasted green chile placed on top (rather than chopped up in a sauce, which would be typical at a Mexican restaurant). It was very much a real Navajo taco, which was actually somewhat unfortunate for me since I don’t like real Navajo tacos that much and prefer the more bastardized versions attuned to Anglo or Hispanic tastes. If I went there again I think I would order something different. The menu is small, and consists entirely of dishes popular among Navajos, but the quality of the ingredients used is clearly high enough that I’m sure I could find something I liked better than a Navajo taco.
I definitely recommend Ashkii’s to anyone familiar with Navajo cuisine, and it would also be suitable for visitors looking for an exotic, “authentic” taste of the Southwest. Be forewarned, however, that this is very much a Navajo restaurant for Navajos rather than for tourists, and anyone who is not familiar with Navajo food should be cautious about what to order. In general, Navajo cuisine is very heavy and meat-based, and often rather bland. Although some dishes are derived from Mexican prototypes, the cuisine as a whole actually doesn’t resemble Mexican food very much. With that warning in mind, however, Ashkii’s is definitely an experience worth having. It’s located on Broadway in downtown Farmington, a part of town that I’ve noticed is becoming more and more Navajo-oriented recently, a noteworthy development given Farmington’s long history of being very much a white man’s town. It seems like the increasing tendency toward urbanization among Navajos is starting to have noticeable effects even in Farmington, as the growing Navajo population in town leads to more demand for Navajo-oriented businesses like Ashkii’s. I could say more about this trend, but this post is really just intended as a restaurant review, so I’ll leave that for some other time.