Restaurant Guide–Tucson

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  • Date indicates the most recent update of the restaurants listed
  • Bold indicates my recommendations; others come from what I consider to be good sources (see bottom of page for further explanation)

Marana

Mena’s Fry Bread–11750 W. Camino Pinos (Native American) Sat & Sun only (open 9 am to 5 pm).  Near the intersection of N. Sandario Rd. & W. Barnett Rd. Reviewers say this may be the best fry bread they have ever had (red chile fry bread is recommended but I don’t know if they have different kinds). Reviews say it has curbside service only, but this may have been during the pandemic. Google Maps now says they have dine-in service. (Dining room is open 9-30-21)

Tucson

Alafia–1070 N. Swan Rd. (West African) Closed Sun (and closed from 3 to 5 pm).  Food from Benin in West Africa that reviewers say is delicious and authentic. Has lunch specials from 11 to 3 (this looks like a good way to sample the food at a very good price). (Dining room is open 9-30-21)

Aqui Con El Nene–65 W. Valencia Rd. (Mexican) Open 10 am to 11 pm (closed Sun).  A former food truck that is now a restaurant–serves Sonoran hot dogs that are supposed to be better than Guero Canelo and a lot cheaper. Also has tacos. (Dining room is open 7-31-21)

Beyond Bread–6260 E. Speedway Blvd. (Sandwiches) Open 7 am to 6 pm (8 pm Fri & Sat).  There are several locations around town. This seems to be the most recommended restaurant in Tucson by locals (I know from living in El Paso that you don’t necessarily want to eat Mexican food all the time). Bread is especially good and vegetarian options are recommended if you like this sort of thing. Reviewers say the soup is just OK. (Dining room is open 7-31-21)

Cafe Santa Rosa–2615 S. 6th Ave. (Native American) Open 8 am to 9 pm–8 to 6 on Sun (closed Mon).  Good reviews, and offers a taste of Native American food from the Tucson area. Indian taco & fry bread with red chile are recommended. Combination plates allow you to try both a taco and a flat enchilada. (Dining room is open 9-30-21)

Chef Alisah’s–5931 N. Oracle Rd. (Bosnian) Closed Mon (and closed from 1:30 to 5:30 pm).  Very good reviews and unusual items served (it is very similar to Middle Eastern and Mediterranean style). (Dining room is open 8-22-20)

China Phoenix–7090 N. Oracle Rd. (Chinese) Open daily until 9:30 pm.  Authentic Hong Kong style food (not Americanized). It’s mostly upscale and expensive (banquet style). I really enjoyed the items I tried. (Dining room is open 12-16-20)

China Szechwan–1800 E. Fort Lowell Rd. (Chinese) Open Daily.  Sichuan style. Reviewers say they are in “Chinese food heaven” with the authentic Sichuanese menu here. (Dining room is open 7-31-21)

Dao’s Tai Pan’s–446 N. Wilmot Rd. (Vietnamese) Open daily 10 am to 8 pm.  Flavorful Vietnamese that is a popular spot for the nearby hospital workers. Some reviewers say this is the best place in Tucson for bun (vermicelli bowls), while Miss Saigon has the best pho. Now has a location at 4206 N. 1st Ave. (Dining room is open 9-30-21)

El Charro–311 N. Court Ave. (Mexican) Open Daily.  Famous for its carne seca. (Dining room is open 8-22-20)

El Guero Canelo–5201 S. 12th Ave. (Mexican) Open daily (open to midnight on weekends).  Sonoran hot dogs. This is a regular restaurant (not a food cart) with seating that apparently looks like picnic tables. Not exactly fine dining, but people say these hot dogs are the best (and the condiments are quite good also). Additional locations at 2480 N. Oracle and 5802 E. 22nd St. (Dining room is open 12-16-20)

Guilin Healthy Chinese–4445 E. Broadway Blvd. (Chinese) Open Daily.  I am not convinced it has anything but Americanized Chinese food, but it specializes in vegetarian and MSG free food (and supposedly is very good). With black bean sauce, curry tofu, and other interesting looking dishes, it may very well have authentic Chinese food. Note: they have a full menu of meat dishes, it’s just that you can get vegetarian if you want it. (Dining room is open 8-30-21)

