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Jan 17, 2012 06:55 PM

The Best of Tucson

I am headed to Tucson for a long week in a few days. I live in rural Montana and am looking for some great food. What are your opinions concerning the best of the following:

Chinese (traditional):

Anything else notable? Especially, homemade, fresh, passionate made food or ethnicities I have not listed or things unique to the area?

I know the food truck show was in town last weekend and I missed it, what food trucks stand out?


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  1. I live in Montana too, spend about 4 months out of the year in Tucson (born and raised there), If you like food, you're going to love Tucson, Sorry but MT just don't cut it for a foodie. Punch up "Tucson Weekly" go to "chow" section and you wil find a list of just about every joint in town.
    Have a good time and enjoy the food, folks and weather in the Old Pueblo. -3 here in Billings.

    1. We usually spent the winter there but haven't had a chance to go yet so the following dates back to last and prior years:

      Tacos-Taqueria Pico De Gallo at 6th.Ave & 36th St in South Tucson. Stop there any time it's convenient. They're so good we really don't try many other places for this style Mexican.

      Cafe Poca Cosa-Mexican upscale. Downtown. Diverse chalkboard menu that changes everyday. Lots of choices but we usually get the chef's choice of 3 entrees available that day.

      Cafe Little Poca Cosa-Owned & run by 2 sisters of the chef/owner above. Cash only, no phone, loud music, mandatory hugs. Open 7:30 AM to 2:30 PM Mon-Fri. Lots of fun AND the food is good. Inexpensive. Metered street parking or a parking garage just across the cross street near the YMCA.

      Feast-Not ethnic, more eclectic but our all time Tucson favorite. Extensive and very well priced wine list. Menu changes monthly. East on Speedway.

      All but Pico de Gallo have websites.

      I guess you should also check out Sonoran hot dogs at El G├╝ero Canelo or BK Carne Asada & Hot Dogs or one of the food trucks. Seems to be the unique Tucson food item.

      One more-Mariscos Chihuahua. Lots of family franchised locations in town but we much prefer the original on Grande between Speedway and St Mary's west of I-10. Ceviche and any one of the seafood entrees. My wife can only attest to the "green shrimp" (Shrimp Culichi) as she has ordered that about 20 times in a row.

      7 Replies
      1. re: JTomWilson

        Little Poca Cosa is one of our favorite places in town, usually for breakfast and at least one lunch each February. We like it better than big sister Cafe Poca Cosa.

        1. re: JTomWilson

          I can heartily second the camarones de culichi, best shrimp dish I've ever had that wasn't grilled on the beach in Mexico, and all of Mariscos Chihuahua's other dishes, too. The culichi is really, really addicting. I get their coctel de camaron, a Mexican style shrimp cocktail that's so much better than the shrimp-in-cocktail-sauce we get most places.
          Just be aware that Mariscos Chihuahua is a CASH ONLY restaurant. They all have ATMs but i have no idea what they charge per transaction.
          Also, El Guero Canelo has a lot of wonderful food besides Sonoran dogs, which I don't really like very much- too much crap on them to be really good, but if you like 'em, good for you. It's an ultra-casual place.

          1. re: EWSflash

            I was in town last month, El Guero is good but it's to expensive for what you get in that kind of setting. I like the dogs but I noticed the dog was smaller and so was the roll this time. I was very surprised at Macayo, last time I ate there was 20 years ago and it was terrible. I wanted to try that diner/pizza place next to it but place was too packed, so I went to Macayo 'cause I was starving. Pleseant surprise, I talked to a manager and she said for years they had let the cooks do their own thing and it wasn't so good, so for the past 10 years or so they have strictly stuck to the old family recipes. I want to try Grimaldi's but they are always jammed and the parking sucks down there.

            1. re: mrbigshotno.1

              Hmm. Interesting about Macayo. Last time I was there was also 20+ years ago, and when I walked in the place smelled like campbell's tomato soup- a very bad sign in a Mexican restaurant. Dinner was awful, hadn't been back but I think I'll give it another go. Thanks for the heads-up.

              1. re: EWSflash

                My husband loves the margaritas at Macayo's, so he makes me eat there with him. I've always hated the food, but I have to say that the last meal there was not as bad as the others, so it has improved (this is the one on Broadway). I still don't like the decor. I think there's a new Macayo in Tucson, on Oracle:
                7360 N. Oracle Rd.

