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Sep 6, 2007 07:17 PM

Restaurants between Tucson & Phoenix

And while I'm posting. . . although we live in Scottsdale, we frequently get together with people who winter in Tucson. Does anyone know of decent restaurants located more or less equally between the two cities that we both could drive to?

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  1. HOW long have you lived in Scottsdale????? (I did just hear about a new wine bar around Casa Grande, but can't recall the name. Anyone?) Seriously, your best bet would be to drive to Tucson for dinner and consider a B&B for the night.

    1. Do you have lots of money/time? Kai is close to an hour and a half north of Tucson, so it may not be a good choice for your friends, but it'll make you drive as well, so you shouldn't feel too guilty.

      Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa
      N Iron Horse Way, Phoenix, AZ 85086

      1. If you're into unpretentious Sonoran-style Mexican food, Mi Amigo Ricardo in Casa Grande is a good choice.

        Mi Amigo Ricardo
        821 E Florence Blvd, Casa Grande, AZ 85222

        3 Replies
        1. re: silverbear

          I second silverbear's recommendation. Mi Amigo has been around forever and is consistently good. There's also Eva's Mexican Food just off of I-10 right outside of Casa Grande. I've eaten there a few times on my way to and from Phoenix.

          Honestly, there isn't much between the two cities once you get outside of the city limits of each. After Casa Grande, it's pretty quiet until the very northern edges of Tucson. Unless, of course, you want to check out the Dairy Queen across the highway from Picacho Peak. ;-)

          Eva's Mexican Food Restaurant
          7087 S Sunland Gin Rd, Eloy, AZ 85231

          1. re: pickychick

            I think the worst Mexican food experience I've ever seen was Eva's. It has a fun, kitchy atmosphere, but the food was so thoroughly mediocre as to be bad. Not burnt bad, just thoroughly boring. The salsa wasn't so bad, though.

            1. re: ibsulon

              LOL! Yes, boring can be bad. My food hasn't been THAT boring there, but I agree that it isn't exciting. It is however, better than most of the fast food places and gas station fare surrounding it.

        2. Cracker Barrel! They have great Chicken Fried Chicken. Although not noted for such, their cheeseburgers are great! -BnF

          1. As a Casa Grande resident for the past year, I have to disagree with all of these replies. I haven't been there myself, but I have heard from everyone who has that Mi Amigo Ricardo is NOT good. And Cracker Barrel - why go some place where you can eat anywhere when there are SO many good local restaurants in town? Plus, see the review below.

            And there are some GREAT restaurants here. The most upscale place is probably BeDillon's, in an old museum/house with a lovely garden in a residential area near downtown. (If you call Information for the number, you will probably get "Dillon's Museum" - that's the right place. But here it is anyway: 520-836-2045.)

            Local favorites include the Cook E. Jar, a diner, and Cynthia's, a Mexican place - both downtown and friendly with good, creative, reasonable food. Dell's Pizza, just south of the post office on Pinal, usually has good pizza but only a small selection of beers. It's a fun place to play trivia and watch TV, though. (There's apparently trivia at McMasher's, another sports bar on Florence, too.) Curbside Cafe, on Cottonwood near Pinal, is another good coffee shop, with great soups (I've heard) and neat flavors of coffee, such as butterscotch, and smoothies, such as pear. We also have a Macayo's now (an Arizona chain, if you don't know) that is still getting its act together. The service has improved, but the food isn't quite as good as it should be yet. And if you INSIST on visiting chain restaurants, we do have a Mimi's and a [good Mexican place whose name is absolutely escaping me right now] at the new mall now (and a Red Lobster and Olive Garden and In-N-Out Burger and Ah-So Steak & Sushi coming soon), and a Chili's on Florence (also exit 194 off the I-10), where you'll see that most of our restaurants are found.

            Here are some other places that my husband Dennis and I "reviewed" on our personal website shortly after we moved in, although we haven't had time to update it with those others yet:

            [Our many favorites, which we visit over and over again, are marked with an asterisk (*). Also note that many local restaurants have what we would call wacky hours - meaning that they are closed on Sundays and Mondays and only open until 7 p.m. during the week. So call first, or you'll end up driving around deserted streets feeling annoyed - and we don't want you to add that feeling to all the other misconceptions about this great little town.]

