It’s more than just a place with famous sticky buns.

Whether you’ve spent every Thanksgiving here for the past 50 years or have lunch with your mom here every Saturday, El Chorro has been a staple for many since it opened in 1937. 

So how did this place become one of Paradise Valley’s most popular destinations?

The property, 22 acres in total, was originally a schoolhouse built by Dr. John C. Lincoln in 1934, and it was called the Judson School for Girls. Lincoln created this school so that his daughter, Lillian, would be able to get an education while he was constructing the Camelback Inn.  

The school quickly outgrew itself as it originally was meant for Lincoln’s daughters and any workers on the property, so it combined with Judson School for Boys and became the Judson School in 1937.  

That same year, the previous home for the school was purchased by Jan and Mark Gruber and built into the El Chorro Lodge. This idea to create a restaurant and lodge near Camelback Mountain was innovative and unlike anything else in the area at the time, according to one of the operating partners of El Chorro, Kristy Moore.

“They were pioneers in those days,” Moore said. “This was the middle of nowhere.”

This place quickly became the buzzworthy local watering hole, which is how the name El Chorro came about; it means “buzzing brook” in Spanish. During the 50s, many Hollywood celebrities such as Milton Berle, Clark Gable, and other guests were welcomed at El Chorro because alcohol was not served at the Camelback Inn. They came to El Chorro to “catch a buzz.” 

Despite only being open for half of the year in those early days, El Chorro was getting more and more attention, so it soon needed more than just two guestrooms. In 1973 the property was sold to longtime employees Joe and Evie Miller and underwent an expansion, followed by being open for a full calendar year.  

Fast forward to 2009 when the property was purchased by longtime Paradise Valley resident Jacquie Dorrance, who was joined by operating partners Kristy and Tim Moore. The three decided to do an extensive remodel and closed the lodge for a year. The property needed so much work that it would have been more cost-effective to tear down everything – but they wanted to keep the rustic, comforting ambience that people have loved for so many years.

“El Chorro has a certain sweetness to it that we wanted to maintain,” Moore said.

If you’re going to El Chorro for the first time, be sure to check out the main restaurant with dishes such as salmon and the signature beef stroganoff, as well as the famous El Chorro sticky buns. After dinner, relax on the patio by the fireplace with the most cherished part of the property – the views of Camelback and Mummy Mountains.

“The beautiful greeting takes their breath away,” Moore said. “They [guests] feel like they’re at their rich aunt’s house in Santa Barbara.”

With having such a rustic and true Arizona atmosphere, it makes sense that El Chorro is the No. 1 wedding destination in the Southwest. Even though there are about 85 weddings each year – sometimes two or three at the same time – each one “feels like they are the only ones on the property,” according to Moore. “The common thread is people say ‘this is like having a wedding at home,’ only you didn’t have to do any work.”

Although El Chorro has gone through many renovations, it still has the same mission: to be a fun rendezvous spot for people to gather together and enjoy each other’s company. It has become a place people hold close to their hearts.  

Moore recounts guests saying, “El Chorro is not just a restaurant, El Chorro has been the backdrop of our lives.” And is she worried about its longevity? 

“Arizona couldn’t get rid of the Grand Canyon or Camelback Mountain, so certainly El Chorro won’t go away either.”