Arizona’s second largest city is second to none with a restaurant scene filled with Sonoran classics and modern munchies. Read on to discover our favorite Tucson restaurants that you won’t want to miss plus cheap eats and desserts.
The Tucson food scene is hot. And why not? The home of the University of Arizona is located two hours from Phoenix and just an hour from Nogales on the Mexican border. Plus, it seems like chili sauce runs through the city’s water pipes.
Okay, we’re kidding about the chili sauce. But it’s no joke that Tucson’s vibrant food scene has risen above the radar since it became America’s first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2015. While UNESCO is a relatively new arbiter of great food judgement, its accolades have lit a worldwide spotlight on the Southern Arizona city.
By the time Tucson was featured on Top Chef‘s final episodes in 2022, the city and its restaurants were ready for their moment.
Tucson City of Gastronomy
Not every city can quality as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. The application process is rigorous with specific criteria that includes well-developed gastronomy, a vibrant culinary community and access to indigenous ingredients. There must also be food markets and food festivals as well as commitments to sustainability and the public.
There are currently 50 UNESCO Cities of Gastronomy in 30 countries. The United States is home to two of these cities – San Antonio and Tucson.
Outsiders may have been shocked when UNESCO selected Tucson as American’s first City of Gastronomy. Locals, however, weren’t surprised since they were part of the process.
This global recognition required a concerted effort from the city and its culinary leaders – not to mention centuries of food history. Seemingly exotic ingredients like nopale cactus, chiltepins (one of the earliest cultivated chili peppers) and prickly pears can trace their agricultural roots to the Sonoran region.
But make no mistake. Despite its plethora of heritage farm products and Sonoran food traditions that date back millennia, Tucson isn’t stuck in the past.
The city has a network of urban farms that host food festivals throughout the year and treat sustainability as more than a buzz word. Plus, the number of restaurants, both old and new, is almost as impressive as the enormous saguaro cacti that mark every vista.
Tucson’s region is so agriculturally rich that even the earliest American cotton plants can be traced to its Pima County home.
Tucson Food Guide | Where to Eat in Tucson
Deciding where to eat in Tucson is a challenge since this is a city with great food at all prices from cheap eats to upscale restaurants.
With this challenge in mind, we’ve curated a selection of worthy Tucson restaurants including spots that hit the spot if you’re in the mood for a leisurely brunch or a simple taco.
Of course, you’ll want to eat as much Sonoran-style Mexican food when you’re in Tucson. After all, the city has the country’s best 23 miles of Mexican food within its borders where you can eat everything from elote to burros to donuts. Doing otherwise would simply be wrong.
Our guide covers all of these options and more. But, first, let’s start with our picks for the best restaurants in Tucson.
Best Tucson Restaurants
The desire to solely eat Sonoran cuisine in Tucson is both real and understandable. Don’t do it.
The city’s restaurants run the gamut from casual to trendy and have menus that span the globe. Some of these restaurants do indeed specialize in Sonoran cuisine while others source local products including vegetables, bread and beer.
We stretched our stomachs during a week of on-the-ground research that included eating at dozens of Tucson eateries. Every time we thought we thought we had completed our mission, we ate at another restaurant that knocked off our socks and motivated us to keep going.
These are the Tucson restaurants (including a bread bakery) that we loved most:
Ironically, our very first meal in Tucson turned out to be our favorite. That meal was at Zio Peppe on the east side of town. And, to be honest, we were surprised to love this restaurant that blends Italian and Sonoran cuisines as much as we did.
Perhaps we loved Zio Peppe so much due to our our lovely dining companion Mary Rittmann who knew exactly what to order. Or perhaps it was due to our charming hosts – Chefs Mat Cable and Devon Sanner – who pulled out the stops by showcasing an exciting menu that popped with both flavor and color.
Or maybe we loved Zio Peppe because of the restaurant’s pizza, baked in an old-school wood fired pizza oven. We shared two – an El Rustico Birria pizza topped with beef birria sourced from El Taco Rustico, mozzarella, onion, cilantro and consommé and a Figgy Stardust pizza topped with figs, bacon, fresh mozzarella, honey, chamomile goat cheese and a pomegranate drizzle – and they were both as tasty as they were unique.
But make no mistake. Those pies were just two of many great dishes we tasted at Zio Peppe.
