Bobo's: Anatomy of a Tradition

Bobo’s Restaurant stays busy after 40 years and it’s no mystery why

Chicken fried chicken and gravy is a Bobo’s classic.

It’s nice to find a place like Bobo’s Restaurant when you’re looking out at a sea of change—restaurants opening and closing and moving every day, but Bobo’s proves that some things stay the same. In a time where it’s tough for restaurants to make it past the year mark of opening, Bobo’s has weathered Tucson’s dining scene since 1975, becoming a beloved breakfast and lunch spot for generation after generation. The recipe for success is honestly pretty simple. The food is cheap and comforting. The service is welcoming and speedy. The atmosphere is exactly what you’d expect when you walk into an old greasy spoon. You have your choice of booth, table or bar seating. The bar is best if you’re eating alone and looking for a show, and the cozy booths make for a plush shared dining experience.

Inside the tables’ varnish, old ads promote a range of local businesses. There’s a modest smattering of UA regalia around the restaurant, which shows just enough support for local college athletics to keep students rolling in year after year to nurse their hangovers and fill up on the cheap.

Admittedly, there is something inherently entertaining about taking those first sips of coffee or orange juice or grapefruit juice in the morning watching typically perky, thin and prim college-aged women scarf down pancakes wider than their waist—or at least attempt it. But the true beauty of this spot is the fact that everyone feels welcome.

There seems to be quite a few regulars that haunt the diner on a near daily basis, with the servers calling them out by name with big smiles. Then there are the occasional visitors who are still met with warmth, even if they’re not on a first-name basis. Either way, customers seem fairly pleased with the level of attentiveness given to them—not doting but responsive enough to get you what you need in a timely manner. It’s the kind of place where the check is dropped right after your food is delivered, so you can eat and pay on your own schedule.

Getting down to the eats, you can expect to spend under $10 no matter what you order. If you make it in before 8 a.m., you can even opt for the early bird special, which serves up two eggs, potatoes and toast for just $1.99—well worth the wake up call.

However, if you’re aching for a visit to Bobo’s, chances are you might not be able to pull yourself out of bed in time for the special. In that case, there are still plenty of options worth testing out. Sandwiches ($4 to $6) piled high with your choice of meat and bread, like roast beef or a BLT on rye, white, wheat or sourdough, satiate lunchtime diners, while standard plates of two eggs with your choice of meat are good starting places for breakfast. Meat options include corned beef hash, a pork chop and sausage. Interestingly enough, side dish choices include normal things like extra eggs or home fries, but also hamburger patties and pork chops—any diner that considers a pork chop a side is all right in my book. Glancing around at already fed diners, two dishes stand out as crowd favorites: the biscuits and gravy and the pancakes. The biscuits are approximately five-inch high buttery beasts sliced in half and smothered in house-made creamy sausage gravy. You have your choice of one ($2.99) or two ($3.99) whole biscuits, though finishing one is a feat in itself.

Similarly, the pancakes come oversized. They’re so oversized, in fact, that they don’t typically fit on the plate so don’t feel bad if bits come toppling off your plate as you eat it. That seems to be the norm. On the sweet side, the banana pancake ($5.29) is a classic at Bobo’s with crunchy caramelized bits to add rich sweetness and texture. If you are a strictly savory eater, the Flying Saucer ($5.29), which comes with spinach and cheese, is the pancake for you.

Hot lunch options include chicken fried chicken or steak, polish sausage with sauerkraut and liver and onions (all priced at $6.29). The fried chicken comes with a thin, almost smooth coating of crunchy fried breading with moist meat on the inside—you have your choice of two or four pieces here with a side of mashed potatoes. I subbed my potatoes out for home fries because after sitting within view of the griddle top for a couple minutes watching piles of crispy potatoes rotate on and off, I was convinced.

However, I kept the polish sausage dish as is. The combination of halved grilled sausage, tart sauerkraut, creamy potatoes, corn and a biscuit will have you assembling makeshift sandwiches from the dish’s components that will make any Midwesterner miss home just a little bit. In terms of omelets ($5 to $7), all manner of combinations of meats, cheeses and veggies come stuffed in fluffy egg trappings. One of the most unique options there is the chicken liver and sour cream omelet, though you should be warned that the liver meat is prepared in that grandma’s kitchen sort of way that preserves all of its intense irony flavor. It’s polarizing to say the least.

Bobo’s Restaurant might not be the town’s most inventive or exciting diner. Honestly, most of the dishes had areas in which they could improve, but the low price point and classic fare make it a staple in Tucson. It delivers on its promise to be “Just like mom’s without all the questions.” After all, mom can’t possibly knock it out of the park with every meal, but her specialties keep you coming back home for a visit.