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tucson resto recs?

DW and I will be in Tucson for a week in July (Hell was too cold this time of year) and I'm looking for suggestions. anything from lunchwagons to high end, so long as it's real good. thanks in advance for your help

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  1. Absolutely head over to Cafe Poca Cosa. Delicious, high-end Mexican. Menu changes twice daily, nice atmosphere. I recommend the plato, which is three items off the menu ("chef's choice"), and all will likely be fantastic. Definitely some of the best food I've had in Tucson. She has a cheaper/more casual breakfast/lunch only location (Little Poca Cosa) down the street, but I've never been (although it seems to be the consensus that it's equally great). Do a search on this board (or on google), and you'll see this is an overwhelming favorite in the area.

    Maya Quetzal on 4th ave. features Guatemalan food, and is very good (from what I've tasted), and fairly cheap.

    The dining room at Arziona Inn is also great. Much more upscale than any of the options listed above, and the meal I've had there was great (their seabass, in particular, is really nice). Beautiful dining room, and the AZ Inn itself is equally beautiful and fun to spend some time at.

    There's a few recs, anyway. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to experience much of what Tucson has to offer, but a search on here will definitely give you an idea of a few of the favorites. You're likely to hear a lot about Feast, Janos, J Bar, Ventana Room, etc.

    1. Some of my favorites are Vivace (fine Italian, always very busy, so reservations are a must); North (very good Italian, reservations a good idea, but if you're 2 you can almost always get a table); The Grill at Hacienda del Sol (expensive, serious wine choices and great food in a beautiful setting); and Janos (also expensive, ditto everything else from The Grill, and the best special occasion place in town). I also like Poca Cosa and Little Poca Cosa very much.

      1. Pastiche always closes for a week in July, and this year it's after July 4th, not before.

        My short list: Poca Cosa, Feast, Cup Cafe, Primo, Fleming's.

        Check the earlier threads - lots of good recs in them.

          1. Favorites:
            Cafe Poca Cosa (best of Tucson period)
            El Sur (best cheap Mexican)
            Vila Thai (University main gate Thai, wonderful!)
            El Guero Canelo (lunchwagon burros, yum! But if you see the white La Parilla Mexicana truck, be sure to flag them down.)
            Beyond Bread (breakfast sandwiches, baguette, egg, ham, etc. Really good)
            Sakura (fresh sushi)
            Gandhi (best Indian)
            Best steak and margaritas are at my house, but you can get a decent steak at Chad's. Don't go to Pinnacle Peak. DOGFOOD.
            Carls Jr. or In and Out have best burgers

            Drinks at Arizona Inn are a must;
            North at La Encantada Mall is supposed to offer wonderful Italian.
            Hear Ventana Room is off its game.
            Ate at Gold Room/Westward Look, with incomparable views and okay pricey food. Their room rates are really good in summer, but the food is nothing to write home about. But then you are perched over the city lights on the terrace and it's real nice.
            Ate Janos Wilder's food up in Phoenix -- yum! Haven't tried his Janos or J-Bar restos in Tucson yet, but will.
            The Sonoran hotdog stand at the Food City (22nd and Country Club) offers the best in that class.
            Poco and Mom is supposed to offer wonderful New Mexican style cuisine. Having tasted my way around NM, I can say the green chile enchiladas at El Sur come very close. The price is also right, and for the whole experience (casual, cheap prices, great food, cold drinks, friendly and attentive service), El Sur is hands down my favorite for cheap Tucson Mex (around $30 for 4). If you want to double the bill, Cafe Poca Cosa is your best bet for pricey Mex (around $60 for 2).

            Hope this helps,

            2 Replies
            1. re: jillita

              Second the rec on Vila Thai. You will need to make a reservation as they can be busy or closed for private parties.

              I'd skip El Charro. Overrated.

              1. re: jillita

                Hear Ventana Room is off its game

                What a shock, at those prices! Can anyone fill in some details? TIA.