Highlight starters included Arancini filled with tangy elote as well as Calamarrones, a dish that pairs crispy calamari with equally crispy chicarrones. However, to be honest, we would have likely been just as happy eating starters like Tamale Polenta and Fundido made with whiskey from the city’s prominent local distillery – Whiskey del Bac.
Bigger dishes were equally memorable, especially Rigatoni & Chiltepin Arrabiata, a unique vegan dish which tops ribbed pasta tubes with spicy tomato and chile sauce. If there’s a better Italian-Sonoran mash up, we have yet to find it. But then we found another – Zio Peppe’s Green Chile Garganelli Bolognese. Made with New Mexico green chile garganelli, braised beef short rib, bolognese sauce, salsa verde and Pecorino Romano, it displayed Italian simplicity and craftsmanship with an added flavor kick from local chilies.
The restaurant opened in 2021 but its name goes back further. Zio Peppe loosely translates to Uncle Joe. The restaurant chose this name in tribute to Joe Sottosanti, Cable’s real life Uncle Joe who operated Tucson’s first Sicilian pizzeria.
Despite this homage, this restaurant isn’t stuck in the past. Our meal at Zio Peppe was a smorgasbord of food that made us rethink classic American-Italian dishes. It also set a high bar in our search for the best places to eat in Tucson.
Save room for desserts like the Taconnoli and Chocataconnoli. Both involve sweet pastry taco shells filled with flavored mascarpone cream and both are delicious.
Zio Peppe is located at 6502 E Tanque Verde Road, Tucson, AZ 85715, United States.
El Charro Café
El Charro Café differentiates itself from other Tucson restaurants starting with its age. Open since 1922 and located in the founding owner’s house, it ranks as Tucson’s oldest Mexican restaurant as well as the country’s oldest Mexican restaurant continuously operated by the same family. But El Charro Café’s fame isn’t limited to its age, location or ownership.
Legend has it that Monica Flin, the original El Charro Café owner, accidentally invented the chimichanga when she dropped a burrito into a deep-fat fryer. While the veracity of the legend is questionable, Chimichangas remain on the El Charro menu along with other Sonoran specialities including carne seca that the restaurant sun-dries in a dangling cage.
Staff members fill each cage daily with marinated, thinly-sliced angus beef that then soaks in the hot Arizona sun. They later cook the sun-dried beef before shredding it into meaty strands. The end result reminded us of pork floss we’ve previously eaten in cities like Chiang Mai in Thailand.
To be clear, we didn’t just eat carne seca. We stared our midday meal with four miniature chimichangas which were served with pico salsa and sour cream. Those mini chimichangas, with their mix of chicken, bean and cheese fillings, primed us for the main event which, of course, was the Carne Seca Platter.
Big enough to share, the platter included a mound of meat as well as a flour tortilla, guacamole, pico salsa and veggies. While some people may find the flossy carne seca to be a little dry, there’s really nothing like it in the panoply of American foods we’ve eaten. It’s worth checking out.
Expect a two-hour wait on weekend nights if you don’t have a reservation. Better yet, make a reservation.
El Charro Café is located at 311 N Court Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85701, United States.
It would be easy to miss ANELLO’s austere urban sign-free building. But that would be a mistake since doing so would mean missing out on the best pizza in Tucson.
Pizzaiolo Scott Girod honed his pizza-making skills at the acclaimed Pizzeria Bianco in nearby Phoenix before opening Anello in 2017. Girod, an unassuming yet serious pizza technician, was hands on during our visit – working the pizza oven with full focus and intensity.
Ordering pizza at ANELLO should be easy considering the pizzeria’s succinct menu that includes just four pizzas (Marinara, Margherita, Bianca and Verde) and two toppings (E&R Sausage and Ezzo Pepperoni) and yet we struggled. After some negotiation, we ordered a white Bianca pizza featuring tomato, mozzarella, ricotta, garlic, basil & chilitepin and a classic Margherita pizza with sausage.
We also ordered locally brewed beers and a seasonal veggie starter of buttery white polenta topped with roasted and pickled peppers. The beers and peppers were great, but let’s be real, we went to ANELLO to eat pizza.
Cutting to the chase, we loved ANELLO’s pizzas which fit a style we choose to call Sonoran. Both had big bold flavors, an edge of piquancy and a light crunchy crust. However our favorite was the Margherita pie.
Baked in a wood-fire oven with local mesquite wood, that crust was made with naturally leavened dough that Girod had fermented for more than 30 hours. Classic, locally-made sausage completed the pie and tasted great.
