Fry-bread food truck combines Native American, Mexican-American influences


Emerson Fry Bread is a regular during Food Truck Fridays in downtown Phoenix. It mixes cultures by serving Native American fry bread with Mexican-American toppings. (Cydney McFarland/DD)

Phoenix is home to a wide array of food trucks; these are their stories. To read the last installment of the Phoenix Food Trucks series, click here.

Emerson Fry Bread isn’t always the busiest food truck in the Phoenix Public Market’s lot. But its friendly workers strive to serve the best traditional Native American and Mexican food they can make.

Emerson Fry Bread started in 1967 when the father and grandfather of Loren Emerson, the current owner and operator, were in a band and needed money to continue traveling around the southwestern states playing in parades and competitions. They started selling fry bread at the Arizona State Fair to help finance their music.

Loren Emerson’s favorite memories are from working at the fair.

“My best times as a kid was going to the State Fair and seeing all my aunts and uncles and working at the truck,” Emerson said.

The Emerson Fry Bread truck is a fairly new business that Emerson started in April 2011.

“My food is a part of me from before, and I’m bringing it back,” he said fondly. “I make it to give people a piece of the good feeling I had as a kid.”

Emerson used to be on a different path in life, one that statistics said he couldn’t recover from. He grew up in the Maryvale neighborhood in Phoenix and said he was “lost in the 1990s street life.”

“Yes I did have a street life. Yes, I was a gang member. Yes, I did do prison time,” Emerson admitted. “But I’ve always loved cooking, and I knew I couldn’t come back and be the same person. I came back to be a family man.”

Emerson is proud to call himself an independent businessman.

“There’s an extreme joy of working 16 hours for yourself and having that pride to support yourself,” he said. “I was a different kid and now I’m a different man.”

The food truck’s profits vary from event to event, depending on how many people attend. But during Food Truck Fridays, Emerson said he easily serves 100 to 200 people.

Emerson is Mojave, Quechan and Mexican-American and has tried to display that mix through his menu. The menu includes many things he grew up eating, like hominy (dried corn kernels), mutton and green-chile stews along with menudo and pozole (a corn stew).

He is especially satisfied with his carne asada fry bread because it is a mix of his Native American and Mexican-American culture.

“I married carne asada and fry bread. It was an instant hit with my family, and I knew it had to be on the menu,” Emerson added.

Emerson recognizes that fry bread goes against the current health fad, but he tries to use organic food. He buys lettuce, tomatoes, onions, beans and peppers form local farms and markets, including the Phoenix Public Market and Maya’s Farm.

Emerson’s menu also includes burritos, carne asada, green chili, chicken and hot wings. But his focus is on having the best fry bread in town.

“I’m a competitor,” Emerson said. “I want to be the best or learn to be the best. The texture has to be perfect or I’m not happy with it.”

Gail Stonebarger, a psychology freshman on the Tempe campus, said her friends recommended she try the Emerson truck.

“I’m a vegetarian,” Stonebarger said. “I tried the fry bread because I wanted to taste something new.”

Sandra Solis, a Phoenix resident, came to the Emerson truck for the fry bread, which she had tried and liked in the past.

“I wanted something sweet today,” Solis said.

Emerson tries to keep it a family business by employing people such as his girlfriend, sons, sisters and niece, as well as some employees who are unrelated to him.

“I try to teach my sons hard work, that if you bust your butt, something good is going to come of it,” he said.

A tall blue trophy that Emerson won at a food competition stands outside the truck. It was held during a November Pickleball tournament in Buckeye, Ariz. Eight other trucks participated in the competition, and Emerson Fry Bread won with the best dish.

The aluminum truck is out during Food Truck Fridays and on Wednesday evenings at the Phoenix Public Market. It also spends time at Drumbeat Indian Arts, a Native American art store and trading post near East Indian School Road and North 16th Street. The truck is normally there Tuesdays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Emerson hopes to open an actual restaurant in Phoenix. He said he would like to have the restaurant at 7th Street and McDowell Road because he likes the old uptown Phoenix area.

“I know you can come from the bottom,” Emerson said. “I’m so content. That name up there is ours, that’s my family. I focus on that every day because that’s what drives me.”

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  1. Most fry breads have corn meal or corn flour in them. Does your Emerson Fry Bread have any corn in it? It looks so good!!
    Unfortunately I am allergic to corn. That is why I need to know. Major bummer for a food allergy.