The search for a birthday meal took us to Hacienda del Sol Ranch Resort. We had driven to the foothills of the Catalina Mountain range on the outskirts of Tucson to this restaurant and found more that just a restaurant.
Before even thinking about the restaurant, we took time to admire the surrounding desert, the mountains, and the resort's landscaping.
Travel guides have described the Resort as a "32-acre hideaway" and "a charming and lower-price alternative to the larger resorts. Part guest ranch (there are riding stables down the road) and part resort, it's entirely gracious" (fodors.com).
To us, it seemed to be part desert park and part fine dining destination.
Our walk along the path to the restaurant took longer than expected given the short distance to travel, because the variety of cacti required further study.
We later learned that the landscape was designed by the world-renowned Dr. Andrew Weil, who constructed the 2,000 square-foot garden showcasing herbs, vegetable, fruits, and flowers. (Currently, Hacienda Del Sol’s gardens produce more than 70% of the herbs used for cooking at The Grill.)
The slow walk along this serene garden walkway set the stage for a leisurely lunch in a gracious setting.
As described on its webpage (haciendadelsol.com): "Hacienda del Sol is a historic jewel. The story began in 1929, when John and Helen Murphey created Hacienda Del Sol; a desert retreat inspired by early Moorish architecture, with many personal touches crafted by the Murpheys themselves.
"The property was originally a "home away from home" ranch school for the daughters of society's elite families. The prestigious school's roster boasted names such as Vanderbilt, Pillsbury, Maxwell, Westinghouse, and Campbell, to name a few.
"In the late 1930's, renowned architect Josias Joesler was commissioned to rebuild and redesign sections of the ranch, adding his notable signature to many architectural details.
"In 1948, Hacienda Del Sol was converted into a guest ranch that immediately attracted the Silver Screen’s most popular stars. Legend has it that the Hacienda’s Casita Grande was a favorite romantic hideaway of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Leading men John Wayne and Clark Gable both signed their names to the hotel’s illustrious guestbook.
"The guest ranch was forgotten for some time…until 1995 when fate landed the secluded property into the loving hands of a group of Tucson investors. With the vision of returning the ranch to its original glory, the owners have continually renovated and renewed Hacienda del Sol with special care. In 1997, The Grill restaurant was opened and continues to be one of Arizona’s finest dining venues.
"In 1999, a major restoration of the hotel was completed, retaining and enhancing the original integrity of the architecture and landscape.
"Today, the story continues, with simple pleasures, understated elegance, and charming hospitality at this classic Arizona inn. 'The Soul of Tucson in the Heart of the Foothills' bespeaks the desire of its Tucson owners to nurture the beauty and authenticity of this special property.
"Hacienda del Sol is included in the National Registry of Historic Places in Arizona and is pleased to be a member of Historic Hotels of America."