Ikkyu–2040 W. Orange Grove Rd. (Japanese) Open until 8 pm (closed Sun).  What stands out here is the ramen (many say this is the best dish). (Dining room is open 8-22-20)

Jonathan’s Cork–6320 E. Tanque Verde Rd. (American) Dinner only (closed Sun). The owner is an expert New Orleans style chef, and the blackened prime rib he prepared was one of the best taste treats I have had (but it is by special request–it is not on the menu).  Steakhouse atmosphere, but has a variety of main dishes. (Dining room is open 7-31-21)

Jun Dynasty–2933 E. Grant Rd. (Chinese) Open Daily. Reviewers say this is authentic Sichuan style food. Pork with preserved vegetables, dumplings in red chile, water boiled fish, dry pot beef flank, kung pao. (Dining room is open 7-31-21)

Lemongrass–344 N. 4th Ave. (Nepalese) Open daily 11:30 am to 8 pm (closed from 1:30 to 4:30 pm).  Really good reviews, and I think what people like best is the curry with coconut sauce (they also have almond, spinach, or tomato based curry). I think they are trying to be fresh and organic, and the flavors may not be exactly like they are in Nepal (which could be a good thing since some Nepalese food I have tried is heavy on the cumin). (Dining room is open 9-30-21)

Little Mexico Steakhouse–2851 W. Valencia Rd. (Mexican) Open 7 am to 9 pm (closed Tue).  This is a long time restaurant that just about everyone has visited and everyone has an opinion. The good seems to be the steaks, burgers, and the fact that the Mexican food has real flavor (they have good comments about the enchiladas). Food seems to be different than most of the Mexican food in Tucson, and this leads to some of the negative comments (but also many of the good ones). (Dining room is open 9-30-21)

Los Nopales–3051 S. Kinney Rd. (Mexican) Open 10:30 am to 7:30 pm (closed Sun & Mon).  Located w. of Tucson on the road that leads to the Old Tucson movie set. Reviewers say this is old style Sonoran cuisine that seems as if it may be better quality than some of the restaurants in the city. Carne seca and chile relleno are two of the most recommended items. (Dining room is open 9-30-21)

Mantis Gourmet Chinese–8250 N. Cortaro Rd. (Chinese & Vietnamese) Open 11 am to 8 pm (closed Sun). This looks like one of the best restaurants along the far west side of Tucson near I-10. Although there is a large menu of Chinese items, it is the smaller menu of Vietnamese items that seem to get the best reviews. (Dining room is open 9-30-21)

Millie’s Pancake Haus–6541 E. Tanque Verde Rd. (Breakfast) Open 6:30 am to 2 pm (closed Mon).  Menu has a wide variety of omelettes, waffles (including Belgian waffles) and other items. Lunch seems to be mostly daily specials posted on a blackboard. Reviewers particularly like the German pancakes. This isn’t a one-hit wonder restaurant–there are many recommended items (particularly the European food). These can take more time to prepare, though, than at a typical restaurant. (Dining room is open 9-30-21)

Old Peking–2522 E. Speedway Blvd. (Chinese) Open Daily. Apparently they have authentic food available–both Cantonese and Sichuanese. Food comes with MSG unless you ask them to omit it. Dishes here are more “home style” Chinese and reasonably priced. (Dining room is open 9-30-21)

Poco and Mom’s–7000 E. Tanque Verde Rd. (New Mexican) Open 8 am to 9 pm (closed Mon).  New Mexican style food that most reviewers say is very good. The reviews on Yelp make me want to go, while some of the photos indicate that I should skip it (because of the color of the red and green chile). I know that it is hard to take good photos, though, so most likely I will try it. (Dining room is open 6-19-20)

Polish Cottage–4520 E. Broadway Blvd. (Polish) Open daily to 7 pm. Stuffed cabbage, reuben, apple pie & apple cake are recommended. Mixed reviews on the pierogi–some say they are not made in house and are not very good. (Dining room is open 6-19-20)

