HOME > Chowhound > Southwest >


Planning A Chow Tour of Tucson

Years ago, I lived down in Tucson. I haven't been back in quite some time, and a friend just invited me down to stay for a couple of days. Naturally, this has me thinking about all of the great places that I used to go to eat, and how they're all holding up. So far for the gotta-go-there places, I have Cafe Poca Cosa, Feast, Mi Nidito, Beyond Bread, eegee's (the recent eegee's thread is the one that spawned this one, actually) and Mt. Lemmon Cafe. Are there any other places that you think a visitor to Tucson absolutely HAS to visit, whether a special occasion place or that little spot all the locals know about?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I don't know if you are into coffee or beer. If so, I recommend Coffee X-Change on Campbell and the Nimbus brewery down around 34th Street and Dodge. You really have to be a local to find Nimbus -- it's virtually impossible for an out-of-towner. I've been there 4-5 times over the years and it still takes me 45 minutes to locate it (being a guy, of course I can't call for directions).

    Mi Nidito has its Clinton claim to fame. I liked El Dorado down in the next block but it's been many years since I've been there. Farther south on 4th Ave, near 36th Street just past the old dog track is Micha's. I had a yummy lunch there recently and many locals swear by it as the best of that genre and neighborhood. Excellent machaca. For carne seca, though, the original El Charro downtown is the place. They hang it in an A-frame cage that's screened to keep birds out and literally run it up the flagpole to dry it in the sun. Sabroso!

    1 Reply
    1. re: misohungrychewlow

      Coffee X-change sucks. Go across the street to Raging Sage, trust me.

    2. We spent some time down there last week. One place we wandered into and really really really loved was a Guatamalen place called Maya Quetzal on 4th Ave. We went in at opening but it was quickly packed for lunch so must be popular. I asked my sister who used to live there if she knew it and she said "oh yeah, I LOVED that place. I'm so glad they're still in business!"

      Definitely worth a visit for some cheap and cheerful DELICIOUS chow.

      3 Replies
      1. re: ziggylu

        I also had a great experience at Maya Quetzal last time I was in Tucson. It was my first experience with Guatemalan food and my only source for it until I found out about Grill El Quetzal in Mesa.

        Maya Quetzal
        429 N 4th Ave Apt 5, Tucson, AZ 85705

        1. re: silverbear

          How does the place in Mesa compare? We were wondering if there was anywhere similar here in Phoenix as we don't get to Tucson as often as we'd like...

          1. re: ziggylu

            I'd say the food is quite good at both restaurants. Maya Quetzal in Tucson has a broader menu with more vegetarian options. It's clearly targeting a U of A crowd given its location on 4th Ave. Grill El Quetzal, on the other hand, is more focused on serving the local Central American population. It's in an unglamorous strip mall and has a more straightforward menu. I like them both, but they are different.

            Grill El Quetzal
            1933 W Main St, Mesa, AZ 85201

      2. El Torero
        Sausage Deli / Baggins / Rincon Market lunch
        Robert's for breakfast
        Special Occasion Janos or the more casual J-Bar or Ventana Room on Hunt's review
        I can not remember the name of the Coffee place that is now next to Dirtbags

        4 Replies
        1. re: Molto E

          Crave Espresso is new, and has wonderful coffees and pastries! Definitely worth a visit: www.craveesspressobar.com

          Our favorite modeartely upscale place is Primo in the StarrPass Marriott (call for reservations, though) and be sure to save room for the zeppole! http://local.yahoo.com/details?fr=dd-...

          1. re: Molto E

            Thanks for mentioning Roberts.

            Roberts brings back memories. Esp because the last meal I shared with my grandmother who died this spring was a to-go meal from Roberts.

            Its still painful but at the same time a real and lovely memory. Amazing what food can do...

            1. re: HomeCookKirsten

              That is a nice memory and Robert's has been there for so many people to share that warm experience...was there some pie in that to-go order :)

          2. El Guero Canelo for Sonoran hot dogs. And Pat's Drive-in for chili dogs and superb fries.

            1. Casa Molina (east side) is one of my favorite restaurants in the world, hands down.

              1. I always really enjoy the paninis at Chow Bella on University. The options are fairly standard (chicken parm, chicken/artichoke/pesto, a few prosciutto options, etc.), but I think that they're done very well and are some of the better paninis I've had. Very large, dense sandwiched with delicious bread and always grilled/pressed very nicely. If in the area and looking for a good sandwich, I'd recommend it.

                2 Replies
                1. re: crsin

                  Hm, I hadn't heard of it yet. Mentioning University does bring to mind a quick service Chinese joint that I frequented all the way through college... Oriental Express, up on the second floor of the building across the street from the University's main gate. I almost lived on their General Tso's Chicken, Mongolian Beef, and house lo mein for more than a couple of years. The last I knew, there was tons of rebuilding going on around that area; has OE survived?

                  Oriental Express Restaurant
                  982 E University Blvd, Tucson, AZ 85719

                  1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                    Sorry, can't help much with that one (never tried it), although I believe that the majority of the consuction that went on in that specific region of university has been on the opposite corner. Looks like the other asian place a couple of stores down (on the street level) has recently vacated (not sure if sold or remodeling).

                2. Casita de Cecilia
                  6308 S. Nogales Hwy. #4, Tucson, AZ 85706
                  Tel: 520-573-2983

                  absolutely unstoppable. near the airport. top of the pops- in a trailer by the side of the road. serious chow spot. enjoy fb

                  1. For uniquely Tucson places I would suggest:

                    Frank's for a great breakfast with lots of locals. On Pima just west of Alvernon.

                    Cup Cafe at the Hotel Congress - this is very much a Tucson kinda place, unlike Primo which is at a Marriott resort.

                    Breakfast or lunch at Tohono Chul Park. The food is very good and the surroundings are fabulous.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: DriverPhil

                      I love both Cup Cafe and Primo for dinner, but for very different reasons, since they're very different restaurants. Why either/or? - do them both, or do them all! (BTW: I also like Frank's, Blue Willow, and Cafe Jasper for breakfast - and they're very different.)

                      1. re: DriverPhil

                        Yeah, I would second Frank's. It's a must-stop for me whenever I go down.

                      2. Just came back from visiting my cousin in Tucson. It was really really hot!(Aug 11).It was about 102 degrees and humid. She took me on a bus tour of the Mexican eateries on the South side of the city. We went to a great bakery called La Estrella, tacos at El Merrendero, Ceviche and fish tacos at La Costa Brava, Hot Dogs and Carne asada at El Guero Canelo and then these cool fruit, ice cream, and shaved ice desserts called raspados. Each place was pretty much a winner. Family owned and not tourist traps. Each owner actually gives a tour/orientation prior to eating. I ate so much food I willprobably have to walk the dog a lot the next few days. it was put on the by the local Grayline in Tucson.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: italianscallion

                          Thanks Italianscallion for sharing the bus tour stops - I saw an item in the paper this week about the tour and was interested but wasn't sure I was on board (literally) with the bus thing, but wanted to know where they stopped.

                        2. Lots of good suggestions already, so I'll just trhow out a few personal favorites that haven't been mentioned already:

                          Laverna's for breakfast
                          Pats Chili Dogs
                          Pho 88

                          1. If your tour puts your digestion out of whack, I recommend the fried steak fingers from the Lucky Wishbone!

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: azhotdish

                              To put it more out of whack? Those things were nasty, even when I was in college. Instead how about the jalapeno-cheese curly fries at East Coast Super Subs. That'll put ya right!

                              1. re: ajs228

                                Yep, nothing like the Lucky Wishbone to clean out your system. ;)