100 Essential Dishes

The Eegee's Frozen Fruit Slush


Multiple locations

Still the first thing on our list, but not the sugar-free variety. Tolerable, but just not the same.

Tepary Bean and Short Rib Stew

Desert Rain Café

Tohono Plaza, Main Street, Sells, AZ; 383-4918

We're stretching the definition of "Tucson" with this pick, but a dish this simple and amazing that you can feel somewhat good about yourself for awhile by eating (100% of the restaurant's proceeds go to educational projects), it's ok to stretch the rules a bit.

Fishy Pig Taco

Gio Taco

350 E. Congress St., No. 150; 882-8226

Albacore tuna is wrapped in bacon and served on a fresh, homemade, tortilla. Wait, there's more. Add in the fresh avocado and street-vendor corn, and this taco is amazing.

Nasi Lemak

Neo of Melaka

6133 E. Broadway Blvd.; 747-7811

Alan Yap's Foothills-area take on Asian cuisine Om merged with Neo of Melaka (formerly Seri Melaka) across from Park Place Mall at the beginning of 2014 and while Om brought its delicious sushi menu with it (try the Beer Belly, which is far better than its mildly dopey name), but considering the relatively unique opportunity to enjoy Malaysian cuisine, the Nasi Lemak makes it back on the list again with its unforgettable collision of coconut, curried beef and flavorfully spicy shrimp.

The Blake

Diablo Burger

312 E Congress St., 882-2007

It's hard to really go wrong at Diablo Burger with any of the open-range-and-everything-else-we're-supposed-to-want-from-beef burgers on their relatively small menu, but our go-to choice is the Blake, driven by green chilies, both in their roasted form and flavoring the homemade mayo, with a slice of sharp cheddar.

Creole Shrimp and Catfish

Saint House

256 E. Congress St.; 207-7757

Surely, nearly any menu item could be a highlight after a few of Saint House's great rum cocktails (love you, Ron Matusalem), but even for the sober, this originality of this rich, thick stew ("stew" undersells the flavor of the etoufee) with plenty of seafood over jasmine rice would be a star.

Cast Iron Baked Eggs

Cup Café

311 E. Congress St.; 798-1618

On occasion we complain that there aren't enough weekend brunch options downtown, but it's possible the layers of flavors in the Hotel Congress' signature A.M. dish might have scared off most competitors. As long as we can get this leek, ham and Gruyere powered delight, we might not need many other choices.

Gal Bi

Kimchi Time

2900 E. Broadway Blvd., No. 186; 305-4900

Don't wear a shirt that you're not willing to treat for tiny splatters of the oil that will pop off the hot plate from these Los Angeles/Koreatown-style super-savory (courtesy of the fermented soy sauce, ganjang) marinated beef short ribs. At worst, trading a shirt for a great meal isn't the worst deal.

Deep Dish Apple Pie

Omar's Hi-Way Chef

5451 E. Benson Hwy.; 574-0961

Omar's is the sort of place where the waitresses remember the regulars' birthdays, but even if you only make one or two trips a year to the Craycroft I-10 exit's classic truck stop, the tower of soft-serve ice cream atop an individually-portioned cinnamon-enhanced crust feels a little like home.

Silver City Breakfast

Poco and Mom's

1060 S. Kolb Road; 325-7044

Last year, we recommended you get anything with red chile pork at the Eastside New Mexico-themed diner, but we'll get somewhat more specific this year. A giant crispy hashbrown with grilled onions is the base, then green chile sauce, cheese, your choice of eggs go on top. Of course, you should double down on the chile, adding the red chile pork for the bargain price of a dollar.

Poached Taco


828 E. Speedway Blvd.; 777-8134

More poached eggs on everything. Always.


Prep & Pastry

3073 N. Campbell Ave.; 326-7737

There's a chance you've managed to live your life without hearing about Dominique Ansel's trademark-protected Cronut®, but even if you're completely unaware of the strange unstoppable buzz surrounding the concept of a croissant-doughnut hybrid (hell, Safeway sells a not-all-that-good version now), newcomer Prep & Pastry's multiple versions stand up well on their own.

Prop Prop Wings


300 E. Congress St.; 396-3357

In our 2013 Best of Tucson issue, one of the staff picks called Proper's Prop Prop Wings the "Best Future Addition to Tucson's 100 Essential Dishes." Proper's sweet, spicy and fish-sauce funky take on Portland, Oregon's famous Thai restaurant Pok Pok's appetizer is among a bunch of their menu items that could have made this list, but since we called in back in Octobor, we should probably stick to them.

