24 reasons to go out for Christmas dinner

Christmas dinner! Moms, dads, aunts, uncles and kids of all ages gather around a table covered with everyone’s favorite holiday dishes—green beans, two kinds of potatoes, pickled beets, stuffing. Try both the pumpkin and pecan pie. Everyone’s filled with the spirit of Christmas!

Or not.

Many’s the Christmas that my tiny family has gathered joyfully around a glass of wine, a plate of Moo Shu Pork and our choice of three more entrees at a favorite Chinese restaurant. Now it’s closed and we’re looking for something new. How about you?

1. Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

Celebrate the holiday with all your desert-creature kin and eat voraciously from the amazing spread put out by the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. For $79 ($35 kids through 10), choose dry brined prime rib, a whole roasted chicken or vegetarian lentil loaf each with sides, chipotle pumpkin risotto, pan-fried green beans amandine, shrimp cocktail and mini peach and brie tarts. Almost everything is labeled gluten-free. The complete menu is at desertmuseum.org. Seatings are at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Reservations are required via 520-883-3046. Museum admission is also required for each guest.

Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, 2021 N. Kinney Road, 520-883-2702, desertmuseum.org

2. Bashas’

“Arizona’s hometown grocer” has us covered if we really want to honor the traditions of the season but would rather spend Christmas Day in our pajamas. Tim in the deli department of the Camp Lowell store gave us the lowdown. Six to eight servings of rib roast is $99, ham or turkey is $69, and you get scalloped potatoes, green beans, spiced apples, mashed sweet potatoes, a dozen dinner rolls and your choice of pumpkin or apple pie. Tim’s urgent tip: Order and pick it up right now. It will keep.

Bashas’, 3275 N. Swan Road, 520-323-5820, bashas.com/locations

3. Cielos

A comedian friend jokes about how weird it is to see people at a buffet with their plates piled high. “You can go back,” she reminds us. That’s a good thing because you can’t stop at just one trip to chef Miguel Heredia’s spread at Cielos. It runs from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and costs $62, $25 for age 12 and younger. Choose from five mimosas followed by, for instance, deviled eggs, Christmas tamales, action stations for spiral ham and prime rib, green chile casserole, Southwest corn chowder and shrimp displayed on a carved ice tower.

Lodge on the Desert, 306 N. Alvernon Way, 520-320-2014, lodgeonthedesert.com/cielos.php

4. The Cup

The Cup is keeping it simple and delicious with tasty, creative and moderately priced plated options. From 4 to 8 p.m., guests can choose bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin roulette stuffed with dried blueberries, wilted arugula, and goat cheese served with sweet potato gratin, sautéed green beans, poached apple and currant chutney with balsamic demi for $34; or butter braised diver scallops, warm roasted beet slaw, agave glazed roasted carrot and parsnips, and pistachio gremolata for $38; or beef wellington, mushroom duxelles, puff pastry, braised collard greens and roasted red bell pepper coulis for $36.

Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress Street, 520-622-8848, hotelcongress.com

5. Denny’s

How about a Family Pack of chicken strips and fries with three dipping sauces for $29.99? Or get four cheeseburgers and fries for $32.99. The chicken-fried dinner is $10.59 and includes a choice of sides. We recommend red-skinned potatoes and vegetable medley, but because it’s Christmas, you may want to go with the beer-battered onion rings. Or you can live it up with the straight-up bourbon steak with sides for $16.99. Google “Denny’s Tucson” and choose the closest location. They do takeout and delivery services, too.

Denny’s, multiple locations, 520- 623-8249, dennys.com

6. Gold

With seatings at 11 a.m. and 2 and 5 p.m., Gold has created dinner parties that won’t be tripping over each other. Entrees will be plated, and sides are family style. All the rest will be on display for grazing. Try the pickled pumpkin white balsamic at the salad bar; the smoked, salt-crusted prime rib or stuffed acorn squash for entrees, and maybe the dark chocolate bread pudding for dessert. It’s all $88, $44 for kids ages 5 through 12.

Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort and Spa, 245 E. Ina Road, 1-800-722-2500, westwardlook.com/dining/lookout

7. Golden Dragon

The Monterey Village Golden Dragon is closed. The Sunrise location is open only for takeout, but North Oracle Road will still be a great place for Christmas dinner. Celebrate the goodness on the regular menu and try something new to mark the occasion. How about a family dinner? Three options range from $17.95 to $19.95 per person. They all start with a traditional soup and appetizers, then proceed through a different choice of entrée.

Golden Dragon, 6433 N. Oracle Road, 520-297-1862, goldendragontucson.com/

8. Govinda’s

Music on Govinda’s lovely tree-lined, south-facing patio will be the soundtrack of the vegetarian afternoon, weather permitting. From noon to 5 p.m., guests can stuff themselves with creative vegetarian and wheat-free options for $19.95, $9.95 for kids 4 to 12 years old. Menu items include organic millet loaf, lentil croquettes, whipped yam and cauliflower, garden vegetable soup, stir-fry pasta, spring rolls, a salad bar and apple berry crisp. Kids will love visiting Govinda’s exotic birds and the koi pond’s waterfalls and fountains.

