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:
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?
Meat on a stick:
Shish Kabob House on Broadway.
Some of the best lamb shish I've had, pink, juicy and well spiced. Excellent house made baklava. I'm going back tonight and try the falafel.
La Baguette Parisienne.
Always impressive, and if you are lucky the French lady will help you - and show some Paris attitude!
2 locations and excellent traditional Italian pizza from their wood fired oven.
By the same owners as Vero Amore. Ton's of beer choices on tap, upscale pub food and one of the most beautiful patios overlooking the mountains.
I know it's an odd post but try their jalapeno tortillas. Deep fried some to make chips, far and away the best chips I've had.
After living here and eating burgers with my teenager for 7 months, my favorites are:
1 - Monterey Court Cafe: truly fire-grilled! almost made me cry.
2 - Pasco Kitchen: Big Boy comes with pork belly and soft egg
3 - Zinburger: gourmet toppings and wine!
4- Culver's: yes, a chain, and not as cute as Freddy's, but the burgers are bigger and tastier than Freddy's, Five Guys, Monkey Burger, In-n-Out...
We are heading to Tucson for a couple of weeks in winter and it will be a big birthday for me. I have read this thread and others but don't see CHef Alisa's mentioned, yet my friend who lives in town thinks its a good choice ofr my birthday. She's by no means a foodie, but she says friends who are have recommended. Yelp reviews look very good. WHat do you hounds think?
Dragon's View on Bonita, just down from W. St. Mary's, but order off the menu - I don't recommend the lunch buffet even though it's really popular. It won't compare to any Chinese food in CA or NYC, but it's the best I've found in Tucson - even my picky Chinese mom found it acceptable. Typhoon shrimp in the shell is not on the menu, but order it anyway - it's terrific! The Typhoon shrimpcakes is another great dish if you pair it with a seasonal veggie - ask the servers what veggie is good that day.They do a lot of banquets.
I'm not really a native: I live in Tucson now, but just moved here in June from Cupertino, CA. I grew up in the East Bay (Oakland/Berkeley) and have lived from Sonoma to Sausalito, to LA, back to Silicon Valley. I moved to Tucson for its beauty (having visited for over 20 years), and accept the fact that the produce and Asian restaurants will not rival those of CA. I am content with Tucson's unique delights, and finding Dragon's View through a Chinese friend was an unexpected bonus. I still read the SF board, since I fly there once a month, so will look for your posts!
Just got back. There is tons of good food in Tucson. Had a great time. Had a good lunch at La Parilla Suiza of chicken enchilladas in mole sauce. Yes they have tasty chips and salsa. Thanks EWSflash for that one.
I am surprised nobody put The B Line on their list. The tacos and burritos were tasty. They have a great pastry chef.
The Cup Cafe in the Hotel Congress is worth it for the atmosphere but it can get noisy. Love the old building. Had a smoked brisket reuben and a bowl of tortilla soup.
Maynard's in the restored depot across the street caught my eye. Thin crust pizza with mushrooms, spinach and roasted garlic was tasty.
Had breakfast at Epic Cafe. Nothing fancy but they are open early.
Sorry about forgetting the B Line - it's my fave for fish tacos, pies, and their weekend biscuits. Maynard's burgers are really good, too - even better than Zinburger's, IMHO. I also forgot to tell you about the bruschetta trio and zeppole at Primo's. I'm planning on moving from CA to Tucson in the coming year, and will have more places to report once I'm a local, so please come back soon and put in another request for info!
Thanks to everyone for this list and discussion. My report back:
CeeDee's Jamaican Kitchen was our sunday night choice really good. proprietress wonderful, made curried fish for me (fishetarian); companions reported fabulous jerk chicken and curried chicken and goat. Plantains and veges super.....even the rice was good. Red Stripe beer, rum cake made with rum soaked papaya. I drank the watermelon and pineapple drink...delish......thanks for the great recommendation chowhounds!
Com Tam Thuan Kieu: This is excellent Vietnamese. We had com tam, bun cha ha noi, cha gio, pho tai gan and bun bo hue. The soups were not as great as the entrees, but I kind of expected that based on the their specializing in com tam. The com tam was awesome and they have tons of variations.