              2. awesome rec's thus far..
                Primo for sure and Signature Grill, both at JW Marriott at Starr pass.. Daisy Mae's for great steak. Theresa's Mosaic Cafe is really good family owned mexican food. Sushi Hama great sushi- Caffe Milano is very tasty and owned by husband and wife located downtown. really yummy italiano. poca cosa is always good but dissapointed last time i was there, maybe it was just an off night. if i think of more i'll b sure to post.. i know their are several more but can't think.. :-)

                6 Replies
                1. re: jess74

                  Barrio Grill is super delish too! also downtown...oh and Cafe 54 great program and tasty foods!

                  1. re: jess74

                    I just came back from a weekend visit to Tucson. I was staying with a family, so I didn't go out for every meal but here's a quick take on a couple spots we tried.

                    We went to Cafe Poca Cosa for lunch--this was my second time. I had the chilaqules with a chile colorado sauce. It was a large bowl with chile colorado flavoured broth, shredded chicken, and fried tortilla strips topped with a generous portion of ripe avocado chunks. This was one of my favourite mexican meals I've ever had and I've had a lot of them in Los Angeles. Unbelievable flavours. My GF had the plato Poca Cosa which had a delicious carne deshebrada (sp) in a peanut and chile sauce, a bone-in chicken breast in a cilantro cream sauce, and some vegetarian tamale. The two meat entrees were great as well but not as good as the chilaquiles.

                    We went to J Bar for drinks on Memorial Day. The house margaritas have potential but were a little on the sweet side. After eating their nachos, which sounded great on the menu, I wouldn't ever eat a meal at J-Bar and I would try many other places before going to Janos. The fact that they'd serve that slop that wouldn't pass muster in the diviest of dive bars is enough for me to not want to trust them with any other food item they serve. I'd rather have fake cheese ballpark nachos any day of the week.

                    Lastly, I tried a few different flavours at Frost. I think Frost is short for frosting. I couldn't believe how sweet and artificial the gelato tasted. It was wretched but apparently from the crowd, not many others share this opinion.

                    1. re: Wolfgang

                      Wolfgang, the problem is that Tucson is not (yet) a gelato town. There's little good gelato to be had here, so people will settle for... whatever.

                      I'll add my voice to the chorus of Feast recommendations. The wine list is extensive and their markup at table is a flat $6 per bottle. It doesn't get more reasonable than that. A word about ordering at Feast: the weirder something sounds, the better it is almost certain to be. Don't go for the "ordinary" stuff, because it may be just that-- ordinary. And whatever you do, ask when your server first approaches you about the ice cream of the day. It's hit or miss but sometimes fantastic, and it goes fast so you might just want to get an order in ahead. (Last 2 hits: beet ice cream with chocolate chips and, believe it or not, goat cheese ice cream. Incredible.)

                      Incidentally, there's a place called Crossroads in South Tucson (read: casual and cheap) that provided me with the best chicken chimichanga I have EVER eaten...

                      1. re: Wolfgang

                        Frost sucks. Maybe my taste buds are spoiled from studying abroad in Italy, but I just don't see the attraction. All of the flavors have a fake taste to them, but I suppose that people in Tucson will take what they can get. I did find an awesome gelato place in town, though it's nowhere near the Frost location that I'm aware of.

                        It's called Fratelli and it's on the NW corner of Swan and Grant (near the walgreens but towards the back, northern part of the center), and it's awesome! Definitely the best in Tucson, and probably some of the best I've had since living in Rome. They do cater to some of the non-gelato eaters tastes (such as having birthday cake and brownie fudge as some flavors), but the more "authentic" flavors, like pistachio and the chocolate are great. They also have panna you can add to it, which is whipped cream but without the sugar. It's delicious and the servings are huge! They really fill up those little cups nice and solid so you get a large portion to enjoy.

                      2. re: jess74

                        I'll bite. What program? are you referring to Car 54, maybe? Sorry to be dense.

