Tucson Show Guide Dining Out: A Local’s Quick Guide to 25 Hidden Culinary Gems
There are some great restaurants in Tucson, and not all of them are on the beaten path. Trip Advisor informs us that of the 2,000 or so places to eat around here, the following are in the top ten: Vivace, Flying V, Wildflower, Beyond Bread, The Grill at Hacienda del Sol, Tucson Tamale Company, The Cup Cafe in Hotel Congress, Cafe Poca Cosa, Biscuits Country Cafe, and Flemings Steak House.
And while those popular places are all undoubtedly good, there are other eateries that this writer, eater, and drinker really likes that you should know about. Most of these are in Tucson’s central, west, north, or northwest areas because they are less well known to many showgoers than downtown establishments and because of their proximity to a lot of show venues. And listen, everybody gets a bad meal or deal at even the best restaurants once in a while, but I love these places and would go back!
***-***** This local’s favorites and extra favorites
$-$$$$$ Less to more expensive
BW Beer, wine
BWC Beer, wine, cocktails
HH Good happy hour
P Free parking
SP Street parking
RS Reservations suggested
5 Points Market and Restaurant
**** Not my idea of either — more like a café — but, oh my sweet Aunt Nellie — the food! Everything but the bread is baked on the premises, is locally sourced and usually organic, and is delicious. Try the ham and camembert sandwich with baked pear and almond butter. Yowzer. (While you’re there check out Bon, the quirky French gift shop next door.) 756 S. Stone Ave. (520) 623-3888. Open 7:00 AM – 3:00 PM daily. $$. SP.
Athens Greek Restaurant
**** This long-time Tucson spot still has the best Greek food in town, including lamb shanks and sweetbreads (don’t ask). We order a steady supply of different appetizers and main courses and let the server surprise us. Lots of fun. 500 N. 4th Ave. (520) 624-6886. Open until 10:00 PM. $$$. BWC. RS. P. SP.
Bisbee Breakfast Club
*** Terrific omelets, French toast, and biscuits and gravy. Possibly the best coffee in Tucson. There are 3 locations in Tucson, but the one at 2936 E. Broadway is the closest to downtown. (520) 327-0029. $$. P.
**** No, this isn’t a hangout for Wiccans, although they’d certainly be welcome in this quirky bar and deli in the middle of the Fourth Ave. shops. With its laid-back, retro/Goth/ambience, Bison Witches is popular with locals, students, and lucky tourists for good reason: good value, great food, fun location. Parking is the only problem, but there’s always something on a side street. 326 N. Fourth Ave. (520) 740-1541. Open 11 AM to midnight every single day for food, and until 2 AM for drinks. $. BWC. SP.
*** Very good Mexican food, easy to get to, good happy hour, outside patio, build-your-own burritos, and some kickin’ combo plates make this unassuming little Mexican restaurant a good bet for the gem show crowd. 3200 N. 1st Ave. (520) 777-8801. Open until 10:00 PM. $$. HH. BW. P.
Brother John’s Beer, Bourbon and BBQ
*** Where there’s smoke . . . there’s Brother John’s. This huge place is noisy (it used to be a college dance spot), but the food is good and there’s lots of room. And to go with that smoky barbeque you’ll find over 250 whiskies and almost 50 rotating draft beers on tap. Woo-hoo. 1801 N. Stone Ave. (520) 867-6787. Open until 10:00. $$. BWC. P.
Fox and Hound
*** The go-to for big, loud, spur-of-the-moment parties: this sports bar and grill is huge inside, with seating upstairs and down, lots of beer on tap, and better-than-average American food. 7625 N. La Cholla just north of the Foothills Mall. Open until 2:00 AM NOTE! As of November 2017, BOTH Ina and Orange Grove are closed at the I-10 freeway! Take the Prince, Sunset, or Ruthrauff exits instead. (520) 575-1980. $$. BWC. HH. P.
*** Little Frank’s is a true greasy spoon — maybe a bit grimier than most — but the food is fast and tasty, and their fresh, generous breakfasts are hard to beat. Lunch is good, too. At night Frank’s morphs into Francisco’s, but no coat or tie required. (Ha, ha!) Their motto? Elegant dining — elsewhere. 3843 E. Pima. (520) 881-2710. $. P.
**** While there are several Guadalajara Grills in Tucson, the new one at Oracle and Sahuaro Vista is exceptional. Fresh pico de gallo salsa is made right at your table or even bar stool, and the food is great. Emma Vera, the owner, must sleep in the back because she’s always on site overseeing details. 7360 N. Oracle. (520) 989-0500. Open until 10:00 PM. $$. BWC. P.
**** Pronounced with an almost silent “G,” the name means “cinnamon blond guy” and no doubt refers to owner Daniel Contreras’s red hair. Daniel serves up great Sonoran style Mexican food, at cheap prices. Try the amazing Sonoran hotdogs and the street tacos, and well, just try all of it. (Only down side? They don’t serve alcohol.) 2480 N. Oracle Road. (520) 882-8977. Variable hours but open to at least 10:00 PM every night, later Thursday-Saturday. $. P.
*** This is real Mexican seafood that hasn’t been Gringo-ized. Almost every tasty fish dish is $13.95 or less, and is served with rice, salad, and tortillas. Try the fish or shrimp in culichi sauce made with fresh cilantro. Several Tucson locations; the best is at 1009 N. Grande Ave., just south of Speedway. (520) 623-3563. Open until 9:00 PM. $$. BWC. P.