AK Tartare

Agustín Kitchen

100 S. Avenida Del Convento, Ste. 150; 398-5382

Arizona Wagyu beef presented simply and beautifully, with a soft egg and parmesan mayonnaise.

Cinnamon Rolls

Robert's Restaurant

3301 E. Grant Road; 795-1436

Although Robert's features relatively standard breakfast and lunch menus six days a week (lots of eggs, chicken fried steaks and the like), they make nearly everything in house from scratch, including the oversized cinnamon rolls, which you can make the focus of their #6 breakfast combo with two eggs and two strips of bacon. You'll have to justify your choices later when the sugar rush wears off, but at least you can feel good about the craftsmanship behind what you ate.

Honey Hot Wings

Wings Over Broadway

5004 E. Broadway Blvd.; 323-8805

Spicy Orange Wings

Wings & Rice

5502 E. Pima Rd. # 110; 731-3313

Another media outlet in town would like to convince you that their poll determined that other joints in this town have superior wings to either of these two establishments. That poll, while admirable in weeding out the national chains at least, would be very wrong.

Crispy Duck "Chicharrones"

Gio Taco

350 E. Congress Rd.; 882-8226

We do recommend one of Gio Taco's actual tacos elsewhere in this list, but the sides alone might be enough to get us to come back (the plantain crisps and yucca tots are quite tasty) with the duck chicharrones the real star. Yes, it's probably a bit of a betrayal to embrace a non-pork version of the fried fat delicacy, but for now, we'll push that thought aside and place another order.

Psycho Ribeye Cheesesteak

Serial Grillers

7889 E. 22nd St.; 406-1771

At some point, there will be a video somewhere from the Food Network show Eat St. of our editor, Dan Gibson, trying to talk with his mouth full while discussing the cheesesteaks of Serial Grillers. Dan's mother will be mortified, but as long as the Serial Grillers guys make cheesesteaks as delicious as this one, with jalapeños, avocado and cilantro mayo thrown into the standard steak, onion, tomatoes and cheese formula, the permanent, likely YouTube-able embarrassment will be worth it.

Whatever the Cheesemonger Tells You to Try

Blu—A Wine & Cheese Stop

Mercado San Agustin, 100 S. Avenida Del Convento

Just go and get a plate of cheese and sit out on the patio at the Mercado some afternoon with a glass of wine. It's a lovely way to spend some time and the staff of Blu will surely set you along the right path, possibly ruining you on grocery store-purchased cheese forever.

Roasted Bone Marrow


50 E. Broadway Blvd.; 203-7681

Diners responded quickly to Penca's Mexico City inspired take on the cuisine of our neighbor to the south (witness the polite, but somewhat incredulous look you'll get from the host if you ask for a table on a Friday or Saturday night), but if you get a seat, don't let yourself get distracted by the variety of taco options. Go directly for the bone marrow, served with a vibrant chimichurri. Not for everyone, certainly, but the slightly sweet, buttery taste is unlike anything else.

The Cura


3000 E. Broadway Blvd.; 325-9988

Yes, there are a lot of great pizzas in town, but when you have one made in the right kind of wood-fired 800 degree oven with great ingredients driven by the delights of saltiness, that's about all you can ask for. Olives, soppressata and chili oil will always be welcome on our plate.

The Lemon Cookie

Sugar Sweet Bakery

18 S. Eastbourne Ave.; 881-1138

It's hard to go wrong at the Broadway Village bakery, where they mix up the selection every day, frequently offering limited edition desserts (we'll take the rest of the cinnamon bun cookies, thanks), but our favorite from the more regular options is the lemon cookie, a sour and sweet charmer.

Menudo Colorado

Tania's 33

614 N. Grande Ave.; 622-0685

We didn't do an exact survey, but it seemed the most outrage over our list last year surrounded the exclusion of Tania's 33. Point taken. We're not sure how we managed to skip over the beloved Westside joint, but the place with a thousand soups (ok, not quite that many) deserves to be recognized. Our pick? The delicious red chile version of the tripe laden hangover classic, available every day on Grande.

Any of the Vegan Options

Mexico in Season

3820 S. Palo Verde; 398-7576

The Tucson Weekly staff appreciates that the Teran family brought an excellent dining option to the Airport Heights area, which isn't exactly the best place to get a meal, unless you really like Wendy's. While everything we've had on the rotating, seasonal menu has been delicious, possibly the best aspect of the heavily-customizable array of choices at Mexico in Season is the sheer number of options for the vegetarian and vegan crowd. Whatever's available the day you stop by will be worth a shot and those with restrictive diets won't feel cheated by their available options at all.

