You can often judge the quality of Tucson's Mexican restaurants by their location, but occasionally, there's an exception to that rule—in this case, really tasty Mexican food on the northwest side of town.
Despite the unassuming strip-mall exterior, Lupita's Café, at Ina and Thornydale roads, is serving authentic soups, tasty tacos and delicious breakfasts.
For our first visit, Ted and I decided to try out dinner on a quiet weekday evening. There was only one other couple in the festively decorated restaurant, and the service was quick and friendly. My only complaint was that the hostess seated us right next to the busing and drink station, which was quite noisy. The chips were still hot, and the salsa was chunky and fresh.
Ted ordered the beef fajitas ($12.95), and I ordered the tamale plate ($6.95). I asked our server whether I should go with the green corn or the red chile, and she was gracious enough to give me one of each, saying that they were too delicious to choose between. She was right: The green corn tamale was slightly sweet and perfectly moist, with just the right balance of masa and filling. The red chile tamale wasn't even a touch dry, and the shredded beef was just a little spicy, with a rich, smoky sauce.
Ted's beef fajitas came out on a sizzling-hot platter, accompanied by warm flour tortillas. The portion was generous, and the beef, onions and peppers were beautifully caramelized without being overcooked. The ranchero beans that came on the side were topped with a nice sprinkle of queso fresco, and the Mexican-style rice was dotted with diced onions and carrots.
Our second visit came on a lazy, late Saturday morning, and I was excited to see the sign out front advertising both red and white menudo, which is offered on Saturdays and Sundays only. The whole restaurant was fragrant with the scent. The small bowl of white menudo ($3.95) was a good-sized portion. The hominy was perfectly cooked, and the tripe was tender and not at all chewy. It came with a toasted, buttered bun—perfect for sopping up the last of the broth. The menudo is also available to-go, in quarts and gallons.
Ted started off with the Sonoran hot dog ($2.95), which rivaled some of the best we've tried in town. It included guacamole, which was a nice touch and made it extra-filling. It could have used a little more heat, but the bun was soft, and the dog was expertly wrapped in salty bacon.
Breakfast is served all day, every day, so I went for the carne seca and eggs ($7.95), while Ted opted for the carne asada tacos ($6.95). The carne seca was wonderfully crisp and beefy, and was scrambled in with the eggs. The breakfast portions are huge, if mine was any indication.
Ted's carne asada tacos would have been better if they hadn't been covered in a small mountain of shredded lettuce, but once they were uncovered, we found carne asada that was tender, yet crispy on the outside.
I was planning to try out the arroz con leche for dessert ($2.95), but couldn't find the room in my stomach after all of the menudo.
Lupita's also offers weekday lunch specials ($5.95) with a different soup made each day.
It's refreshing to see some authentic, tasty Mexican food on the Northwest side. The only thing Lupita's Café needs is more customers.