Chow » Chow Feature

Tucson's 100 Essential Dishes

The Tucson Weekly staff tries to determine what menu items are essential to our culinary culture

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First, let's get something out of the way: We're sorry. We're sorry we missed your favorite dish in town. The place you recommend to everyone you know? We should have included it. If this is some consolation, we'll take the best of the likely-angry emails and comments we get from this feature and we'll publish them somewhere in the near future. We want you to have you say.

But, we did try. We asked our staff, talked to restaurant owners, chefs and smart people who love food. We put the question out on Facebook and our blog. This is what we came up with. The 100 dishes (and we use that term somewhat loosely) that are most important to what we call food culture here in Tucson. The items you just have to try, the ones we'll miss if we ever move away (although we probably never will). It's a list, created by people with limited memories, so it's inherently flawed, but we think it came out well, from breakfast joint biscuits and gravy to Janos Wilder's favorite fine dining menu item. Have fun reading it, enjoy trying some new food referenced here and we'll try harder next year.

If you'd like to see this list in map form, click here.

The Eegee's Frozen Fruit Slush

eegee's

Multiple locations

If this wasn't on our list, you should have thrown the paper away.

Pizza Lussuria

Vero Amore

Two locations

All of the pizzas at Vero Amore are amazing—the crust is thin, bubbly and that perfect balance between crunchy and chewy—but the lussuria is my favorite with Genoa salami, red sauce, just the perfect amount of garlic, and that amazing house-made fresh mozzarella. — JK

Hot links

The Original Mr. K's BBQ

6302 S. Park Ave.; 792-9484

Mr. K's is the best BBQ in Tucson, and the hot links are my go-to item (though the sliced beef is a close second). The combination of the spicy sausages with their snappy casings, and the slightly-sweet sauce that has a nice kick to it is unbeatable. — JK

Spicy chili dogs

Pat's Drive-in

1202 W. Niagara St.; 624-0891

There's a reason this place has been around for as long as it has, and it's not because of the hamburgers. In fact, I'm not even sure what all is on the menu besides chili dogs. You have to get the chili dogs with onions and mustard though—or it's just not a proper chili dog. Delicious. — JK

Kobe cheeseburger

Jax Kitchen

7286 N. Oracle Road; 219-1235

Buttery bun. Bacon. Gruyere (often overused but oh-so-tasty). LTO. Get it medium rare.  Anything else is unacceptable. — JK

Any beer

1702

1702 E. Speedway Blvd.; 325-1702

OK, OK, it's not a meal. But it could be (just be responsible and have a friend drive). But seriously, they have, hands-down the best beer selection on tap in town. You could make a meal out of some of the stouts and porters alone. The pizza is pretty delicious, too. — JK

Honey-hot wings

Wings Over Broadway

5004 E. Broadway Blvd.; 323-8805

WOB, as it is affectionately known, is a serious wing contender in Tucson. Their wings are consistently amazing, super crunchy on the outside while still being juicy, tender and meaty on the inside. They hit all the right notes with the honey hot flavor—it's sweet but definitely has a nice spice to it, too. — JK

Poutine

Maynards' Market & Kitchen

400 N. Toole Ave.; 545-0577

Chef Addam Buzzalini takes the national dish of Canada into the stratosphere with hot crispy pomme frites topped with duck confit, duck gravy, duck cracklins, foie gras and local cheese curds. It's the kind of dish that I wake up dreaming about. — RC

Philly Cheesesteak

Frankie's South Philly Cheesesteaks

2574 N. Campbell Ave.; 795-2665

This is the very definition of the Philly Cheesesteak. Philly natives have been known to travel all the way across town to have the iconic 'wich from their hometown. Have it with the 'Wiz to make it authentic. Once you have a cheesesteak at Frankie's, you'll never go back to the imitators. — RC


Top Five: Joseph Blair- Wildcat, Philanthropist

Carne Asada tacos

BK's

Two locations

How can you not love these?! They're served quick and at only $1.50 each! Not to mention the salsa bar is always filled with other great items that can fill you up on a cheap budget.

Breaded Chicken Breast

Vivace

4310 N. Campbell Ave.; 795-7221

The black pepper sauce on top of this chicken and the perfect and delicate way in which they fry the chicken works so wonderfully with the flavorful mashed potatoes. Perfect for any business lunch or just add a bottle of wine for a romantic night out.

