We Tucsonans are privileged to indulge year-round in remarkable, even award-winning, comestibles and libations throughout our Unesco City of Gastronomy. But there’s no other time that the mood is as festive, the friendships as meaningful and the memories as bright as the holiday season. Eat! Drink! Be Merry!
100 S. Avenida del Convento, agustinkitchen.com
Agustin defines “elegant casual,” with a menu and ambience that could drop your blood pressure. Its food is a compendium of the reasons Tucson was named UNESCO’s first U.S. City of Gastronomy, often using native and locally grown ingredients, prepared inventively. Bonus: Brunch menu for kids.
118 E. Congress Street, batchtucson.com
Was Batch the first pub to pair donuts and whiskey? Genius! What a fun finish for a long day with officemates or post-sightseeing out-of-town guests. Stop in the Bottleshop to pick up gifts for whiskey connoisseurs on your list. We can’t wait for the imminent opening of the Snake & Barrel Basement Bar.
Caruso’s Italian Restaurant
434 N. Fourth Avenue, carusositalian.com
Since 1938, UA students and townies have taken their family dinners to Caruso’s. Nobody does it better. There’s something delicious for everyone and the waitstaff handles every mishap with aplomb. We recommend starting with the traditional antipasto and moving on to anything with red sauce. Save room for spumoni.
The Century Room
311 E. Congress Street, hotelcongress.com
In the literal heart of town, any Hotel Congress complex menu will impress. Our current favorite is The Century Room, “A Borderlands Jazz Club & Mezcal Lounge” because it evokes that era when patrons wore tuxedos and slinky, bias-cut gold lamé. They would envy today’s unique mescal cocktail options.
Charro Steak & del Rey
188 E. Broadway Boulevard, charrosteak.com
Like all of the Flores Concept restaurants, this one scores high on consistent quality, concern for sustainability, and preparations that surprise and delight. But Charro Steak is our favorite for entertaining because of its twist on the mid-century fine-dining experience of the steak and seafood house. Try any of the sangria options or inventively named cocktails.
The Citizen Lobby Bar
82 S. Stone Avenue, thecitizenhoteltucson.com
This cozy place has outsized charm to its spare style. Located inside a hotel housed in the former home of The Tucson Citizen newspaper, the upscale pub offers a revolving selection of wines and regional spirits with “ethically foraged” and housemade ingredients. They have package service for takeout or order online.
198 W. Cushing Street, coronettucson.com
Many is the meal we have happily made from the Coronet’s small plates. We love the low hum of excitement that is ever about the place. Someone has found, made, mixed and plated something fresh in a new way and the whole staff loves it. The building itself is rich with Tucson territorial history, yet the ambience wafts continental. The cocktails are tops in innovation and have some of the best names in town.
3719 E. Speedway Boulevard, eatatfeast.com
Feast is a sentimental favorite. We remember it as the first mid-town restaurant serving food with the kind of creative flair we now associate with the Tucson Originals collective. Feast’s food and service remain consistently above par and perennially fresh in spirit. Here’s an example from November’s menu: “Peanut butter and bacon salad: Little Gem lettuce and frisée with peanut-tamari dressing, house-cured bacon and roasted peanuts. Green apple garnish.”
5689 N. Swan Road, finislanding.com
Including flip-flops for door handles, everything about Fini’s evokes stress-free, light-filled days on the beach. The casual atmosphere belies a menu much more interesting, and food much more creatively prepared than you might expect. We can’t get enough of Fini’s Sonoran- and Baja- style shrimp and fish tacos, and Taco Tuesday is great for a crowd: $1.50 off Tacos and Mexican Bottles.
The Moonstone in The Graduate Hotel
930 E. Second Street, graduatehotels.com
The view! There is nothing else in Tucson like the glass-walled heights of The Moonstone. Mid-winter? No matter. There are firepits. This is the place to take your out-of-town guests so they can take pictures to post to their socials. Try the festive original cocktails made to share and the regional spin on appetizers, including beef birria nachos and poached shrimp aguachile. Not recommended for acrophobics.
The Grill at Hacienda del Sol
5501 N. Hacienda del Sol Road, haciendadelsol.com
The Old Pueblo doesn’t get much more elegant than the Hacienda del Sol. Its gardens are models of artfully laid out, manicured desert flora and its views almost rival The Graduate’s. The Grill hosts the most fabulous brunch in town, and its selection of 800 wines has earned Wine Spectator’s “Best of Award of Excellence” yearly since 1998.
2564 E. Grant Road, kingfishertucson.com
Kingfisher’s clubby interior décor keeps it quiet enough for dinner companions to hear each other. But you’re there for the seafood and no one in town does it better. We’re loving all the oysters on the new fall-winter menu, and regulars have been clamoring for the warm cabbage salad to come back. Other favorites include bay scallop and rock shrimp ceviche cocktail and the grilled sea bass with mission fig-apple chutney.
