The southside Tucson quick-food restaurant scene seemingly falls into two distinct categories: ever-changing quick-eat joints that pop up and then are gone as fast as they appeared, and long-standing joints that have occupied the same corner for a half-century or so.
Ted and I got to try a little from each of those two categories on our visits to Check It Out Hamburgers and Sue's Fish and Chips.
We first made an evening visit to Check It Out Hamburgers, on Valencia Road near South Sixth Avenue. Check It Out looks suspiciously like a well-known national burger chain with a similar name, logo and menu—In-N-Out, anyone? I happen to think that In-N-Out has one of the tastier chain burgers, so I was interested in seeing how the imitation version fared.
We had planned to eat at the restaurant, but the four tiny tables, the dismal lighting and the scowling cashier convinced us we'd have a more-pleasant dining experience at home. The menu is fairly straightforward: burger, cheeseburger or double cheeseburger, and fries; vanilla, strawberry or chocolate milkshakes. You can add avocado or bacon to your burger for 50 cents each.
I opted for a double-cheeseburger combo ($5.75 on the menu, but $5.95 on my receipt) with mushrooms and grilled jalapeños, and a vanilla shake ($1.95 by itself, or an extra 45 cents to sub it for a fountain drink in a combo). Ted went for the double-cheeseburger combo with avocado and bacon, and a strawberry shake.
The food was ready quickly and smelled quite tasty—but disappointment set in upon digging into the fries and shakes on the way home. The shakes were thin and had way too much ice, although they were made with actual milk, which was nice. The strawberry shake had a light-pink hue, but the flavor was nearly indistinguishable from the vanilla shake.
Meanwhile, the fries were a soggy, under-seasoned mess. They hadn't been fried at a hot enough temperature to cook all the way through.
The burgers were a bit more appealing, but not quite up to par. The lettuce was beyond limp—so wet and soggy that we ended up peeling it off—and the American cheese wasn't melted. I received grilled onions instead of mushrooms, even though I specified no onions (fresh or otherwise) on either burger, and the correct order was written on the receipt and the to-go box. There was so little grilled jalapeño that it was pretty much undetectable. However, the meat was juicy, although lacking in any substantial flavor, and the buns were soft and fresh.
Ted's burger was better, although there was hardly any bacon. So much for the extra 50 cents.
All in all, it was a lackluster dining experience, and the discrepancy between the menu price and the receipt was just strange.
A few days later, we ventured back to the southside for a quick lunch at Sue's Fish and Chips. Sue's has been at the corner of Fourth Avenue and 35th Street since 1952, which qualifies it as a Tucson institution. It doesn't seem to have changed much over the decades. Nearly everything on the menu is fried, and the place has a heavy, greasy-air feel to it. The six or seven tables are tiny, and most of the customers while we were there opted for takeout.
Dining options are limited. If you want fried seafood, you order either a combo meal (all $8.75) or a dinner, both of which come with fries. There aren't any à la carte options. We decided to get two combo meals and share—I went for the fish, shrimp and crabcake basket (two of each item), while Ted opted for the fish, shrimp and scallops basket (also two of each). We decided to share coleslaw ($1.45 for 4 ounces, or $2.55 for 8 ounces). All of the combos include fish and shrimp, as well as "Sue's Sauce." The combo meal doesn't include a drink, so we ordered two fountain drinks ($1.85 for 16 ounces, $2.25 for 32 ounces and $2.75 for 44 ounces).
The mountain of deep-fried food came out quickly—and it was piping-hot. The fries were the only thing cool enough to eat for a good five minutes or so. The standard-issue crinkle-cuts were under-seasoned and, frankly, pretty boring. The fish, once it was cool enough to eat, was flaky and fresh, but didn't have much flavor. The shrimp tasted fresh, but also was without much flavor.
Sue's Sauce was basically slightly spiced-up cocktail sauce. If you're a fan of cocktail sauce, you might want to order extra, because the containers (80 cents each) are pretty small. Tartar sauce is also available, but there was no malt vinegar to be found.
Breading is a key ingredient at any fish-and-chips place, and I found Sue's to be nothing more than a bland cornmeal dredge. The scallops and crabcakes were the only items that managed to retain any flavor. The scallops were actually quite good, probably because they were too slippery to retain the full amount of breading. The crabcakes were OK, but the meat was mixed with too many fillers to have any real crab flavor—and they're not in what most people would consider cake form. They're more like small fried crab balls. The coleslaw was refreshing and quite flavorful, though the size of the portion paled in comparison to the portions of the fried items.
Given that Sue's has been open for 60 years, perhaps its deep-fried flavors are an acquired taste. I'm not sure it's one I care to acquire.