Chopped Beef Brisket sandwich

Mr. K's Barbecue

4911 N. Stone Ave.; 408-7427

If you want a full meal in the palm of your hands, there is no better place to go. The brisket is always cooked perfectly and the selection of barbecue sauces is amazing. I personally add their chopped onions and spicy pickles that come complimentary at their condiment bar. Happiness in a bun!

Beef Satay skewers

Sullivan's Steakhouse

1785 E. River Road; 299-4275

Not just for happy hour anymore! These are one of the great small plates menu items in Tucson. The soy flavored sauce that these are cooked in could easily be a shot! Love it! And you know at Sullivan's, they will always cook the meat perfectly. Plus, the happy hour deals make it impossible to miss. Add a Knockout Martini and just wait for your socks to be knocked off!

Caldo de Queso soup

Mi Nidito

1813 S Fourth Ave.; 622-5081

Does it get any better?! I've had Caldo de Queso all over town and nothing, I repeat, nothing compares to that of Mi Nidito. Besides the fact that they should give you a trophy if you can finish a bowl, the flavor and perfect combination of all the ingredients is just amazing! The potatoes are always cooked perfectly and they aren't scared to throw in the cheese! Love, love, love it! And while you're there be sure and have a michelada. One of the absolute best in town!


Armitage Eggs Benedict

Armitage Wine Lounge & Café

2905 E. Skyline Drive, No. 168; 682-9740

There is a decidedly modern spin to this classic dish at Armitage. Prosciutto instead of Canadian bacon, Asiago toast instead of English muffins, havarti cheese, thin asparagus spears and a Hollandaise sauce with a pink hue all add up to a great weekend brunch (and sadly, this in only available on weekends). Yes, this is a wine bar but the Armitage's Bloody Mary is the way to go. — RC

Steamers

Kingfisher Bar & Grill

2564 E. Grant Road.; 323-7739

From the presentation to the last glorious slurp, the steamers that Tucson's best seafood restaurant serves are in a word wonderful. They're tiny—as all good steamers should be—but their natural juices and the white wine come together in a most heavenly broth that enhances the clams rather than competes with them. They can be a stand-alone meal or a great beginning. — RC

Tagliatelle al ragu Bolognese

Caffe Milano

46 W. Congress St.; 628-1601

Granted, this sauce is also available on Milano's lasagna at dinner time, but it's with the egg noodles at lunch that you really get to appreciate the meaty goodness of the sauce; a hint of tomato, a splash of garlic, lots and lots of ground meat ... Ahh, belissimo. The portion is huge for lunch but somehow I always manage to finish every last bite. — RC

Fish Fry

Boondocks Lounge

3306 N. First Ave.; 690-0991

I grew up in the land of Friday fish fries—every little bar with a kitchen held one. Finding a fish fry that compares with these was tough until I found the fish fry here. Hot and sizzling from the fryer the coating crackles on the first bite. The white fish inside is sweet and juicy. The fries are almost unnecessary but, hey, you have to eat them. Like most classic fish fries, this is a dish that is only available on Fridays. — RC


Top Five: Brian Lopez- Indie Rockstar, Mostly Bears

Fish taco plate

Rodriguez Seafood

3541 S. 12th Ave.; 623-1931

This place is a diamond in the rough. Rodriguez is a wholesale retailer whose fish come direct form the Sea of Cortez. The restaurant has a great atmosphere is never overpopulated. Actually I don't even know why I'm telling you about them ... it's just going to ruin my secret seafood spot for me.

Carne asada breakfast

Crossroads Restaurant

2602 S. Fourth Ave.; 624-0395

As a South Tucson staple, Crossroads gives you an authentic and hearty carne asada plate at an economically pleasing rate. Perfect combo for the starving artist. Enjoy your food over the sounds of a half blind, one-man-band jamming to the freshest cumbias, boleros, and Mexican love ballads.

Reuben Sub

Roma Imports

627 S. Vine Ave.; 792-3173

I go to this place WAY too often. The cashiers know me by name. The Reuben is another filling, delicious, yet economic option, amongst many.

Tamales

Cup Café

311 E. Congress St.; 798-1618

"Roasted jalapeño and cheddar cheese white corn tamales, vegan cowboy beans, steamed green rice, red chili sauce, cotija cheese, escabeche." In other words, these tamales are for people who wear really fancy pants.

classic grinder, large fries (with ranch dressing), watermelon eegee

eegee's

Various locations

Whatever. Don't judge me.


