If you can't find Taqueria Juanitos, you'd better turn in your driver's license.
The building sits squarely along busy Grant Road and is painted a deep purple. (I'd love to make a reference to the band Deep Purple here, but I can't come up with anything that wouldn't sound like an insult to both the band and the restaurant.) Anyhow, you can see the building for blocks. The paint job was done, no doubt, to attract attention. And it apparently has, if the long line at lunch is any indication.
Suits, young couples with kids, old couples without kids, construction workers and office workers all lined up to order at the counter. The menu, with brightly colored pictures of the food, hangs above the counter, and three to four women work in a rather large kitchen.
The interior is also painted in shades of purple, with a huge mural of an Aztec hero, a shaman and a beautiful maiden; there's also a variety of framed artwork all over the place. The place virtually screams Mexican kitsch.
But is the food any good? In a word, yes.
Our lunches consisted of the No. 1 combo plate (carne asada, beans and rice, $6.50), the No. 6 carnitas taco combo ($4.75) and a ceviche tostada ($2.85). For breakfast, we had a breakfast burro filled with bacon, eggs and rice—we opted out of the beans that come with all breakfast burros ($4.25)—and huevos rancheros ($3.85).
The carnitas tacos are served street-style: Two soft corn tortillas are wrapped around shredded pork. The meat was tender and moist, but a little bland. A bit of the house green salsa—and a bit of the red, for good measure—added just what was needed. However, the carne asada was perfect, with crispy edges and an undertone of marinade and seasonings. The plate was pretty, with avocado slices, circles of sliced jalapeños, a bit of radish, lettuce, refried beans and rice.
The menu says that the restaurant doesn't use lard or fat, but the beans were still delicious. The texture was perfect, and the flavor of beans stood out. The rice was adequate.
The ceviche tostada was topped with a huge portion of citrusy mixed fish and slices of avocado. Baby shrimp, a white fish and surimi (imitation crab) had been chopped into fine pieces. It certainly would satisfy a craving for ceviche. My only complaint with the dish involved the fake crab: Yes, it added color and helped with the texture, but this really shouldn't be considered ceviche, because fake crab comes already prepared.
The breakfast burro was good, but we decided that we prefer potatoes over rice. There was nothing really special about the burro, but the fillings were nicely prepared and made the burro work.
The huevos rancheros plate was very pretty, with many of the same garnishes that were on the combo plates. Every time I've had this dish lately, the beans have been served on the side; Taqueria Juanitos did that, too. I prefer to have the beans schmeared on the tostada, followed by the egg, the salsa and whatever else. In any case, the eggs were prepared just right—a little bit oozy, but cooked through. Too bad for me that I had to do a little work to get all the elements together in one bite.
The service was excellent on both visits. For example, when we asked for a cup of coffee, the woman at the counter went out of her way to make a fresh pot.
There's no denying that Tucson has its fair share of taquerias—some not so good, some good, and some really good. Taqueria Juanitos fits somewhere between good and really good; I'll be back.