            2. re: EWSflash

              Okay, once again, there is not one Maricos, not 2, but 8 locations showing on their website. They all used to be family owned that were franchised to by the original owner on Grande. Not sure about the family connection now.

              But I've been to 4 of the locations over the years and there are differences between them. I believe that the 22nd. Street location didn't take credit cards or maybe the one on 6th. Avenue.

              But the original on Grande has always taken credit cards; I called them today to be sure.

              And, IMHO, Grande has always had the best food. I think that the menus are the same or at least similar but the preparation and sevice was not consistent from location to location.

              1. re: JTomWilson

                Thanks for the update. I know that the Speedway/Swan location is cash only, but they do have an ATM on the premesis.

          2. Ok. I went and did some due diligence. I know, I shoulda started there. Here is my best of list. What do youse think?

            Afghani: Sultan Palace (possibly halal, mixed ratings on
            Bakery: Frog's Organic Bakery
            Bosnian: Chef Alisah
            Burgers: Zinburger (inexpensive), McMahons/Kingfisher (expensive)
            Chef Driven: Feast and Janos
            Dim Sum: Gee's Garden
            Gelato: Frost Gelato
            Greek: Athens
            Italian: Tavolo
            Korean: Seoul Kitchen
            Mexican: La Parrilla Suiza (upscale)
            Mexican (Mole): Elviras in Tubac
            Mexican Seafood: Mariscos Chihuahua (shrimp culichi)
            Pizza: Brooklyn Pizza
            Pho: Pho 88 (over Saigon Pho)
            Steak: McMahons and Chad's
            Sushi/Japanese: Yohimatsu
            Taqueria: Taqueria Apson/Asadero y Taqueria Sonora (Chicharron tacos)
            Thai: Bai Tong
            Vietnamese: Ha Long Bay (over Miss Saigon)

            Food Trucks:
            El Nene's
            Alfonso's Carnitas Jalisco
            Jamie's Bitchen Kitchen (Cubano)
            The Rolling Chef
            Molca's (Tortas)
            Baja Mar (Cocteles)
            Obregon (Tacos)

            Farmer's Markets:
            Sunday Market at St. Philips Plaza

            9 Replies
            1. re: sekelmaan

              How long did you say you were visiting?; your list looks like a couple of month's worth.

              No way the La Parilla Suiza CHAIN over Poca Cosa, sounds like some reviews from YELP.

              Assume that you mean Tavalino instead of Tavolo? Yes, it's excellent food & service. Had one of the best lamb dishes ever there last Spring.

              My research here led me to Pico de Gallo but haven't looked for tacos lately.

              Agree with Ha Long Bay; good & inexpensive.

              Janos is excellent and also more upscale and expensive than Feast.

              Two of the best restaurants in town are Vivace in St. Phillips Plaza with one of the more reasonably priced wine lists and the Grill at Hacienda del Sol. Extensive wine list there with some good bargains if you really look hard. Great views at sunset and a superb Sunday brunch.

              Athen's on Fourth is reputed to be the best Greek restaurant in town and it's been excellent on our visits there. Gets an very good Zagat rating.

              You didn't mention French, but Le Rondevous is very traditional French and also very good.

              THE bakery is Beyond Bread with at least 2 locations. Also great sandwiches.

              We don't try a lot of the other ethnic food types on your list because we can find wider and better choices for those in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic and Montreal/Toronto.

              And steak: Been to Chad's once; McMahon's many times. It fun even for drinks and a wide appatizer selection in the bar. Another extensive wine list.

              Hope you enjoy your stay. We can't wait to get there in February and back to a lot of the places mentioned.

              1. re: JTomWilson

                La Parilla Suiza is a unique experience for anybody not familiar with Mexico City style food, and here in the Sonoran desert it's different from \what many of us grew up with. So what if it's a chain? It's not a chain like Jack in the Box, it's great-tasting food. My recommendations are anything with beef (that's what they do the best meat-wise) or the chiles rellenos and chilaquiles. It's good food. Don't be a silly ass and avoid a chain just because of the word. Their chips and especially the salsas are awesome too.

                1. re: JTomWilson

                  I don't give a shit that La Parrilla Suiza is a chain, it's damn good food and the prices are reasonable. I've had too many meals at Cafe Poca Cosa that came nowhere near measuring up to what they used to be. The atmosphere isn't that great but the food is top notch at LPS. I'd go there in a heartbeat over Poca Cosa

                2. re: sekelmaan

                  Forgot to mention that St.Phillips farmers market in the one that we always go to. Try the Wilcox tomatos; about as close to Summer ones as we've found.