Pretzels

Union Public House

4340 N. Campbell Ave., No. 103; 329-8575

With a cold glass of beer or a crispy white wine, the pretzels at this gastropub are a great start to a meal. You get two thick pretzels hot out of the oven. They come with two sauces­—a grainy mustard and a smooth, creamy cheese. Both are great; together they rock it big time. — RC

Laotian Chicken & Pounded Green Papaya Salad

Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails

135 S. Sixth Ave.; 623-7700

I've only recently fallen in love with this wonderful salad. There is balance in every bite. Tropical fruits (mango, lime) add tang. Basil, mint and cilantro bring a certain brightness to the dish. Beans, carrots and peanuts add crunch. There's tomatoes and chicken. There are serrano chiles for heat and nam pla for a hint of savory. Plus, the presentation is gorgeous. — RC

Gal Bi

Kimchi Time

2900 E. Broadway Blvd., No. 186; 305-4900

There's a lot to like at Kimchi Time, but when you have the opportunity to get marinated short ribs on a sizzling plate, accompanied by the delicious side dishes the Korean restaurant offers, you take it. Sort of messy to eat and when your order hits the table, you'll have to dodge hot splattering for a moment, but the tender, fat-enhanced meat is worth the minor bit of trouble.

Pho

Pho 88

2744 N. Campbell Ave.; 881-8883

There are quite a few pho-centric joints here in Tucson (something for which we should be collectively thankful), so when we make a stand for one place's broth-driven goodness over another, there will inevitably be some drama. We like Pho 88. You can prefer somewhere else. Let's discuss it over pho later, OK?


Top Five: Frankie Santos- Cheesesteak King

King Louie Salad

Acacia

3001 E. Skyline Drive; 232-0101

An amazing and refreshing salad with fresh Dungeness crab and a wonderful dressing. All of the ingredients are paired so well.

The Cheese Platter

Pastiche Modern Eatery

3025 N. Campbell Ave.; 325-3333

The cheese offering changes, so each time we order the platter it may have a different taste, while still served with olives and fruit. Love the Parmesan bird's nest the olives are served in ... so tasty!

Oysters

Kingfisher Bar and Grill

2564 E. Grant Road; 323-7739

The oysters are amazing; what else can be said?

The Jersey Devil

East Coast Super Subs

187 N. Park Ave.; 882-4005

We always order it with Provolone cheese, grilled onions and all the peppers...this sandwich is wonderful.

Chicken and Dumplings

Bistro 44

6761 E. Tanque Verde Road; 298-2233

I love these, just like Mom made!


Traditional Pizza

Dry River Company

800 N. Kolb Road; 298-5555

No, you won't find all that many eastside options on this list (although there certainly are a few), but when Dry River took over a space that had seemingly been haunted by the ghost of past coffee house tenants, at least there's a place to get a solid pizza. The Traditional isn't complicated (sausage, pepperoni, banana peppers), but it's delicious and flavorful.

Clam Chowder

Trident Grill

2033 E. Speedway Blvd.; 795-5755

We're not just saying this in fear of what Trident's owner, Nelson Miller, former Navy SEAL, might do if we skip over the University-adjacent bar on this list, but his establishment's clam chowder is delicious, especially during our brief winter-like season.

Panang Neau

Char's Thai

5039 E. Fifth St.; 795-1715

Your impulse might be to just go with the pad thai (which is tasty, for sure), but step out of the cliché for a minute and order something else from Char's extensive menu. Here's the description of the Panang Neau: "Sauteed beef with red chili, fresh basil, peanut sauce, coconut milk, bell pepper, and hot spicy gravy sauce." Doesn't that sound delicious? It is.

Hot Pot

Impress Hot Pot

2610 N. First Ave.; 882-3059

Here's what's great about the hot pot experience, other than the process just being a lot of fun: you can be as adventurous with the meal as you want. If you want to keep it simple with lamb and beef, you'll have a lot of fun, but you can also step out and get crazy with it, experimenting with jellyfish and wood-ear mushrooms. Regardless of what you drop into the steaming broth, what comes out will be delicious.

Crawfish Hushpuppies

The Parish

6453 N. Oracle Road; 797-1233

The Parish serves up solid dishes riffing on Southern cuisine, but the crawfish hushpuppies (with their delicious green-onion dip) are a bargain, and worth grabbing as a main course.

