READERS' PICK: We trust our readers to point out the very best of what's out there for this issue. But every now and then, they come up with a head scratcher, what we refer to in the biz as "The Taco Bell Quandary." We love the Blue Willow for its breakfast, its food the rest of the day, its service and its remarkable desserts. Having said all that (and not wanting to be negative), please allow us to report that the readers also picked as the winner in the Best Outdoor Seating category the Blue Willow--pigeon netting, outdoor gas heaters and all. (In the future, we'll make a note to remind readers that if you need heaters to allow you to eat outside, you should probably be dining inside.)
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Caruso's, 434 N. Fourth Ave. Remember the old Yogi Berra-ism about his once-favorite restaurant: "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded"? Along those lines, we find Caruso's. Snobs have been dogging Caruso's forever, but all the landmark on Fourth Avenue has been doing is serving Tucsonans since World War II! Tucson is liberally sprinkled with couples whose first dates were at Caruso's: an inexpensive Italian meal under a bright moon out on the patio. It's an absolute Tucson tradition, one that has stood the test of time and has silenced every critic. Long live Caruso's!
LOOSE CHANGE: Tohono Chul Tea Room, 7366 N. Paseo del Norte. The majority of seating for this bistro-style restaurant is, in fact, outside. Mature trees and modest umbrellas provide gentle shade for this open patio, where highlights are the sound of songbirds and the sight of innumerable desert flowers year round. You'd never know this lush oasis set back from Ina Road on quiet Paseo del Norte was just minutes from the Foothills Mall. Over the years, Tohono Chul has coaxed zillions of out-of-towners from the notion that deserts are dead and brown. Once thawed, neophyte snowbirds have a tendency to relax into a frown at our low-water ways, but the combination of indulgent service and lacy vegetation on the Tea Room patio turns those frowns into gentle, knowing smiles.