Eating the Old Pueblo: 10 Best Restaurants for Exploring the Tucson Food Scene



The dynamic Tucson food scene has seen rapid growth in the past few years, especially a boom in downtown dining. 

In a city famous for its great Mexican food, Cafe Poca Cosa still stands out from the pack for its consistently elegant interpretations of regional Mexican fare. Seasonal menus are updated daily, but try the popular sampler dish if you can't decide what to order.

If you're in the mood for classic French food with a contemporary twist - and who isn't - The Coronet is a charming and friendly outpost on Fourth Avenue. Inspired by the charm and tradition of Old World rustic cooking, the brasserie-style restaurant and bar is located at Tucson's historic Coronado Hotel.

In downtown Tucson, stop by Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, a chic and venerable outpost for chef Janos Wilder's singular menu of globally-inspired fare crafted from local ingredients. 

Read on to find more good dining options in Tucson. 



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Occupying the space that was formerly The Abbey, Commoner & Co. has quickly become a magnet for Tucson foodies. The restaurant serves New American cuisine, carefully prepared by the kitchen, in a stylish but relaxed dining room with views of the Catalina Mountains. House specialties include the C&C Burger, made with brown sugar and pepper cured pork belly, horse radish pickles, a house dijon, all on a house-baked Texas toast bun. Other options include slow-braised short rib, seared ribeye and crispy white chicken served with cheddary grits. The appetizers are reason enough to visit: try the mouth-watering brulee goat cheese tart. The restaurant is also a popular brunch spot.


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Baja Cafe is a hidden gem in midtown Tucson. The small cafe is only open for breakfast and lunch, but it's well worth seeking out when you're craving an authentic southwestern meal. The colorful cafe has indoor seating and a shaded patio with free wi-fi. The menu offers traditional Mexican fare, as well as American classics made with southwestern ingredients and fare. This is the place to go when you're craving nopalitos (cactus), Hatch chiles and prickly pear. House specialties include the popular Baja Burger, two burger patties seared in an adobo sauce and topped with jalapeno bacon, Hatch green chili, chipotle mayonnaise and pepper jack cheese. Baja Cafe is probably one of the most beloved breakfast and brunch spots on Broadway, too. Come here for early morning delicacies like the house snickerdoodle pancakes. Oh, and the cafe serves local Arbuckle coffee.


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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.


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Located in the historic west side of Tucson, amid the recently developed Mercado District, Agustin Kitchen is a sophisticated New American bistro featuring an eclectic menu. You'll find carefully sourced meats (the menu boasts 100 percent sustainable proteins), and dishes featuring locally-sourced vegetables. Whether you're in the mood for an upscale riff on the restaurant burger, or want to feast on a fresh seafood starter, the menu is expansive enough to appeal to almost any whim. Entrees tend to lean Mediterranean, including creative spins on house-made pastas, but you'll also find upscale brasserie fare like filet mignon and a Frenched pork chop. The restaurant also carries a strong selection of agave-based spirits, including harder-to-find sotol and bacanora.


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Aqui Con El Nene has been a beloved Tucson Sonoran dog mecca for years, but you'll find more than just hot dogs. The restaurant, which began its life as a food truck, has grown and expanded to a brick-and-mortar location on the south side that offers late-night service on the weekends. Come for a great menu of tacos, including mesquite-grilled carne asada. You'll also find specialties like papanchas, oversize, grilled stuffed potatoes. True, this is not fine dining, but you don't have to dine amid white tablecloths to savor the irresistible, well-crafted and addictive tacos, Sonoran dogs and other eats at this well-established Tucson destination.


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The Coronet is a brasserie-style cafe situated at the historic Coronado Hotel near downtown Tucson. The restaurant serves old world rustic cuisine with a big comfy patio, plenty of shade, quiet music playing the background, and excellent coffee. There's also a bar featuring hand-crafted sangrias and cocktails. The restaurant features several daily menus, including a morning, afternoon and dinner menu. For dinner, try the Dragoon session sausage, which has already become a favorite with regulars. The sausage is served with a red cabbage citrus slaw, corn & roasted tomato salad, and sprout kraut. For dessert, try the moist and sweet olive oil cake, served with orange zest and anise.


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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.


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Northeast


 

People don't simply talk about Feast, they enthuse. The concept seems simple enough: excellent gourmet food (but nothing too experimental), reasonable prices, and the option to dine in or take out. The menu changes every month – call ahead or check their website to see what's available – but virtually every dish is a knockout. You might encounter a savory cheesecake with artichoke hearts, zesty sweet potato chilaquiles, perfect parmesan risotto, a fennel and garlic-rubbed pork chop, or chicken masala over basmati rice and fresh sauteed spinach. Desserts are all exceptional and prepared in-house, including the ice cream, but the chocolate truffle cookies are sublime. If you're going for take out, you can also select a bottle of wine to go.


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DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails


 

This lively downtown Tucson restaurant celebrates the city and its confluence of culinary traditions. Chef Janos Wilder has developed strong ties to the Southern Arizona gardeners and farmers for a farm-fresh menu with a strong emphasis on regional and indigenous ingredients. Try the Shrimp with a Sense of Place, a delectable entree featuring shrimp mojo de ajo on freshly ground corn masa, spicy black bean puree, salsa fresca, cholla bud escabeche and queso fresco. For an entree rich in local ingredients, try the ancho chile and chipotle braised lamb shank Tohono O'ohdam squash, served with local honey puree, greens, braising liquids and minted jalapeno vinaigrette.


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Chef and owner Susana Davila creates her own unique spin on Mexican cuisine, featuring techniques and ingredients borrowed from several regions. Cafe Poca Cosa has a menu that changes daily, but the specialties include fantastic chicken with spicy-rich mole sauce. 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. The restaurant is so popular, it even earned it's own satellite lunch spot: Little Cafe Poca Cosa, a smaller version of the original that also features the freshest ingredients served with flair.


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Meet Patricia Escarcega

Patricia Escarcega works as a writer and editor in Phoenix.

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