The Ice Cream

HUB

266 E. Congress St.; 207-8201

Why did it take this long for someone to serve high-quality ice cream downtown? Our petty first-world-problem complaint? There might actually be too many flavors to choose from, but if the bourbon almond brittle is available, the decision process is a bit easier.

Baked Eggs

Cup Café

311 E. Congress St.; 798-1618

We're of the opinion that anything with leeks in the product description is likely to be delicious, so it's no surprise we have these cast-iron-cooked baked eggs, enhanced by Gruyere and cream, on our list. When people rave about staying at Congress, it's partially due to their next-morning breakfast.

Garlic Knots

Brooklyn Pizza

534 N. Fourth Ave.; 622-6868

Brooklyn's actual pizza shows up elsewhere on this list, but their knots put the breadsticks seemingly offered by every other pizza place in town to shame. Get a dozen and garlic lovers might follow you down the street.

Maduros

Kadooks! Costa Rican Fusion Food Truck

https://www.facebook.com/kadooksfoodtruck

Food trucks have hit a bit of a plateau in town, but the Costa Rican-inspired menu that Kadooks! offers is a nice addition to our city's mobile food scene. You can feel comfortable picking anything they offer, but save room for dessert: fried plantains with homemade whipped cream and cinnamon sugar.

The Rufus

Sausage Shop Meat Market & Deli

1015 W. Prince Road, Suite 141; 888-1701

There aren't many seats, the occasional lunch rush line and the location isn't exactly the part of town we find ourselves in often, but give us an absurdly cheap sandwich with pulled pork, a sausage hot link and cole slaw and we'll endure some minor inconveniences.

French Fries

Little Luke's

101 E. Fort Lowell Road; 888-8066

There are multiple Luke's locations, but the one on Fort Lowell and Stone is easily the best and the fries are a revelation. It probably makes sense to get a Chicago dog or an Italian beef as well, but the fries are really the main event. Let's not fool ourselves.


Top Five: Janos Wilder - Chef, Culinary Superstar

Guacamole Quesadilla

Pico de Gallo

2618 S. Sixth Ave.; 623-8775

The tortillas are always perfectly griddled and crunchy, the guacamole generous and the cheese melting and runny. I love it with their limonada. A majority faction in my family prefers the horchata, both of which are the best in Tucson.

Osso Bucco

Vivace

4310 N. Campbell Ave.; 795-7221

Nobody does this dish anymore and it's the priciest item on their menu, but they tell me they lose on it anyway. It's succulent, tender, the braising liquid full of tomatoes and vegetables, the mashed potatoes seem to have as much cream and butter as potatoes. How can you go wrong with that?

Sonoran Hot Dog

El Guero Canelo

5201 S. 12th Ave.; 295-9005

I only go to the original on South 12th. Guero and I have competed against each other, his Sonoran hot dog against my J Dawg and he always kicks my ass (but I still like mine better).

Fillete Veracruzano, Callo de Hache (when they have it) and Michelada

Mariscos Chihuahua

1009 N. Grande Ave.; 623-3563

Really, I like everything they do here but these are my favorites. There are several Mariscos Chihuahua in town but I keep on coming back here. 

Red Chili and Bean Burro and any and all the flour tortillas

Anita Street Market

849 N. Anita Ave.; 882-5280

They do it right, no raw flavor in the red chili sauce, the meat is tender and beans put out the heat- just the way it should. About those tortillas-in the 30 years I've been eating them not once has a package made it home unopened; that's all you need to know.


Nasi Lemak

Neo of Melaka

6133 E. Broadway Blvd.; 747-7811

Say this for Tucson: How many cities our size have a restaurant serving Malaysian cuisine anyhow? There are still more mainstream Asian dishes on the Neo menu, but if you go with friends and they order sesame chicken or something instead of something incredibly delicious, like the coconut milk and turmeric laden nasi lemak, it might be time to get new friends.

Late Night Slices

Empire Pizza and Pub

Brooklyn Pizza

Downtown Tucson

Sometimes, timing is much a part of what makes food great as extensive craftsmanship. In the case of Empire on Congress and Brooklyn on Fourth Avenue, sometimes you just need a slice of pizza so big it hangs off the paper plate.

Macaroni and Cheese

HUB

266 E. Congress St.; 207-8201

The dining world's obsession with macaroni and cheese is a little out of control (after all, there's a restaurant in town dedicated to the dish), but HUB does a great job with the creamy pasta dish. Plus, if you're ever trying to entertain kids at mealtime downtown, a bowl plus the promise of ice cream (mentioned elsewhere) is generally enough to soothe the fussiest young one.