Yamato: I was blown away by this sushi place. It was excellent. It got better as he realized that we would eat anything. We had strictly sashimi but that included very good uni, fluke wings, monkfish liver pate, jellyfish and cured salmon. He cures the salmon in house and it is amazing. I would buy it by the side if I could. It was far superior to any gravlax or smoked salmon products I have ever had. I was very very surprised at how good this food was.
Taqueria Pico de Gallo: As recommended their home made tortillas were great. The fish tacos were very good and by far the best taco at this place. The real treat was the coctel de elote. I had no idea what it was but I ordered it and it was amazing. I would say this is one of the best finds I have had in a long time. They also had the pico de gallo fruit cups with lime and chile pepper on it which was a great treat.
La Fuente: (This was not my choice, my hand was forced.) I didn't like anything here, even the people who weren't food enthusiasts were disappointed in their meals. I highly do not recommend.
Taqueria Apson: Outstanding taqueria. Killer pastor and tripa and razurado. Make sure to ask for the grilled chiles.
Azadero y Taqueria Sonora: Very good menudo. Excellent chicharron and tripa tacos.
Zemam's: I was pretty disappointed in this meal. The doro wat was bland stewed chicken. The dish should be mostly berbere and a small bit of chicken, a lot of flavor, this had none. The shiro wat tasted like flour. The lamb tibs was the best thing on the plate. Next time I will try Cafe Desta.
Zinburger: I had the Kobe (actually Wagyu) burger med rare. It came med rare. They grind in house and it was good. I would prefer a bit more seasoning and maybe a little thicker patty though I truthfully barely finished it. Wife had a special, choice, medium with mushrooms and blue cheese, was cooked properly and tasted good. The hand cut fries were good. The salted caramel shake was fantastic. It was like liquid dulce de leche coming through the straw with bits of sea salt crystals in it. Amazing.
Takamatsu: We had Korean BBQ. The kalbi, bulgogi pork belly were good. The rib eye was not marinated and came out bland and flavorless. The sides were fine, sort of limited, but nothing special. One very weird thing was that the wait staff didn't cook the food. I have never seen that before and do not think it is traditional, but no real worries as I cook good too. ;P I tried my wife's fish soup. It was outstanding. Very strong and fishy with whole anchovies in it and tofu. I highly recommend it.
1) Azian Korean BBQ and Sushi just opened up a few weeks ago, and you can get all-you-can-eat sushi and grill at your table Korean BBQ for $25 per person. Excellent upscale atmosphere, a fun date night sort of place. The Korean BBQ is delicious and comes with all of the fixings, and the service is top notch. Sushi is pretty good as well.
2) Gelato: Go to Allego instead. An Italian runs the place and he puts a truly unique and delicious spin on gelato. The pineapple basil sorbetto and salted caramel gelato are to die for.
3) Obregon no longer sells tacos, just Sonoran dogs. However, you might want to stop by Las Brasas a block down 22nd to have one of their grilled Sonoran dogs - avoid everything else on the menu.
4) Vietnamese: Ha Long Bay is okay, but if you want a real Vietnamese experience like you would get in San Jose, I'd go to Com Tam Thuan Kieu adjacent to Lee Lee Oriental Supermarket on Orange Grove and La Cholla. Be sure to get a banh xeo as an appetizer.
5) Steak: McMahon's is overpriced and not very good. Try the Silver Saddle to see a part of Tucson's history along with a great, wood fire cooked steak.
6) Pho: Pho #1, IMHO, has the best broth in town. A complete dive, but the pho is worth it.
7) Bakery: I've got to agree with JTomWilson on Beyond Bread. Nadine's is a great kosher bakery - their potato knishes on Fridays are to die for, but get there early as they only make 12.
8) For Ethiopian, I know a lot of folks on here will say Zemam's, but it's not my favorite place.
9) Dim Sum: If you've ever had dim sum in SF or NYC, Gee's will disappoint. Be sure to go early though - right when they open on Sat./Sun. - or you will be waiting a while for not-so-fresh dim sum.
10) Jamaican (I know you didn't mention this): Cee Dee Jamaican Kitchen has some killer jerk chicken, brown stew, oxtail, and other Jamaican specialties. Be sure to get some rum cake or coconut drops for dessert.
11) YOU MUST HAVE BREAKFAST AT POCO AND MOM'S. New Mexican Hatch green chiles on everything, and it's excellent. Ask for meat on whatever you'd like, every item is fully customizable. The sour cream green chili sauce is a locals-only secret that is delicious on their famous chile rellenos.
