It's the Weekend. Let's Eat. Tucson.
We're all about giving you reasons to travel for a good meal. "It's the Weekend, Let's Eat." features itineraries for where to dine and what to order in cities throughout Arizona. This edition takes us to Tucson.
In 2005, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) named Popayan, Colombia, a City of Gastronomy as part of UNESCO's Creative Cities Network. Since then, 116 cities have become part of the network. Six are located in the United States, and only one is a City of Gastronomy: Tucson, in southern Arizona. What does that mean? In short, Tucson brings a good food game.
Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink is a former funeral home that's part restaurant, part beer garden and part underground speakeasy. For dinner, start off with one of the most popular items on the menu—Brussels sprouts. They're crunchy and spicy, even sweet, thanks to the hot sauce with pecan brittle crumbs. The star of the show, however, is the meatball and ricotta pizza. You could eat the San Marzano tomato sauce with a spoon, it's so good; the globs of creamy ricotta melt in your mouth; and the garlicky meatballs adorn a golden crust.
Creativity at Baja Cafe is as abundant as the appearance of the word "bacon" on the menu. The lineup changes about every two months, but the Coyote Eggs Benedict dish is a mainstay. Slice into a toasted English muffin topped with hatch green chiles, crispy jalapeño bacon and perfectly poached eggs, all smothered (in a good way) in a chipotle Hollandaise sauce. It's a little spicy, a little messy, and completely indulgent—the ideal meal after a hike or bike ride. On Instagram? Good. Browse Baja Cafe's account (@bajacafetucson) for weekly Benedict and pancake specials.
Seis Kitchen, with two locations in Tucson (and another slightly north in Oro Valley), features a menu that includes flavors from six Mexican regions. This means spice levels can range from mild to outstanding. Right in the middle of the spicy spectrum, you'll find the Chicken Tinga taco—shredded chicken in a smoky chipotle sauce served on an authentic corn tortilla with crema and avocado. Pair it with a Calabacita taco made with zucchini and squash—a tasty example of Tucson's UNESCO City of Gastronomy designation. Squash is a heritage ingredient of the region, grown locally for thousands of years. To transform it into calabacitas, it's simmered in a spicy tomato sauce with onion.
Let's say you hopped off the streetcar at Pueblo Vida Brewing Company on your way to Fourth Avenue from the Mercado San Agustin. And maybe you had an IPA (or three). What next? Well, continue up Fourth Avenue to BOCA Tacos y Tequila, where acclaimed chef Maria Mazon crafts some of the most imaginative tacos around, nearly 20 options in all. There's one with shredded pork slow-cooked in fresh tomatillo sauce, another stuffed with steak and Anaheim chiles, and one featuring a hash brown topped with a fried egg and draped in basil cilantro jalapeño crema. Chef Maria whips up her own salsas, too. Buy a few bottles to take home.
See how Chef Maria makes magic in the kitchen, and discover her favorite places to eat in Tucson in our video series "This is the Place I Was Telling You About".
The Cup Café in Hotel Congress is arguably the most popular spot for brunch in the city. If you had a dollar for every time someone recommended the cast-iron baked eggs (baked eggs with lots of gruyere, leeks and cubed ham), you'd be able to buy cast-iron baked eggs for the entire restaurant. But don't miss any of The Cup Café’s other menu items, like the Silverside Hash, a filling dish of house-pickled corned beef, poached eggs and mustard Hollandaise. The Chilaquiles Verde, with crispy tortillas and tomatillo sauce, are worth the three glasses of water needed to quench their heat.
Other quintessential Tucson bites
- Eegee's: What started as two guys selling frozen lemonade out of a truck has now — 40 years later — blossomed into a 24-location Tucson staple to which travelers make pilgrimages any time they're in Southern Arizona. Specializing in its signature frozen drink with chunks of fresh fruit, Eegee's also serves sandwiches and baked goods.
- El Guero Canelo: Daniel Contreras was born in Magdalena, Sonora, Mexico, and opened his first hot dog stand in Tucson in 1993. Today, Contreras owns and operates three Tucson-based El Guero Canelo restaurants, another in Phoenix, a meat market in Tucson and a tortilla factory in Magdalena. The menu at El Guero Canelo highlights the hot dogs (obviously), which are made in traditional Sonoran style: bacon-wrapped and topped with pinto beans, grilled onions, chopped tomatoes, mayonnaise and jalapeño sauce.
- HUB Restaurant & Ice Creamery: Located in a historic building on Congress Street in the urban renaissance that is Tucson's downtown, Hub's hipster cred comes from its ever-changing lineup of more than 40 funky ice cream flavors. Not Your Granny's Coconut Cake, Pistachio Orange Blossom and Guava Tamarindo Chamoy rub elbows with Mexican Wedding Cookie and classics like Salted Caramel and Banana Cream Pie.
- Silver Saddle Steakhouse: In keeping with dusty Old West traditions, Silver Saddle Steakhouse uses a custom steel and brick mesquite wood grill and pit. The pit produces temperatures that can exceed 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, and the pitmaster yanks on an antique buggy wheel with welded horseshoes to raise and lower the cooking grate over the fire.