Order a pizza with half sausage and half pepperoni if you can’t decide between the two toppings.
ANELLO is located at 222 E 6th Street, Tucson, AZ 85705, United States.
Barrio Bread doesn’t have tables and only sells one thing. Yet this bakery ranks as one of the best food spots in Tucson thanks to its owner and head baker Don Guerra.
Far from a typical bread baker, the former teacher calls himself a breaducator. Originally from Tempe, Guerra is one of Tucson’s most passionate food professionals. And, it’s worth noting, James Beard recognized him as the country’s most outstanding baker in 2022.
Guerra’s success didn’t happen overnight.
Fascinated by flour as a child and inspired by breads he’d eaten at Poilâne in Paris, Guerra trained with artisan bread makers, opened a bakery in his garage and sold loaves from a mobile bread van while still working as a schoolteacher. And he hasn’t slowed down since opening Barrio Bread in 2015.
The Tucson trailblazer still gets his hands dirty with flour but not just any flour. His flours, which he also sells at the bakery, are heritage grains, indigenous to Arizona, which he developed with local farmers. He also owns two restaurants, a grain company and a consulting firm. And, in his spare time, he bakes bagels and makes pizza. For Guerra, bread in all forms is a nonstop pursuit.
Customers queue up at Guerra’s bakery every morning. The queue moves quickly though as shoppers select breads like Cinnamon Raisin, Pain de Kino, Whole Wheat Sesame and Guerra’s signature Heritage boule with a saguaro stenciled on top.
After tasting a few of his breads at the shop, we were pleased to encounter Barrio Bread at many Tucson restaurants. Since one visit wasn’t enough, we popped back over for Guerra’s pop-up pizza night, a family affair involving two types of pizza baked in the shop’s ginormous bread oven. We wonder how long before there’s a new pizzeria in town.
Arrive early at the compact Broadway Village shop to avoid the disappointment of a ‘sold out’ sign.
Barrio Bread is located at 18 S Eastbourne Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85716, United States.
Located in a 160-year old adobe building, The Coronet doesn’t serve Sonoran cuisine. And, yet, The Coronet is one of the most modern restaurants in Tucson. It’s also one of the city’s most eclectic restaurants with a dimly lit dining room, pub-style bar, market cafe, gift shop and outdoor patio all at the same location.
The restaurant’s menu is equally eclectic with a variety of dishes that span the globe. Owner Sally Kane takes pride in these dishes, some of which were inspired by her past world travels.
We gladly jumped on board, i.e. started our meal, at The Coronet with a Butter Lettuce Wedge before diving into dishes like Shrimp Patacones, Lamb Meatballs with Tomato Curry and Guajillo Grilled Pork Tenderloin. Served on crispy fried plantains, the Shrimp Patacones was the most interesting dish with shrimp salad made with roasted corn, jalapeño, pomegranate arils, mango amba and crispy chorizo.
The Coronet sources many of its products from local vendors like Barrio Bread (see above). However, not everything is locally sourced. We were particularly amused to see an entire tinned gourmet seafood menu section featuring tins sourced from Portugal and Marou chocolate bars from Vietnam.
Check The Coronet’s website for its live music schedule.
The Coronet is located at 198 W Cushing Street, Tucson, AZ 85701, United States.
The Cup Café
Dining at The Cup Café is an experience that starts with a walk through the stately Hotel Congress’ lobby. This walk leads to a bright and airy space decorated with exposed pipes and funky chandeliers studded with wine bottles. There’s also a spacious patio that doubles as a prime people watching spot.
To say we enjoyed our brunch at Cup Café is an understatement. Between its buzzing vibe and the tasty cast iron baked eggs we ate, our return was practically inevitable. We couldn’t get those eggs out of our heads plus we were really in the mood for a hamburger.
We discovered a different vibe and menu when we returned for dinner a few nights after our weekend brunch. The restaurant was less crowded and the vibe was more low key. However, the hamburger was just as good as we hoped it would be.
Called the Real Thing, this burger came with 1/2 pound beef chuck patty, butter lettuce, tomato, onion, dill pickle and a potato bun. Adding cheddar cheese and bacon was an easy decision that we didn’t regret.
Alas, our Southwest Caesar Salad was a disappointment with its pedestrian mishmash of grilled chicken served over flavorless lettuce. Accordingly, we recommend eating a Real Thing Burger unless you want to try the restaurant’s Drunken Fish Tacos instead.
