10 Great Restaurants for Group-Friendly Dining in Tucson

By Patricia Escarcega, Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tucson Local Expert

One of the best places to indulge in Tucson's legendary Mexican food scene with a group is El Charro Cafe. The local restaurant has several satellite eateries, but the original cafe is located in downtown Tucson. The spacious, family-friendly dining room can accommodate large groups. You can even take home the house salsa, which is sold next door at La Tiendita, the restaurant's gift shop.

For a charming group lunch or dinner in downtown Tucson, stop by the Cafe a la C'Art, situated next to the Tucson Art Museum. The sprawling cafe features lots of indoor dining rooms, as well as a lovely outdoor patio. Even picky diners will enjoy perusing the pastry counter at this perennial downtown favorite. 

For a truly communal dining experience, check out Cafe Desta, a charming Ethiopian restaurant situated just south of downtown Tucson. If your group is new to Ethiopian cuisine, gather around a platter of spongey injera bread covered with heaps of savory, delicious veggies and meats, and prepare for a fun, delicious group-friendly dinner. 

Family-style dining doesn't disappoint at Jun Dynasty Chinese Restaurant, a midtown Tucson favorite that specializes in vibrant Sichuan-style dishes. 

10. Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink
Photo courtesy of Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink

Reilly Pizza and Craft serves modern Italian food in a stylish downtown Tucson setting. The menu features artisan-style pizza made from scratch in the kitchen using Italian import meats and cheeses. There are also fresh baked sandwiches and hand-made pastas on the dinner menu. Highlights include the roasted crimini mushroom pizza featuring mozzarella and truffle cheese. For meat-lovers, the fennel sausage and peppers pizza features a savory sausage and pepper blend drenched in mozzarella, provolone and fennel pollen. An extensive craft brew menu makes this a good pit stop for enjoying a pint of beer with friends and enjoying the festive outdoor beer garden.

9. Wildflower

This stylish cafe, full of sleek furnishings and modern art, has a reputation for understated elegance and great food. Take in breathtaking mountain scenery from the attractive patio while enjoying dishes that range from trendy to traditional. Try the succulent meat loaf and mashed potatoes, Tuscan white bean ravioli, or the popular and luxurious warm lobster salad dressed in white truffle vinaigrette. Wildflower is known for its seasonal menu that change regularly with the calendar. Whatever time of the year, you'll be rewarded with artfully constructed plates, great ambiance, and immaculate desserts. Thirsty? Hand-shaken martinis are another popular house specialty.

8. Prep and Pastry
Photo courtesy of Prep and Pastry

Prep and Pastry opened in 2013, announcing itself as a "craft" breakfast, lunch and brunch destination in central Tucson. Essentially, this means dishes are made from scratch and crafted from locally sourced ingredients. The breakfast menu is one of the most unique and sophisticated in town. Highlights include the Chef Omelette, which changes daily and is served with a side of the house hash. Another stand-out is the A.M. Relleno, a savory mix of eggs, pico, queso fresco, poblano pepper, corn tortilla strips, and a rich mole sauce. The duck confit hash is another gourmet breakfast specialty, made with shallots, spinach, chardonnay braised golden raisins, goat cheese mousse, and an over easy egg.

7. Casa Molina
Photo courtesy of Casa Molina

Casa Molina has been family owned and operated since 1947, and it's a special place. The furniture was made by Gilberto Molina Sr. from mesquite and pine, and the backlit glass plates ringing the room are direct from Mexico. Albondigas soup and menudo are winners, and hearty appetites will love the variety of the Tampiquena Dinner which brings together a cheese enchilada, chile relleno, grilled rib-eye steak, beans and guacamole for a sumptuous feast of many flavors and textures. The Sunday lunch buffet is a long-time tradition for some Tucson families. A local favorite, Casa Molina offers a group-friendly setting for lovers of unpretentious Mexican cooking.