Phyllo Wrapped Chicken

47 Scott

47 N. Scott Ave.; 624-4747

You'd be forgiven for momentarily overlooking how good the food is at 47 Scott while looking over the cocktail menu, but the downtown eatery's elegant take on comfort food really shines with the spinach and goat cheese stuffed chicken breast enveloped in the lightest of crusts.

Pork Belly

Brushfire BBQ

Two locations

It took a bit too long for pork belly to really hit Tucson menus, so in our bacon-obsessed food culture, it seems like a cliché of sorts when we're offered the opportunity to throw more pork fat on a plate. The crispy pork belly side dish at Brushfire is a little disappointing portion-to-price wise, but $2.39 for some slices added to your sandwich? Yes, please. Just put off that cholesterol test for another month.

Triple Lindy

Lindy's on Fourth

431 N. Fourth Ave.; 207-6970

Obviously, there are more places to get a burger in this town all the time, but Lindy's was serving an intimidating selection of artery-blocking options ahead of most of the upstarts. You might hate yourself the next day, but every meat-eating Tucsonan should probably take on the AZ Hooligan (five patties, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion) or its more fatty cousin, the Triple Lindy (adding bacon, an onion ring, and a fried egg), at some point in their lives. Just resist the temptation to step up to the Man v. Food featured OMFG. That won't likely end well.

Saffron Mussels

The Dish Bistro & Wine Bar

3131 E. First St.; 326-1714

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays, you can't get a better culinary deal in this town than a bowl of mussels and a glass of wine (or a beer, but we try to keep it classy) at the Dish.

Fig Crepe

Planet of the Crepes

planetofthecrepes.com

We haven't had a crepe we didn't like from one of Tucson's first upscale food trucks, but the combination of manchego, fig jam and toasted almonds is hard to pass up.

Home Fries

Frank's

3843 E. Pima St.; 881-2710

You could pick your favorite greasy-spoon breakfast joint by the sassy staff or their readiness with a coffee refill, but we make our selection based on the quality of the potato-centric sides, and Frank's home fries are this town's best.


Top Five: Mary Paganelli Votto - Author, A Food Lover's Guide to Tucson

Bitter Melon Beef

Dragon's View

400 Bonita Ave.; 623-9855

It's not your standard Chinese menu fare and you'll only find it on the special Asian Menu, but it's authentic and a wonderful combination of salty and bitter with an unusual texture and a smoky finish.

Shrimp stuffed yellow jalapenos wrapped in bacon

El Mezon del Cobre

2960 N. First Ave.; 791-0977

The most wonderful and satisfying combination of soft briny shrimp, spicy jalapeno and salty, crunchy bacon without being greasy or heavy.

Tableside Guacamole

Flying V

7000 N. Resort Drive; 299-2020

Because you can get it your way, with all sorts of cool mix-ins from garlic to mango, and watching it get made is fun -- you know it's fresh, and they always have the best, perfectly ripe, avocados.

Green corn tamales

Lerua's

2005 E. Broadway Blvd., 624-0322

These have the taste of real corn. The texture of the soft masa is addicting, combined with a bit of heat from green chiles and creamy cheddar all wrapped inside fresh green corn husks.

Brown Tepary Bean Quesadillas

Desert Rain Café

Tohono Plaza, Main Street, Sells; 383-4918

A crispy handmade wheat tortilla sandwich is a wonderful melt of three cheeses and meaty brown tepary beans with just the right hit of heat from Serrano peppers.


Cornish Lamb Pasties

Noble Hops

1335 W. Lambert Lane, Oro Valley; 797-4677

Seriously, why aren't there more pasties on Tucson menus? We just want food we can hold in one hand while gripping a pint glass in another. This shouldn't be all that complicated. Noble Hops' take on English miner cuisine isn't all that handheld, but it's a delicious start.

Garlic Toast

Lucky Wishbone

Multiple locations

This may not be one of Tucson's best dishes, but the soaked-in-something-butter-we-hope decadence of this Lucky Wishbone side is essential to the Tucson experience in some ways, isn't it?

Deep Dish Apple Pie

Omar's Hi-Way Chef

5451 E. Benson Hwy.; 574-0961

If you've had it, you already know. If not, you might want to re-evaluate how you're choosing to live your life.