**** Good food, great patio seating, an omnipresent owner, and a terrific happy hour make this one of my Tucson favorites. Try any of the happy hour snacks: Sorry Charlie and the Troy roll (a dramatic flaming salmon roll) are really good. Try the inexpensive house sake, or splurge on a tiny pink bottle of sweet, unfiltered Nigori sake as an after dinner drink. 6091 N. Oracle. (520) 797-0888. Open 5:00-10:00 PM. $$$. HH. BWC. P.
*** This unassuming Greek place at Campbell and Blacklidge serves huge portions of very good Greek food, including my favorite, saganaki (alcohol-laden flaming cheese). If you aren’t ravenous, consider splitting a meal or you’ll be toting half of it home. 2990 E. Campbell, # 130. (520) 327-2841. Open until 10:00 PM. $$. BW. P.
The Rockabilly Grill
**** Like the O, this has weathered many incarnations, but the latest is a happy surprise: a large, airy, well-lit bar with really good standard American food and great prices. It isn’t much for décor, but if you are looking for friendly staff and patrons, and a no-stress atmosphere, this is perfect. 3700 N. Oracle Rd. (520) 888-1900. Open until 2:00 AM $. BWC. P.
Royal Sun Restaurant
**** This surprisingly good restaurant in the Best Western at Stone and Speedway makes a great breakfast (free if you’re a guest),and from 5:00-10:00 PM they serve up wonderful from-scratch American comfort food. (Killer cheeseburgers.) If that weren’t enough, the bar does 2-for-1 drinks every evening. 1015 N. Stone Ave. (520) 622-8871. $$. BWC. HH. P.
*** Located a stone’s throw from downtown at the cable car terminus on West Congress in the Mercado San Agustin, Seis is essentially a Mexican take-out place in a giant patio. The street tacos are superb, but everything is good and the Mercado is always fun. There’s often live music. 130 S. Avenida del Convento, Ste. 100. (520) 622-2002. Open 8:00 AM – 9:00 PM. $$. P.
**** If you don’t know this little Indian restaurant, you’re missing out. It’s owned by a family who are always there, overseeing everything. Lots of vegetarian options, wonderful chicken tikka and naan. No reservations and always full, so come early and be patient. 853 E. Grant Rd. 520-624-9393. Open until 9:00. $$. BW. P.
Teresa’s Mosaic Café
***** In my top 3 favorite Mexican restaurants in Tucson, Teresa’s on Ironwood Hill (Grant) and Silverbell (behind the McDonald’s) has great food at good prices, and you can watch them make the tortillas. I have eaten here at least 50 times and it is always exceptional. Lots of daily specials. It’s busy during the gem show, but the wait is worth it. 2456 Silver Mosaic Dr. (520) 624-4512. Open 7:30 AM – 9:00 PM Monday-Saturday and Sundays until 2:00 PM. $$. BWC. P.
Wild Garlic Grill
**** This place has gone up north and upscale, having moved from the quirky 1st Ave. location to the former Schlomo & Vito’s in Plaza Colonial at Campbell and Skyline. Chef Schultz is a Tucson legend. Expect gorgeous American comfort food beautifully prepared. 2870 E. Skyline Dr., #120. (520) 206-0017. Open 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM Tuesdays-Saturdays. $$$. BWC. HH. P. RS.
Wok and Roll
**** Amazing seafood and Chinese food buffet: all the usual Chinese favorites and sushi rolls, plus mountains of seafood delights such as freshly opened oysters, king crab legs, steamed crawdads, fish, mussels, and more. 3000 W. Ina Rd. (520) 297-1279. Open until 10:00 PM. $$$. BW. P.
BREWERIES & BEER JOINTS
Crooked Tooth Brewery
**** This place looks like an old car repair place, but is a delightful new micro-brewery. The young owners are creating some great beers on the premises, and the atmosphere is fresh, airy, and fun. Random live music. Food trucks most evenings. 228 E. 6th St. to the immediate west of Reproduction Graphics (in the alley, really). (520) 444-5305. Open noon to midnight. $$. B. SP.
Dillinger Brewing Company
**** Good luck finding this place — as in, if you find it you are indeed lucky, because the young owners are turning out some truly exceptional craft beers. (Try the lively Serrano Seduction with a dusting of Tajin spice around the glass rim! Yeah, baby.) In business for a barely year, Eric and Aaron are supplying 50 local restaurants, but opened the bar just for fun. Look for access to the industrial complex between Cube Storage and the pawn shop on the west side of Oracle at 3895 N. Oracle Road. (520) 207-2312. Food trucks on occasion. $$. B. SP.
**** Sky Bar is huge, usually loud, and often uncomfortable room — but! They have oodles of beers on tap, good prices, a small outside patio, and it’s dog-friendly! For eats, go next door to Brooklyn Pizza and they’ll deliver some of Tucson’s very best pizza and sandwiches to your bar stool. (Pizza is thin-crust, sandwiches are large, overstuffed, absolutely fresh, ridiculously inexpensive, and delicious. Personally I love the Wop.) There is no table service, so don’t complain if no one tops off your water. 536 N. 4th Ave. (520) 622-4300. Open until 2 AM. $. BWC. SP.
Tap & Bottle
*** Beer and wine heaven, both on tap. Cool retro/industrial chic décor, sometimes live music in 6th Ave. location. No food but you can bring your own in. 403 N. 6th Ave. (Also a new location at Ina and Oracle.) (520) 344-8999. Open noon to midnight. $$. BW. SP.
Article reprinted from the 2018 Tucson Show Guide
TERRI HAAG is a freelance writer based in Tucson, Arizona. She has been a frequent contributor to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since the 1990s.
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