6. Cafe Poca Cosa
Photo courtesy of Cafe Poca Cosa

Chef/owner Susana Davila creates her own unique spin on Mexican cuisine, featuring techniques and ingredients borrowed from several regions. Poca Cosa began a few blocks away from this location, and the tiny original is still open for breakfast and lunch on weekdays. At this location, the menu changes daily, but the specialties include fantastic chicken with spicy-rich mole sauce. The menu is printed on a portable chalkboard in both English and Spanish, which servers take from table to table. If you can't decide, order the Plato Poca Cosa and the chef will choose one beef, one chicken and one vegetarian entree for you to sample, each one more delicious than the next.

5. Cafe a la C'Art
Photo courtesy of Café a là C'Art

This charming downtown cafe, located at the historic Stevens House at the Museum of Art, offers an assortment of breakfast, lunch and dinner options. Fine art hangs on the walls, providing the perfect ambiance for enjoying the down-home breakfast plates and lunch options. The coffee is excellent. Try the house macchiato, or for something slightly different, the lachino (a wet cappuccino with less foam and more milk) is great. Salads, sandwiches and artistan breads are also on the eclectic menu. Don't leave without trying one of the cafe's famous desserts, which include plenty of gluten free options. There is a great brick patio for al fresco dining.

4. Guadalajara Original Grill
Photo courtesy of Guadalajara Original Grill

Salsas made fresh at your table, live mariachis seven nights a week, and some of the best margaritas in town make Guadalajara Grill one of the liveliest Mexican food spots in town. The Guadalajara Grill makes their tortillas fresh daily, as well as their own nacho chips. The ambiance is friendly yet casually upscale, making this a perfect spot for a romantic date, special occasion or simply a leisurely business lunch. Handmade fresh corn and flour tortillas and dedication to authentic ingredients and flavors make this restaurant stand out from the pack. For a festive atmosphere and straightforward take on traditional Guadalajaran cuisine, Guadalajara Grill is a winner.

3. El Charro Cafe
Photo courtesy of El Charro Cafe

The original El Charro, founded in 1922, is the oldest Mexican restaurant in Tucson; the original owner, Monica Flin, is said to have invented the chimichanga. The restaurant also claims the impressive title of oldest Mexican food restaurant in the country continually operated by the same family. That heritage remains strong today with a commitment to fresh, authentic Sonoran cuisine and Tucson-style Mexican food. Stop by the adjacent cantina, with its pleasant outdoor seating, and enjoy one of the finest margaritas in town. Then, have classic meals such as carne asada or carne seca beef marinated in lime and garlic. A small gift shop inside sells an assortment of Southwestern gifts. Reservations suggested on weekends.

2. Jun Dynasty Chinese Restaurant
Photo courtesy of Jun Dynast Chinese Restaurant

Sichuan-style Chinese cooking is the focus at Jun Dynasty Chinese Restaurant, a midtown Tucson restaurant that brings the vibrant hallmark flavors of Sichuan to the city. Come for specialties like water-boiled beef, chicken or fish; fragrant hot pots; Dan Dan noodles and Ma Po Tofu; lamb in a fragrant cumin sauce; and popular dishes like firecracker shrimp. The flavors are vibrant, bright and refined, with some dishes bearing the gorgeous palate-numbing properties of sichuan peppercorns. The menu is expansive, which means even picky eaters will be accommodated here, and service is consistently friendly. This is a great spot for large parties and family-style dining.

1. Cafe Desta
Photo courtesy of Cafe Desta

Is there any more better way to spend a night with friends than gathered around a platter of injera bread covered with colorful heaps of stewed veggies and fiery wot? You'll find that and more at Cafe Desta, a charming Ethiopian restaurant situated just south of downtown Tucson. The menu is replete with classics like misir (lentils), gomen (collard greens cooked to a delicious soft, stewy consistency), and savory tibs, which are pan-seared cubes of meat, available in your choice of lamb or beef. A good place to start if you've never tried Ethiopian food is to ask for the sample platter, which gives you a nice assortment of the most popular veggies and meats. The menu also provides plenty of options for vegans and vegetarians.