Biscuits and Gravy

Pappy's Diner

1300 W. Prince Road; 408-5262

We don't know if we're comfortable saying that Pappy's definitively has the best biscuits and gravy in this town. That would be a bold proclamation and we are, by nature, cautious people. However, Pappy's is currently on the top of our list. We'll keep up our research and update you on the results.

Cinnamon Rolls

Robert's Restaurant

3301 E. Grant Road; 795-1436

There's a bit of self-loathing that goes into eating a giant cinnamon roll for us...after all, it's bread, sugar and fat, but if we're going down that road, Robert's is the place to indulge. However, make sure they're not on their extended yearly summer vacation.

The Omar

Sausage Deli

2334 N. First Ave.; 623-8182

If you're expect actual sausage, you'll be disappointed, but if you're looking for a giant, over-stuffed sandwich, the newly-relocated Sausage Deli has a number of delicious choices, of which our favorite is the Omar, with a bunch of meat, cheese, peppers and mustard. Sure, people rave about the Susie Sorority, but sprouts? Really?

Fried Chicken

The Abbey

6960 E. Sunrise Drive; 299-3132

Tucson has a bit of a fried chicken shortfall, unfortunately, but every Wednesday, the northeast-side hip dining spot offers a great plate of crispy, juicy goodness. It would be nice to have the option any given day, but we'll take what we can get.

Fried Squash Blossoms

Reilly Craft Pizza and Drink

101 E. Pennington St.; 882-5550

The pizza's good at Reilly and it's a really charming place to eat in general, but the appetizers are amazing, in particular, the herbed ricotta-filled fried squash blossoms. Now, if we'll be able to get those out in Reilly's forthcoming beer garden, life will be just a bit more enjoyable.

Something From the Freezer

Roma Imports

627 S. Vine Ave.; 792-3173

The fresh-out-of-the-kitchen and deli counter options are great at this somewhat difficult to find Italian food paradise, but if you grab one of their frozen pasta options to take home, you're one step away from fooling your friends and family into thinking you became a vaguely proficient chef overnight.

The Digby

Cartel Coffee Lab

2516 N. Campbell Ave.; 225-0437

We're fans of breakfast sandwiches and there aren't a lot of great ones in Tucson. Thankfully, Tempe's Cartel (I know, I know) has a great one: Ciabatta, bacon, sunny-side up eggs, tomato, spinach, and a pesto aioli. Simple and delicious.

Quinoa Bowl

La Cocina

201 N. Court Ave.; 365-3053

Someone was bound to figure out how to make an appealing dish out of the South American superfood, quinoa—a dish you'd actually enjoy rather than just feeling good about the idea of it. Gluten-free and filled with lot of the generally healthy things that some of us might usually grimace over, this is a bowl of vegan paradise—with or without tofu, even if that's not normally your thing.

Grilled Cheese

Feast

3719 E. Speedway Blvd.; 326-9363

The peril of a list like this is that you overlook restaurants that change their menu up frequently, like Doug Levy's Feast. Whatever he decides to make each month is worth trying, but in particular, he's turned out to be quite a wizard with grilled cheese sandwiches, which are generally a staple of each monthly offering.

The Bob Burger

Bob Dobb's

2501 E. Sixth St.; 325-3767

The Bob burger has to be considered a Tucson classic. Two patties, soaked in Worcestershire and Soy sauce, with cheddar cheese, in a bar that seems to only change when a new coat of paint is applied to the infamous walls. We're still not happy that they put up an exterior sign, but I guess nothing lasts forever.

Cabeza tacos on corn tortillas

Taqueria Pico de Gallo

2618 S. Sixth Ave.; 623-8775

The cabeza (yes, that's head meat, and it's de-freaking-licious) practically melts in your mouth, and whatever they season it with is perfection. The corn tortillas are made fresh there every day. You've got to order a horchata with it too—it's the best in town. — JK

Spicy Lamb Tongue Taco

Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails

135 S. Sixth Ave.; 623-7700

I'm biased on this one, because I was a chef at Janos when he first introduced his Lamb Four Ways from the Heart of Mexico dish (the lamb tongue taco was a part of it). The lamb with the radishes and slaw is a wonderfully balanced dish with complex flavors, and I don't think there's ever enough lamb on menus. Or tongue, for that matter. — JK

Sonoran Hot Dog w/ everything

El Guero Canelo

Three locations

There are probably about 1,000 places you can get Sonoran hot dogs now, but this remains my favorite. Salty bacon, pungent onions, spicy jalapeno sauce (I like to rip up my grilled pepper and throw it in there, too), but that soft, fresh bun is what makes it spectacular. — JK