Order a Barrio Bread starter if you don’t have time to visit the bakery.
The Cup Cafe is located inside the Hotel Congress at 311 E Congress Street, Tucson, AZ 85701, United States.
Located inside the open-air Mercado San Agustin, the original Seis Kitchen had us after just one sip. Granted, that sip was Cochata, the restaurant’s unique blend of cold brew and horchata with cinnamon sprinkled on top, which was just one of the daily aguas frescas on offer.
As for food, the award-winning eatery serves dishes inspired by street food in six different Mexican regions for breakfast, lunch, happy hour and dinner. And, while our meal happened to be in the morning, that didn’t stop us from sampling guacamole, handmade tortillas, oven-roasted salsas and, of course, dessert.
Seis translaes to six, i.e the number of Mexican regions represented on Seis Kitchen’s menu. These regions are Baja, Mexico City, Northern Mexico, Oaxaca, Western Mexico and Yucatan.
Seis Kitchen isn’t fancy, there’s no table service and its prices would easily fit into the cheap eats section of this guide. However, dishes like Chilaquiles Tradicional and an El Jefe Breakfast Burrito were as good, if not better, than dishes we ate at fancier Tucson restaurants. Serving our Churros with cajeta, a delicious dipping sauce made with condensed milk and cinnamon, sealed the deal that started with our first sip of Cochata.
Check the chalk board for daily food, dessert and drink specials >before you place your order.
Seis Kitchen has multiple locations. We ate at the Mercado San Agustin located at 130 South Avenida del Convento, Tucson, AZ 85745, United States.
Five Points Market & Restaurant
We can still remember the novelty of eating our first USA-made kouign amann in San Francisco in 2013. Ask us back then what the heck that glorious French pastry was and we would have said queen a-what?. Fast forward to today and the flaky Brittany-based cousin to the croissant has massively expanded its footprint to most major cities across the USA and the world.
Sure enough, the first thing from Five Points’ eclectic display of baked goods that caught our eye was a kouign amann. The cafe’s cookies looked fab too but that kouign amann was a stunner that we couldn’t resist. We were simply dazzled by its additional layer of herbed goat cheese baked into the four cornered viennoiserie.
It was a luscious treat only made better by the kind of excessive local touch we expect from great American food. But that cheese-filled kouign amann was one just one thing we ate at Five Points.
The cafe hit Daryl’s breakfast sweet spot with a sausage sandwich that featured a hyper-local house made sausage patty studded with piquant chiltepin and other spices. It was a savory wonder served open faced on brioche bread and topped with a thick layer of melted white cheddar cheese. As for Mindi, she loved her generous huevos rancheros – a mountain of tortillas, beans and eggs that was also topped with cheddar cheese.
Five Points serves more lunch-focused fare as well. At the time of our visit, options included a pulled pork torta, an appetizing vegan smoked beet sandwich and a unique cobb salad with fried potatoes and poppy seed vinaigrette.
Bring a shopping bag to shop for housewares like candles, local organic produce, wines and flowers before or after your breakfast, brunch or lunch.
Five Points Market & Restaurant is located at 756 S Stone Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85701, United States.
Tito & Pep
After working at various Jean-Georges restaurants, Chef John Martinez clearly had both culinary chops and a vision when he opened Tito & Pep in 2018. The restaurant’s decor is mod and its menu features a variety of interesting dishes that the restaurant describes as Tucsonan.
Wine and cocktails flow freely in the 60s retro dining room and at the restaurant’s bar. There’s also a mesquite wood-fired grill in the kitchen that chefs use to prepare many of the restaurant’s dishes.
Martinez named Tito & Pep after his grandmother and great-aunt who were actually named Dorothy and Marie.
Practically every local recommended the Midtown Tucson eatery to us whether we asked for recommendations or not. The chic, retro bistro is clearly a favorite for both date nights and special occasions.
While we wanted to love Tito & Pep, we simply liked it. Perhaps we would have loved it had the staff been more welcoming and attentive. Was it post pandemic malaise? We’re not quite sure. We feel a return visit is in order on our next swing through Tucson.
Don’t skip Tito & Pep’s curated wine list which includes bottles from Argentina, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and the US. Ironically, despite the restaurant’s Tucsonan food, we didn’t notice any Arizona wines on the list at the time of our visit.