            *Bandana's Grill & Deli
            913 E 8th St (corner of Florence & Gilbert)

            Thurs., 7/5/07, lunch: We had a heck of a time finding a place that was open today because of the holiday; even Bandana's, which is usually open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, closes at 2 p.m. all week. You order and pick up your food at the counter; then the food is freshly (but a little slowly) prepared to order - and quite delicious. The staff is friendly and responsive. (We got a phone call and had to leave shortly after we arrived, so they willingly packed up our food to go for us.) The prices are reasonable for what you get, as you can buy one menu item with a side and a beverage for about $10 with tax. The decor is also lovely - like a gardener's cabin. Bandana's serves an array of soups, salads, creative sandwiches, down-home sides, and good-looking desserts, all in generous quantities. I had to work on finishing my meal all afternoon. They also offer free delivery and lovely garden patio rentals for business gatherings and special occasions. Open for breakfast. [I would recommend the chicken salad sandwich here myself.] 4 stars [out of 5]

            Big Wa Chinese Restaurant
            519 E Florence Blvd

            Sat., 4/21/07, dinner: We got take-out from Big Wa, on a recommendation from a retail store employee nearby, and it was pretty good. We liked that the Orange Chicken came with the chicken separate from the sauce to keep it from getting soggy, but Dennis notes that the sauce was pretty bland and watery too. The ingredients seemed fresh, and their inclusion was proportional in most of the dishes, although one - the Happy Family, with multiple kinds of meat and vegetables - had only two mushrooms in the entire quart. The supposedly spicy dish was not actually all that spicy either. 3 1/2 stars

            *Cafe de Manuel
            1300 N Pinal Ave (between McMurray and Florence)

            Sat., 7/21/07, dinner: We were fortunate enough to go on the night when a live mariachi band makes their weekly appearance at this restaurant [after 7 p.m.]. They were great fun. Once they came over to our table, and one of the band members sat down and serenaded our son, who was embarrassed and tickled at the same time. Then they played some kids' songs so that he could sing along and complimented him on his pitch. It was all that he could talk about for the rest of the night. At another time, the female band member danced with one of the other customers. Meanwhile, the service, although sometimes slow, was cordial, if a little obsessed with the law. It was at this restaurant that I first heard of a supposed Arizona law that requires restaurants to get customers' signatures in a book when their IDs are checked to reduce liability in case of drunken driving. Privacy implications aside, I also noticed a crime reporting number posted on the door - and an S (for Satisfactory, rather than the usual E for Excellent) rating from the county posted near the register. Maybe they're just still smarting from that, as I've never seen a restaurant with less than an E before. But the food was wonderful, from the incredible salsa to the large Mexican pizza appetizer (a little soggy toward the middle) to the spicy, savory, high-quality entrees. We will definitely return. 4 stars

            *Cafe Grande
            1659 E Florence Blvd

            Sat., 7/7/07, lunch: Everything was excellent at this restaurant: the food, the service, the ambiance. There were samples of some of the Greek food on the counter. They were notable for their perfect texture - flaky crusts and chunky fillings - and their wonderful flavors. Dennis much enjoyed a gyro. The turkey bacon sandwich - primarily because of the excellent pesto mayonnaise that they used on it - was incredible. The mango smoothie was delicious. I also enjoyed the pictures on the wall and the table of flyers, brochures, and business cards from local merchants. WiFi and drive-thru available. 4 stars

            Cracker Barrel
            2281 E Florence Blvd

            Thurs., 4/13/07, lunch: We were seated right away. Dennis had the meatloaf sandwich, which he enjoyed. I had the beef stew, which was also good, although the potatoes were incredibly hot. One of my side dishes, though, was mashed potatoes with gravy; when I tried to eat it - not long after its arrival, since we were in a hurry - the gravy had formed a rubbery film over the top. It looked like Saran Wrap. Yuck. (Dennis indicates that this place tends to be better known for its breakfasts; however, my mom and I had always liked it for its side dish combo meal, which no longer appears to be on the menu.) 2 1/2 stars

            *Creative Cafe
            1420 N Trekell Rd

            The service was a little sketchy at first - four different people took my drink order, and it was still quite some time before it actually arrived - but nevertheless, we really enjoyed this restaurant. The beverage selection - from a wide range of expresso drinks to some nice wine options - is impressive. Otherwise, the restaurant mostly offers sandwiches, but some of them are distinctive and very enjoyable. I had the Albacore Tuna with green apple chunks, which was wonderful, and a cup of tortilla soup, which was thick with multicolored tortilla pieces and cheese. The decor is lovely: bright colors and matching and appealing accent pieces. They do catering as well. 4 stars