AZ Hooligan

Lindy's on Fourth

431 N. Fourth Ave.; 207-6970

It's a solid and somewhat insanely debaucherous burger, but for our city that's been shockingly underappreciated on basic cable food shows, Lindy's appearance on Man vs. Food earns their burger (five patties, other non-meat things) a spot on this list in perpetuity.

Something From the Freezer

Roma Imports

627 S. Vine Ave.; 792-3173

Stop by, grab something frozen, hide it somewhere in your freezer and when someone is unexpectedly coming over for dinner, you'll have something delicious you can make an attempt to take credit for. Just follow Roma's instructions and remember to have a serving dish of your own ready to move the Italian deliciousness into.


Sonoran Delights

921 W. Congress St.; 623-3020

Treat yourself. Get the Macedonia, which promises "all the fruit." Ask for extra lechera.

Dan Dan Noodles

Jun Dynasty

2933 E. Grant Rd.; 881-0778

At some point, we'll get a bit more brave and order the spicy pig ear appetizer, so check in next year to see if that makes the list, but for now, we're still plenty satisfied by our experience at the newish Szechwan spot ordering the Dan Dan Noodles with pork in a less adventurous minced form.

Late Night Tacos

La Cocina

201 N. Court Ave.; 365-3053

The food's good at La Cocina all day, but on Saturday nights while DJ Herm and company are getting ready to set up for the weekly late night dance party, grab a few quite affordable tacos from the grill. You'll need the energy once the turntables start spinning.

Late Night Slices

Empire Pizza and Pub

137 E. Congress St.; 882-7499

We picked Brooklyn for their garlic knots, so Empire gets the nod on slices. There's not much that tastes better at 2:45 a.m. on a Saturday night.

Smoked Bacon and Green Chile Au Gratin Potatoes

PY Steakhouse

5655 W. Valencia Rd.; (855) 765-7829

Sure, the stars of the casino's high end dining spot are still the steaks, but when you look through the sides, make sure to get the mini-skillet of everything you'd want to go with potatoes along with the perfectly cooked spuds themselves. Just pace yourself, especially if one of the 22 ounce t-bones are coming out next.

Pineapple Empanadas

La Estrella Bakery

5266 S. 12th Ave.; 505-5198

A second location is at the Mercado San Agustin

We dropped the Best Empanada category from the Best of Tucson ballot (generally all the votes were for just two places, and there weren't that many people voting to begin with), so this is our opportunity to still make a recommendation on the stuffed pastry front. You'll be fine with any of the fruit fillings, but something just feels right about the pineapple.

Sonoran Hot Dog With Everything

El Guero Canelo

Three locations

If you've been in town for awhile, you probably have a non-Guero dog you call your fave, but everyone should start with the classic.

Tamale Pie

El Corral

2201 E River Rd.; 299-6092

Forget the baked potato or fries, the only side to order with your red meat is the tamale pie. This is cornbread kicked up a notch or three. Moist, slightly sweet and studded with corn nibs and chopped green chiles, this is a one-of-a-kind dish. We like it so much, we sometimes order extras to take home. Sure, there may be similar dishes around town. But then again, not really.

French Onion Soup

47 Scott

47 N. Scott Ave.; 624-4747

Yes, we know the grilled cheese made it on some national list (it's delicious, sure) and last year, we went with the phyllo wrapped chicken (still delicate and perfect), but we reserve the right to semi-arbitrarily switch between items on the simple, universally excellent menu. French onion soup can be a cloying disaster in less capable hands, but at 47 Scott, it's a welcome lusciously savory take on a classic dish.

Stack of Grilled Cheese

47 Scott

47 N. Scott Ave.; 624-4747

Ok, this should really be on here as well. We're somewhat inclined to order anything that includes the phrase "house-made mozzarella" in the description, so this is right up our alley. Thankfully, the 47 Scott folks manage to balance out the cheese threesome well with the right touch of garlic oil. This is the sort thing this restaurant does exceptionally well—playing with familiar flavors and culinary emotions and offering a transcendent, memorable experience.

Prime Rib or T-Bone Steak Dinner

Cody's Beef 'n Beans

2708 E. Fort Lowell Rd.; 85716

This town has its share of steakhouses, but for a real "cowboy" dinner there's no place like Cody's. No frills here, just lots of down-home service and fantastic, juicy steaks. All the meat is hand-cut in house; they even grind their own burger meat. All dinners come with soup or salad and your choice of two sides.