Tito & Pep is located at 4122 E Speedway Boulevard, Tucson, AZ 85712, United States.
Boca by Chef Maria Mazon
We were excited to eat tacos at Boca after rooting for Chef Maria Mazon during the 18th season of Top Chef. She was a popular cheftsetant that season and a key reason why Tucson hit our radar.
And it’s not just us. Mazon received a coveted James Beard award nomination in 2022 and has been featured in various media, both print and tv, across the nation. Her reputation for cooking authentic Sonoran Tacos is second to none.
We’re glad we ate at BOCA but it turns out that our expectations were in the wrong place. In retrospect it’s a more of a fun taqueria geared to students as opposed to a chef-driven restaurant. The food, especially the salsa, is solid and the beer selection is extensive.
We were surprised that Mazon’s over-stuffed tacos lacked the kind of elegance we would expect from a pedigreed chef. They quickly fell apart when we lifted them off our plates. (We were told by management that the issue had something to do with the restaurant’s tortilla machine.)
However, we loved Mazon’s range of spicy salsas even though the habanero left our mouths in a 15 minute coma. Mazon apparently rotates BOCA’s unique salsa flavors on a daily basis. Our favorites were chipotle and carrot jalapeño.
Start you meal with deep fried BOCA Balls filled with chipotle mashed potatoes and coated with panko bread crumbs.
BOCA by Chef Maria Mazon is located at 533 N 4th Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85705, United States.
Additional Tucson Restaurants
We’re confident that you’ll like our favorite Tucson restaurants but understand if you want to try one or more of the following additional spots:
Best Tucson Cheap Eats
While Tucson’s restaurant game is strong, its cheap eats game is arguably stronger.
This is a city where fast food chains take a back seat to dozens, if not hundreds, of local joints. Some serve American food and other specialize in Asian food. However, many of the best eateries are located in shacks on 12th Street or what the city has dubbed The Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food.
Could there be a better food crawl concept than driving along a street filled with taquerias and stopping at as many as your stomach will allow? We think not. We also think that this is where you should start your exploration of cheap eats in Tucson.
Taqueria Pico de Gallo
Located in a bright yellow building with red trim, Taqueria Pico de Gallo is far from a hidden gem. Locals are well aware that this Tucson taqueria serves some of the city’s best cheap eats from a menu filled with reasonably priced burros, quesadillas, soups, tacos, tortas and tostadas. At the time of our visits, none of these items was over $20 and most were under $10.
The best way to convey how much we liked the food at Taqueria Pico de Gallo is to start by saying that we ate at the casual eatery twice in one week. Yes, since one visit wasn’t enough, we returned for a repeat performance as our final meal in Tucson.
Taqueria Pico de Gallo is temporarily closed due to a drunk driver damaging its building. The restaurant has a GoFundMe campaign and will hopefully reopen soon.
Not wanting to miss out during our initial visit, we tried a variety of tacos filled with beef cheek meat (Cabeza), spicy shredded beef (Barbacoa) and fish (Pescado) on a combination of flour and corn tortillas. Filled with chopped cabbage, hot peppers, cilantro and pico, each came with pickled carrots and red onion on the side.
Since that first visit wasn’t our last visit, we knew exactly what to order when we returned – two flour tortilla tacos – Lengua (tongue) and pescado (fish.) We also drank horchata served from a ginormous white round cambro. We may have also sneaked in a cheesy, meaty quesadilla too.
Sit and wait for your number to be announced after you place your order and pay. It’s hard to miss since the restaurant makes its announcements in both English and Spanish.
Taqueria Pico de Gallo is located at 2618 S 6th Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85713, United States.
Ruiz Hot Dogs Los Chipilones
Despite their popularity in Tucson, Sonoran Hot Dogs weren’t invented in the Arizona city. That credit goes to the Sonoran city of Hermosillo located 250 miles south of Tucson in Mexico.
However, while we haven’t yet traveled south of the border to Hermosillo, it’s difficult to imagine the original hot dogs being any better than the ones we ate at Tucson’s Ruiz Hot Dogs Los Chipilones.
Sonoran Hot Dogs are wrapped in in bacon, grilled and stuffed in soft bolillo buns. Typical toppings include jalapeño peppers, mayonnaise, mustard, onion, pinto beans and tomato.
