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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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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

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


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


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


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.

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