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2013 in Food 

Tucson is a far better place to eat and drink than this time last year

If you were going by the Tucson Weekly's Internet presence at least, this year in Tucson food didn't get off to a great start. The second food related post on our blog, The Range, in 2013 was an announcement that the Mexican chain Big Juan's had closed. The third? That the Greek Taverna on Swan was closing.

Sure, there were quite a few restaurants that closed this year. Anthony's in the Catalinas blamed Obama on a local radio show for their closing in September, a few days before the owners signed a plea agreement for filing false tax returns. Other restaurants might have been just past their lifespan, like Mezon del Cobre, the Garland and Redline Sports Grill. I know I'll somehow recover from the closing of Brio, the Italian chain restaurant at the Tucson Mall that I never went to, but seemed like a slighter fancier Olive Garden. The two food-related closings that actually hit me hardest were those of the 17th Street Market (which seemed to lose its plot after the opening of Lee Lee Asian Market) and Grocery Outlet (a surprising source of super-cheap organic and fair-trade food items the general public didn't catch on to), but hey, life goes on.

But, still, as a Tucsonan who likes food (a lot ... it's sort of a problem), 2013 was undoubtedly a great year to eat and drink in this town. The Tucson outlet of Pizzeria Bianco didn't get its doors open this calendar year (although it should be in business by February, we hear), but downtown exploded with dining options, between stellar Flagstaff imports Diablo Burger and Proper, pan-Mexican delight Penca, tribute to the Caribbean Saint House, late addition Gio Taco and others. On the ends of the forthcoming functional (hopefully) streetcar line, there are several new places on Fourth Avenue —like the welcome late-night sandwich joint, Fourth Avenue Delicatessen—and on the other side of the track and pricepoint scale, Ryan Clark's takeover at Agustin Kitchen. Plus, there's the booze from Good Oak Bar, other-side-of-the-underpass Tap & Bottle (which managed to win an award from a craft beer website seemingly immediately upon opening), the beer garden at Reilly, Thunder Canyon's Broadway location and the semi-controversial World of Beer at the base of the Cadence complex. While getting a bottle for home was a near impossibility, the utterly delicious local distillate Whiskey del Bac is a welcome addition to the best Tucson bars. Have a bartender at Scott and Co. make you a drink with one of the three varieties; you might not ever drink anything else. That's probably an exaggeration, but it's quite good.

I suppose the boom downtown was probably inevitable, considering the investment sunken into the area over the last decade, but what might be most promising for Tucson diners is the fact that quality places to eat are slowly but surely popping up across town. Ari Shapiro is working hard to turn Broadway Village into a destination again, with his excellent Falora soon to be joined by a cozy craft beer and cocktail spot (appropriately called) Sidecar, joining the delightful Sugar Sweet Bakery, frequent Best of Tucson® winner Sushi Garden, and the forthcoming Cashew Cow, which is a dessert place of some sort. In the generally depressing Airport Heights area the Weekly happens to call home, we now have Mexico in Season, a fresher, local, vegan-friendly take on fast-casual Mexican fare at Palo Verde and Ajo.

While that would probably be enough to please anyone who enjoys eating food other people make, that just scratches the surface of what was new for 2013. Plus, aside from whenever Bianco and his two imported-from-Italy ovens start turning out pizza next year, there's a bunch of new restaurants, bars, brewers, food trucks and such in the works. Sure, it would be nice if the rest of Tucson's industries started to catch up, but for now, I'm thankful that the decision of where to eat gets a little bit more difficult all the time.

More by Dan Gibson

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