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Aug 22, 2000 04:42 PM

Dependable Mexican eats (I think) in Tucson

  • c

Dear Lovers of Mexican Food: In consultation with a knowledgable Tucson friend (and Chowhound), I give you this brief list of eateries in Tucson to which I would go myself:(1) Cafe Poca Cosa, owned and operated by a Mrs. Davila(a good name for Tucson). I do not know where it is.(2) Pico de Gallo, a take-out operation on South Sixth Avenue (the street on which I ate my first Mexican food nearly 75 years ago in a fabulous place long gone). There are a few tables, I am told.(3) El Minuto, in what's left of the City Center, still going after about 50 years of operation, with Sonoran tendencies. I have not eaten there for many years but I have good reports.(4) The Anita Market on Anita Street on the west side, I think.(5) Finally, the much-mentioned Mi Nidito. It is on South Fourth Avenue, an area that bodes well.DO NOT EAT AT any of the Casas Molinas, touristy without authentic flavors; NOR El Charro, downtown, once the Queen of Sonoran Foods, until the old owners and older cooks died and left it in younger hands who would rather sell you gifts than good food.WARNING: I can make no guarantees about these places, though I have friends that are habitues of some of them. Good luck. CANON FOWLER

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  1. Bob(TM) and I covered four out of five of these (and a couple of real good places your friend didn't mention) in our Tucson exploration a couple of years ago. You can read it by using the link below.



    6 Replies
    1. re: Jim Leff

      Mr. Leff, you leave me without words for you have the jump on me, the crowing Tucson native, for places to eat (and not to eat) in Tucson. You are indeed a busy, hard-working man, and good at what you do. Some historical comments. I spent my teens and twenties, the 30s and 40s, eating at El Charro, then located on the old town square with the one-time RC catheral crumbling as a car-repair shop. El Charro was FULL every day (no Sundays) for lunch and dinner. Half the eaters were Papago Indians, or the Yaqui political exiles of the bad days of Mexican Dictator Porfirio Diaz. The rest of us were native Tucsonans. Eastern Visitors (we had no tourists then) did not come because the kitchen was known to be dirty. But the food was cooked by the angels of heaven. After the war (the Big One), I stayed with El Charro. But Monica Flin, the remorseless maestra, died, and the cooks died or left, and the location changed. The Papagos and Yaquis gradually quit (they knew they were out of place, you see). The tourists and downtown lawyers flocked in. The food went slowly down hill. We were left with the sorts of places you describe -- good, some very good, but never again the best, the real tastes of Ajo and Sells, of Nogales, Los Mochis, Santa Ana. Tourists didn't know the best.The last enchilada Sonorensa I ordered at El Charro I could not eat. So, like Chowhound Pete Feliz, I learned to cook the food myself, using an old El Charro recipe book, which I modified. The wisest thing you wrote that I have read is that Tucson once had a great cuisine and lost it, while Phoenix never had one. I shall be a little less forward from now on when I write about Mexican food, because I know that someone has the jump on me. I say that of you, not out of resentment, of course, but out of real admiration for a man who does his chosen work well. When my friend Nancy Bissell comes to visit me now, she brings the frozen makings from St. Mary's Tortilla Factory and Anita Market, and we cook them up in lit

      1. re: Canon Fowler

        This time only the last sentence and a half was cut off. I signed myself "with respect". I am getting the better of these machines from hell, as an old priest should. Fowler

      2. re: Jim Leff
        Dominic McGrath

        I've been to Cafe Poca Cosa many times (guess I'm not a chowhound) and have always been pleasantly surprised at something I haven't had before. Last time I went (for the first time in many months) last week I was disappointed overall. However, your flying through Tucson and trying all of these places once maybe does some of them a disservice, and unnecessarily exalts others. Do you think every meal that Yoeme serves is this side of heavenly. No restaurant is that good all the time. (If only they were, we wouldn't need hardworking folks like you...).

        Anyway, one place not mentioed so far is Lerua's on Broadway just east of Campbell. Simple fare, made fresh, beats El Charro without breaking a sweat.

        1. re: Dominic McGrath

          You're totally right about the fast flying, and I'd NEVER write actual reviews that way. Diary entries yes, quick travelogues, yes, but certainly not any kind of serious review. But I'm not the site's "Reviewer"...I'm really just one of the hounds. And by no means the smartest one here.

          But Yoeme's really was "that good". Bad food can be accidental, but transcendent deliciousness cannot be. I can't promise Yoeme hit those peaks every day, but there was an angel in the kitchen the likes of whom I've seldom experienced. And I'm very very angry at Tucson (yes, as a city!) for disrespecting and neglecting this culinary point of light and driving it out of business.

          Lerua's sounds like quite the find...I've never so much as heard of it! Can't wait to try it.

        2. re: Jim Leff

          Read your report and have to agree with at least two -- St. Mary's and Yoeme. I'm suprised nobody has mentioned St. Mary's. Every Xmas visiting my parents always involves breakfast burros and tamales from St. Mary's, plus bags of warm, thin tortillas. Two years ago, chowhound that I am, I dragged my folks to Yoeme and everybody agreed it was damn fine. Definitely different from the usual fare you got at other places.

          David Cook

          1. re: David Cook

            Thanks, David. Shame Yoeme closed. But St. Mary's I first heard about right here on this site...from our own Pete Feliz.


        3. Tucson holds many wonderful Sonoran discoveries. When I moved here, I never even suspected that pico de gallo was anything but salsa. It actually is large chunks of fruit with lime juice and chile powder.
          My favorite taco stand is Las Brasas on 22nd. The carne is grilled right before your eyes and the tiny tacos call out to be filled with cabbage, pickled onion and salsa from the fabulous salsa bar. Quesadillas are filled with some sort of Mexican cheese, cueso fresco I think, that really have flavor and verve.

          1. k
            Kathi Mascioli

            Los Betos, on Prince and Flowing Wells Road has the best Breakfast Burritos and Carne Asada Burritos I have ever had. They are open 24 hours 365 days a year. There is a drive thru too. Thier Salsa is nice and HOT, and it has a very good flavor to it too.

            1. Mi nidito is by far the most authentic Sonoran-style Mexican food in Tucson--this accounts for the 1-2 hr. wait after 6 P.M. I have been a patron of the restaurant for over 20 years, and in that time the food have retained its quality and authenticity. Lastly, don't forget to try the chile relleno, amazing.

              1. I agree with Canon Fowler's MX restaurant write-ups. The Poca Cosa on Pennington downtown is a wonderful representation of REAL MX food, with a menue that changes daily. No tacos, and no tamales. For wonderful, realistically priced MX seafood, go to Marisco's Chihuahua (Sp??) on Speedway, and Grande - the ceviche, etc. is wonderful & very laid back atmosphere.