12) If you are looking for a fun, unique bar, be sure to stop by Kon Tiki - a tiki bar virtually unchanged by time since opening in 1963. Lethal drinks (and tasty non-alcoholic drinks) with a Polynesian theme menu. They just don't make places like this anymore.
Hope this helps. I've lived here for 8 years (I'm not a snowbird - I live and work here) after stints in LA and San Jose. The cuisine here is good, simple, honest fare with a proud emphasis on family owned and operated restaurants.
In checking the menu at Com Tam Thuan Kieu, I noticed that they did not have de xao lan. They mostly specialize in com tam, bun, and banh hoi dishes. That said, I wouldn't miss it if I were you.
If you're looking for dry aged steak, then yes, go to McMahon's.
Yoshimatsu has the most expensive sushi in town, and it's all right. Yoshimatsu is better for their massive selection of Japanese dishes, all done to a healthier level - so if you are looking for okonomiyaki or katsudonburi, that is your place. Sushi? Not bad, but as I said, very pricey for what you get. If you are interested in an authentic Japanese sushi experience, you'd be hard pressed to do any better than Yamato at 1st/Grant. Chef was born and trained in Japan, and makes rolls to order - meaning, if you order spicy tuna or negihama, he will chop the fish for your order - I've never seen that anywhere else in town.
sekelmaan, have you been to Bushi at Speedway and Swan? I was astounded at the bill, didn't order anything out of the ordinary but it was nearly double what we would have paid at Sachiko or Takamatsu folr some reason. In the interest of full disclosure, the sushi was really, really good. I can't believe that Yoshimatsu is any more than that, but if it is I want to know before I go there. I'm not opposed to paying more for the best, but if the quality isn't any different than the less pricey places I'd like to know about it..
All the great suggestions made me think of a couple more myself.
If you're still thinking McMahon's, get on their specials e-mail list as they sometimes offer 2 for 1's. That makes it a lot more affordable.Think that you can do it online.
Little Abners on Silverbell Road is a steakhouse that's been around forever; at least for the 30 plus years we've been going to Tucson. Mesquite broiled outside. It used to be very rustic with a choice of 2 steaks, beans, bread and salad but they've added more to the menu over the years. Daisy Mae's is in the same vein.
And yes, Nadines has reall excellent pastries.
I was just in Tucson last week. We ate at Travolino the first night. We had a wood oven pizza for a starter and it was pretty authentic with the burnt bottom and soft middle (i like deep dish better can you tell?) and we both got the bolognese pasta dish which was great. noodles made in-house, we got the Italian white wine and it was from a family vineyard in Italy which was cool. The nutella gelato was made in-house and very good. The bread and oil they serve was really good. We had like 5 people serving us and always asking how things were and if we needed anything else. I liked it. Around $75 I think. The next day we went to Vivace for dinner. I had a great and really really large eggplant and mozzarella appetizer my husband got the escargot. For mains we had the seafood soup and I got the branzino with lobster meat on top of it in a delightful sauce served with rice. No room for dessert sadly. Service was not overly attentive but it was good. The next day we went to Zinburger and the shakes were a hit. Salty caramel and strawberry cheesecake yummy. Burgers were good. $45 for 2 shakes, burgers and 1 order of fries. Nice service and very fast. Dinner was at Pasco by the U of A. The ahi tuna main was great. Good service. Only 1 unisex bathroom with a line. Ugh. $45 though and it is a house turned into a restaurant so what can you do?
Fishtales and others, thanks! Just got back from a week in Tucson, and took our friends (who live there, but hadn't heard of it) to Vicente on your recommendation. Really enjoyed our meals (shared everything, of course): great flavors, really excellent service (one of our party knocked over and broke his wine glass, glass in some of the dishes, which were promptly replaced w/o charge), charming atmosphere/buzz.
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.
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!
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 zabihah.com
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
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
Taqueria: Taqueria Apson/Asadero y Taqueria Sonora (Chicharron tacos)
Thai: Bai Tong
Vietnamese: Ha Long Bay (over Miss Saigon)
Alfonso's Carnitas Jalisco
Jamie's Bitchen Kitchen (Cubano)
The Rolling Chef
Baja Mar (Cocteles)
Sunday Market at St. Philips Plaza
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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 Güero 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.