The Contreras family of Tucson opened a small hot dog stand back in 1993 that dished out hot and tasty carne asada and the now-famous Sonora dog. Today, that small hot dog stand has evolved in a mini-empire, with three Tucson locations of El Guero Canelo giving locals and visitors an authentic taste of Tucson and Sonora food culture. The Sonora Hot Dog has been featured on Food Network and numerous publications, a hot dog wrapped in mesquite-smoked bacon and topped with copious amounts of grilled onions, beans, mayonnaise and--if you dare--jalapenos. If that sounds a bit much for you, try the restaurant's winning selection of burritos, quesadillas and tacos.
Recommended for Mexican because: El Guero Canelo is a must-visit Mexican food stand famous for its iconic Tucson Mexican specialty, the Sonoran Dog.
Patricia's expert tip: Don't leave without trying the world-famous Sonoran Dog.
Located in a lovingly restored 1920s-era building in downtown Tucson, Penca Restaurante has become a destination for gourmands looking for upscale riffs on the cooking of central Mexico. The seasonally-inspired menu features fine renditions of traditional dishes like chile en nogada (roasted chile poblano stuffed with traditional pork, fruits and nuts, finished with a sherry walnut sauce) and mole de guajolote (braised turkey in a traditional mole poblano). You'll also find small plates, and of course, several taco options. This is not merely a chic Mexican restaurant, though, but also an award-winning bar. The "international bar" features more than 30 mezcals, a very good wine list, and premium, hard-to-find tequilas.
Recommended for Mexican because: Penca Restaurante is a solid pick for upscale Mexican fare, plus a great selection of agave-based drinks.
Patricia's expert tip: Don't miss the agave-based cocktails.
Tucson Tamale Company's slogan is "unwrap happiness." Well said. With more than 30 different types of tamales, from meaty and spicy to hearty vegan treats, Tucson Tamale Company is your source for authentic and creative tamales in the Old Pueblo. The menu is eclectic and fun. Try the green corn tamales, a house favorite, or the Arizona, which is stuffed with chipotle beef. The Tucson Tamale Company has something to please every palate, including a large selection of vegetarian and vegan tamales. There are also delicious breakfast and dessert tamales so you can start your morning--and finish your meal--just right.
Recommended for Mexican because: Tucson Tamale Company offers dozens of flavorful tamale varieties made from scratch with gourmet execution.
Patricia's expert tip: Take a dozen--or two dozen--tamales home with you. The Tucson Tamale Company specializes in special orders too.
Inspired by the colorful streets of Tepatitlan, Jalisco in Mexico, Calle Tepa is Tucson's latest and greatest Mexican cafe. In a city full of great Mexican food, Calle Tepa manages to stand out from the pack for its great take on Jalisco street food, fresh ingredients, and attention to detail. Here is everything you would want from a fast-casual Mexican food cafe: homemade recipes, made-from-scratch salsas, and pillowy tortillas cooked in front of you. There is even an al pastor juicing on a rotating spit. Brought to you by the folks behind Tucson's Guadalajara Grill, Calle Tepa offers a homespun take on great Mexican food.
Recommended for Mexican because: Calle Tepa is a stylish fast-casual Mexican eatery with authentic cuisine done Jalisco-style.
Patricia's expert tip: Try the ice-cold margarita, pure perfection.
This unassuming eatery is home to some of Tucson's most beloved tacos and burritos. Come here for the carne asada, barbacoa, al pastor and other classic Mexican food staples that . All the meats are grilled to order and tacos come generally piled with the seasoned, savory meat of your choice, plus your choice of toppings. The salsa bar is stocked with homeade salsa verde, and mild, red and hot varieties. The burritos are generously proportioned and stuffed with your choice of meats, or enjoy the creamy simplicity of a classic bean and cheese. Excellent value and compelling flavors make this a must-try neighborhood eatery.
Recommended for Mexican because: Taqueria El Pueblito delivers excellent tacos featuring grilled to order meats and fresh toppings.
Patricia's expert tip: Come here for the excellent carne asada.
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.
Recommended for Mexican because: Guadalajara Grill in Tucson takes Mexican food seriously, using quality ingredients to serve traditional plates in a colorful, festive setting.
Patricia's expert tip: Come for the happy hour, stay for the margaritas.
One of South Tucson's most beloved taquerias, Tacos Apson on 12th Avenue specializes in ambrosial mesquite-grilled carne asada tacos. The name of the restaurant pays tribute to one of Sonora's most famous '60s-era Mexican rock bands, Los Apson (owner Javier Durazo's father, Francisco Javier Durazo, was the band's drummer). The '60s rock memorabilia is cool, but the marquee attraction are the sumptuous, mouth-watering tacos. Apart from carne asada, you'll also find barbacoa, al pastor, and fish tacos on the menu, which are available in various configurations. If you're looking to explore beyond carne asada and al pastor, check out the bull testicle tacos.
Recommended for Mexican because: Looking for some of the best carne asada tacos in Tucson? Come to Tacos Apson.
Patricia's expert tip: If you want to explore beyond carne asada, check out the bull testicle tacos!
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.
Recommended for Mexican because: El Charro Cafe is a must-visit foodie destination when in Tucson, the perfect spot for celebrating Tucson's rich Mexican food legacy.
Patricia's expert tip: Stop by next door at La Tiendita, the restaurant's gift shop, for an assortment of uniquely Southwestern gifts.
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.
Recommended for Mexican because: Cafe Poca Cosa is Tucson's perennial critical darling, a downtown bistro famous for its fresh, inventive takes on classic Mexican dishes.
Patricia's expert tip: For lighter lunch fare, head to the satellite lunch cafe down the street.