Govinda’s, 711 E. Blacklidge Drive, 520-792-0630

9. Great Wall China

Great Wall’s extensive menu is made for adventure. Tucked among traditional preparations are dishes with a more modern twist. For a Christmas gathering, Peking duck is the perfect choice at $42.99. We’d start, though, with honey walnut crystal strimp, $15.99, because it sounds like Christmas candy. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Great Wall China, 2445 S. Craycroft Road, 520-514-8888, greatwallchinesetucson.com/

10. The Grill

Chef Devin Pinto is adding holiday favorites to The Grill’s always beautifully displayed buffet options, including prime rib, shrimp, pasta, cheeses, smoked salmon, roasted vegetables, eggs benedict, omelets and, of course, waffles. Remember, you can go back. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; $85, $45 kids ages 6 to 12.

Hacienda del Sol, 5501 N. Hacienda del Sol Road, 520-529-3500, haciendadelsol.com

11. Guadalajara Grill

They won’t take reservations for fewer than eight people but they’re the only Guadalajara Grill that will be open for the holiday. It’s fun to start with that huge and delicious salt-rimmed margarita and the yummy guacamole with bottomless chips. The $17.95 combination plate allows guests to choose any three menu items to sample, with rice and beans included. Or try the plato bandera, a dish inspired by the Mexican flag. It’s three enchiladas with sauces that are red, green and white, just like Christmas.

Guadalajara Grill, 5955 Arizona Pavilions Drive, 520-296-4221, guadalajaraoriginalgrill.com

12. Hilton El Conquistador

It’s amusing, and makes perfect sense, that the sweets are listed first in the online menu. The “North Pole Sweet Treats” section looks like a culinary “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies.” Will it be, for instance, bourbon pecan tarts? Eggnog cheesecake with gingerbread crumble? Chocolate fondue? Inviting main course options include lobster posole, lemon-crusted corvina seabass, stuffed butternut squash, ham, lamb and prime rib. There are gluten-free and vegan options throughout. It’s $89, $28 for kids, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Hilton El Conquistador, 10000 N. Oracle Road, 520-544-5000, hiltonelconquistador.com

13. Jun Dynasty

Tucsonans may debate where to find the best Chinese food, but Jun Dynasty is always near the top. And when we’re hungry for Szechuan, specifically, it’s no contest. The three lead chefs were born and began their careers in Guangzhou, Tinjian and Szechuan, China. Christmas is just Sunday, here, so the hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and you can expect Jun’s usual level of attentive service. Reservations are required and they’re going fast.

Jun Dynasty, 2933 E. Grant Road, 520-881-0778, jundynasty.com

14. El Mezquite Grill and Taquería

From the kitchen that brought us Sonoran baklava (mesquite-smoked pistachio and walnut and bathed in local mesquite honey and Tucson-distilled Whiskey Del Bac), we might not expect grandma’s traditional Christmas dinner. The regular menu, which is also available, is among our town’s best examples of using traditional Sonoran ingredients. But a special, $29 plated Christmas dinner sounds right out Norman Rockwell. There’s: roast turkey (dark or white meat) with a garlic and orange rub and cranberry glaze; herbed butter Hasselback Yukon Gold potato, green bean casserole, turkey gravy and rolls. Chef Carlos Ochoa goes rogue, though, with a dessert surprise: berry clafoutis.

Doubletree by Hilton, 280 S. Church Avenue, 520-372-7100, elmezquitetucson.com/

15. Omar’s Hi-Way Chef Restaurant

If you haven’t eaten at the TTT, this will be a gift. The food is great; ask any trucker. Christmas dinner begins at 11 a.m., they tell us, and “goes until it runs out.” The $15.99 special begins with a choice of salad or Omar’s holidays-only asparagus-crab soup. The main course is ham steak with pineapple glaze, yams and a choice of white potato (baked, fries, hashbrowns). We recommend the Mile High Pie for dessert.