Plato Poca Cosa

Little Café Poca Cosa

Stone and Alameda; no phone

Why are you spending time looking at the menu? Spend a second picking your juice from the chalkboard, then let Sandra and Marcela pick what you're eating this afternoon. Just do us all a favor: when you're done eating, continue your conversation elsewhere. Someone's waiting for your table.

The Roscoe

Sausage Shop Meat Market & Deli

1015 W. Prince Road, Suite 141; 888-1701

Last year, we went with the Rufus; this year, we go for its sandwich cousin, featuring a Polish dog, corned beef and sauerkraut party on marble rye.

Flour Tortillas

St Mary's Tortilla Factory

1030 W. St. Mary's Rd; 884-1629

People have been known to pack so many St. Mary's tortillas in their suitcases on the way out of town that they have to pay for the extra weight. These extra-large, extra-thin tortillas are amazing for use in homemade burros or chimis or just by themselves. If you're lucky you'll get them while they're still warm. It doesn't hurt to bring home some carne seca or red chile with them just in case.

Carne Asada Tacos

El Guero Canelo

Three locations

Perhaps it is sacrilegious to mention tacos from the palace of the Sonoran hot dog, but the carne asada tacos here are fabulous. Seasoned just so and then flash-grilled, the beef is as good as any in town (maybe the best). All that is needed is a trip to the condiment bar for some salsa, guacaomole and limes.


Kadooks! Costa Rican Fusion Food Truck


Last year, the inclusion of Kadooks' fried plantains with various sweet enhancements got us an offer for free maduros for life. Despite that wonderful bit of generosity, they make this list again because they're crazy delicious.

Green Corn Waffle

Mother Hubbard's Café

14 W. Grant Rd.; 623-7976

You can't go wrong with any of the waffles served up at Tucson's Native American inspired diner (and one of our city's most inventive places to dine, even if you might not guess from the location or the exterior), but for our money, the best choice is the green corn variety. Be sure to get the agave syrup.

The Zemam's Plate


2731 E. Broadway Blvd., 323-9928

Zemam's Too

119 E. Speedway Blvd., 882-4955

We're still not entirely sure which item at Zemam's is what we ordered by sight, since we get the Zemam's plate, a sampler of three items of your choice. If you bring a few people and you can order nearly everything offered. From there, you might not remember what was supposed to be yours as hands reach across the table but that's part of the fun.

Clam Chowder

Trident Grill

2033 E. Speedway Blvd.; 795-5755

As the summer approaches, it sounds a little insane to recommend a soup of any sort, but when/if the winter rolls back around, make a note to order a cup of Trident's delicious chowder the first time the temperature drops.

Fillete Veracruzano

Mariscos Chihuahua

Multiple locations

The tomato sauced fish is what Janos Wilder orders. Isn't that a good enough reason?

Chubasco Hot Sauce

Fini's Landing

5689 N Swan Rd., 299-1010

Tucson knows its hot sauce, but somehow Foothills beach spot Fini's Landing has managed to come up with a great blend of vinegary tang and peppery bite. The sauce shows up on quite a few dishes in the restaurant and on the table, but it's worth buying a bottle to take home. It won't last long.

Pico de Gallo

Taqueria Pico de Gallo

2618 S. Sixth Ave.; 623-8775

It's possible Toby Keith's bar got ran out of town because the only red Solo cup that really matters in Tucson is the one on South Sixth Avenue, full of tropical fruit doused in lime juice and chili powder.

Armitage Eggs Benedict

Armitage Wine Lounge & Café

2905 E. Skyline Drive, No. 168; 682-9740

Sadly only available on weekends, but Armitage's more worldly take on the brunch classic (prosciutto instead of Canadian bacon, Asiago toast instead of an English muffin, havarti cheese, thin asparagus spears and a Hollandaise sauce) is worth dragging yourself out of bed for. Thankfully, Armitage gives you until 3 p.m. to get yourself presentable enough for the La Encantada crowd.


Kingfisher Bar and Grill

2564 E. Grant Road; 323-7739

The oyster bar adjacent to the dining area at Agustín Kitchen gives Kingfisher a run for its long-held crown, but a half dozen and a drink in the comforting ambience of a leather booth still can't be beat.

Garlic Knots

Brooklyn Pizza

534 N. Fourth Ave.; 622-6868

Last year, one of our writers made a minor stink at the office claiming that another restaurant's garlic knots should have been on this list. He's wrong. Brooklyn still wins, even if your breath might be the ultimate loser.