We ate several Sonoran Hot Dogs in Tucson and the ones we ate at Ruiz Hot Dogs Los Chipilones were our favorites. But why? It certainly wasn’t due to a fancy dining room or large menu.
Maybe we liked Ruiz Hot Dogs Los Chipilones so much because each loaded wiener was served in a toasted bun, came with a grilled pepper and cost just $4 at the time of our visit. Maybe it was because of the cooler filled with salsa verde, tomatillo and shredded cheddar. Or maybe it was because of the huge jar of Valentina hot sauce that we couldn’t resist.
Actually, it was for all of these reasons.
Ruiz Hot Dogs Los Chipilones has a small outdoor dining area unless you prefer to eat your Sonoran Hot Dog in your air conditioned car.
Ruiz Hot Dogs Los Chipilones is located at 1140 S 6th Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85701, United States.
Los Tacos Apson
Locals have flocked to Los Tacos Apson on 12th Avenue since the barebones taco shop opened in 2001 and most order tacos. Sure, Los Tacos has other Sonoran foods like quesadillas and burros on its menu, but tacos are the star of the show here. After all, the word tacos is in the joint’s name.
Located on Tucson’s Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food, Los Tacos Apson is locally famous for its asada although it also sells tacos filled with barbacoa, al pastor, tongue and tripe. There are also combination tacos like the Hass that’s filled with carne asada, cheese, and green chile and a ‘big boy’ Apson Taco with carne asada, cheese, green chile, onion, bacon and mushrooms.
The asada and lengua (i.e. tongue) tacos we ate were so beautifully charred and full-flavored that we almost felt bad to add condiments. However, our trepidations disappeared after we noticed a colorful condiment bar filled with various pickled vegetables and salsa.
It was a good move. We enjoyed our dressed tacos so much that we ordered seconds which we washed down with milky house horchata.
Los Tacos Apson is named after the iconic Sonoran rock band Los Apson. Owner Franciso Jamiver Durazo’s father was the band’s drummer.
Los Tacos Aspon is located at 3501 S 12th Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85713, United States.
El Güero Canelo
Most people who eat just one Sonoran Hot Dog in Tucson complete their mission at El Güero Canelo.
Open since 1993 and located on The Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food, it’s a solid option that’s both big and spacious. Plus, it sports a James Beard award in recognition of its timeless appeal and owner Daniel Contreras’s commitment to serving quality regional food.
This regional food doesn’t just include Sonoran Hot Dogs. Burros, caramelos, quesadillas, tacos and tortas are also on the menu. That’s all well and good but food travelers like us go to El Güero Canelo to eat Sonoran Hot Dogs.
El Güero Canelo offers three different dogs – Sonoran Style (the standard), Sammy Dog (two bacon-wrapped franks in one bun) and Chucho Dog (with beef sausage). They all come in a soft bun and are topped with beans, grilled & fresh onion, tomato, mayo, mustard and jalapeño sauce.
We shared a Sonoran Dog during our Mexican food crawl with no regrets. Priced at $3.99 at the time of our visit, it was easy to eat and didn’t break the bank.
Don’t miss the massive toppings bar filled with veggies, cheese, salsas and more.
El Güero Canelo has multiple locations. We ate at the restaurant located at 5201 S 12th Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85706, United States.
Rollies Mexican Patio
We suspected we were in for a unique dining experience as soon as we parked our car at Rollies Mexican Patio during our Mexican food crawl. After all, it’s not every day that we’re greeted by a piñata perched atop a tall pole.
That piñata was a sign of good things to come from a Tucson chef that spins traditional Mexican dishes to make them his own. Matteo Otero opened the original Rollies Mexican Patio on 12th Avenue in 2018 and named it after his Rolled Taco dish. Some of his other creative dishes include Flat Enchiladas, Birria Ramen and Concha Ice Cream Sandwiches.
In an ideal world, we would have ordered a variety of Otero’s dishes. However, our focus was to eat the former caterer’s Rolled Tacos which were filled with chicken, fried to order and topped with spicy rojo sauce. We had a revelation as soon as we saw the Rolled Tacos that you probably have as well.
If you’re thinking that Rollie sounds like Mexican Taquitos, you are correct. We thought the same thing since both Rollies and Taquitos are essentially fried tacos. You’re also correct if you think they sound crunchy and delicious because that’s exactly what they were.
Head to Rollies Mexican Patio on a Thursday or Saturday if you want to slurp Otero’s Birria Ramen.