Sher-E Punjab–853 E. Grant Rd. (Indian) Closed Mon (closed from 2:30 to 5 pm).  Good Indian food with a good selection of choices, and has a good spice level appropriate for Indian food for customers who order it this way. The naan is the biggest complaint here (but they say rice is good). (Dining room is open 12-16-20)

Thai China Bistro–5121 E. Grant Rd. (Thai) Open daily except Sat lunch & Sun lunch.  Reviewers say get green, red, or masaman curry. (Temporarily closed 9-30-21)

The Little One–151 N. Stone Ave. (Mexican) Lunch only (closed Sat & Sun).  Brother and sister owners use the recipes of their parents who operated the now closed Cafe Poca Cosa. Upscale Mexican food that is “modern” and uses fresh and local ingredients. Vegan items are on the menu. (Dining room is open 9-30-21)

The Quesadillas–2418 N. Craycroft Rd. (Mexican) Lunch only (closed Sun).  Yelp reviewers say this is one of the best Mexican restaurants in the city. Its best feature is the flavorful meats (al pastor, etc.). (Dining room is open 8-22-20)

Wildflower–7037 N. Oracle Rd. (New American) Open daily 11 am to 9 pm (this schedule may be seasonal).  Excellent place for upscale dining (much like Jonathan’s Cork). Menu is less traditional than Jonathan’s, though. (Dining room is open 7-31-21)

Zemam’s–119 E. Speedway Blvd. (Ethiopian) Closed Mon & Tue.  Can get a very good vegetarian meal. Note: the Broadway location is temporarily closed. (Dining room is open 7-31-21)

Mobile Food Vendors:

Desert Weirdough Bakers–A trained professional pastry chef who focuses on seasonal and regionally sourced ingredients for cookies, muffins, brownies, and other treats. Much of it is gluten free and/or dairy free but many people cannot believe it is this way when they taste it. Cranberry cookies and apple cider donuts have been recommended to me by a customer of hers. The ancho chile brownie with a sweet chipotle icing also sounds very good. See her Instagram or Facebook pages for times and locations. (Added 12-16-20)

 

Notes About This List:

This is a “master list” of restaurants that I have seen on the Internet or other sources and would like to try, or that I think would be of interest to others.  I do not mean for this to be an exhaustive list of every good place to eat, but it should represent a good sample of the most interesting or unique restaurants, along with a few that best represent an area’s regional cuisine.  My own recommendations are in Bold.

I am not looking to include:

  • Fine dining (unless they are unique because of regional specialties)
  • Low end restaurants that are popular with locals but may not be of much interest to travelers or people in general (everyone will have to use their judgment on this one)

Extra consideration for the following:

  • The food is organic, fresh, healthy, or farm to table
  • The restaurant serves a relatively hard to find type of ethnic food and reviews are good

In addition to the regular guidelines I try to include:

  • The best Asian restaurants in the area even if they are not totally authentic
  • Particularly good Mexican restaurants (this usually means the food is from a particular state in Mexico or it is one of the best examples of a U.S. regional style)

Please feel free to leave your own comments or suggestions.

 

Sources:

Chowhound (Tucson)

City-Data (Best Mexican Restaurants in Tucson)

City-Data (Tucson eats)

e-Gullet (Tucson eats)

Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog

This Is Tucson reports on restaurants that have closed during the COVID pandemic including some that were on my list (Cafe Poca Cosa and Gee’s Garden)

Urbanspoon.com (former web site which I used for preliminary research)

Yelp (Tucson)

Zomato (Tucson)

2 thoughts on “Restaurant Guide–Tucson

  1. Hi there! I work with a new hot dog vendor/ restaurant. We also hold craft/vendor events every Friday. Is there a way to get on your list or interviewed.

    • Yes. Please reply to your post giving the name, address, etc. of the restaurant. A mobile stand or food truck would be all right as long as the public can find out its location and hours. I follow the guidelines in “Notes About This List” for including it on the list, and I am always looking for new places to add. Whether or not it is on the list you are welcome to make comments to this page. It is good to hear from you.

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