                      3. re: jess74

                        I second the rec for Caffe Milano! i just discovered it a few weeks ago and have been twice. Unfortunately (well, fortunately for me) I just graduated from U of A so I won't be in tucson for (hopefully) a longggg time. If i ever go back there, I'd stop at Caffe Milano! I love how authentic it is and how nice the owners are. The only downfall is when they list "Tuscan bread" on their menu, I got excited for the real Tuscan bread which doesn't have any salt, but upon asking the owner about it, he said that it does contain salt (guess the world isn't ready for no-salt bread!). I've only been at lunch, but the owner said that at dinner time the pasta is all homemade by his wife, and it all sounded awesome! If anyone goes, please be sure to report back.

                      4. Sweet rolls at Gus Balon's. Cash only.

                        Gus Balons Restaurant
                        6027 E 22nd St, Tucson, AZ 85711

                        1. Here are my three current ethnic favorites: Sher-e-Punjab, on Grant, north Indian food; Miss Saigon, Campbell, Vietnamese; and Takamatsu, Korean (NOT the Japanese section). All three are unpretentious and inexpensive and most excellent!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: justjoe

                            Second Miss Saigon! Their soups (like Miss Saigon chicken noodle) not to be missed.


                          2. Cafe Poca Cosa. It is a little higher end than I expected- not a hole in the wall. Chic decor, candlelit, etc. Delicious!

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: tarte tatin

                              I would love to buy a client a gift cert at Poco Cosa what would you estimate a meal for 2? He's 88 so maybe not too much Tequila. Thanks in advance.

                              1. re: reets

                                Last month, our dinner for 2 came to $75 (incl. tip). This was for 2 entrees and 3 glasses of wine. Had we added dessert and coffee, it would be closer to $100. Hope this helps.

                            2. My new favorite restaurant in Tucson is Jax Kitchen: casual, stylish, friendly, delish. My old favorites continue to be Primo, Feast, and Poca Cosa.

                              4122 E Speedway Blvd, Tucson, AZ 85712

                              Cafe Poca Cosa
                              110 E Pennington St, Tucson, AZ 85701

                              Jax Kitchen
                              7286 N Oracle Rd, Tucson, AZ 85704

                              3800 W Starr Pass Blvd, Tucson, AZ

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Claudette

                                Claudette, can you give some more detail on Jax Kitchen? I was visiting my sister in Tucson recently and she was very curious about it but hadn't found anyone who had tried it yet. She loves good food but can't get out often so wants to maximize her chances for deliciousness when she does...

                                1. re: GretchenS

                                  Sure - the food is not adventuresome (no foam, no weird spices, etc.) but stylish and modern take on favorites (roast chicken, salads, cheese platters, etc.). It's not expensive and the portions are not large (which is fine by me). It's small, casual but chic, and I ate alone at the bar but felt very comfortable in the bustling, friendly atmosphere. Since I was alone, I can't remember much of the menu, but your sister could take a chance there with a nice dinner for around $30 w/o drinks. I went early on a Saturday night and it was packed, so she should make reservations in advance or eat at the bar.

                              2. Just got back from 5 days in Tucson. Got most of my dining recs from this post, and was not disappointed. Here's my 2 cents:
                                -St. Mary's for mexican (I think it was from a different post): dirst cheap and incredibly good. Definitely a hole in the wall type place - my aunt was surprised when I said this was the place we were looking for - but the food (a burrito, a taco, chips & salsa, and jamaica to drink) was great.
                                -North (higher-end Italian: My sausage & caramelized onion pizza was incredible. The pizza margherita was good but seasoned not really to my taste. My uncle's pasta was also very good. I'd go back. They do try their hardest to up-sell you on drinks, apps, salads, desserts, bottled water, and everything else you can think of though, so be prepared for that.
                                -Neo Malaka (Malaysian): I've never had Malaysian food before so I can't speak to authenticity, but it sure was tasty. I got nyonya laksa, a kind of curry noodle soup with chicken, shrimp, tofu, & fish cakes - very good. The summer rolls were kind of boring though, too much lettuce and for the amount of other fillings.
                                -Brushfire BBQ: Again, as a northerner I'm not sure I'm qualified to evaluate this (so says my ex from Georgia), but I really enjoyed it. Listen to the signs that say to try the sausage; they're right. Portions are generous, so come hungry.
                                -For the record, we also ate at Westward Look resort, where we were staying. Soup in the Lookout Bar & Grill was fine. Breakfast at Gold was mediocre; based on that I doubt the food at dinner would live up to the price point. The view's pretty great though.
                                -Had lunch at a Mexican place called Papagayo. Good food, nothing special. I'd go back if I was in the area looking for lunch, but wouldn't go out of my way for it.