            *Golden Corral Buffet & Grill
            2082 E Florence Blvd

            Sun., 4/29/07, breakfast: This buffet restaurant has a pleasant small town feel - for instance, a steady stream of local law enforcement ate there at the same time that we did, and I got into several spontaneous conversations with other customers, all of whom were courteous and friendly, while I stood in the very slow omelette line - and a fair selection of food. Unfortunately, little of it is particularly appealing, to the eye or to the palate. My omelette was good, but little else was - much of the food was cold - and even my son could find almost nothing, besides the cold cereal and the desserts, to get very excited about. The restaurant looks a lot like a cafeteria in layout and seating as well. 2 1/2 stars

            Sat., 7/28/07, dinner: Our second visit to this restaurant was more satisfying. The dinner buffet looked great, especially since on this particular night it included steak - although it couldn't be cooked less than medium-well and was far from lean. The soups in particular were delicious, everything that we tried was hot and fresh, and the service was excellent. 3 stars

            [Watch out for dirty plates, though - especially by the desserts.]

            *Hong Kong Kitchen
            314 E Florence Blvd

            Dennis was excited about this place because they have moo-shu, which Lucky Sushi (below) doesn't, and they offer huge quantities for low prices. We could all three of us probably have shared one or two dishes and an appetizer rather than the three that we got. The restaurant is a lot more spacious than Lucky Sushi as well. What is marked as spicy is spicy, but they can also prepare it without that spiciness if you prefer. For instance, we got orange chicken, as usual - this time because it's our son's new favorite - and it was pleasantly crispy but a little too doughy and with a sauce so sticky that it was gooey, which got old fast. Dennis found it too bland without the spice. He also would have liked to have rolled his own moo-shu, but here it came ready-to-eat. Meanwhile, I got a beef dish that could have had a little more beef and a glass of red wine that I enjoyed but Dennis found distasteful. An amusing decor - a mix of East and West with silk flower arrangements and Mexican ice cream for sale. I wasn't that impressed, but he enjoyed it, so we'll probably go back. Beer also available. 3 1/2 stars

            *Lucky Sushi & Chinese Restaurant
            1350 E Florence Blvd

            Two visits, early summer 2007, dinner: Despite its name and outside appearance, which suggest a cheap dirty quasi-Chinese joint, this place is great. The decor IS amusingly distinctive, with strings of lights in the windows and a pot of fiber optic flowers at the booth where we always end up sitting. Both the sushi and the Chinese food are excellent, though, and the quantities are quite generous for the price (particularly the complete dinner options). We have yet to order anything that is not fresh, flavorful, well-prepared, plentiful, and served in a timely manner and at an appropriate temperature, although on our second trip we were a little annoyed to have our appetizers delivered while we were still working on our soup, with our entrees right behind them. We enjoyed a very good bottle of saki the last time too though. 4 1/2 stars

            Rico Donuts
            611 E Florence Blvd

            Tues., 7/24/07, breakfast: Because it's billed as the "best donuts in town" (although as far as we can tell, they're the only doughnuts in town), Dennis and I had been talking about going to this place for a while. Finally I stopped in there one morning. There was one other customer in the quiet, dark, somewhat dingy seating area. The employee was in the back when I entered, but once she came to the front she was very nice. They have a variety of kinds and reasonable prices. I got a cream-filled eclair-style doughnut for just over $1; smaller doughnuts are as little as half that. It was very good - but still not Krispy Kreme. 3 1/2 stars

            *T&M Pizza Italian Restaurant
            1264 E Florence Blvd

            Fri., 5/4/07, dinner: Despite some online confusion about the name and location of this place, it is clearly popular, with a nice family feel to it. Everything was great here: the Creamy Italian dressing and green olives on our salads; the hot, crispy fried mushrooms appetizer; the beverage selection; the firmness of the pasta; the prompt and friendly but unobtrusive service. The bread was only faintly garlic-flavored, although that might've just been in comparison to my garlicky pasta. My linguine dish was a little too buttery for my taste, the pizza looked greasy, and the floor in front of our table had trash sitting on it throughout our entire meal. That all fit with the fact that the pizza was pretty inexpensive here; however, the entrees were about $11 apiece, which made for a surprisingly big bill. Still, we'll definitely come again. Beer and good wine available. No children's menu. 4 stars

            Also, the wine bar in CG is called Corks and is located downtown. I haven't been there yet either.

            1 Reply
            1. re: JessicaB980

              Wow - great report, Jessica! We don't get up your way very often, but I really enjoyed vicariously exploring your town through your eyes.