Shrimp Cocktail

Sinaloa Restaurante

5601 E. 22nd St.; 790-2888

22nd and Craycroft might not be where you'd expect to find a great Mexican seafood dish, but this off-the-beaten path joint has a way with shrimp. As Rita Connelly wrote last year, "the medium shrimp cocktail must have a couple dozen shrimp and the "juice" is such a perfect balance of tomatoes, scallions, cukes and lime that you want to drink it." Seems worth a trip to the centralish eastside, right?

"Nana's" Pot Roast

The Abbey

6960 E. Sunrise Drive; 299-3132

Odds are your Nana probably doesn't use black truffles in her pan gravy. If she does, can we come over for dinner?

The Jersey Devil

East Coast Super Subs

187 N. Park Ave., 882-4005

Sausage, peppers and onions. It's a simple sandwich, but everything's the way it should be.

Hangover Tots

Surly Wench Pub

424 N. 4th Ave.; 882-0009

You may not think of the home of burlesque/rock and roll/industrial dance nights as a place to get something to eat, but the proficient kitchen cranks out slight variations of bar food, with four choices of spice blends to go with the fries and other creative twists. The hangover tots might be more useful in avoiding your forthcoming hangover than curing an existing one, but swiss cheese, a poblano sauce and a fried egg make these tots better than your nostalgic memories of the ones at the late Grill.

The Ice Cream


266 E. Congress St.; 207-8201

We're still really thankful for the opportunity to get great ice cream downtown and based on the volume of HUB paper bowls we see in-hand up and down Congress, a lot of Tucson feels the same way.

Ramen Bowl

Nox Kitchen & Cocktails

6370 N. Campbell Ave.; 529-5849

This town has a real ramen shortage. While we eagerly await the day when someone opens up a take on an izakaya bar in town, the pork belly and egg in newcomer Nox's bowl will definitely do. In fact, it's definitely possibly we could end up getting attached to their version.

Crawfish Hushpuppies

The Parish

6453 N. Oracle Road; 797-1233

When the Parish expanded recently, we're pretty sure the credit should have gone to this dish and the thai chile sauce that comes with it.

General Tso's Veggie Chicken

Guilin Chinese Restaurant

3250 E. Speedway Blvd.; 320-7768

Last year, our vegetarian expert, A Greene, said about this dish: "Always steaming hot and framed with bright green broccoli florets, General Tso's comes smothered in spicy sweet red sauce. It's one of those dishes at a restaurant that kind of ruins the rest of the menu for you; once you've had it, you'll perpetually be torn between ordering something that you haven't tried before, or getting General Tso's."

Tuesday Steak Night


3025 N. Campbell Ave.; 325-3333

The revamped Pastiche (ooh, look at the shiny bar!) made some changes to their menu when they completed their remodel extensive remodel, but we're thankful that the steak night remained. $15 for a sizeable Angus steak and salad will always be a good deal.

Green Chile Chicharron Tacos

La Botana

3200 N. First Ave.; 777-8801

Fried pork skin in a tart tomatillo sauce. Perfectly cooked, avoiding the textural issues that can come with chicharron on occasion and practically begging to be eaten with a cold beer aside.

Lemon Meringue Pie

Back Dough

6260 E. Speedway Blvd., 747-7477

Beyond Bread always has an impressive selection of desserts available at their various locations, so it's not particularly surprising that their pie-focused spinoff, Back Dough, offers great pastry-based options as well. The hours are a little restrictive if you have a day job, but for six bucks, you get yourself one of the best lemon meringue pies you've ever eaten, piled high with sugared whipped egg whites.

Friday Fish Fry

Boondocks Lounge

3306 N. First Ave.; 690-0991

Every city should have a comforting Friday fish fry at a local working-class bar (in fact, the Tucson Weekly had a Best Fish Fry category in Best of Tucson for a few years until 2002) and the Boondocks keeps that tradition alive. $7.50 gets you half a pound of perfectly fried whitefish, fries, homemade coleslaw as well as admission into the global brotherhood of people eating exactly the same thing across America.


Good Oak Bar

316 E. Congress St.; 882-2007

There are people here at the Weekly who hate pickles. People who waste five seconds of a stranger's life at McDonalds, ensuring they won't even have to look at the things. People whose friends just take pickles off their plates without asking. To those people, the fried pickles at Good Oak Bar are a revelation. For one, they're long spears, rather than those weird, crinkled pickle chips; they're coated in a breading that's seems to be made with cayenne pepper and fairy dust; and they come with a spicy take on thousand-island dressing that, we promise, is way better than it sounds. Seriously, these pickles are what bar food should aspire to be, and they're reasonably priced enough to pair with a pint.

