There's nothing that completes a neighborhood quite like a quirky, unique eatery that blends in well with the surrounding area—and if that establishment happens to serve drinks, all the better. Sometimes the "old standbys" get a little bit forgotten with the excitement of new restaurant and bar openings, but it almost always pays to remember how those places achieved their longevity—by having nothing more than good food, drinks, ambiance and service, with consistency.
Cushing Street Bar and Restaurant has been a Tucson establishment since 1972. Just on the outskirts of downtown at the corner of Cushing Street and Meyer Avenue, part of the building dates back to the 1860s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There is definitely no lack of ambiance here—darkened dining room with wood-beam ceilings, creaky wood floors, and 19th-century décor pieces make up the charm of the interior. It could easily be stuffy, or snobby, but the warm, friendly staff and laid-back service ensure a relaxed, casual experience.
Though it's casual and laid-back, prices are a little more upscale. House cocktails are all $9-$10; appetizers range from a very reasonable $5.75 for the chorizo-stuffed mushrooms to $15 for the seared ahi tuna; and entrées, with one or two exceptions either way, hover mostly around the $20 mark. During the summer, bottles of wine are all $20 on Wednesday through Friday from 6 to 8 p.m.; otherwise the bottles range from $24 to $32. So, definitely not unreasonable, but it may be a little pricey for some folks. Friday and Saturday evenings bring live jazz to Cushing Street, which also draws a crowd, so make reservations if you can plan ahead.
The food is unpretentious, filling bar fare—chorizo stuffed mushrooms ($5.75); baked wings ($6.50); bacon mac and cheese ($7); crab cakes ($12.50), among other selections. We tried both the mushrooms and the crab cakes, which were both excellent—the chorizo packed just the right amount of heat, the mushrooms weren't watery and overcooked, and the crab cakes were flaky and flavorful, though they didn't stay together very well. There is a hearty selection of classic and creative salads—from the traditional Caesar ($8 or $12 with chicken); to a lovely grilled asparagus and prosciutto salad ($12), which had two fat bundles of grilled asparagus, wrapped in lightly grilled prosciutto, set atop a bed of greens dressed lightly with a tangy sherry vinaigrette and dotted with mini fresh mozzarella balls and roasted red pepper strips.
Portions are generous but not ridiculous. The Sueno Burger ($12) is a hearty patty topped with thick slices of fresh roasted green chiles, bacon and swiss cheese, and served with a side of home-fry style seasoned potatoes. The shrimp poblano pasta ($19) was a filling portion as well, and had at least eight huge whole shrimp swimming in the rich, slightly spicy, poblano-studded cream sauce. The salmon ($19) and grilled flat iron steak ($19) were the two best entrées we tried—the salmon was a textural adventure, with moist flaky grilled salmon atop perfectly cooked couscous beads that popped in your mouth, and creamy sautéed spinach with sweet mango vinaigrette. The flank steak, grilled to the requested medium-rare and served with crunchy, steamed seasonal veggies, was topped with a buttery, tangy, garlicky chimichurri sauce that perfectly complemented the smokiness of the grilled meat.
Dessert is also not to be missed.The limited options of sorbet ($3.50), chocolate mousse pie ($7.50) and carrot cake ($7.50) were all tempting, but we opted for the carrot cake and were not disappointed. An enormous slice, with just the right amount of frosting, just slightly sweet, topped with fresh berries, arrived at the table and was devoured just as quickly as it had appeared.
So, next time you're looking for that new hot spot, or just can't decide what sounds good (maybe you're getting the "I don't care, you decide" treatment from the significant other?), revisit a Tucson standby, and treat yourself to remembering why they've earned that status.