4625 E. Broadway Boulevard, kontikitucson.com
Since 1963, when Polynesian restaurants were almost as common as the Olive Garden, The Kon Tiki has delivered consistent quality in the traditional cuisine and cocktails of the genre. Those big bowls of sweet rum drinks are made for sharing, as are all those rich, deep-fried Puu Puus. The rest of the menu is contrastingly, and delightfully, eclectic. We can’t wait to try the katsu chicken and waffles.
Mojo Kitchen & Rum Bar
1929 E. Grant Road, mojocuban.com
This is the place for the rum-curious drinker in you, but Mojo also offers a unique and broad selection of nonalcoholic beverages, including Cuban milkshakes and specialty sodas. Order the plato mixto (two each of papas rellenas, croquetas and empanadas) for the table while you pore over entrees. That will take some time for those of us unfamiliar with Cuban cuisine, so maybe add an order of pineapple guacamole.
236 S. Scott Avenue, owlsclubwest.com
The clubbiest place in town, the Owl’s Club treats you like a member. It’s the perfect spot for an intimate holiday gathering involving top-shelf liquor and, once upon a time, good cigars. We love that it’s in the former home of Tucson’s swankiest funeral parlor. Should auld acquaintances never be forgot. Be on the lookout for occasional music programming of impeccable taste.
6453 N. Oracle Road, theparishtucson.com
Here’s where you get your Sazerac. Or you can try out the seasonal specials, mostly decadent concoctions involving fruit and/or secret ingredients like Crème di Violette or butterfly pea tea. The menu is a taste of New Orleans, from the hush puppies and frog legs to the six kinds of po’ boys.
6541 E.Tanque Verde Road, pinnaclepeaktucson.com
Pinnacle Peak is a classic western steakhouse with all the fun that implies. Be sure your out-of-town guests wear a tie to make a fond memory of having it cut off. Outside is an ideal spot for your family holiday pictures: the gazebo in Trail Dust town. The main attraction here, though, is your steak, prepared precisely as you like it.
Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizza
2707 E. Broadway Boulevard, roccoslittlechicago.com
If you know anyone who gets homesick for Chicago, dinner at Rocco’s is the perfect gift. Any deep-dish pizza there will find its place alongside Pizzeria Uno’s in a Chicagoan’s pantheon. Even better is Rocco’s alcoholic take on the Chicago soda-fountain classic Green River. De rigueur sides include Caprese salad, pasta dishes and antipasto. The deep-fried ravioli, though is worth a departure from tradition.
Rollie’s Mexican Patio
4573 S. 12th Avenue, facebook.com/rolliestucson
Rollie’s prides itself in representing Tucson-style Mexican food. Not Sonoran. Not Mexico City, or any other region, but Mexican food with distinctive twists reflecting the uniquely polyglot place we call home. Consider Rollie’s birria ramen. Also featured are flat enchiladas, rolled tacos, vegetarian burros and a quinceañera plate.
139 S. Eastbourne Avenue, barsidecar.com
Tiny and tucked away, SideCar is worth seeking out for its extreme creativity in mixology. The menu begins with six variations on the traditional sidecar cocktail, then proceeds to concoctions involving, for instance, White Fig Rum, Genepy des Alps, house salted lime cordial and multiple flavors of bitters. They also mix a mean mocktini.
Tap & Bottle
403 N. Sixth Avenue and 7254 N. Oracle Road, thetapandbottle.com
We enjoy visiting Tap & Bottle in the same way we enjoy going to the zoo or the art museum. Beyond drinking and chatting in the welcoming room, there is something to do together: Walk around and marvel at walls and cases full of so many more beers and wines than you ever imagined existed.
Tito & Pep
4122 E. Speedway Boulevard, titoandpep.com
Smart, spare mid-century modern décor has the air of a ’50s neighborhood diner turned bistro. Its revolving menu items features robust, sometimes delicate but always intriguing flavors. Tito & Pep was a runner-up in the 2022 James Beard Awards. It’s a wonder they are able to keep prices so reasonable.
2526 E. Sixth Street and 402 E. Fourth Avenue, tumerico.com
Tumerico specializes in flavorful, reasonably priced vegan and vegetarian dishes with a Latin flair. All main ingredients are locally sourced, so the menu changes daily, but they always provide free soup and coffee with your order. They don’t serve alcohol, but they have the best selection of fresh fruit juices in town.
6440 N. Campbell Avenue, vivacetucson.com
The ambience of Vivace is ideal for anniversaries, engagements and other occasions that demand elegance. It’s also very satisfying when you just feel like dressing up, using spotless white table linens and being treated like royalty. Every dish of the Northern Italian cuisine is exquisitely crafted.
7037 N. Oracle Road, wildflowertucson.com
Wildflower has some of Tucson’s most interesting and tasty gluten-free options strewn among selections on its regular menu of creatively prepared American-inspired dishes. Descriptions are enticing. We are eager to try hamachi and charred avocado crudo with candied lemon jam, fresno chile, cider ponzu, pistachio and crushed wasabi pea.