Rollies Mexican Patio is located at 4573 S 12th Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85714, United States.
Asian food in the USA has come a long way and we miss it when we’re in Europe. Sure, there was always a fine assortment of Asian eateries in east coast American cities for as long as we can remember. But now, with the expanding forces of travel, education and globalization, it’s practically impossible to not find good Asian food from coast to coast. While in Tucson, we found good Asian food at Noodleholics.
At first glance, Noodleholics seems unassuming enough with its strip mall corner locale and generic gray tile floored space. But belying its somewhat interesting combination of dry and wet noodle bowls is an array of slammin’ Chinese and Taiwanese dishes inspired by regions including Guandong, Sichuan and Guangxi. We ordered several of these dishes with abandon and ate them with gusto.
We always appreciate quality wontons and textbook char siu pork. Noodleholics does both of these things well. Our Dry Guilin Bowl placed barbecued meat over a mound of fresh rice noodles and topped both with roasted peanuts, pickled long beans and fresh cilantro while our House Wonton soup was a comforting bowl of yum with a melange of pork wontons, barbecued pork, shrimp and veggies.
Other items of note on the Noodleholics menu include Salt & Pepper Fried Wings and Steamed Dumplings. We can say this since we ate both and wanted to lick the plates.
Optional proteins at Noodleholics include beef shank, bbq pork, chicken, crispy pork, pig intestine, shrimp and tofu.
Noodleholics has multiple locations. We ate at the Central Tucson location at 3502 E Grant Road, Tucson, AZ 85716, United States.
Barrio Charro is proof that successful people like being busy. Open since 2021, the casual eatery is the proverbial lovechild of Don Guerra and Carlotta Flores, the multi-tasking leaders of Barrio Bread and El Charro Café respectively.
The opposite of an afterthought to these two busy culinarians, Barrio Charro offers an eclectic menu of breakfast and lunch dishes that can be eaten on the spot or taken away to enjoy later. The fast casual eatery also sells foods like artisan bread, tamales and BBQ chips that are worth buying.
We high-tailed it to Barrio Charro once we realized the power team behind the casual operation and promptly ordered Armando’s Asada Torta filled with grass-fed carne asada steak, avocado, queso oaxaca, friole and fresh veggies. Though we planned to take just a few bites, we had trouble stopping thanks to the flavorful ingredients loaded inside Guerra’s freshly baked azteca bread.
We continued our exploration of Barrio Charro’s menu a few days later when we returned for brunch. Don’s Encanto Breakfast lived up to its name with its combination of eggs, bacon, frioles, salsa and pan levain toast. Adding chorizo added to the charm while finishing it with Flan floating in caramel sauce sealed the deal.
Pick up a loaf or two of Barrio Bread if you don’t have time to queue at Don Guerra’s bakery.
Barrio Charro is located at 3699 N Campbell Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85719, United States.
Additional Tucson Cheap Eats
We won’t blame you if you want to eat even more cheap eats in Tucson since, after all, they’re cheap. Here are some additional spots worth a visit:
Best Tucson Dessert Spots
Eating dessert in Tucson poses one challenge for those who love eating savory Sonoran dishes – saving enough stomach space. Assuming you’re up to the challenge, the following spots won’t disappoint your sweet tooth urges:
Adam Krantz brought years of chocolate experience to the table when he opened Monsoon Chocolate in 2018 and hasn’t looked back since. His bean-to-bar chocolate operation has quickly become a local favorite and has also achieved national recognition, racking up numerous awards along the way.
Although Monsoon wasn’t operating as a cafe during our visit, we still enjoying Krantz’s bean-to-bar products. This enjoyment involved tasting creamy, dreamy Frozen Hot Chocolate on the spot and selecting colorful bonbons to savor later.
It was a feat to narrow down the bonbon selection from 16 to just four since each little gem is filled with local products like Mezcal Caramel and Horchata. Ultimately, we settled on bonbons filled with Chiltepin Pepper, Exo Chocolate, Prickly Pear Caramel and Sonoran Sea Salt.
Each hand-painted bauble was remarkable for its local filling that was both tasty and of place. Don’t ask us which was our favorite since we liked them all.
Monsoon Chocolate is named after the monsoons that the Sonoran Desert experiences during the summer season.
Monsoon Chocolate is located at 234 E 22nd Street, Tucson, AZ 85713, United States.