Triple T Truck Stop, 5451 E. Benson Highway, 520-574-0961

16. Piazza Gavi

In the holiday frenzy, it’s nice to find some things the same. Gavi offers its regular hours, the same reliably well prepared and delicious menu and especially the same lovely list of special entrées for children. It’s tempting to make a meal out of appetizers, like the butter garlic or spicy garlic shrimp ($18) or the bruschetta a la caprese ($14). A lot of folks come just for the two dozen pasta options. But spaghetti marinara also comes with the chicken, pork and beef entrees, ranging from $29 to $34. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Piazza Gavi, 5415 N. Kolb Road, 520-577-1099, gavicucina.com/

17. PY Steakhouse

This menu! Tucson foodies have followed chef Ryan Clark around for a decade and this Christmas menu says it all about why. It’s $75 and available Dec. 24 and Dec. 25, but reserve now. Options include: jumbo lump crab cakes with smoked jalapeño aioli, charred red pepper preserves, radish and crispy blue corn; winter squash bisque, burnt agave, cranberry compote, pecans; jumbo diver scallops with confit parsnip risotto, crunchy parsnip and pistachio; bacon – del Bac vinegar aged vinegar agrodolce or winter squash risotto nixtamalized dulces de calabaza, parmigiano reggiano, pecans, pomegranate seeds…it goes on like that for days. Optional wine-pairing is available.

Casino Del Sol, 5655 W. Valencia Road, 520-324-9350, casinodelsol.com

18. RA Sushi Bar Restaurant

Something about a mango ceviche taco (lobster, octopus, whitefish and shrimp mixed with mango, avocado, jalapeños, cilantro, shallots and citrus vinaigrette) or lobster filet mignon roll (tempura and avocado rolled and topped with seared filet mignon, creamy wasabi sauce, green onions and red bell peppers) just says “Christmas” to us. When RA does drama and fun, the results are memorable, but the chefs still respect the light hand that makes magic of even their sashimi. Hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

RA Sushi Bar Restaurant, La Encantada, 2905 E. Skyline Drive, Suite 289, 520-615-3970, rasushi.com

19. Sher e Punjab

From 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Christmas Day we can stuff ourselves with the same carefully prepared and delicious Indian dishes that have made Sher e Punjab a hit with Indian food “authenticists” and, especially, vegetarians. There’s the classic buffet to fill up on, but you can also order from the menu plated specialties like the crunchy fried items in the Sher e Punjab sampler and the exotic khazan-e-tandoori lamb entrée.

Sher e Punjab, 853 E. Grant Road, 520-624-9393, sherepunjabtucson.com

20. Sullivan’s Steakhouse

Sullivan’s maintains the classic traditions that have defined fine-dining since the mid-20th century. The ambience is clubby, but welcoming, and the service is among the best in town. The best deals here are the $48, prix-fixe menu options, each including salad or soup (try the shrimp and lobster bisque); entrees of steak, chicken or salmon; several mouthwatering mashed-potato preparations, and dessert. They had us at bananas foster bread pudding. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Sullivan’s Steakhouse, 1785 E. River Road, 520-299-4275, Sullivanssteakhouse.com

21. Takamatsu

There will be none of their popular happy hour deals, and hours have been trimmed to 4 to 9 p.m. But the menu will be all the same hard choices. At the high end is the Kalbi, a dish of 3-inch cut beef short ribs for $44.99, but most other entrees are in the low $20s. We’d take any of the bulgogi options or the ginger sesame marinated pork belly. Don’t forget the ice cream tempura for dessert. Reservations are strongly recommended.

Takamatsu, 5532 E. Speedway Boulevard, 520-512-0800, takatucson.net

22. Taste of Agave

An $8 cranberry margarita with a green salted rim is the spirit of the season, unless you’re feeling more like the green “Grinch” Midori made with guava juice. For starters, we’d recommend the seasonal butternut squash soup. Then comes the hard part. Will it be roasted turkey or ham, red snapper Veracruz, prime rib, chicken with poblano cream, steak Diana or pork tenderloin? The price is right, from $28 to $35. We’d finish with the festive raspberry mousse tulip with berries. Your entrée includes sides and dessert.

Desert Diamond Casino, 1100 W. Pima Mine Road, Sahuarita, 1-866-332-9467, ddcaz.com/Sahuarita

23. Tuk Tuk Thai

Tuk Tuk lays claim to the best Thai street food in town, and at its prices it feels like a steal. Two shrimp summer rolls are $6.95. Soup and curry orders (including pumpkin curry chicken!) all serve three for around $17, and a spicy crispy chicken basil entrée is just $13.95. The most expensive item on the menu is the gluten-free khao pad puu for $18.55, with blue crab meat, fried rice with egg, red onion, garlic, tomatoes and Chinese broccoli. Only the Campbell Avenue location is open. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Tuk Tuk Thai, 2990 N. Campbell Avenue, Suite 130, 520-777-7888

24. Z Mansion

Best known as a wedding venue, the Z Mansion serves as many as 300 homeless adults and children every Sunday, including Christmas. You can’t donate a thing, but they always need volunteers. Just arrive by 8 a.m.; you should be finished by 11:30 a.m. Look around and see where they host their weekly first-aid clinic, give pets checkups and provide shoes and clothing. And chat with some of our homeless neighbors. It could make your Christmas Day.

Z Mansion, 288 N. Church Avenue, 520-907-9057, workship.org/serve