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La Salsa Fresh Mexican Grill

1800 E. Fort Lowell Road 4861 E. Grant Road 7090 N. Oracle Road

READERS' PICK: Let's see: you're on the run and need to slam down chow. You can go to the unspeakable place of the golden arches and grab a slab of steaming gristle, or maybe head to the place of the ubiquitous talking chihuahua. But how about some real food, made with fresh ingredients and ready to haul off in just a little more time? The word is out, and Tucson's three La Salsa locations do a thriving take-out trade, issuing forth a mountain of enchiladas, tacos and burritos that compare favorably to the best of the south side's Mexican restaurants -- and that'll fill you up in a hurry for five or six bucks.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Pronto Cucina, 2955 E. Speedway Blvd. A retooled Pronto now offers table service and a menu which can be encompassed in less time than your English Lit. reading assignment, with a range that's no less eclectic than their previous one. And don't be fooled: even though they've gone a little more formal, they still offer take-out.

Choose from richly fragrant pasta dishes, which we won't elaborate here as they're noncommittally printed on a plain paper menu that's subject to change. But each is characterized by rather beautifully balanced ingredients with well-chosen herbs, always fresh. Pronto still offers topographically complex salads, dense, fresh breads, and most importantly to the take-out diner, their personal pizzas (the latter can become a way of life if you're not careful, being one of the most cunningly wrought culinary contrivances ever devised).

A hallmark of good food is that you begin with a mild appetite, and suddenly turn the corner to famished when the taste and fragrance hit. Pronto's pizzas -- and indeed all their dishes -- are just this variety. It might seem at first glance to be a bit more than you want, but in the end you're sure to want it all.

MORE MANIA: Pasta Palmita, 6878 E. Sunrise Drive. Okay, we'll fess up. We've never had much truck with the upwardly mobile crowd that spread into the Catalina foothills to build a country club empire. But once we tried Pasta Palmita, we wished that we, too, had headed for the hills. As it stands, the barrio is just too far away from this ideal take-out spot at Sunrise and Kolb to make a hot meal very feasible. So at least for now, we'll have to content ourselves by spreading the word to our northern neighbors...and making the rare trip across town to enjoy the surplus of pasta delights Pasta Palmita offers. Of course you'll find spaghetti and meatballs on the menu, but there's much more to consider. In fact, underneath the restaurant's title the menu reads, "Pastas of the World." We've sampled a bow-tie chicken from the Far East with a deliciously spicy peanut sauce. We've nibbled on the Southwest chicken and linguine, which luxuriates in a piquant sherry cream sauce flecked with sun-dried tomatoes. And we've rejoiced in the bountiful wild mushroom linguine, which incorporates three truffle varieties into a subtle cream sauce. Whatever we tried, we wanted more. And every generous portion is served for under $8, which is pretty hard to beat these days. Sandwiches and salads are also available (if you ever get tired of pasta, which in the many guises it takes here, we never do). All you'll need to complete a family meal package is some garlic bread and a green salad, items the folks at Pasta Palmita are more than happy to supply.

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