Shrimp Cocktail/Shrimp tacos

Sinaloa Restaurante

5601 E. 22nd St.; 790-2888

Yes, there are two dishes here but his tiny mid-town Mexican joint has a way with shrimp. The medium shrimp cocktail must have a couple dozen shrimp and the "juice" is such a perfect balance of tomatoes, scallions, cukes and lime that you want to drink it. The tacos—fried are the best—are perfection. — RC

Tortilla Soup

Amelia Grey's Café

3073 N. Campbell Ave.; 326-0063

That a non-Mexican can crank out such a perfect tortilla soup is amazing. Slightly creamy, chickeny rich and with more than a hint of heat, this soup is a most satisfying meal. Topped with crispy, colorful tortilla chips, this soup will cure anything that ails you even if you are feeling fine. — RC

PICO DE GALLO

Taqueria Pico de Gallo

2618 S. Sixth Ave.; 623-8775

The South Tucson's restaurant's namesake can be a little confusing to some, because most of the time when we talk about Pico de Gallo, we're referring to the salsa fresca with chunks of tomato, onion and jalapeno. However, in this case, this is more of a post-taco coda, with various tropical fruit cut into wedges, jammed into a red Solo cup, with lime juice and chili powder. Spicy, tangy, sweet and delicious.

Carne Seca in JUST about anything

El Charro

Multiple locations

Before the Sonoran hot dog, this was the dish that made Tucson famous-ish. One week recently, El Charro's website announced that weather had disturbed their let's-dry-meat-on-the-roof process. There was only a brief interruption in availability, but it was too long.

Putting Red Chile Pork on Things

Poco and Mom's

1060 S. Kolb Road; 325-7044

We are generally opposed to the endorsement of anything from New Mexico, but the red chile pork at blink-and-you'll-miss-it Eastside stop makes us re-evaluate that irrational position. This place is packed nearly all the time with a deeply loyal crowd coming back again and again, for dishes like the Silver City Breakfast, which is, of course, a dish that can be improved with some red chile pork on top.

Boca Balls

Boca

828 E. Speedway Blvd.; 777-8134

Breaded fried chipotle mashed-potato balls. That's all you really need to know, right?

Plato Poca Cosa

Café Poca Cosa

110 E. Pennington St.; 622-6400

Just let Suzana Davila pick what you eat. You can't go wrong. This goes for her sisters at the breakfast-and-lunch-only Little Poca Cosa as well.

Raspados

Sonoran Delights

921 W. Congress St.; 623-3020

We're not sure we've had a bad raspado, but Sonoran Delights seem to do a little extra with shaved ice, fruit and sweetened condensed milk.

Half-Price Tortas

Molcas

110 E. Grant Road

Thursday. Half-price tortas. And they're delicious.

Menudo

Teresa's Mosaic Café

2455 N. Silverbell Road; 624-4512

Teresa's has some degree of fame from a Food Network stunt with their huevos rancheros, but c'mon, when a place has great menudo, that should really be what you're ordering. In red and white versions, it's not just for hangover relief, but don't overlook that.

Your Choice of Tamales

Tucson Tamale Company

2545 E. Broadway Blvd.; 305-4760

Yes, it feels a little strange to say the most notable place to get a tamale in a town full of delicious ones is an establishment offering those of a "gourmet" variety, throwing tradition out the window. Still, everything on the wide-ranging menu is as delicious as they look on the page. Affordable and delicious.

Killer Mailman Burrito

Tooley's Café

299 S. Park Ave.

Good luck trying to figure out when this Lost Barrio breakfast and lunch spot is open, but if you happen to be lucky enough to catch them during operating hours, grab a Killer Mailman, a red chili and sour cream soaked tribute to roasted, shredded turkey.

Something in a Caramelo

BK's

Two locations

Yes, you could get a Sonoran hot dog (and they're worth getting, since they're arguably as good as the famous Guero), but the caramelo (essentially a cheese and meat tortilla sandwich) might be the best thing on the menu. Maybe the pastor, maybe the asada, but have them throw some chorizo in as well. Everything is better with chorizo anyhow (if you disagree, we have our vegan choices in a sidebar).

Sonoran Hot Dog

Aqui Con El Nene

Generally at the corner of Wetmore and Flowing Wells

It might be better than either BK's or El Guero Canelo. It feels wrong to even type that, but you'll have to try one in the interest of research.