                  1. re: JTomWilson

                    I knew I'd get hell for that La Parrilla Suiza though I didn't realize it was a chain. I saw it somewhere in CH, but the best Mexican threads are tough. Lots of opinions there and none really stand out other than Cafe Poca Cosa and I did not enjoy my one meal there some years ago.

                    Thanks very much for your responses JT!

                    1. re: sekelmaan

                      If you went to Poca Cosa years ago, it was probably in the hotel that has since been torn down. I think Santa Rita or something like that. I didn't like to go to the restaurant there as everything was crowded together, probably didn't like the decor, something like that, just really didn't like much but the food.

                      Since it was forced to relocated, it now in the middle of downtown and the decor is what I can Ilalian Modern (I'm no decorator or architect so that's my terms only. Maybe "chic"?)
                      Okay,' it's on the bottom floor of a new city parking deck but to me the only effect of that is it's easy to find a parking place.

                      I think that the menu is pretty much the same as the old place; maybe I've been more influenced by the setting?

                      If you're driving or get to Phoenix, try the Barrio Cafe. The chef/owner of Mexican descent, grew up in LA and then traveled all over Mexico to learn about regional dishes there. Interesting and excellent food.

                      By the way, I like the fact that La Parrilla Suiza is Mexico City cuisine and not Tex-Mex or Cali-Max or anything like that. Loved their grilled green onions. You can also find Sonoran, Oaxan (sic?) and probably other regional Mexican cuisines in Tucson but I'm not sure how to search them out.

                      1. re: JTomWilson

                        Oh the cebollitas parrilladas are so good!

                      2. re: sekelmaan

                        Try Teresa's Mosaic for great Mexican. It's got a more northern bent than the Mexico City places, but is full of tasty.

                    2. re: sekelmaan

                      Really? You liked Ha Long Bay over Miss Saigon? Tell us what you had at both places. I haven't eaten at Ha Long Bay, but it doesn't seem to ever win over miss Saigon for most folks. I'd like to hear what you have to say about them both.

                    3. Ethiopian: Zemam's (Cafe Desta looks newer)

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: sekelmaan

                        yes, to zemam's (i've eaten there happily multiple times, and have found the food to be much more flavorful than at cafe desta). it is BYO, so pick up an IPA on your way over. ^_^

                        i would skip chinese in tucson unless you absolutely can't live without it. have only eaten at seoul kitchen once, but for korean, i'd point you to takamatsu (you can do cook-your-own korean bbq).

                        yoshimatsu is great for home cooking type japanese food - haven't tried their sushi. there are a surprising number of good sushi places in town (compared to other asian). my three favorites are bushi (swan and speedway), yamato (soft shell crab roll is great, and i usually am not one for fancy rolls), and sushi on oracle. with any of those places, you would be well-served (literally ^_^) to sit at the bar rather than at a table.

                        i'm not sure how other tucsonans feel, but i'll put a plug in for saffron (indian) up on oracle. we eat frequently at gandhi, sher-e punjab, and curry leaf (used to be amrutha) because we love even less-than-spectacular indian, and though saffron is a little pricier (with decor to match), everything i've had there on several trips has been tasty.

                        hope you enjoy your trip, and please check back in to let us know how much of your list you made it through!

                      2. Tavolino is very noisy and overpriced. It has a bar in the middle of the room and hostesses in miniskirts and four inch heels. For upscale Italian, we much prefer Vivace.

                        Janos is expensive and can be pretentious. We prefer Feast.

                        The setting at Hacienda del Sol can't be beat, but we've found the menu rather limited and the service mediocre at best. We went there three times because we kept hearing such raves about it, but it never came close to the hype.

                        McMahon's can be very good, but don't let them seat you next to the clattering kitchen. It's by far the best upscale steakhouse in Tucson, in my opinion.

                        Chad's is one of the best cowboy steak joints.

                        Lunch on the patio at Bella Luna can be a delightful experience.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: bitchincook

                          Thanks Bitchin'.

                          I like the menu at McMahon's better. I love dry-aged meat and that bone-in dryaged NY strip is right up my alley. Is there a better steak in town, regardless of scale?

                          Bella Luna looks nice. Thanks for the rec.