If you’re headed to Chinle, Arizona, chances are you are visiting Canyon de Chelly and want to know a good place to eat. Even though Canyon de Chelly is a National Monument and one of the most spectacular places to visit in the country, pickings are slim when it comes to restaurants. Let me put it this way. There’s a Denny’s and cafeteria style grub available at the Navajo owned Thunderbird Lodge. Luckily for travelers to Chinle, the Junction Restaurant, located on the main drag has damn good food, with a menu assortment that features both Navajo and “Anglo” fare.
The Junction Restaurant is the best place to eat in Chinle, Arizona
Canyon de Chelly National Monument is a protected site that contains the remains of 5,000 years of Native American remains. It’s on the Navajo Reservation. I’ve spent large swaths of time there with our good friends, Tash Terry and Elena Higgins who run the non-profit, IndigenousWays. We first traveled to Chinle during the pandemic to help IndigenousWays deliver much-needed supplies to elders, living in remote areas and unable to travel due to the risk of Covid. Luckily for us, we started out each day with blue corn pancakes, served up piping hot at the Junction Restaurant.
The most famous item on the Junction menu? Their legendary White House Burrito.
The Junction has an expansive breakfast menu, with just about everything your heart desires and is the kind of place that will make bacon to your exact specification of crispiness. Perhaps the most famous item on the Junction’s breakfast menu is their legendary White House Burrito. Named after the Anasazi ruin in Canyon de Chelly (that was built out of lighter-colored clay than other buildings) it’s a whopper of a burrito. The filling is scrambled eggs, your choice of sausage or bacon, all topped with gooey, melted cheese, tomatoes, sausage gravy and red or green chile. The Junction serves it with a side of hash browns which soon meld into the collapsing White House burrito structure. Warning, call ahead if you’re pining for the Burrito – it’s not sold on weekends.
On your way into Chinle and throughout the reservation, you can’t help but notice that sheep are everywhere. There is a Navajo mantra, Diné bí’ íína. Loosely translated, this means “Sheep is Life.” In Diné (Navajo) philosophy, spirituality and sheep are intertwined like wool in the strongest weaving. Sheep symbolize a good life and living in harmony and balance on the land. In fact, if you are Navajo and even want to consider trying out for the coveted role of Miss Navajo, you must know how to butcher a sheep and complete the task in one hour or less. (Side note, you get an extra 50 minutes for cleaning the intestine and cutting up the meat into edible hunks.)
With this tradition of sheepherding and philosophy of sheep being life, it’ll come as no surprise that lamb and mutton stew are staples at the Junction in Chinle. The mutton stew comes piping hop with a side of traditional Navajo Fry Bread. Fry Bread is more chewy than doughy and delicious when dunked in the broth. The Junction also makes a terrific Roast Lamb Sandwich.
The Junction Restaurant is attached to the Best Western, right on Main Street in Chinle. Do call ahead to check their hours of operation. Unfortunately, on weekends they are only open in the mornings from 8 am to 4 pm. They close every weeknight at 8 pm.
Psst. Want an off-the-beaten tip on Navajo weavers? Know how I mentioned, sheep is life? So is traditional weaving from sheep wool, still today by many Navajo. There’s an amazing family of weavers who call themselves the Spider Rock Girls, who live and weave not far from the Junction Restaurant. Sisters Larissa and Laramie Blake along with their mother Emily Blake continue to weave extraordinary rugs in their family hogan, above the canyon in the Spider Rock area. They can often be found at the Chinle Flea Market on Fridays from 11 am on. Daughter Laramie sells her trendy clever t-shirts there. My favorite? “Not enough Sage for this Sh*t.” Their rugs are not flea market finds but true works of art, worthy of an investment. The smallest rugs sell for $300, and the price goes into the thousands. I love the way they weave their family history into their rugs. They don’t have a shop but are willing to sell their rugs to serious collectors or buyers. The best way to reach out is through daughter Laramie’s graphic design shop, Reztastic.com.