It's the Weekend. Let's Eat. Tucson.
At Expedition Foodie, 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 and towns throughout Arizona. This edition takes us to Tucson.
It would be nearly impossible to list all the meals I've loved eating in Tucson since moving here. A few favorites come to mind, though: Southern-style chicken with Parmesan grits. A fried-egg and pickle-topped burger. Green chile and corn tamales. Vegan burritos.
As Arizona's only destination with a "City of Gastronomy" designation from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Tucson has good food game. If you have only a weekend to check it out, here's a game plan:
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 house 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. Pair this pizza with the chopped romaine and radicchio salad.
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, super 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 perfect meal after a hike or bike ride. On Instagram? Good. Browse Baja Cafe's account (@bajacafetucson) for inventive weekly Benedict and pancake specials, like buttermilk pancakes topped with cinnamon apples, house-made caramel, candied pecans ... and bacon.
Seis Kitchen, within the Mercado San Agustin, 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—a perfect, 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 TallBoys, which offers a menu packed with hearty entrées for just this kind of boozy evening. (It's completely enjoyable if you're not drinking, as well.) At TallBoys, you gotta go with the tots. Yup, tater tots. Crunchy and covered in cheese, these babies come with roasted green chiles, bacon, chipotle crema, pesto, over-easy eggs and avocado. Wash it all down with any of the restaurants' namesakes—tall boys from local and national breweries.
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 Cafe’s other menu items. I like the Silverside Hash, a cast-iron filled with 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 you'll need to quench their heat.