Breakfast Burrito

Pretty much any corner in town

Move away from Tucson for a while and you might find yourself missing the blissful accessibility of a solid, delicious and (perhaps overly) filling breakfast burrito. They're underappreciated masterpieces, only a few minutes away at any given moment.

Shrimp Culichi (in green chile sauce)

Mariscos Chihuahua

Multiple locations

A creamy green chili sauce over tender, delicious shrimp. We all know the person who won't eat seafood in Tucson, this is the dish that will change their mind.

Green Chile Chicharron tacos

La Botana

3200 N. First Ave.; 777-8801

The fried pork skin with bits of meat is deliciously crunchy and salty and spicy, wrapped in a soft tortilla. It's complete umami, especially with a nice cold beer. — JK


Tucson's Top Five Vegan Dishes

So you're vegan and you're in Tucson. Some people might tell you tough luck, you're in a state full of cowboys who love meat. Those people may or may not be right, but there are plenty of us cowboys and girls who are into Boca burgers and cruelty-free BLTs. Tucson is more vegan-friendly than one might initially think. Here's a list of just a few of the best vegan dishes around town to sink your teeth into. You can get a start here, and we'll leave you to discover the rest of the underground vegan food scene on your own. — AG

Donuts

Le Cave's Bakery

1219 S. Sixth Ave.; 624-2561

Portland may be home to the famous Voodoo Doughnut, but vegans may be shocked, stunned and super stoked to find out that Tucson also has a vegan doughnut joint–or rather, a "Vegetable Do-nut Shop," as their sign reads. Nearly all the doughnuts at Le Cave's Bakery are totally, 100 percent vegan, excluding the cream filled ones. Where Voodoo is hip, trendy and occasionally offensive when naming their doughnuts, Le Cave's keeps it nice and simple with glazed, chocolate, raspberry bismarcks and maple long johns. They don't need an excess of flair, because they've been in Tucson since 1935, and they know what the people want, vegans included.

General Tso's Veggie Chicken

Guilin Chinese Restaurant

3250 E. Speedway Blvd.; 320-7768

Guilin Healthy Chinese has a lot of veggie meat options that are delicious, but there's something about the General that keeps you coming back. Always steaming hot and framed with bright green broccoli florets, General Tso's comes smothered in spicy sweet red sauce. It's one of those dishes at a restaurant that kind of ruins the rest of the menu for you; once you've had it, you'll perpetually be torn between ordering something that you haven't tried before, or getting General Tso's. And if you do switch it up, someone else might get it, and they probably won't share with you.

Tofu Scramble

Cup Café

311 E. Congress St.; 798-1618

Almost every vegan has probably eaten tofu scramble at one time or another. In terms of veggie breakfasts, it's pretty much a staple. At The Cup Cafe, they get it right. Not overloaded with salt and not attempting to be something it's not, their scramble also comes with house fried potatoes, two vegan sausage patties, your choice of toast or English muffin, and a cup of fresh fruit. Overall, it's a breakfast that doesn't weigh you down or make you feel like you just ate enough soy product to last you a year. The tofu scramble at The Cup Cafe is one of the best vegan breakfasts available in Tucson, for sure.

Vegetable Sampler

Zemam's Ethiopian Cuisine

2731 E. Broadway Blvd.; 323-9928

One of the many great things about Ethiopian food is that it's perfect for those times of indecision; when you can't make up your mind about which item you want to order. Zemam's Ethiopian Cuisine has a long list of vegan choices, so going with their vegetable sampler and picking three different dishes is a win-win. The bread that comes with the food, called injera, is vegan, and as long as you avoid the obvious meat and dairy dishes mentioned on the menu, you can mix and match to your heart's delight.

Deep Dish Veggie Pizza

Rocco's Little Chicago

2707 E. Broadway Blvd.; 321-1860

Vegan pizzas can be really hit or miss, more often than not on the miss side. Vegan pizza has to be more than a few veggies and some boring marinara sauce. This is something that Rocco's Little Chicago knows. Their Veggie Pizza, which has spinach, grilled onions, peppers, portabella mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and garlic, is not messing around. It is the veggie pizza to end all veggie pizzas. And if you're gonna get it, you have to get it deep dish. You could try it on thin crust, but why would you do that? Deep dish it and experience Rocco's Veggie Pizza in all its herbivorous glory.

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