The best thing about Tucson is the food. No, seriously. I mean, there are lots of great things, but it is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, which should tell you that the food is good. That said, I thought that in honor of Thanksgiving, I would do a post to talk about some of my favorite food in Tucson. Narrowing down this list was surprisingly hard, but essential to the ones I list is that they are only located in Tucson. Also, I did not include places where I did not have a picture of the food I ate.
Additional note: This is mostly around the areas I’ve lived since I’m closer to these. Also, this does not include the Trip Advisor recommendations for “fine dining” because these are restaurants that I can actually afford.
Anywhere that sells tamales is a place that I like. Although my first encounter with Tucson Tamales was at the Tucson Festival of Books, they also have a few more permanent locations in the city. Tamales are one of my favorite foods, and I really love the ones they make here. There are several options for vegetarian or with meat, and you can also pick how spicy the sauce you get is – or you can skip the sauce. It’s my number one pick for tamales, and I love stopping by their stand for lunch at the book festival or anywhere else I see them. Menu
So this is one that I don’t think makes it onto most people’s lists, but I really love it. It’s part pizzeria, part market. If you have what my friends like to call my “bougie tastes” (A.K.A. if Turkish dates and homemade ricotta on a pizza sound good to you) this is the place! It’s right on the corner of 4th Ave, and it also has the market I mentioned where you can buy fancy cooking oils and jams. In my opinion, it’s at least worth a visit, and even if you don’t want to try one of the weird (but delicious) pizzas that changes day-to-day, they also have plain cheese or pepperoni. It’s a fun little hipster place, and personally, I just really like the vibe here. And it’s fun to have an excuse for ending every sentence with “Old Sport.”
I’m in college; I eat a lot of pizza. This place is also a block away from campus, so it’s fair to say I’ve been here a few times. Like Gatsby’s they have some kind of weird combinations…though maybe not quite so extreme. Pictured here is the Potato Bacon pizza. While Gatsby’s is more of a chic, hipster kind of weird pizza, No Chos has more bar-type food. Speaking of, for anyone under 21 (@me), don’t plan on having dinner here on a weekend. Besides the delicious pizza, No Anchovies is also a bar/club that has a bouncer outside during certain hours to prevent me from getting my Mac&Cheese pizza. As long as you avoid club hours though, the pizza and prices are great! Menu
Gentle Ben’s Brewing Company
Gentle Ben’s is one of the first restaurants I went to in Tucson since it’s close to the university. For the most part, the food is classically American (A.K.A. lots of burgers) but also includes some Southwestern highlights. This is a place that gets busy on game days, but there is a part of the restaurant separate from the bar. Since it is not a club, it is still possible to have dinner there on a weekend without being 21, but if there’s a game, it may be difficult to get a table. That said, their Spinach Artichoke dip is to die for, and this picture was one I took on my birthday last year when I ordered delivery of just this dip because the restaurant was too crowded to enter. Menu
El Charro Café
As Tucson’s oldest Mexican restaurant, El Charro has been serving amazing food for 97 years (as of writing this), and I think it may be my favorite restaurant in Tucson. There are two locations these days, but the original is just outside of downtown and also includes a small museum. The building is so old, in fact, that its basement is allegedly haunted, though as a history nerd, I felt the real appeal of the basement was the pictures of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata (Mexican revolutionaries). They also have the distinction of cooking their carne seca in the old fashioned way – drying it in the sun. The café today is known for its Sonoran specialties, though it was famous in the Prohibition Era for its tea…quila. I’ve only been here a couple times, but the food is always amazing. I absolutely loved my enchiladas banderas. Be sure to make a reservation if you’re planning to visit! Menu
In Memorium: The Fix
My former favorite place in Tucson, the Fix, closed back in April. Although I can’t actually tell you to go there, I have to include at least a mention of the best Mac&Cheese restaurant invented. (They also have grilled cheese and salads, but those aren’t nearly so important). Until they closed, I was here every week, and I think I tried everything on the menu, well the Mac&Cheese part of the menu. I never once ate a salad here, though I did enjoy their cookies.
Those are some of my top restaurants here in Tucson, and I recommend them to anyone coming for a visit! Tucson has a lot of other amazing places that I did not include, in this post, but maybe at some point in the future, I will do a follow-up. There are honestly just too many amazing restaurants here to talk about all of them!
Bonus: Sonoran Dogs
There’s not one specific place to get a Sonoran Dog, though I love finding them at street fairs. It’s a quintessentially Tucson food though, and you can’t miss out. The Mexican food here is amazing, don’t get me wrong, but you can also get that elsewhere. A Sonoran dog is only in the Sonoran Desert. And yes, the idea may sound a little strange – pinto beans and pico de gallo on a hot dog? But trust me, it’s good. Just get out and try it, without asking for modifications if possible. What makes a Sonoran Dog good is the unexpected combination of stuff that actually really works. You still may not like it, but you still have to try one on a visit to Tucson. It’s estimated that you can get one of these at about 200 places in the Tucson area, but I think the best ones are at the hot dog stands that aren’t super fancy or built up. It is a hot dog after all.