Oasis Fruit Cones
We weren’t familiar with Raspados until we visited Tucson or so we thought. As we quickly learned, a Raspado is the Mexican version of shaved ice and it comes with benefits.
Yes, we’ve previously eaten shaved ice versions in cities like Taipei and New Orleans. But we’ve never eaten shaved ice that’s both smothered in condensed milk and chock full of fresh fruit and ice cream.
We saw Raspados on various menus in Tucson and finally tried a cup at Oasis Fruit Cones, a local favorite that has specialized in the frozen treat since brothers Alfonso and John Carrizosa opened the shop in 1983.
Oasis offers 15 different flavors that span the fruit rainbow. We opted for mango even though strawberry is apparently the most popular flavor. It was a good choice that tasted like summer in a cup.
Take some time to admire the colorful ‘talking’ mural on Oasis’s wall. It celebrates various local businesses located on 12th Avenue.
Oasis Fruit Cones has multiple locations. We visited the one located at 4126 S 12th Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85714, United States.
La Estrella Bakery
La Estrella Bakery has been baking traditional Mexican pastries in Tucson since 1986.
This family-run business doesn’t experiment with recipes or ingredients. Instead it bakes traditional Mexican breads, cookies, donuts and pastries ever single day of the week. The bakery also sells savory Mexican items like tamales and tortillas to its loyal customer base.
In 2021, Food & Wine deemed La Estrella Bakery’s donuts to be the best donuts in Arizona. After eating a couple donuts, we don’t disagree.
We first visited La Estrella Bakery’s location on 12th street as part of our exploration of Tucson’s 23 miles of Mexican food. The donuts were a nice change of pace from the many tacos we were eating but, to be honest, we were too full to fully appreciate the sweet treats.
Our second visit at the Mercado San Agustin was a different matter. This time, we were hungry for breakfast and could fully appreciate the Pan Dulce and Bear Claw that we ordered. It also didn’t hurt that we paired the pastries with excellent coffee that we bought at Presta Coffee Roasters located next to the bakery. It was both a winning combination and a great way to start the day.
Bring a shopping bag to the original location where you can buy local spices and Mexican staples in addition to donuts and tamale.
La Estrella Bakery has multiple locations. We visited the original location at 5266 S 12th Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85706, United States as well as the location inside the Mercado San Agustin.
Tucson Restaurant FAQs
Tucson is famous for its take on Sonoran foods like Sonoran Hot Dogs and Tacos.
Tucson restaurants range from cheap eats to fine dining. The city has numerous moderately priced restaurants for travelers on a budget as well as fancier restaurants fit for a splurge.
Yes. Tipping is mandatory for table service. However, tipping for counter service is optional.
People typically eat dinner between 7pm and 9pm in Tucson.
Yes. Reservations are necessary at Tucson’s better restaurants.
Anthony Bourdain never filmed a Tucson episode on The Layover, No Reservations or Parts Unknown.
Tucson is approximately 115 miles or 185 kilometers from Phoenix.
Where to Stay in Tucson
We stayed at two hotels during our week-long stay in Tucson and highly recommend them both. These hotels are The Citizen Hotel and The Tuxon
Located in a historic downtown building, The Citizen Hotel is Tucson’s first wine-themed boutique hotel. Guests can taste and drink wine at this well-appointed hotel when they’re not soaking in a tub. Actually, they can also drink wine in the tub since each has a wine caddy. Contact the hotel directly to book a room.
Modern and fun, The Tuxon attracts travelers who appreciate the hotel’s central location as well as its hopping pool bar and complimentary La Colombe coffee. Rooms are comfortable and parking is ample at this Marriott Bonvoy Design Hotel. Guests can even use the hotel’s laundry room. You can book a room via booking.com.
Hungry for More in Tucson?
Discover our favorite Tucson brunch spots and the best Tucson coffee shops. Check back soon to discover our picks for the city’s best bars as well as our Tucson food favorites.
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.
We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.
We were hosted at some (but not all) of the restaurants featured in this article with no express expectation of coverage.
We thank Visit Tucson and its partners for their assistance to facilitate this and other articles.
Original Publication Date: December 11, 2022
Saturday 27th of May 2023
Came here for a quick list of potential eateries.
Monday 12th of December 2022
Great round up! But I think there is only one Pico de Gallo. You hit all the spots that make Tucson a culinary wonder.
Daryl and Mindi Hirsch
Monday 12th of December 2022
You are correct. Thanks for commenting.