Horny Toad

The quirky restaurant has become a staple in Cave Creek in its 45 years of business.

 

The Horny Toad, as quirky as its sounds, has become a staple of Cave Creek since its inception as the oldest original restaurant in town. 

Celebrating its 45th anniversary Friday, Sept. 17, to Sunday, Sept. 19, The Horny Toad will offer music, prizes, T-shirt giveaways and discounts on fried chicken dinners and beer.

Founded by “Crazy” Ed Chilleen in 1976, the eatery is named after the area’s desert-dwelling horned toads. It was then passed on to the Price family, who operated it until Nichole Morris took it over in 2017. While the ownership may have changed, the restaurant remains almost entirely the same.

“We have older people who’ve been coming in here since it opened,” Morris said. 

“Some people say they have their birthday dinner here every year. We’ll get people who come in and haven’t been in since they were kids and they used to come in with their grandparents or something. It’s kind of nostalgic for a lot of people. They’ll walk in and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe this is still here,’ or recognize some decoration or picture that’s hanging on the wall.”

Morris said consistency is the secret to long-standing success. People may come for the silly name or quirky building, but they return for the comfort food.   

The Horny Toad is perhaps best known for its fried chicken dinner ($12.99 for a half chicken), which is made from scratch, “plucked and fresh, never frozen” and broasted in a pressure cooker, according to Morris. 

The restaurant has stayed true to its roots, keeping the recipes and even some of the staff since it opened 45 years ago.

“Back then in Cave Creek, there weren’t a lot of restaurants,” Morris said. “So, it’s had the same name, most of the same menu and the same recipes. We have one chef still here from 1981, Carmelo. One of the server bartenders, Misty, has been here for over 30 years. So, it’s got a kooky name and people like it because it’s a family restaurant and most of the food is made in house. We don’t have a lot of premade items.

“If you came in and had fried chicken when you were 8 years old, you can have it again when you’re 40,” Morris added.

Besides its famous fried chicken, other menu favorites include fried cod (16.99), barbecue ($12.99 to $28.99 depending on menu choice) and strawberry shortcake ($5.99 for half). According to Morris, the restaurant also makes its own barbecue sauce and cooks everything on a mesquite charcoal grill. The flavor has earned it several different awards for its food, sauce and dessert.

The Horny Toad has a line of merchandise with its logo on items like hats, T-shirts and shot glasses. Customers can also pick up a bottle of Horny Toad’s award-winning hot sauce or barbecue sauce. Another creative move is the Cave Creek Christmas Company store inside the restaurant, the Maricopa County’s only year-round Christmas store. It has everything from cactus ornaments to ASU nutcrackers. With desert temperatures, tourists and locals frequent the shop to lift their spirits. 

While it’s safe to say The Horny Toad offers a full family-friendly (or pet-friendly, thanks to its outside patio) excursion, it makes sure to cater to the adult crowd. The restaurant has an all-day happy hour for beer Monday to Friday, half-priced wine bottles every Wednesday, and a $15 bucket of five domestic beers Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

The Horny Toad is known as Cave Creek’s official Vikings bar, with food and drink specials on game nights. The restaurant boasts two big screens and 11 televisions. 

The food, decor and flair aren’t the only things that have remained consistent, though. Morris said The Horny Toad stuck it out and stayed open — even during COVID-19. 

“No matter what, The Horny Toad has been open and been there,” Morris said. “We’re only closed two days a year, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I think things like that make it successful.”