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What is a cheese crisp? A closer look at the unique Arizona appetizer

We take a closer look at the popular appetizer and explain what makes up a cheese crisp.

PHOENIX — If you've spent any amount of time in Arizona, chances are you've made your way to one of the many Mexican food restaurants in the state.

From Phoenix to Tucson, you don't have to go far for a fix of tacos, rice and beans, or even a savory green chili burro or red chili tamale. While many states across the desert southwest have a wide array of Mexican-themed offerings, there is one menu item that is a unique Arizona staple.

Say hello to the cheese crisp. 

So what exactly is a cheese crisp? Well, a simple explanation is to think of it as an open or flat Quesadilla. It's made with just melted cheese, butter and a crispy tortilla. But unlike the Quesadilla, cheese crisps are made with large, thin flour tortillas, not corn tortillas.

Sometimes called "Sonoran Quesadillas" according to the Simply Recipes website, people oftentimes also add toppings like green chiles for more flavor.

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Not much is known about the origins of this appealing appetizer, but on the website, "Everyday Southwest," the author claims cheese crisps originated in the Tucson area and made its way up to the Valley.

This popular appetizer is a staple at the Casa Reynoso restaurant in Tempe. Manager and Cook Joanne Reynoso said the dish has been part of her family's restaurant for decades.

"We've been in the business since 1981," Reynoso proclaimed. "But my nana started making cheese crisps in 1938."

She also said she has a theory of how cheese crisps came to be. And it centers around the tortilla.

"When you make tortillas, the next day they aren't as soft as they were," Reynoso explained. "So you crisp them up and do something with them."

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Nowadays, the crisps are made with fresh tortillas, but nothing goes to waste in the Reynoso kitchen or in the Mexican culture, so making cheese crisps was the perfect use for extra tortillas back in the day.

When asked why she thinks the crisps are so popular with customers, she thought about it and smiled.

"It's just one of those go-to things with salsa over it," she said. 

Looks like cheese crisps will continue to be a go-to appetizer for years to come.

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