Charlie's Chicken

Beyond Bread

Three locations

While we're certain that the award-winning Reuben sandwich is wonderful, we've (ironically) got a beef with the good folks at Beyond Bread: where's the love for the yardbird? Charlie's Chicken is one of the sandwiches on Beyond Bread's menu that is, unequivocally, a flavor bomb. Grilled chicken breast, bacon, cheddar, tomato and onion are stacked atop each other, given a healthy coating of barbecue sauce, placed in a crunchy torpedo roll and served piping hot. We get that there's a plethora of delicious chicken sandwiches in the world, really, this is absolutely among the best sandwiches in Tucson. We'll promise this, BB: Even if Charlie's Chicken isn't considered one of the world's best chicken sandwiches by a bunch of goofy celebrity chefs (lookin' at you, Guy Fieri), it'll always get a blue ribbon in our hearts.

Curried Lamb Stew


300 E. Congress St.; 396-3357

Yeah, we know, we've got a bit of a food-on for the chow at Proper (see the entry for the Prop Prop Wings elsewhere in this feature). But c'mon, if anything on Proper's stellar menu deserves singular praise, it's their curried lamb stew. And don't let the mention of "curry" scare you away: it's more a flavorful change of pace than it is a reason to reach for the Tums after your meal. Combine that slightly-spicy agent with the dates and the chunks of shredded lamb, and you're as likely to try licking the plate clean as you are placing a second order of it. Thankfully, the crostini provided with your order will help soak up what's left so you don't make a fool of yourself at the table.

Chicago-Style Deep Dish

Rocco's Little Chicago

2707 E. Broadway Blvd.; 321-1860

Chances are, unless you're one of the few misguided souls that dines at the altars of Pizza Hut and/or Domino's (and if you are, what the hell's wrong with you?), you already know how good Rocco's is ... but for the uninitiated, we'll throw you a bone. Rocco's is, basically, a homesick Chicagoan's happy place. It's a cozy place with a great patio, inexpensive beer (including, until recently, Old Style) and wings that rival most any place in the city. The star of the show, of course, is their faithful recreation of the classic Chicago Deep Dish, a goddamn casserole in a bread dish, unapologetically loaded with sauce, garlic, cheese and whatever else you decided to throw in. Sure, it's not everyone's cup of tea (that's why they offer their thin crust option, after all) but nothing else in this town approaches their approach to deep-dish. If nothing else, you can still get the warm-n-fuzzy feelings that come along with supporting people who stood up against one of the more stupid laws to roll through our state's legislature. Everybody wins!

The Twisted Tandoor

Chicken Tikka Masala


While we're mentioning the chicken tikka masala specifically, let's make clear that roughly everything at Twisted Tandoor is outstanding. Really, it's fascinating (though not wholly unsurprising) that one of the best Indian restaurants in town is one of the standouts from the Tucson Food Truck Boom, thriving beyond when the bubble started to deflate. Let's hope that the husband and wife team that runs the truck never slows down, if only because it's fun to consider that the standard-bearer for quality Indian food in Tucson is on wheels.

Carne Seca in JUST About Anything

El Charro

Multiple locations

When we had this on our list last year, there was some grumbling from the peanut gallery, but we stand by it. If you're taking a visitor to dinner, it'd be hard to skip over El Charro (especially the downtown location) and it would be highly unlikely they've had anything like the roof-dried carne seca before. That's what makes a dish essential.

Any of the Bentos


2660 N. Campbell Ave., 320-1574

Yoshimatsu, certainly the best thing to come out of a former Coco's location and Tucson's most adorable restaurant, offers a wide variety of tasty Japanese cuisine with a side of Hello Kitty toys and Godzilla movies, but if you're keeping up the generally precious aesthetic of your dining experience, the wide variety of bento combinations will do the trick. You get a little of everything...the protein of your choice (including Tofu Hamburger, which the menu promises is "homemade"), a bunch of little salads, somen noodles, edamame and rice. It's like your own tiny buffet without the sneezeguard.

The Omar

Sausage Deli

2334 N. First Ave.; 623-8182

Even around the corner from their original spot, the Sausage Deli is an University-area classic, serving sandwiches that challenge how much you can between two pieces of bread and still call it a sandwich. The Omar's still your best choice, possibly for the onion roll, maybe because of the slight zing of the chopped pepperocinis, but also because the salami and turkey are a great start to any sandwich.

Biscuits and Gravy

Pappy's Diner

1300 W. Prince Road; 408-5262

Last year, we didn't feel super comfortable saying Pappy's had the best biscuits and gravy in town, but after a year of trying the diner standard all over town, Pappy's still holds the lead on that accolade.

Manchego Quesadillas

Calle Tepa Mexican Street Grill

6151 E. Broadway Blvd.; 777-5962

Quesadillas are almost always delicious, but when you have the sheep's-milk cheese of Calle Tepa's version, hopefully with some chorizo also along for the ride, throwing colby jack cheese on a supermarket tortilla and heating on a griddle at home might seem like a somewhat hollow experience after.

Gyro Plate

Zayna Mediterranean Café

4122 East Speedway Blvd.; 881-4348

Sometimes you want a gyro. Zayna, while also offering the kiftas, shawarmas and falafels you'd expect from a Mediterranean place, has the best gyro in town. Get the plate—the little feta-dressed salad is a nice extra touch.

Carne Asada Torta


835 E. 22nd St.; 294-2836

Similarly, sometimes you just want a torta. There are plenty of them around town, for sure, but Maico's is cheap and very tasty with more meat piled on than you might expect.

Fried Avocado


3025 N. Campbell Ave.; 325-3333

Avocado slices are coated with Panko, deep-fried and served with a chipotle aioli dipping sauce. It is as orgasmic as it sounds. Southwestern ingredients, prepared in total excess: a must-try.

Caramelo Al Pastor


2680 N. First Ave.; 5118 S. 12th Ave.

Pastor is pork marinated in chiles, spices and pineapple, then cooked over a fire. BK's takes this Mexican classic and puts it between two fresh flour tortillas and white cheese. Take your caramelo to the salsa bar and dress it up.

Chicken Tacos

Chaco's Café

2027 S. Craycroft Rd.; 790-1828

Everyone has had chicken tacos. Usually they are stuffed with overcooked, shredded meat that looks like it might have been chicken at one point. Not at Chaco's. They marinate/season chicken to perfection, grill the tasty chunks on a flattop, and serve them with a fresh tortilla and the perfect ratio of cheese to lettuce. Don't forget the salsa bar to finish your tacos the way you like them.

Ranch Beans

Pinnacle Peak

6541 E. Tanque Verde Rd.; 296-0911

Tucson was/is the Wild West. What better way to celebrate our history than with some good ol' cowboy cooking? Pinnacle Peak is known for its steaks, but every table of diners here gets a big bowl of free ranch beans. Nicely cooked and seasoned pinto beans are the perfect pairing with your slab of beef. Mix in some of their freshly made salsa and you have a lot of Tucson's history in one bite.


Frankie's South Philly Cheesesteaks

2574 N. Campbell Ave.; 795-2665

Tucson is not Philadelphia, but you wouldn't know that eating at Frankie's. The ever-so-gracious host, Mr. Santos, has brought the real-deal cheesesteak to the Old Pueblo, with thinly sliced rib-eye grilled and paired with cheese and other optional toppings; I go "Whiz, wit-out and hot peppas." It's just like South Philly, only without the Eagles fans!

Short Rib Hash

NoRTH Italia

2995 E. Skyline Drive; 299-1600

Braised beef short ribs are made into hash for NoRTH's brunch menu. They put two runny, fried eggs on top, and it comes with an arugula salad. Enjoy it with a custom cocktail while taking in the city views from the patio, and you've got what Sunday brunch is all about.

Tiffany Pizza

BZ's Pizza

8838 E. Broadway Blvd.; 546-1402

This pizza is not on the official menu, but it should be. It has BZ's perfectly crisp thin crust, with pesto as the base sauce. It also comes with fresh mozzarella, artichoke hearts, bacon and grilled chicken—as beautiful a pie as its name suggests.

Hot Chili Dog

Pat's Drive In

1202 W. Niagara St.; 624-0891

This westside gem has been a Tucson staple for as long as most of us can remember. Straightforward as it can be, the hot chili dog is the reason for Pat's longevity. Make sure you order it with cheese, and you will be hooked.


May's Counter

2945 E. Speedway Blvd.; 327-2421

It's chicken and waffles as it should be: three pieces of fried, dark-meat chicken are served atop two perfect waffles. Throw down some hot sauce and syrup and have at it.

Red Chili Crazy Burrito

Molina's Midway

1138 N. Belvedere Ave.; 325-9957

Cubed beef is simmered in red chile sauce until fork-tender, then wrapped in a tortilla with refried beans and chile con queso and served enchilada style. Crazy good.

Wildcat Wings

R.J.'s Replay

5769 E. Speedway Blvd.; 495-5136

Chicken wings are always an essential dish. This version is crispy on the outside and juicy and tender in the middle. The wings are tossed in a homemade "Wildcat Sauce" that is smoky, spicy and a tad sweet. It's Tucson personified in a hot wing.

Fried Chicken

Lucky Wishbone

Multiple Locations

Fried chicken is real American comfort food. Every city in this fine nation should have its very own chicken shack, and we're lucky to have Lucky Wishbone. Not to mention the chicken comes with that great greasy, buttery and garlicky bread.

Messy Fries

Brushfire BBQ

2745 N. Campbell Ave.; 7080 E. 22nd St.

Brushfire takes house-made fries and tosses them with your choice of smoked meat, barbecue sauce and cheese. Like their motto says, "It's Habit Forming."

Italian Pizza

Dry River Company

800 N. Kolb Road; 298-5555

This is straight-up Neapolitan pizza, done right. The thin crust is topped with fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella, sopressata and red chile flakes. Thatsa gooda pissa pie!

Breakfast Burrito

Chaco's Café

2027 S. Craycroft Rd; 790-1828

This city has no shortage of options for breakfast burritos. Not to knock anyone, but usually they include dried-out meats and way-beyond-overcooked eggs. Chaco's is the place for your most important meal of the day. Fluffy eggs, cheese and your choice of well-cooked breakfast meat, along with an assortment of salsas, will get you started off right.

Glazed Doughnut

Le Cave's Bakery

1219 S. Sixth Ave.; 624-2561

It's just a glazed doughnut, right? No. We promise you that this freshly baked goodie is THE BEST glazed doughnut you will ever eat.

Spicy Lamb Tongue Taco

Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails

135 S. Sixth Ave.; 623-7700

This dish made our list last year. Let's be honest: Anything that Janos makes is essential to Tucson's culinary scene.

Tucson Tamale

Tucson Tamale Co.

2545 E. Broadway Blvd.; 7159 E. Tanque Verde Rd.

This is the quintessential Tucson tamale, filled with cheese and with fresh jalapeño masa.


Jonathan's Cork

6320 E. Tanque Verde Rd.; 296-1631

Jonathan Landeen is Tucson's mustached maestro of the kitchen. His flagship restaurant has been part of the Tucson's culinary scene's elite since its opening. Not too many places here serve Big Bird's cousin despite the ostrich ranch at Picacho Peak. Just like its chef, this dish is uniquely Tucson.

Steak Delmonico


3001 E. Skyline Drive; 232-0101

Acacia takes a boneless rib-eye, wraps it in bacon and smothers it with sautéed mushrooms and bordelaise sauce. As if that's not enough, the celery root and Yukon gold potato gratin and veggies served with it are also fantastic.


Blanco Tacos and Tequila

2905 E. Skyline Drive, No. 246; 232-1007

The guacamole here, named "Famous," consists of creamy avocados, roasted poblano and Anaheim chiles, and Cotija cheese. It's perfect for dipping with warm tortilla chips, adding to your taco or just eating with a spoon.

Eggs Provençal

Ghini's French Caffe

1803 E. Prince Rd.; 326-9095

Ghini's is Tucson's go-to spot for French food. With this dish, chef Ghini takes a classic French recipe from her grandmother and shares it with the people of Tucson. We're so lucky.

Cóm Bí Sûòn and Pho

Miss Saigon

1072 N. Campbell Ave.; 320-9511

The cóm bí sûòn is pork two ways (charbroiled and pulled), served with Miss Saigon's amazing "shrimp paste" and jasmine rice. The pho is the best in town. The perfect soup comes with plenty of fresh sides to customize your pho experience.

Panang Neau

Char's Thai

5039 E. Fifth St.; 795-1715

Tucson has a great Thai food scene, and this unassuming strip-mall restaurant has some of the best Thai food in the 5-2-0. Panang neau is sautéed beef with red chile, fresh basil, peanut sauce, coconut milk, bell pepper and a hot, spicy gravy sauce. Ask for it "Thai spicy" only if you dare.

Cornish Lamb Pasties

Noble Hops

1335 W. Lambert Lane, Oro Valley; 797-4677

Year two of our campaign to bring more handpies to Tucson menus continues. Again, you can't really eat Noble Hops' take on the traditional miner meal with your hands, but we'll take what we can get.

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