100 Essential Dishes

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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.

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