There is nothing much about Tucson on these boards and since I am testing out snow-birding I thought I would rectify that. Learned a lot from Tucson Foodie (which has some nice features like a Taco Tuesday report on a taco place each week and an Eating on the Cheap series) and from an old NYT article published when Tucson became the first US city to receive a City of Gastronomy designation from UNESCO in 2015 (based in part on there having been 4000 years of continuous agriculture in the area). I am working down my lengthy list, to which I am adding based on conversations with locals. Will keep adding to this.
Divine Bovine. Conveniently sharing a parking lot with Back Dough, a pie seller (sweet and savory). We all enjoyed our burgers and LOVED the triple-fried french fries. Would go back anytime I was in the area. It is a 30 minute drive from home base, not sure I would trek all the way over there just to eat there again. No pictures, sorry.
Tohono O’odham Swap Meet. Jackie Tran of Tucson Foodie raved about the tacos there so my sister and I headed over early Saturday my first weekend in town and could totally see why. The swap meet itself is a mixture of every type of item imaginable, some very nice produce and a lot of food stalls, with the food being mostly to your right as you enter from the very large, dusty parking lot. Our first visit, we hit Carnitas Los Equipales for the suadero tacos I had read about – skin-on crispy pork belly. My sister also wanted to try menudo. As we entered we were greeted very cordially in Spanish by a nice gentleman. We answered our usual “buenas dias, good morning” (courtesy + info) and he hollered for a waitress who turned out to be the designated English-speaker. She was delightful. She apologized that the suadero wasn’t quite ready yet (it was about 9:15 am and I had read it was usually ready at 8:30 or 9:00). I don’t think we waited more than 10 minutes, perhaps less before my sister got a steaming bowl of menudo (size chica, or small – there were four sizes) and I got my two tacos: carnitas and suadero with a warning that the suadero was very hot. Also a gorgeous tray of salsas and garnishes. Man, were those tacos good, probably the best thing I ate this month! Suadero on the left. My sister loved the menudo which she said was basically pozole with a different meat. Then we each got a suadero taco for “dessert” and I was tickled that they had appropriately-sized one taco plates. (All the dishware was very high-quality and pretty.) All that plus a glass bottle Coke and a large horchata came to $14. We were both pleasantly full so decided to give some other places a try the next time.
Baja Café. Tucson Foodie calls this place a hidden gem, which is quite accurate as it is minutes from my sister’s house and they had been unaware of it. There are 3 locations; the Ina one is quite small. Service was lovely. Three of us had the brisket machaca tacos which were very good – the brisket miles better than most brisket I have had in my life (except in Rockland, ME). Other DC had eggs, ham and hash browns which she enjoyed. The coffee was notably good although they had those little plastic tubs of half and half which drive me crazy. Lovely service! On a return visit I had a very nice egg scramble with cheese, chorizo, spinach and onion with more nice coffee.
Taqueria Aqui con el Nene. Recommended by Tucson Foodie and a local I spoke with on the topic of tacos. It is a food truck in a corner parking lot with covered outdoor seating (tables and plastic folding chairs under a corrugated metal roof, with a plentiful salsa and garnish bar) and also indoor air-conditioned seating behind the truck. Spotlessly clean, salsa bar well-tended. A sink next to the truck with soap and running water to wash your hands. Over two visits I have had the carne asada (beef), adobada (pork), pollo (chicken) and frijoles (beans and cheese) tacos. All good although the chicken was predictably boring until doctored up with salsas and things. Adobada was my favorite (left in bottom photo), closely followed by frijoles. My local informant tells me they have the best Sonoran hot dogs in town so perhaps that is next.
Coincidentally, we are heading to AZ/southern UT next week. Sadly, there’s no time for Tucson, although it was enticing. Now I’m even more enticed.
Have a great time on your trip, can’t wait for your report! I see a lot of tacos in my immediate future…
Good for you! I hope to test out snow-birding somewhere, eventually. Sunshine and food are important, and it looks like your test may be ticking both of those boxes.
I’ll follow this thread with happy interest.
I lived in Scottsdale for 4 years in the 80’s. Tucson is the counterpoint to Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun.
Have you experienced a Sonoran hot dog yet?
Funny you should ask. I mentioned upthread that I had been told they were very good at Taqueria Aqui con el Nene. My nephew had yesterday off school for Tucson Rodeo Days (having marched in the Rodeo Parade the day before with his high school band!) and wanted to check them out so we went there for lunch. We got the version with toasted bun and it was very tasty indeed! He was one happy dude.
Back to the Tohono O’odham Swap Meet yesterday. We started off at Polo’s Taqueria, lured in by this:
That will be two tacos al pastor each please, mine on corn, my sister’s on flour tortillas. Our nice waitress pointed out the salsa/condiment bar and told us the green salsa was mild and the rest very hot. I tried the green one on my first taco – very tasty, lots of flavor without heat. Al pastor was very tasty too. I tried a few drops of one of the other salsas on my second taco and it was insanely hot. We also ordered coffee which was very hot, strong and good. It was served with a Mason jar of sugar with 2 spoons poking out plus a jar of powdered “creamer”. Servingware all Styrofoam. Total cost (4 tacos, 2 large coffees) = $8.00.
