For all of the adventuring Sharon and I do, we tend to be creatures of habit. If we find a place we like, we’re loyal to it. For this reason we end up going to the same three restaurants every time we visit Schlitterbahn. Besides the fact that we like them a lot, when visiting places we’ve been to before we know what we’re going to get.
So when we were going back to the Grand Canyon ten years after our last trip, I was curious to see if one place I remembered was still open. As it turned out, they were and have expanded quite a bit since our visit a decade ago.
We Cook Pizza and Pasta
605 N State Route 64
We Cook Pizza and Pasta is located in the town of Tusayan, AZ. This is the small cluster of hotels, restaurants and stores located just outside the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park. Here’s the history of the restaurant from their website:
The tradition began its humble course in 1981, on the dreams of Wayne and Margi Cook. The Cooks were spending their summer season in a small RV camper parked in the adjoining campground, while they operated a small motorbike tour business. When the nearby ‘Chicken Shak Restaurant’ failed and became available, Wayne and Margi grabbed the opportunity to become pizza restaurateurs– Wayne would toss the pizzas, Margi would ring up the orders and serve the pizzas– and “We Cook Pizza” was born.
Our last trip to the Grand Canyon was with an Adventures by Disney tour and we stayed at a hotel in Tusayan (note: Adventures by Disney now stays at Grand Canyon Park lodgings). For one of our evenings we needed to pick a place to eat, and our guides presented our choices. There were only 3-4 places to eat in Tusayan including the McDonalds, the hotel restaurant and We Cook Pizza and Pasta. As a group we decided to go for a pizza party. Our guides thought this was funny as we were an “adult only” tour and we picked the same place the kids on the tour always went for. It was a fun night as we all sat there talking about our day of seeing the canyon, and enjoying some pizza (and a few pitchers of beer, as well). During dinner, our guide gave us a bit of insight into the seemingly odd name for the restaurant, based on the owners’ name, Wayne E. Cook (WE COOK). See what he did there?
Fast forward to 2017 and this time Sharon and I were staying in Grand Canyon Village which is a 10-15 minute drive from Tusayan, Driving to our hotel, we passed through Tusayan and noticed that the area had expanded significantly over the last decade. There were several more hotels and many new restaurants which now included two steakhouses, several Mexican locations, a Wendy’s, and Pizza Hut in addition to the McDonald’s. We decided to go for pizza since we had fond memories of our trip to We Cook Pizza and Pasta and reviews were still favorable getting 3 & 1/2 stars on Yelp! and it’s rated the #3 restaurant in Tusayan by TripAdvisor, with a rating of 3 & 1/2 circles. We waited until our last night at the Grand Canyon to drive to Tusayan for dinner, as we really didn’t want to give up our parking spot.
When we entered the parking lot, we noticed the restaurant had expanded significantly since our last visit. The first noticeable change was the sign. A vast improvement over the old one shown above.
Once inside, the ordering system proved to be quite simple but many guests seemed to be confused by it. The way it works is you first stand in line to place you order and pay. You make your selections before getting to the front of the line by looking at the menu on the wall. The restaurant features a large selection of pizza, pasta, sandwiches, wings and salads.
After paying, you’re then given a number that’s called when your pizza or pasta order is ready. I guess some of the confusion was due to there being several foreign tourists in line when we arrived. They didn’t know what size the pizzas were (listed in inches) and the ordering system was not familiar to some of them. Another issue was the print on the menu was quite small (I needed my glasses to read it). In addition, the ordering line wasn’t very organized. When the line got long, it blocked the entrance to the patio seating so people carrying pizzas had to keep cutting across the line. I guess having a long line to place orders is a nice problem to have, but still somewhat inconvenient for everyone. All of these were minor problems and didn’t change our experience..
Despite the number of choices available, Sharon and I kept our order simple; one 14″ inch pizza and two beers. Our beers were served immediately and we headed to a table. The seating in the secondary/newer dining room (which serves as a patio in the summer but was enclosed when we visited due to the cold weather) consisted of long picnic style tables with bench seating. Since it was only the two of us, we found a bit of empty space, asked if it was available, and sat down. It took a while, maybe 10-15 minutes, before our pizzas were ready. I picked them up and brought them to the table. We stuck with our regular pizza order, the Pizza Margherita. (I’m not saying anything but we didn’t have any leftovers)
I don’t think a picture could sum up our experience any better. This isn’t a fancy place. They have mugs of cold beer and pizza you eat off of paper plates. It’s not cheap but remember that you’re at the Grand Canyon and no place is going to be cheap. It’s a place you can go after a long day of hiking without having to worry about going back to your room to change clothes first. The pizza is good and much better than your other choices in the area, like Pizza Hut. Remember that we’re from NY/NJ and tend to be pizza snobs. I think it’s just a combination of the food with being hungry after walking at the Grand Canyon all day that makes the pizza, pasta, wings and beer here taste that much better.
We mentioned to the staff when were getting ready to leave (we were one of the last guests to leave, as Tusayan rolls up the carpets at a quite early 9PM) that we had visited 10 years earlier and we made sure to return. She was (overly) thrilled by this tidbit of information and said that was “so cool we wanted to come back” She said that she would be sure to tell her manager who loves to hear stories like this from guests.
Considering that the choices in Tusayan are somewhat limited, I would gladly eat here again. It’s a solid pick in a location where many operators are satisfied to just phone it in for a captive audience. Being in operation over 35 years, I’m looking forward to eating at We Cook Pizza and Pasta again the next time we’re at the Grand Canyon.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary