- Date indicates the most recent update of the restaurants listed
- Bold indicates my recommendations; others come from what I consider to be good sources
Mona’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. Map (Dining room is open 11-2-21)
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. Map (Dining room is open 11-2-21)
Mi Nidito–1813 S. 4th Ave. (Mexican) Closed Mon & Tue. Opened in 1952, this seems to be the first Sonoran restaurant in Tucson in which the owners stuck pretty closely to the authentic Sonoran recipes. Chile relleno, birria, and carne seca are popular. I originally left it off the list because of many who seem to think it is touristy, Americanized, and hyped-up, but an equal number say the food is great (and I think they care more about flavor than being authentic). Some dishes on the menu seem as if they must be the “real deal” Sonoran food. Map (Dining room is open 11-3-22)
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). Map (Dining room is open 9-30-21)
Aqui Con El Nene–65 W. Valencia Rd. (Mexican) Open 6 am to 10 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. Map (Dining room is open 11-2-21)
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. Map (Dining room is open 7-31-21)
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). Map (Dining room is open 11-2-21)
China Phoenix–7090 N. Oracle Rd. (Chinese) Closed Mon. Authentic Hong Kong style food (not Americanized). It’s mostly upscale and expensive (banquet style). I really enjoyed the items I tried. Map (Dining room is open 11-2-21)
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. Map (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. Map (Dining room is open 9-30-21)
El Charro–311 N. Court Ave. (Mexican) Open daily 11 am to 8:30 pm. Famous for its carne seca. This is said to be the oldest Mexican restaurant in the United States operated by the same family. If you are interested in the historical progression of Border Mexican food check out the topopo (volcano) salad created by the owner), the chimicanga (said to have been invented here when they accidentally dropped a burro into a pot of hot oil, or carne seca which is a Sonoran dish that was popularized here. This location of the restaurant has a very historic ambiance. Map (Dining room is open 11-3-22)
El Güero 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. Map (Dining room is open 11-2-21)
El Minuto Cafe–354 S. Main Ave. (Mexican) Open 11 am to 7:30 pm (closed Sun evening & Mon). Open since 1936, the founder came from a Lebanese family in El Paso and opened this place in Tucson because he loved Mexican food (at that time there were very few Mexican restaurants in town). This is old school food with the Tucson classics (carne seca, topopo salad, etc.). Regrettably there are no Lebanese dishes here but reviewers say the Mexican food is very good (maybe better than El Charro). Map (Dining room is open 11-3-22)
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. Map (Dining room is open 11-20-21)
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). Map (Dining room is open 11-20-21)
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. Map (Dining room is open 11-20-21)
Jun Dynasty–2933 E. Grant Rd. (Chinese) Closed Mon. 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. Map (Dining room is open 11-20-21)
La Indita–722 N. Stone Ave. (Mexican) Open daily except Sat lunch & Tue lunch. I’m listing this as a Mexican restaurant because its most popular items are chicken mole and other Mexican dishes, but these recipes actually have a Tarascan and Tohono O’odham heritage. Other dishes including the Tarascan taco and Indian taco are also Native American dishes. Map (Dining room is open 2-17-22)
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). Map (Dining room is open 11-20-21)
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). Map (Dining room is open 11-30-21)
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. Map (Dining room is open 11-2-21)
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. Map (Dining room is open 11-20-21)
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. Map (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. Map (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. Map (Dining room is open 6-19-20)
Polish Cottage–4520 E. Broadway Blvd. (Polish) Open daily to 8 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. Map (Dining room is open 11-2-21)
Rosa’s Mexican Food–1750 E. Fort Lowell Rd. (Mexican) Open daily 11 am to 8 pm. Old school restaurant that opened in 1970 but still gets very good reviews. The restaurant advertises its Sonoran fare such as green corn tamales. Rita Connelly in her book about Historic Restaurants of Tucson says the “Mexican flag” enchiladas with red, green, and sour cream toppings are the thing to try (I like this combination in El Paso so much that I think it would be worth giving the ones in Tucson a try). Map (Dining room is open 11-3-22)
Ruiz Hot Dogs Los Chipilones–1140 S. 6th Ave. (Hot Dogs) Open daily 11 am to 11 pm. Jackie Tran’s article in Bon Appétit includes this as the best place in Tucson for Sonoran hot dogs (even though El Güero Canelo won the James Beard Award for their version of it). He says these have a perfect ratio of toppings and earn points for having a toasted (rather than steamed) bun. Map (Dining room is open 2-17-22)
Sher-E Punjab–853 E. Grant Rd. (Indian) Closed Mon (closed from 2:30 to 4 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). Map (Dining room is open 11-20-21)
Thai China Bistro–7940 E. Broadway Blvd. (Thai) Closed Tue. Reviewers say get green, red, or masaman curry. Map (Dining room is open 8-29-22)
The Little One–151 N. Stone Ave. (Mexican) Open 9 am to 2 pm (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. Map (Dining room is open 11-2-21)
The Quesadillas–2418 N. Craycroft Rd. (Mexican) 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.). Map (Dining room is open 11-20-21)
Wildflower–7037 N. Oracle Rd. (New American) Open daily 11 am to 9 pm. Excellent place for upscale dining (much like Jonathan’s Cork). Menu is less traditional than Jonathan’s, though. Map (Dining room is open 11-20-21)
Zemam’s–119 E. Speedway Blvd. (Ethiopian) Closed Mon. Can get a very good vegetarian meal. Note: the Broadway location is temporarily closed. Map (Dining room is open 11-20-21)
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)
- For additional explanation of this list see Index
- Please feel free to leave your own comments or suggestions.
Desert Daze–Article by Jackie Tran in Bon Appétit (Mar. 2022)
- Cocteleria La Palma Mariscos y Mas–Aguachile is recommended.
- 5 Points Market & Restaurant–Daily baked goods such as sourdough sticky buns with a hazelnut, apple, and cardamom filling complement their egg sandwich. Market has items such as prickly pear nectar.
- Ruiz Hot Dogs Las Chipilones–Has Sonoran hot dogs with what he says is the perfect ratio of toppings, and a superior bun.
- The Citizen Hotel–Wine hotel with tastings of various Sonoran Desert wines.
- La Indita–Native American versions of Mexican food that offer items such as chicken mole with both fruitiness and bitterness from Chiapas cacao beans.
- Sushi on Oracle–He says overlook the uninspired name and enjoy the excellent sushi and Japanese craft beers.
- Barrio Charro–Combines Sonoran heirloom wheat bread with northern Mexican recipes to create a powerhouse lineup of excellent sandwiches.
- Mercado San Agustin–Collection of restaurants and shops that includes Seis Kitchen (get the Yucatan inspired poc chuc, an excellent chicken taco), La Estrella Bakery (pan dulce), and a farmer’s market on Thursdays;.
- Noodleholics–Has various types of authentic Chinese noodle bowls including spicy Sichuan beef soup, dry Guilin rice noodles, and other dishes such as a half duck.
- El Taco Rustico–Mesquite fired tacos with a number of excellent choices (his favorites are carne asada and quesbirria).
- Tanque Verde Ranch–Dude ranch with a Southwestern cowboy experience, but on Wednesday and Saturday nights they have a Cowboy Cookout with grilled meat and live country music.
- Tito & Pep–Food centers on mesquite-cooked small plates with cuisines that range from Japan to the Levant. Save room for the passion fruit panna cotta dessert.
- Tumerico–Plant based Latin restaurant with an ever-changing menu (jackfruit al pastor tacos are an example of what they offer).
James Beard Foundation America’s Classics
The following are locally owned restaurants that are distinguished by their timeless appeal, and which serve quality food that represents the character of their communities:
- Tucson: El Güero Canelo–5201 S. 12th Ave.
Note About “50 States, 50 Dishes” (Condé Nast)
Condé Nast published an article on Jul. 3, 2018 using various sources to compile a “list of the dishes that capture the hearts, souls, and (oh, yes) stomachs of these 50 states (plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico), and where you should order them.” For Arizona it was the Sonoran dog.
The editors recommended El Güero Canelo in Tucson who beat out nearly 200 other dogueros for the James Beard Award.
Bon Appétit, Mar. 2022 “Desert Daze”
Chowhound (former web site)
Rita Connelly, Historic Restaurants of Tucson, Charleston, SC: American Palate, 2018.
Urbanspoon.com (former web site which I used for preliminary research)