Next, we wandered around people-watching and looking out for the stand selling Talavera pottery that we had seen last time. No dice, he must have taken the day off. We came across Chapo’s Cocina in the very back of the swap meet, which I had read on Tucson Foodie has great borrego al horno (roast lamb) tacos so we decided to go in. We were at the tail end of a rush and got the last table. The place was filled with families and had a really nice vibe. My sister ordered a small posole rojo, thinking of the small menudo she got last week. What arrived was a vat, so we asked for a second spoon and both dove in. It was heavenly, with a rich, complex broth, falling-off-the-bone tender tasty pork and (and oh so filling) hominy. Glorious, as were the lamb tacos, served birria-style with a lovely complexly spicy sauce. We will definitely be back! Cost (giant posole, 2 lamb tacos, 2 bottles of water) = $15.00.
After more wandering we ended up at last week’s place and I wanted a suadero taco or two to finish off. This was about 11:30 or a bit later. They were out of suadero and pretty much wrapping up for the day. Instead of taking this as an indication that we should too, I foolishly ordered a couple of chicharron (fried pork skin) tacos. My sister took the wiser route and stuck with water. The chicharron was fabulous but put me right into “I’ll never eat again” territory. My food coma also precluded me remembering what the bill was but it was laughably small. Our super nice waitress from last week was busy in the kitchen when we arrived but came out to greet us as we were getting ready to leave and said how glad she was that we came back.
After that, it was off to the finals at the Tucson Rodeo. All in all a fabulous day!
We think (we think) we remember carne seca at El Charro.
Yes, they are famous for it.
Now if we could only remember who served that delicious ropa vieja in Tampa on South Howard.
El Antojo Poblano. This is a food truck with very nice covered seating (with real flowers on every table!). They serve the cuisine of Puebla, Mexico rather than the Sonoran cuisine which is standard in Tucson. Tucson Foodie raves about it but also when I checked Yelp (unreliable as that can be), it had 25 reviews, every single one of which was 5 stars and clearly not fake. So off I went yesterday to try the cemita, which Jackie Tran of Tucson Foodie has dubbed the best Mexican sandwich in Tucson.
This is served on a non-sweet brioche-like roll topped with sesame seeds and contains a pounded-thin breaded fried beef cutlet, a slice of ham, shredded Oaxaca cheese, shredded cabbage, caramelized onions, chipotle peppers and cooling avocado. It is fabulous! Also large, I only ate about 3/4.
There were so many other enticing things on the menu I had to go back and so I met my sister there for lunch during her lunchbreak. She got the cemita (which she loved after taking out the chipotles) and a taco suadero. I got a taco suadero (very good but not as good as the ones at the Swap Meet), a taco chicken chiltepin (which I had read was shredded chicken in a light brothy tomato sauce with chiltepin peppers, and which I was glad I tried but to me, it was one-dimensionally hot with no other flavor), and a tostada with chicken tinga, a specialty of Puebla. Now that was delicious, both the chicken tinga itself, which was somewhat hot with all kinds of other spices and flavors and the tostada, which was fried well enough to maintain its structural integrity while I picked it up and ate it but was not hard to bite into. It had, besides the chicken tinga, some beans, lettuce, avocado, cilantro, onion, crumbled cheese and crema.
I also want to link to this visual guide to different types of tacos available in Tucson posted at Tucson Foodie. Super helpful. If they made this into an app with a map to the best examples I would pay good money for it!
Taking a break from our regularly-scheduled taco reporting as my family does not fully share my obsession. Saturday we combined a trip to Sabino Canyon with lunch at Noodleholics, a fast-casual restaurant with very little signage in a mostly vacant strip mall. Despite unpromising surroundings, this place really delivered on the food. My nephew had the veggie egg rolls to start and loved them. My sister and I shared the chaoshou dumplings which were very good but too spicy for my sister. Our ginormous bowls of noodles arrived within a couple of minutes of the appetizers and were fantastic! My nephew got the House Wonton Soup: house made wheat noodles in chicken broth, pork wonton, bbq pork, chicken, shrimp, and bok choy, green onion, and cilantro and did an extremely impressive job with it. The wontons were his favorite part. My sister and I both got the same thing: The Guilin Clear Broth Soup: guilin rice noodles in chicken broth, topped with bok choy, pickled greens, bamboo, pickled green bean, roasted peanuts, green onion, and cilantro (choice of 2 meats: chicken, shrimp, bbq pork, crispy pork, pig intestine, or spiced beef – we both got bbq pork and crispy pork). We should have shared one bowl and added extra bok choy and pickled things – that is the plan for next time! Lovely service from delightful folks.
Sunday we went to the zoo (my nephew’s favorite excursion) and then to Ken’s Hardwood Barbecue just a few blocks from the zoo. My nephew got the pulled chicken with absolutely fabulous french fries (luckily he is a generous guy, also the portion was huge); my sister and I once again boringly got the same thing: ribs, which were absolutely fabulous. I got collards and she got green beans and we shared. Both were excellent. Ken himself came out and visited various tables including ours and was super nice as were every staff member we spoke with. Highly recommend this place.
Have you guys gone to the top of Mt. Lemmon?
And there’s Bisbee for a day trip.
I love cactus and old towns though.
Haven’t done either one, thanks for the tips, I like cactus and old towns too!