                                And thanks to all the Tucson 'hounds for their great recommendations!

                                1. (places I mentioned above)

                                  North Restaurant
                                  2995 E Skyline Dr, Tucson, AZ 85718

                                  Neo of Melaka
                                  1765 E River Rd, Tucson, AZ 85718

                                  BrushFire BBQ Co.
                                  2745 N Campbell Ave, Tucson, AZ

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Emmmily

                                    We went to Tucson for Christmas 2009. Our first night we went to Sakura. The place was packed. The prices were high but the place looks like a beat pizza parlor and everyone was in shorts and tshirts. For 18 bucks I had chicken stir fried with "oriental" vegetables in Teriyaki sauce. It was slightly better (not as intensely sweet or salty) than a food court at the mall. The sushi was fine not extraordinary. We spent a lot of money there for a very average meal in a tired looking place.

                                    Next day we went to Roma Imports after we enjoyed the Reid Park Zoo. The smells that greeted us at the door were fabulous! We were excited to try everything. The meat sauce over polenta was nice and very meaty. The rolls for the sandwiches were good-- not too hard or thick. The filling was just ok. Pickles with Italian beef--- eh. The capri salad was again a lot less flavorful than the smells led us to believe. But the huge selection of frozen to take home entrees (Italian, Indian, and Greek?!) looked great. The pistachio ice cream had just been made and was being put into plastic containers when we visited.

                                    The next day we had lunch at Beyond Bread and hit Bookmans. A wee pricey at 36 bucks for three lunches but the sandwiches were quite large and filling. The counter help was a bit crabby with my kid who upon finding his chips were fried in peanut oil (he has peanut allergies) asked to exchange them for other chips. Without a word the girl took his chips and flung the unopened chips into the trash disgusted, turned on her heel and got him other chips which she offered with a "Here, happy now?" The counter was not even busy. Sheesh.

                                    We did not want to chance Cafe Poca Cosa because it had such mixed reviews and seemed like we could either get a fab meal for a lot of money or a terrible meal at the same price. Zagats gives it scathing reviews. However it is featured in the NY Times today as the place to go. We instead ate the Sonoran hotdogs at El Guerro Canelo and my son said he wanted to move there... to the plastic sided tent where you eat your hotdogs. They were good and very different from anything we had before. My husband also raved about them saying the combo of items in the sweet bun was just perfect. Personally, I loved the creamy flan there.

                                    1. re: Tumkers

                                      Thanks for the report. It's best not to take your kid to Cafe Poca Cosa, especially if he loved the Sonoran hot dogs, which my daughter loves as well. She hates CPC, but she's only 15 and thinks Mexican food should be enchiladas and tacos. However, my husband and I have taken at least 4 different sets of adults to CPC, and not a single person has failed to rave about the food there. It's Sonoran, not "Mexican" as generally defined.

                                      The trick to eating well there, though, is to order the plato (3 chef's choices on one plate) so that you will be assured of liking something on the plate, and that something will most likely be spectacular. If you order just one particular entree and don't happen to like it, you are SOL. Usually all of us will order the plato, which means 12 different tastes will arrive at the table, and we'll sample our way through all of them and then let the plates finish at each's most ardent advocate. Every time we eat there, we are consistently blown away by the variety, flavor, and uniqueness of the food. (Don't order the flan, though.)

                                      Next time you're in Tucson for the holidays, let me know and we can get the kids some EGC dogs and head on over to CPC for our meals - I guarantee you'll love it, or the margaritas are on me!